Foreign roads can be deadly for travelers ; Crashes, especially in developing countries, present growing threat
Motor vehicle crashes -- not crime or terrorism -- are the No.1 killer of healthy Americans in foreign countries. And the threat to travelers is poised to increase dramatically as worldwide economic growth gives more people access to motor vehicles.
The World Health Organization and the World Bank estimated in a 2004 joint report that 1.2 million people are killed each year in traffic crashes, and 20 million to 50 million are injured or disabled. About 85% of the deaths are in low- and middle-income countries. The organizations predict that traffic fatalities worldwide will increase to 2.3 million in 2020, nearly double today's fatalities.
Over the 30-year period ending in 2020, the report predicts an 80% increase in fatalities in low- and middle-income countries vs. a 30% decline in high-income countries, including the USA.
The fatality rate is soaring in low- and middle-income countries for many reasons, including a growing number of motor vehicles, unsafe roads that are also used by pedestrians and cyclists, weak enforcement of motor vehicle laws, little government investment in road safety and poor emergency medical response to accident scenes.
Drivers' unfamiliarity a factor
Mexico's a particular concern
State Department data show that travelers should be particularly concerned in Mexico, a USA TODAY analysis shows. In the three years ended in 2006, at least 280 Americans lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes in Mexico, the nation Americans visit most.
Contrast that with Americans' experience in Canada, their second- most-visited country. Though Canada gets about 70% of the number of U.S. visitors to Mexico, the State Department has recorded just 11 U.S. traffic deaths in Canada for the 2004-2006 period.
"Justifiably, billions of dollars are being mobilized to address the HIV/AIDS crisis," Bliss says, "whereas the road-crash crisis is only in the early stages of being recognized as a global priority."
(c) 2010 Maya Chilam Foundation