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New Group Aims to Reduce Road Deaths - 2002-08-28

A new independent international organization has been set up to tackle one of the world's major causes of death - road accidents. Road accidents kill more than one million people every year and tens of millions are injured.

Experts from the new group say road accidents generally are less spectacular than plane crashes or railway disasters, but they kill far more people.

The newly-established organization to try to reduce road accidents, the Road Traffic Injury Research Network, is supported by the World Health Organization, the World Bank and a private group, the Global Forum for Health Research. It says road accidents are the ninth leading cause of death worldwide. Because of their frequency and seriousness, experts say road accidents are expected to become the third-largest cause of death during the next 20 years; following heart disease and deaths linked to poor mental health. They also are expensive, costing at least $100 billion a year.

Public health expert Adnan Hyder of Johns Hopkins University in the United States says the highest rates of road accident deaths are among young people and pedestrians in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

"These are either schoolchildren walking to school who get hit, or these are people walking on the roads," he said. "Because more than two-thirds of the deaths that occur due to road traffic accidents are really due on pedestrians. So these are not people who are in the cars, but on the roads. In fact, we often use a saying that people who will never own a car in their life are at much greater risk of dying from a road traffic accident in developing countries."

Dr. Hyder says the new organization is encouraging governments to separate vehicles and pedestrians and to better enforce speed limits and the use of seat belts. He also says more must be done to make public transportation vehicles, like buses and minivans, safer for passengers and pedestrians alike.

"They have been estimated to be responsible for 60, 70 percent of the accidents in developing countries," said Dr. Hyder. " And as you all know, one bus could carry 50, 60, 100 people sometimes and not necessarily on seats, sometimes in the doorway, in the passageway, on top of the roof, hanging by a hand."

The new organization has several studies underway. It says some of its initial projects include evaluating how well visibility tools like cycle reflectors are working in Uganda, assessing the national impact traffic accidents have in Pakistan, and exploring how to help prevent traffic accidents in Kenya.