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Science

WHO report highlights dangers of road traffic

The global status report on road safety for 2015 is more promising than many expected. The number of fatal accidents is down - but unfortunately not everywhere, according to data from the World Health Organization.

About 1.25 million people are killed in traffic accidents worldwide. This is the grim message from the #link:http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/road_safety_status/2015/en/:global status report on road safety 2015,# published by the World Health Organization (WHO) this week.

The good news is that there has not been an increase in fatal road accidents as some had predicted - even though the number of cars on the road has increased steadily. According to the report, 79 countries even managed to reduce the numbers of fatalities.

Regulation key

The most significant improvement was in countries that implemented and enforced stricter traffic rules. 105 countries in the world now enforce safety belt laws. 47 countries apply a maximum speed limit of 50 kilometers or 35 miles per hour within towns and villages.

Drunk driving is illegal in 34 countries. Helmets for motorcyclists are obligatory in 44 countries and 54 countries have laws, demanding safety seats for children. Also better technology in cars has contributed to a significant decrease in traffic-related deaths.

"Thanks to better laws and better infrastructure, almost half a million people are better protected from traffic accidents today then they were just a few years ago," New York mayor Michael Bloomberg stressed. His foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, supported the study. But a lot more needs to be done, to increase traffic safety.

Developing countries often lagging behind

Even though the report overall was more optimistic than expected, the bad news is that the number of traffic-related deaths has gone up in poorer countries. About 90 percent of the 1.25 million fatal traffic accidents occur in countries with low or medium average income - even though only 54 percent of all cars worldwide are being used there.

Africa is the region with the highest rates of traffic fatalities, while Europe has the lowest rates of fatal crashes, the authors conclude.

When looking at individual countries, the difference becomes particularly obvious. In 2013, in highly motorized Germany 4.3 out of 100,000 people died in traffic accidents. In Libya - which is at the other end of the scale - there are 73.4 fatalities for the same number of citizens - even though significantly fewer people can afford their own car.

It is not just drivers who are affected. Pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists are also at risk. According to the WHO, pedestrians make up 22 percent of all fatalities worldwide, motorcyclists 23 percent and cyclists four percent. But in Africa, the figures are more drastic: 43 percent of all people killed are cyclists.

"Road traffic fatalities take an unacceptable toll - particularly on poor people in poor countries," Margaret Chan, director general of the WHO, said.

Implementing standards worldwide

The latest figures show, however, that implementing and enforcing laws have a positive effect on traffic safety. Most importantly, fines and penalties for speeding, drunk driving and violating safety belt and child seat rules.

However, most countries worldwide lack these basic regulations, 80 percent of all countries do not have or implement such rules.

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