A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) has found that enforcing stricter penalties for road offences significantly reduces traffic deaths and injuries.
The research, carried out in Spain, found that treating speeding, reckless driving and drink driving as serious criminal offences had a big impact on young male drivers -- motorcyclists in particular.
The fear of a prison sentence and a possible criminal record proved a strong deterrent to risky driving behaviour, WHO said.
After the Spanish government introduced a new law in 2007, the risk of serious road traffic injuries among male car drivers dropped by 14 percent, researchers found. There was no change to the figure for female motorists.
The risk of serious or fatal injuries in male motorcycle riders on rural roads dropped by 30 percent.
Eighty percent of drivers involved in injury-causing collisions are men, with the majority (70 percent) aged between 18 and 44, WHO said.
It estimates that road traffic injuries kill nearly 1.3 million people every year.
"Legislation is a very important factor in reducing road traffic deaths caused by speeding and drink-driving, yet only 15 percent of countries have comprehensive laws for these," said Dr Margie Peden, WHO Coordinator of Unintentional Injury Prevention.
Laws alone are not enough to deter road users from risky behaviour, however.
"They must be rigorously enforced and generate awareness and fear of the consequences of breaking the law," said study co-author Ana Novoa from Barcelona's Public Health Agency.
The research was published in the WHO's June bulletin.
This year saw the launch of the Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011-2020), encouraging countries to cut road deaths and injuries by implementing good safety practices and legislation.