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Wealthier countries have fewer road deaths, but US still at elevated rate

Compared to most of Europe, the US death rate is high.

By Clifford Atiyeh Nov 5, 2013 6:40AM
In a new study that provides data to an already obvious truth, drivers in wealthier countries are more likely to survive accidents and avoid them altogether than those in poorer countries.

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.
In the new University of Michigan study and WHO report released earlier this year, researchers defined wealth on a scale of national income per person, and the results may make you stop complaining about your job. Low-income levels were defined as $1,005 or less, middle-income as $1,006 to $12,275 and high as $12,276 or more.

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]
Nov 7, 2013 7:48AM
Most of Europe has very very strict drivers license laws as compared to the U.S.   Vehicle inspections are also much more strict.    In many European countries older cars are simply not allowed on the highways.    These three items probably account for the difference.   
Nov 16, 2013 1:49PM
I'm curious juts how much the population density disparity plays a role in highway fatalities in US vs. Europe.
I wager that here we have some awfully lonely stretches of highway so help is far away...even then when fire and rescue get there more than likely you have to wait for a chopper, being rather far from a big city with proper trauma center
Dec 1, 2013 3:49AM
Thats because those drivers from these 3rd  world, poor countries find their way to the states where they continue driving as tho they were still in their native land.
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