Latin America: Car Crashes Kill more People than Crime and Violence

May 12, 2011

By the time you have finished reading this story more than 30 people would have died or suffered life threatening injures in Latin America as result of a road accident.

As matter of fact, traffic accidents kill more people in Latin America than crime and violence –a factor of life widely reported as the region’s top concern. The average number of homicides in Latin America – 20 per 100,000 – is lower than the average number of people killed in car accidents each year.

As dramatic as it may sound, this comes as no surprise. The region’s road safety record is the worst in the world, with over 130,000 fatalities and 6 million seriously injured people every year following car crashes.

Top transit experts, government officials and the general public were reminded of this tragic plight, and ways to address it, at the Second Road Safety Forum for Ibero-America and the Caribbean that opened this week in Mexico.

The worst part is that most of those deaths and injuries afflict mostly the young, especially in the 5-14 age bracket, becoming the leading cause of productive years lost and a burden for future generations, said World Bank regional vice president Pamela Cox.

Beyond the steep cost of traffic accidents for governments and individuals –1.5 percent of GDP per year in middle-income countries— a real human tragedy hides behind the numbers, noted Cox.

"Behind each of these numbers is a family losing hope about a better future, children that will need to fight harder to get access to opportunities because of their disabilities, mothers that will need to work two, three jobs because their husbands are dead or disabled", Cox said. Partly to blame for this situation is urban sprawl with its inherent lack of basic services –including safe transportation – for its dwellers. Lain America is one of the world’s most urbanized regions, and in spite of recent progress, nearly 40 percent of urban residents live in poverty with few access to economic and social opportunities.

Cox said that improving transport infrastructure in Latin America is not only an economic issue but a safety issue as well.

Conscious of the high cost of inaction, the international community hopes to improve the world’s safety record on the road before the decade is over.

Help is on its way

Launched this week, the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011 purports to cut in half the number of road deaths by 2020 which for Latin America represents 325,000 lives saved. Globally, 5 million people would not find a premature death on the world’s treacherous roads.

Latin America has quickly jumped on this bandwagon and is paving the way for better and safer roads with some pioneering initiatives that emphasize concerted actions –across a number of sectors- for making our roads safer.

In Argentina, for instance, the World Bank has worked with local authorities to develop a lead agency, charged with implementing a comprehensive approach to road safety. Results are already showing: a 10 percent reduction in fatalities from the peak over the last 5 years; and a 50percent reduction in fatalities in the past few years in some high traffic corridors.

In Colombia, work carried out in urban transport improvement is resulting in safer access to public transport for disabled persons.

In Tegucigalpa, Honduras, the Bank has provided technical support to assess the costs and benefits of design enhancements for safe road use in road improvement, bus lane and sidewalk design.

And in Belize, a focus on road safety enhancement has become the organizing principle for prioritization of municipal road infrastructure improvement.

Cox concluded that the Bank looks forward to working with countries in the region to try to expand its current support on road safety issues.

"We face this challenge with the growing evidence of international good will and financial support and with the benefit of an expanding set of policies and procedures based on successful practices", Cox said.