Researchers, who published their study findings in the journal Injury Prevention, used national statistics on transport and deaths police reports, as well as data on regional Gross Domestic Product (GDP), road quality and the number of vehicles in each of the 31 provinces, to map the geographic distribution of road deaths in China between 1985 and 2005.
The findings showed that road traffic deaths in China increased 95 percent from 3.9 to 7.6 per 100,000 of the population during these two decades. Worldwide, road traffic injuries became the ninth leading cause and disability in 1990. Road fatalities already are the leading cause of death in China for people up to the age of 45.
During the study’s time period, the number of cars on China’s roads increased nine-fold, and the number of other vehicles, principally motorcycles, jumped by a factor of 54. There was no link between the rate of deaths and regional GDP, road quality or the average number of road vehicles in the province.
In general, the regions with the lowest population density had the highest overall death rates per 100,000 motor vehicles. But the largest increases in death rates occurred in economically well-developed provinces. Deaths in these areas can be explained by higher numbers of road vehicles, said the authors.
In less developed areas, the toll is likely to be explained by poor quality roads, difficulty in accessing prompt medical care, a lesser degree of medical expertise and greater vulnerability to injury for pedestrians and cyclists.
The authors note that China’s road death rate leveled off slightly in 2002 and 2003 after having risen sharply in previous years. This is not likely to be sustained, however, as vehicle ownership grows and China’s economic development continues at a rapid pace.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that approximately half of the drivers in China do not wear safety belts. The researchers point out that road traffic deaths in China are expected to rise an additional 92 percent between 2000 and 2020.