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Traffic Safety: A Global View

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By David Goguen on June 18, 2009 11:48 AM

Traffic accidents kill 1.27 million people every year around the world, but almost half of those accident victims are pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists -- not drivers or passengers in automobiles -- according to a new global road safety study from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The first global analysis of road safety looked at road crashes in 178 countries (98 percent of the world population) to gauge worldwide progress on the effectiveness of safety measures like speed limits, crosswalks, seatbelt and child restraint devices, motorcycle helmets, and anti-DUI efforts.

Here are some highlights of the WHO's Global Status Report on Road Safety:

  • Over 90% of global road deaths occur in low and middle-income countries, but since these countries have just 48% of the world's vehicles, that means the roads in these nations are particularly dangerous for pedestrians, bicycle riders, and motorcyclists.
  • If worldwide road deaths continue at their current rate, they will rise to about 2.4 million per year by 2030.
  • Only 57% of countries have laws requiring that all automobile occupants (drivers and passengers) wear seat belts (that number drops to 38% in low-income countries).
  • Half of all countries have no law requiring special restraints (i.e. infant or booster seats) for child passengers.

In a News Release announcing the study's findings, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said many countries have a long way to go when it comes to improving safety for everyone on the roads, and it's important to look beyond just automobile drivers and passengers:

    "We found that in many countries, the laws necessary to protect people are either not in place or are not comprehensive. And even when there is adequate legislation, most countries report that their enforcement is low. We are not giving sufficient attention to the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists."

The study was prompted in part by a recent car-buying boom in developing countries, where auto sales were up more than 10 percent annually before the current economic downturn, the Washington Post says: "The authors hope the report will help stimulate governments and engineers to design roads that can accommodate a huge influx of cars but also out-of-car users."