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WHO Report Highlights Global Health Risk of Traffic

3:39 PM EDT on June 16, 2009

capt.2680f7db33b94717a19bf178879a0b20.stallworth_pedestrian_killed_football_ny154.jpgPro football player Donte' Stallworth was sentenced to jail today after killing a pedestrian in an alcohol-related crash. (Photo: AP)

The disparity between the 13 percent of road fatalities suffered by non-drivers and the amount that the federal government spends on their safety -- less than 1 percent -- may come as a surprise to some Americans. But the situation is far worse in the developing world, according to a new World Health Organization report.

Surveying data on crashes and driving from 178 nations, the WHO found that wealthy nations such as the U.S., U.K. and Germany own more than half of the world's registered cars but suffer only 8.5 percent of global traffic fatalities.

It is low-income nations, from Vietnam to Ghana to Nepal, that must contend with more than 40 percent of worldwide traffic deaths despite owning less than 10 percent of all registered cars.

The WHO also found that non-drivers bear a significant share of traffic's health risks. Pedestrians and bike riders of all types account for nearly one-half of the world's 1.27 million annual deaths on the road.

Only 15 percent of nations, according to the report, have laws that fully address the five risk factors for traffic safety: speed, helmets, child restraints, seat belts and drunk driving.

As the Washington Post noted, the report's authors (who received funding from New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's philanthropic group) think their conclusions can provide momentum for something resembling a global "complete streets" movement:

Until the current recession, auto sales in some developing countrieswere increasing by more than 10 percent a year. The authors hope thereport will help stimulate governments and engineers to design roadsthat can accommodate a huge influx of cars but also out-of-car users.

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