U.S. Leads World In Road Traffic Injuries And Deaths of Car Occupants

The United States leads the world in the percentage of road deaths and injuries to passenger car occupants compared to other road users, according to a AAA analysis of data released today by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

According to AAA, the nation's largest organization for motorists, 80 percent of all traffic deaths and injuries occur in passenger cars. Injuries and deaths involving pedestrians account for approximately 13 percent, motorized two-wheelers 5 percent and bicyclists less than 2 percent.

The findings are a part of the World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention released April 7 in Washington, D.C. by PAHO, the American branch of the World Health Organization, at a national kick-off event to commemorate World Health Day.

Traffic deaths and injuries constitute a major public health threat, especially to young people. To focus attention on the problem, the World Health Organization (WHO) partnered with AAA and designated "Safe Roads" as the theme for World Health Day 2004. It marks the first time in the WHO's 56-year history motor vehicle crashes have been highlighted as a health risk.

The U.S. data is in striking contrast to data from less motorized, low-to-middle income countries such as India, where car occupants suffer only 5 percent of traffic injuries, pedestrians more than 40 percent, occupants of motorized two-wheelers 25 percent and bicyclists approximately 15 percent. The majority of road traffic injuries, however, occur in these low-to-middle income countries.

Because car occupants are the largest group of road users affected by traffic injuries in the United States and other highly motorized countries, AAA is focusing on occupant protection as part of World Health Day to remind motorists buckling up is the single most important thing they can do for their health.

"Wearing your seatbelt not only saves your life, but also protects loved ones who are riding in the same vehicle," said Robert L. Darbelnet, president and CEO of AAA, at the World Health Day event. "Research shows buckled passengers are often injured or killed when struck by other passengers who had not fastened their seatbelt."

During his remarks, Darbelnet noted that the more than 42,000 deaths due to motor vehicle crashes in the United States have become widely accepted as inevitable.

"In round numbers, this loss of life is the equivalent of the Titanic going down every two weeks…year after year. That would not be accepted nor should our road fatalities be accepted either."

Darbelnet said there needs to be a new approach and it would take collaboration between the highway safety community and public health officials "to develop new and better ways to address the epidemic loss of life on our highways."

He acknowledged some progress has been made in reducing highway deaths and addressed the three most vulnerable groups of passenger car occupants; children, teens and seniors. He said AAA is addressing child passenger safety through seat inspections; AAA clubs throughout the nation have closed loopholes in 30 child passenger safety laws.

With regard to teen drivers, Darbelnet noted AAA clubs have led the effort to pass tougher rules for teens, also known as graduated drivers licensing laws, in forty-eight states and the District of Columbia.

He said AAA also will help seniors remain mobile for as long as safely possible by advocating for "senior-friendly" road improvements that make roads safer for all drivers and by offering a state-of-the-art senior driver self-assessment screening tool.

Darbelnet concluded his remarks by calling for a new approach in the way we think about highway crashes and the way we deal with this significant health epidemic.

"Perhaps the best way for us to honor this day and to memorialize those who have died needlessly on our roadways is to bring to an end this sad record of motor vehicle deaths and injuries," he said. "I firmly believe the United States and our colleagues at other automobile clubs throughout the world have the genius, the drive and the resources to achieve this goal."

Douglas E. Bower, president and COO of AAA Michigan, called on three groups to increase their commitment to achieving greater traffic safety:

  • Drivers and those who educate them or represent them, such as parents, teachers, lawmakers and organizations like AAA must intensify their efforts to make everyone wear a safety belt when in a vehicle.
  • Auto companies and auto equipment manufacturers should set new goals for achieving the highest possible safety ratings for the vehicles they design and build.
  • Engineers and construction experts who design, build and maintain the highway infrastructure; law enforcement officials who must be ever more vigilant in protecting us against drunk drivers and other traffic law violators, and emergency workers who are first to respond to a serious vehicle crash and can often save lives by taking quick, effective action.
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