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Health Organisation report makes for gloomy reading

A World Health Organisation (WHO) study has found that almost half the number of people who die across the world in road accidents each year are 'non-vehicle occupants', including cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists.

And although the total number of road accident-related deaths currently stands at 1.27 million, this could almost double in two decades.

The WHO study is the first global assessment of road safety, and it shows that cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists are among the most vulnerable road users on the planet.

In addition, the poor are disproportionately victims of road accidents. The WHO has called on governments across the world to enforce safety standards to cut the death toll. Among the road-safety measures proposed are limiting speed, reducing drunken driving and increasing use of seat belts, child restraints and motorcycle helmets.

The survey was done using information provided by 178 countries, which account for 98 per cent of the world's 6.6-billion people.

WHO director-general Margaret Chan said at UN headquarters in New York: "We found that in many countries the laws necessary to protect people are either not in place or are not comprehensive. Ninety per cent of deaths occur in countries which have only 48 percent of the world's vehicles.

"Even when there is adequate legislation, most countries report that their enforcement is low."

The survey predicted that the number of deaths from traffic accidents worldwide could increase to 2.4 million by 2030. Traffic crashes by 2030 could also cause between 20 million and 50 million non-fatal casualties.

Road traffic death rates have stabilised or declined in many high-income countries in recent decades but the study found road deaths in most regions were increasing.

With road injuries a top-three killer of people aged five to 44, costing an estimated $518 billion in losses annually and knocking three percent off global economic output, the WHO study said all countries needed to redouble their road safety efforts.

While developed countries like the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands fare much better in terms of road deaths than poorer countries, the WHO’s findings tie in with a National Audit Office survey last month which concluded that danger levels for cyclists in the UK had increased by 11 per cent in the three years to 2007, although cycling itself was generally safer.

Dr Etienne Krug, director of the WHO's department of violence and injury prevention and disability, said: "Even the top performers globally are often stagnating and still have considerable room for improvement in achieving safe road transport systems.”