The World Health Organization's Global Status Report on Road Safety revealed that some 1.25 million people are killed in traffic accidents around the world each year, with Africa by far the continent with the most dangerous roads. The report also found that vehicles sold in 80% of the world's countries fail to meet basic safety standards.
WHO chief Margaret Chan said, "Road traffic fatalities take an unacceptably high toll, particularly on poor people in poor countries." The report suggested that the situation is improving, with the number of deaths remaining stable in recent years even as the number of cars and other vehicles on the road has increased rapidly. Chan further added, "We're moving in the right direction. The report shows that road safety strategies are saving lives. But it also tells us that the pace of change is too slow."
The report said, "But traffic accidents are still the leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds worldwide and cost governments on average about 3% of their annual gross domestic products. And while many countries have stepped up efforts to improve the situation, including law changes and making vehicles and roads safer, many poorer nations especially are lagging far behind."
A full 90% of global road traffic deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, even though they count only 54% of the world's vehicles. The death rate in Africa was found to be particularly high, counting 26.6 annual traffic deaths for every 100,000 citizens, compared with 9.3 in Europe, where the death rate is the lowest.
The report showed that nearly half of all those killed in traffic are either walking or on two wheels, with pedestrians accounting for 22% of all deaths, motorcyclists making up 23%, and cyclists 4%. Africa is particularly deadly for pedestrians and cyclists, who make up 43% of all road traffic deaths on the continent.
The report found that road safety had improved significantly in countries with laws regulating five risk factors: speed, drunk driving, and the use of helmets, seat belts and child seats. It said, "Over the last three years, 17 countries, with a total of 409 million inhabitants, have adopted laws in at least one of these areas in line with international best practices."
WHO recommends that maximum speed in urban areas should be set no higher than 50 kilometers (31 miles) per hour. But, it was observed that only 47 countries, representing 950 million people, respect this recommendation. The UN agency also recommends to limit permitted blood alcohol levels to below 0.05 grams, and for younger drivers to 0.02 grams. However, only 34 countries, with a total population of 2.1 billion, follow these recommendations. The report said, "21 of these countries are in the European region, suggesting the need to extend good practice globally."
As for helmet use, WHO recommends it to be made mandatory for all two-wheel users, including children, but only 44 countries, with some 1.2 billion inhabitants, currently have such laws on the books. About 161 countries meanwhile have national seat belt laws, and 105 of them, representing 4.8 billion people, meet best practices by requiring that the life-saving belts are fastened both in the front and back seats.