Few who have dared transit India’s hair-raising highways or dodged the cattle that wander its pavement-bereft high streets will be surprised: the country leads the world in terms of the sheer number of road fatalities — around 105,725 a year at the latest count.So says the World Health Organisation in its first comprehensive report on global road safety, a document that covers 98 per cent of the planet’s population and that otherwise appears to confirm many widely held prejudices regarding national attitudes and aptitudes.
In terms of deaths per capita, the deadliest place to travel by road is Eritrea, a beleaguered African state where a fragile peace exists after 30 years of war. There were an estimated 48 deaths per 100,000 people in the former Italian colony in 2007, a world record.
As in most countries, the number of men killed through road accidents vastly outstripped that of women, in Eritrea’s case by three-to-one — the same ratio as in Britain.
The only other country to come close to Eritrea’s record was the Cook Islands, with 45 deaths per 100,000 people. The tiny South Pacific nation has a population of just 13,325, five of whom expired through road accidents in 2007, the year recorded in the study.
Doing their bit to reinforce the prejudice that the Levant’s drivers are among the world’s most erratic, Egypt (41.6) and Libya (40.5), both long notorious for the bedlam that reigns on their roads, were the next deadliest places to travel.
Britain, by contrast, reported only 5.4 deaths per 100,000 people, making it about as safe as the Netherlands and marginally safer than Germany (6) and France (7.5).
The safest country was the Marshall Islands, whose 59,000 inhabitants own just 2,487 vehicles and suffered just one fatal traffic accident last year. The tiny Pacific state’s other claim to fame: it has the highest rate of leprosy in the world.
The case of Afghanistan, however, is probably the most baffling. In the WHO report, the country, which is embroiled in a fierce war and where large areas are under Taleban control, scored a perfect “10” for enforcing the national speed limit of 50km/h in urban areas. It was the only country out of the 178 surveyed to do so.
Likewise — though perhaps less surprisingly given its share of Islamists — Afghanistan was also alone in scoring the top mark for enforcing strict drink driving laws that permit no alcohol to be found consumed by a driver.
Afghanistan’s perfect scores were awarded by a panel of eight experts from the country – three from the Government and five independents. A WHO official admitted that the the rating “was open to interpretation”.
Even so, the country suffered an estimated 39 deaths per 100,000 people — making it one of the most dangerous places to be on a road.
The country with the most cars — the United States, with more than 251 million vehicles between 306 million people — suffered 13.9 fatalities per 100,000 people, about the same as Azerbaijan, Turkey and Sri Lanka.
According to the WHO report, about 1.3 million people die each year on the world’s roads, while between 20 and 50 million sustain non-fatal injuries. Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among young people, aged between 15 and 44.
The document also confirmed how much more vulnerable are road users not travelling by car. Almost half of the estimated 1.27 million people who die in road traffic crashes every year are pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists.
“While progress has been made towards protecting people in cars, the needs of these vulnerable groups of road users are not being met,” the organisation said.