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WHO Alarmed Over 'Unacceptably' High Road Accident Deaths

FILE - The site of a car crash is seen in Cape Town, South Africa.
FILE - The site of a car crash is seen in Cape Town, South Africa.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says road traffic crashes continue to take an unacceptably high toll with 1.25 million people dying each year from accidents, which are largely preventable.

The statistics are part of the “Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015” launched on Monday in Geneva.

The report, which is based on data collected from 180 countries, shows the number of annual deaths from road traffic crashes is stabilizing. It considers this good news since this is occurring while the number of motor vehicles is increasing rapidly and populations are growing worldwide.

But, in a particularly sobering note, the data also show that road crashes are the number one cause of death among young people between the ages of 15 and 29. The WHO report also finds a big gap in terms of road safety and deaths between poor and rich countries.

Israeli policemen inspect a car wreck in Jerusalem, Oct. 22, 2014.
Israeli policemen inspect a car wreck in Jerusalem, Oct. 22, 2014.

Africa, Middle East

It says 90 percent of road traffic deaths occur in low-and middle-income countries though they have just 54 percent of the world’s vehicles. The head of the WHO Department of Non-communicable Diseases, Etienne Krug, says the highest rate of traffic deaths is in Africa, followed by the Middle East.

“Africa has only two percent of the world’s vehicles, but has the highest death rate on the road. Some countries, such as Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, etc. have managed to decrease their road death rates by over 80 percent in the last decades by implementing a set of well-known measures. We are talking about improving legislation and enforcing it, particularly on the key risk factors such as speed, drinking and driving, the use of motorcycle helmets, seat belts and child restraints,” Krug said.

Indeed, Krug added that in the last three years, 17 countries have made progress by implementing road safety laws. He said rapid response after the crash also is important in saving lives. He said studies show half of deaths from injuries could be avoided if victims received good trauma care after the crash.

The report shows cyclists and pedestrians make up 26 percent of all road traffic deaths, with this figure reaching 33 percent in Africa.

The report also finds some vehicles sold in 80 percent of all countries fail to meet basic safety standards. This, it says is particularly true in the poorer countries where nearly 50 percent of the 67 million new passenger cars were produced last year.