Wealthier countries have fewer road deaths, but US still at elevated rate
Compared to most of Europe, the US death rate is high.
The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, using traffic deaths for 170 countries compiled by the World Health Organization, could not find one instance where low- and middle-income countries outpaced high-income countries in terms of road safety, standards, laws or deaths.
According to the WHO, 1.24 million people die from traffic-related deaths every year, and 92 percent of these deaths happen in lower-income countries that account for barely more than half of the world's registered vehicles. More than half of these people were pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists.
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The United States, however, doesn't lead the developed world on total road fatalities. Last year, nearly 34,000 people died on U.S. roads. More than 15,000 have died during the first half of this year, which is down 4.2 percent from the same time in 2012. However, as measured by the number of deaths per 100,000 people, the U.S. death rate of 11.4 is nearly twice as high as many European countries. However, it's still far down from Middle Eastern countries such as Iran (34.1) and Saudi Arabia (24.8). African countries, especially Nigeria (33.7) and South Africa (31.9), have high death rates. Some South American countries, such as Chile (12.3) and Argentina (12.6) are more in line with the U.S.
According to the U-M study, high-income countries tended to have more deaths per million people than low-income countries, at 81.2 versus 70.3, mostly due to the higher number of cars and licensed drivers. But in every other instance -- national road safety campaigns, new car crash testing, seat belt and airbag requirements, license penalties, policies on drunk driving, child restraint laws, mobile phone laws, helmet laws, and access to a universal emergency service like 911 -- high-income countries led the way significantly.
Interestingly, low and middle-income countries had lower posted speed limits on rural roads than high countries yet still accounted for more road deaths. The signs to improve road safety are obvious, and since 2007, 88 countries have reduced their traffic deaths, according to the WHO.
But from these two reports, it's clear a lot more needs to be done.
"The pace of legislative change and enforcement need to be hastened and more attention paid to vulnerable road users to reduce the number of road traffic deaths," the WHO said.
[Source: University of Michigan, WHO; Photo: UN]
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