Africa losing the fight against road deaths: WHO

14th March 2013, Comments 0 comments

Africa in particular is losing the fight against road accidents, which kill more than one million people worldwide each year, a UN World Health Organisation report showed Thursday, calling for stricter laws to help turn around the trend.

"We are not all equal before road traffic crashes," Etienne Krug, who heads the WHO's department of violence and injury prevention, said ahead of the report's launch, cautioning that road safety seemed to be getting worse in about half of the world's countries.

The WHO "Global status report on road safety 2013" showed that rapidly motorising middle-income countries, especially in Africa and also the Middle East, were seeing the highest number of deaths.

This was linked to a failure of legislation, enforcement and the protection of so-called "vulnerable road users" like pedestrians and cyclists to keep up with expanding car use, it said.

In Africa, 24.1 of every 100,000 people die in traffic accidents, compared to just 10.3 per 100,000 in Europe, which has the lowest death toll, the report showed.

In Africa, "we see economic development, new roads being built, cars being imported and new drivers taking to the roads, and this is not matched with the necessary safety measures," Krug told reporters in Geneva.

According to the 318-page WHO report, which includes data from 182 countries accounting for about 99 percent of the world population, some 1.24 million people die globally in road accidents each year while as many as 50 million more are injured.

Traffic accidents are thus the eighth leading cause of death worldwide, and the top cause among people aged 15 to 29. Without action, they are set to become the fifth leading cause of death among all age groups by 2030, the report warned.

On the bright side, the number of road deaths has remained basically stagnant in recent years at the same time as there has been a 15-percent global increase in the number of registered vehicles.

However, Krug pointed out, while around half of countries have seen improvements in their road accident death tolls, the other half have seen a deterioration.

The report showed that only 28 countries, covering just seven percent of the world's population, today have comprehensive road safety laws covering all five of the main risk factors for accidents: drinking and driving, speeding, and failing to use motorcycle helmets, seat-belts and child restraints.

"That means that 93 percent of the world population is not covered by adequate legislation," Krug lamented.

The report, funded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's philanthropic foundation, was launched two years into a UN-declared Decade of Action for Road Safety.

It will be used as a baseline for a project that aims to save some five million lives in the period leading up to 2020.

© 2013 AFP

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