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Death in developing countries: The role of road accidents

April 1, 2011

By Fiorenzo Conte (hat tip to Sophie Stevens for the input)

If one asks, what are the causes of mortality in developing countries, one (at least I used to) would think the majority is caused by infectious diseases. One would probably be right yet other causes of mortality and injury also play a significant role. This is the case of road accidents. How many people are killed or injured by road accidents?

“Road crashes kill 260,000 children a year, injure about 10 million and are the leading cause of death among 10-19 year olds.(BBC) Most accidents happen in developing countries with the lions share in South-East Asia and Africa.

“Traffic accidents account for more than a million deaths and 50 million injuries each year worldwide; children 5 to 14 are most at risk” here

A road safety campaign in Benin

A road safety campaign in Benin...

Another important statistic is the rate of fatalities per vehicle:

“Perhaps the most telling statistic of all comes from the WBCSD Mobility Report (2004) which states that fatalities per vehicle in low income countries are 75 times the fatalities per vehicle in high income countries.” here

“Fatality rates in developing countries are 25-30 per 10,000 vehicles, compared to 1 to 2 per 10,000 vehicles in rich nations” (World Bank)

...and its impact (or lack thereof)

These statistics are particularly significant because this ratio (number of fatalities per vehicle) is set to increase as the country develops economically (yes, economic growth won’t do the job to reduce the death toll and yes economic growth can have some side effects). Why? The rate of economic growth usually outstrips the capacity of the state to adjust its infrastructure. So with  “rapid urbanisation, increased transit traffic on corridor roads, and increased mobility leading to a rapid increase in inexperienced road users” road-accidents related deaths will increase. So what are governments in developing countries doing? Not much. Why? The WB expert Blyss explains here that the phenomenon is invisible as the insidious loss of lives is slow. Historic evidence shows that developed countries took 40 years to reduce the fatality rate to 1 per 10,000 vehicles. Will developing countries have to wait so long? Not necessarily. As Gerschenkron recognized a long time ago, the advantage of the late comers is to leap frog in the process of development. One does not have to go through all the phases of trial and error, one can just copy what worked. The assistance of developed countries to strengthen the capacity of DCs to make road safer would, according to the WB, shorten the learning curve.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sneh permalink
    April 3, 2011 5:50 am

    Thanks Fio (and Sophie) for including this issue: it’s something we face on a day to day basis on the roads of Kathmandu (and in the rest of Nepal). It’s time we invested more in road safety and increasing traffic civic sense…

    An old blog piece dated March 2009, lists road and traffic accidents as the “unseen and unarmed war” in Nepal–http://community.eldis.org/.59c11826

    Injuries account for 8% of deaths in Nepal with road traffic accidents topping the list of what causes these injuries–http://www.kumj.com.np/ftp/issue/17/editorial2.pdf (2007)

    • Laura permalink
      April 15, 2011 10:16 am

      This is a fascinating issue and definitely something you’re aware of when on the roads in developing countries – inexperienced drivers of cars and motorbikes, combined with bad roads, lack of awareness of the level of risk associated with drink driving, and massive congestion definitely cause a lot of deaths. One thing I will point out though, is that the fatalities per vehicle statistic is lower in high income countries not only because of better road safety, but also because of the tendency to own multiple cars and travel with only one person in the car. In low-income countries, the number of people per car tends to be much higher, so whereas an accident between two cars in a developed country may only involve two people, in a developing country it is likely to involve many more. I’d also be interested to know if this figure includes deaths from motorbikes – of which there are many more in developing countries, but which wouldn’t show up in the number of cars statistics.

  2. May 6, 2011 6:10 pm

    WHO has just launched the Decade of Action for Road Safety. The goal is to improve safety on road and vehicles:

    “The Global Plan outlines steps towards improving the safety of roads and vehicles; enhancing emergency services; and building up road safety management generally. It also calls for increased legislation and enforcement on using helmets, seat-belts and child restraints and avoiding drinking and driving and speeding. Today only 15% of countries have comprehensive laws which address all of these factors.

    Pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists collectively represent almost half of those killed on the world’s roads. Most of the progress has been made in the last few decades has been towards protecting people in cars. The Global Plan suggests measures that may afford these vulnerable groups protection – such as building cycle and foot-paths and separate motorcycle lanes or improving access to safe public transport.”

    This is the full link http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2011/road_safety_20110506/en/index.html

  3. January 12, 2012 9:18 am

    The actual increasing variety of targeted traffic automobile accident frauds in britain is now an underlying cause for issue for many road users…. Once you have appointed a vehicle accident attorney at law ; Accidents Uk

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