ROAD traffic accidents kill an estimated 1.25m people a year, according to a new report by the World Health Organisation. The number has remained relatively stable since the WHO’s first assessment in 2007, even as the number of people and vehicles rises. Yet most are preventable and poor countries are disproportionately affected. One of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals is to halve the number of deaths by 2020. Road accidents kill more men than women, and are the biggest killer of 15- to 29-year olds globally. As well as the human toll, it is an economic burden, costing the global economy an estimated 3% of GDP, and up to 5% in the poor and middle-income countries where 90% of deaths occur but only half the world’s vehicles are driven.
Africa is the least safe place for a road user, with 26.9 fatalities for every 100,000 people in 2013 compared with 9.3 in Europe—which has ten times more cars as a share of its population. And Africa’s safety record has worsened since 2007, the only region to do so. Of the ten nations with the highest death rates, eight are African. The WHO recommends legislative standards for key risk factors: speed in urban areas, drink-driving, helmets for motorcycle users, and wearing seat-belts and child restraints. African countries fail on nearly all counts. Only Egypt requires vehicles to meet basic international safety standards such as softer bumpers to lessen impacts. Many roads are unpaved and do not have safe space for pedestrians, who account for 40% of deaths of all road users against a global average of 22%. And when people are involved in an accident, the quality of emergency care is dismal. Motorcyclists are also vulnerable. In Thailand, which has the second-worst death rate, around three-quarters of people who die are motorcyclists.
Making the unsafest countries safer will be hard. In the three years since 2010, 16m more motorised vehicles hit the roads, half of them in poorer countries with laxer standards. Tackling road safety in the most dangerous countries is vital, but doing so in the most populous would be a good start. The ten-largest nations account for 700,000 deaths, yet none makes the grade on all five risks (America fails on all of them but has a low death-rate). India faces the biggest challenge; more than 200,000 people die annually according to the WHO, though government figures are lower at 137,000. Change is hard to effect. A new road-safety bill introduced by the Indian government this year has already been criticised by campaigners for puny fines and penalties and is currently languishing in consultation. Until road safety is a priority for governments in developing countries, more people will continue to die than do so from malaria or AIDS.
source: The Economist