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Tue 1 May 2007 12:00 AM

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Car crashes killing world's youth

Nearly 400,000 young people are killed in road traffic accidents every year, says WHO.

Road traffic crashes are the major cause of death among young people between 10 and 24 years, according to a new report published by the WHO. The report, ‘Youth and Road Safety', says that nearly 400,000 young people under the age of 25 are killed in road traffic crashes every year. Millions more are injured or disabled.

The vast majority of these deaths and injuries occur in low- and middle-income countries. The highest rates are found in Africa.

Arab countries did not fare well in the report, which used data from 2002. Most Arab nations registered a death rate of 15-19.9 individuals per 100,000 amongst people aged under 25. Algeria was in the highest bracket of 20+ deaths per 100,000 people. Lebanon, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar were in the lowest bracket of -10 deaths per 100,000.

Young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are at greatest risk in every country. Young males are at higher risk for road traffic fatalities than females in every age group under 25 years.

"The lack of safety on our roads has become an important obstacle to health and development," said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO director-general. "Our children and young adults are among the most vulnerable. Road traffic crashes are not ‘accidents'. We need to challenge the notion that they are unavoidable and make room for a pro-active, preventive approach."

That WHO has warned that unless more comprehensive action is taken, the number of deaths and injuries is likely to rise significantly. Road traffic collisions cost an estimated US $518 billion globally in material, health and other expenditure. For many low- and middle-income countries, the cost of road crashes represents between 1-1.5% of GNP and in some cases exceeds the total amount the countries receive in international development aid.

‘Youth and Road Safety' stresses that the bulk of these crashes are predictable - and preventable. Many involve children playing on the street, young pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, novice drivers and passengers of public transport.

The report points out that children's unique circumstances - their height, level of maturity, interests, and need to play and travel to school - mean that they require special safety measures. Also, the report says, protecting older youth requires other measures such as lower blood alcohol limits for young drivers and graduated license programmes.

‘Youth and Road Safety' highlights examples in countries where measures such as lowering speed limits; cracking down on drink-driving; and enforcing the use of seat-belts, restraints and motorcycle helmets have significantly reduced the number of deaths and injuries.

‘Youth and Road Safety' is accompanied by a second document, ‘Faces behind the figures: voices of road traffic crash victims and their families'. Developed jointly by WHO and the Association for Safe International Road Travel, this book presents first-hand accounts of the experiences of victims, their families and friends following road crashes.

Nearly 1.2 million people (adults and children) die as a result of road traffic crashes every year. Millions more are injured or disabled. The vast majority (over 90%) of all road traffic deaths and injuries occur in low-income and middle-income countries.

The First United Nations Global Road Safety Week, organised by WHO, the UN Regional Commissions and partners, took place on 23-29 April 2007. As part of the event, a World Youth Assembly was held in Geneva on 23-24 April in an effort to promote greater awareness of road safety and to give young people a voice. World leaders including the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and stars including Moby were lined up as event speakers.

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