NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 20, 2007


Traffic injuries are the leading cause of death in people ages 10 to 24 around the world -- a huge, overlooked and largely preventable public health problem, says the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to a new WHO report:

  • About 30 percent of all traffic deaths worldwide -- roughly 400,000 each year -- are of people younger than 25.
  • Although teenage and young-adult drivers are at greatest risk, younger age groups also have high mortality.
  • In 2002, traffic injuries were the third leading cause of death for children ages 5 to 9, behind pneumonia and AIDS.
  • About 46 percent of traffic deaths in sub-Saharan Africa occurred in that age group that year.
  • For all countries, the annual cost of road injuries in medical care, disability and property damage is $518 billion.

The organization promoted a long list of suggestions to developing countries, where most of the deaths and disabling injuries occur.  The improvements include safer roads and vehicles, better urban planning, helmet laws, prosecution of speeders and drunken drivers, better education of the driving and walking public, and simple interventions such as putting reflective tape on backpacks.

"Vulnerable road users" -- pedestrians, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and public transit riders -- account for a much higher fraction of youthful traffic fatalities in low-income countries than in rich ones.  But many developing countries are addressing the problem:

  • An African Road Safety Conference was recently held in Ghana, with 200 people attending.
  • South Africa has a program called "Drive Alive," whose activities include everything from consciousness-raising about safe driving to distributing reflective backpacks to school children.

Source: David Brown, "Traffic Deaths a Global Scourge, Health Agency Says," Washington Post, April 20, 2007.

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