WHO (World Health Organisation) today projected that by 2020 road accidents will be the third highest threat to public health, outranking public health issues like tuberculosis, diarrhoea and HIV/AIDS.
In South Asia alone, road traffic fatalities are expected to increase from 135,000 in 2000 to 330,000 in 2020, a 144 percent increase in deaths from road crashes, according to a WHO report 'World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention' released Tuesday.
Around 85 percent of the road accident deaths in the world occur in developing countries, with South Asia accounting for a fifth of the fatalities.
The region has witnessed a rapid increase in motorised traffic, typically over 10 percent annually in major urban areas, according to the WHO.
The report highlights that most of the victims of road accidents are not necessarily in a motor vehicle. Pedestrians, cyclists and motorcycle riders were the most vulnerable road users and accounted for the majority of traffic deaths in low and middle-income countries.
In Bangladesh, pedestrians alone comprise almost 75 percent of road accident fatalities while in India 'pedestrians and bicyclists account for around 55 percent of accidents and pedestrians, bicyclists and motor cyclists account for over 80 percent of the total road traffic deaths'.
The pattern is similar in Sri Lanka, where the figures are 45 percent and 80 percent respectively.
A shortage of safe, affordable travel options makes things even worse for the poor, the report points out.
'The human and economic damage caused by road crashes is largely preventable. Flaws in road design and engineering coupled with driver behaviour can be overcome with concerted effort,' states the UN body's report.
It points out that in South Asia governments have been slow to cope with the growing level of traffic.
'Setting up agencies with a separate budget and the power to enforce regulations to address road safety at an institutional level would be an important step forward,' the report states.
'Road safety audits should be introduced by road agencies as an important crash prevention measure. Important design and traffic calming measures such as median drivers, speed bumps, rumble strips, road markings, traffic signs and roundabouts are usually not present in most of these countries.'
The report highlights that the World Bank has been helping many of the South Asian countries including India in improving hazardous locations on the national highway and state highway networks as well as the installation of safer road features and devices.
In India, the World Bank has provided funding for improvements of accident black spots, installation of reflective traffic signs and road markings in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh.