The World Health Organization is calling on China to improve road safety, saying an estimated 680 people are killed each day on the country's highways. WHO officials say the problem is growing worse as the number of vehicles in China skyrockets.

The World Health Organization presented its World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention to Chinese officials in Beijing Monday saying China has the most deadly roads. Some 1.2 million people die every year on roads around the globe, about 20 percent of them in China.

Etienne Krug, the WHO's director of Injury and Violence Prevention, says that while industrialized nations have seen their road accident deaths diminish every year, developing countries are experiencing a rise in highway fatalities. He says the poorest of the poor are the chief victims.

"Most of these people victimized on the roads are pedestrians, people on bicycles, people on motorcycles: people who would never be able to buy a car," said Mr. Krug.

The economic impact has been enormous. In the case of China, he says the annual cost of traffic deaths is equivalent to 1.5 percent of the country's gross domestic product or up to $20 billion.

With China's economic boom fueling an automobile revolution that is putting 14,000 new cars on the roads each day, road fatalities are increasing at an alarming rate.

The World Health Organization estimates 680 people die on China's roadways each day - more than twice the figure reported by China's government, which recently said that 285 people die on the highways daily.

Whatever the figure, WHO officials say it is clearly too high and are calling on Chinese officials to heed recommendations that include preparing a plan of action, and backing it up with funding.

The agency also recommends launching a public information and education campaign to teach millions of China's new drivers about the dangers of speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol, and the importance of using seatbelts and child restraints.