While high-income countries are experiencing a decade of record reductions in road fatalities, the opposite is true in poorer nations.
That's according to the just-released International Transport Forum's road safety annual group report, which monitors safety in about 30 countries (primarily Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development -- OECD -- member nations) worldwide. Caveat: the report only covers ITF member countries -- places that maintain reliable, comprehensive data -- and so omits large swaths of the world.
According to the ITF, 1.3 million people were killed in road crashes worldwide in 2010 and 50 million were injured. Nine out of ten victims were in low and middle-income countries.
Several countries recorded pronounced reductions in deaths, including the U.S., Hungary, Ireland and Denmark. But Stephen Perkins, the head of research for ITF, said "while performance is improving in most of our members countries...Malaysia stands out with its very high number of deaths. And Cambodia -- our newest member country -- instead of reporting a positive trend in the last decade reported a 300 percent increase in the number of deaths."
And those are just two countries for which good statistics exist. India would likely top the list of most dangerous countries -- if it recorded fatalities reliably, said panelists presenting at the ITF summit in Leipzig. If it did, it would top the list.
This is typical of countries in a stage of very rapid development of motorization, Perkins said, adding that "the biggest challenge for road safety today is halting the growth in road deaths in the developing world." These are countries with sub-par infrastructure. The vehicles that are driven tend to be in bad shape and given to sudden breakdowns. Moreover, these countries are more likely to lack safety laws and the ability to enforce the ones they do have.
(Side note: as Marketplace has reported, India and China represent the future of the global car market.)
But on several graphs -- like the one at the very top of this story -- the U.S. ranked among the worst-performing countries. Can this be true?
"You are absolutely right," said Veronique Feypel, a road safety expert for the ITF. "This is a fact. Nevertheless, while most OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries started to see a decreasing trend (in fatalities) about 15 or 20 years ago, it seems that in the U.S. this trend started about two or three years ago."
She said the ITF was encouraged by the U.S.'s progress. "Just two years ago, the rates in the U.S. were about 15 killed per 100,000, now it's around 11. Very big progress." She added that road safety "is very high on the political agenda" -- no doubt a nod to U.S. Department of Transportation head Ray LaHood.
In December, the U.S. reported its lowest traffic fatality numbers in 60 years.
Stephen Perkins acknowledged that breaking down the numbers by population -- instead of by miles driven -- was just one measuring tool. Another is the sheer amount of driving a country does. When you look at "how many billions of kilometers are driven per year," he said "the U.S. comes out in a relatively better position, because it's such a highly motorized country."
While the ITF reported that fatalities declined almost across the board for most kinds of car crashes, fatalities rose among pedestrians -- 4,280 walkers died in 2010, versus 4,109 in 2009.
You can read the report here (pdf).