The Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting created the distressing map above, which illustrates a too-often ignored global health crisis: the yearly toll of traffic fatalities. The map is part of “Roads Kill,” a series of reported pieces on global traffic safety. Editor Tom Hundley notes that traffic fatalities around the world have reached 1.24 million per year and could triple by 2030. In the developing world, road accidents will soon overtake HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis to become the fifth leading cause of death. A number of countries are profiled individually as part of the project, including Egypt, where journalist Lauren Bohn writes that yearly traffic fatalities are roughly equal to the number who died in 2011 uprising and cost the country more than $1 billion per year.
The data for the map comes from the World Health Organization’s 2013 Global status report on road safety. Africa is the world’s most dangerous region for traffic fatalities with 24.1 deaths per 100,000 population in 2010. The Dominican Republic was the most dangerous country with 41.7 per 100,000. (Not counting the tiny Pacific island of Niue, which technically had the highest rate even with only one fatality.)
The AP reported on the Dominican traffic epidemic earlier this summer:
It's not unusual in the Dominican Republic to see up to five people, including babies, scrunched atop a motorcycle, or for drivers to carry all types of cargo, including heavy gasoline tanks, atop their bikes. Motorists also dodge hundreds of dilapidated cars and trucks as they zoom across lanes without warning, fail to stop at red lights and go against traffic, often at high speed and sometimes even taking over sidewalks.[…]
Dominican officials believe a lethal mix of alcohol, speed and blatant disregard for traffic laws is to blame. On a recent weekend, police stopped more than 460 motorcycles and 170 cars in the capital of Santo Domingo, issuing tickets mostly for driving the wrong way or running red lights.
Many also focus on the growing prevalence of cheap, dangerous motorcycles here. An estimated 1.5 million of them race across the country, representing more than half of all vehicles on the road. The use of motorcycles has grown by an average of 12 percent each year, without taking into account those that aren't registered, according to government statistics.
To be fair, other countries may actually have higher rates than the DR: government underreporting of traffic fatalities is a serious problem according to the WHO.
The good news is that the numbers of deaths seem to have plateaued in the last four years measured, despite a large increase in the number of vehicles on the road, and decreased in 88 countries.
Only 7 percent of the world’s population is covered by what the WHO considers to be comprehensive legislation for the five risk factors for traffic fatalities: speed, drunk driving, motorcycle helmets, seat-belts, and child seats. Traffic laws, road signs, and speed bumps don’t often get mentioned as a potential way to save thousands of lives, but compared to some other persistent global problems this seems like fairly low-hanging fruit.