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Traffic casualties a growing global plague

A vast majority of the world’s countries ”85 percent” lack adequate laws to address the growing problem of traffic deaths and injuries, according to the World Health Organization’s first report on road safety.

Traffic injuries are the ninth-leading cause of death worldwide, and public health experts say that without intervention, they will rise to fifth within 20 years, surpassing AIDS and tuberculosis.

In many countries, the laws needed to protect people are either not there or are too limited in scope,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, the health organization’s director general, as she announced the findings Monday in New York “Even when the legislation is adequate, the problem we have is enforcement.”

The 287-page report is based on data from a 2008 survey of 178 countries, representing 98 percent of the world’s population. It builds on a 2004 report that estimated that 1.27 million people die and that an additional 20 million to 50 million are injured annually in traffic accidents.

Among the new findings: pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcycle riders make up almost half the deaths.

According to the health organization, about 90 percent of traffic injuries occur in developing countries, and the majority of victims are young, suggesting large economic losses for poor countries.

In addition to causing tremendous personal suffering, traffic deaths and injuries can impoverish families and burden already strained health systems, said. Dr. Etienne Krug, director of injury and violence prevention programs at the health organization.

“Very few people realize that this is one of the leading causes of death in the world, and the leading cause of death for young people,” Krug said. “Because it happens one by one, here and there, and not in mass events, it gets less attention.”

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