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Status Report, Vol. 48, No. 5 | June 27, 2013 Subscribe

The chances of dying in a crash vary across the globe

Estimated traffic deaths per 100,000 people (source: World Health Organization)

About 1.2 million people die in road crashes worldwide each year, and pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists account for about half of the deaths. In developing nations, this group makes up a larger percentage of deaths because a much higher proportion of road users are pedestrians, motorcyclists or bicyclists than in high-income countries. Less than 35 percent of developing countries have highway safety laws to protect pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists, the World Health Organization says.

For vehicle occupants, crashworthy cars with good restraint systems are key to reducing deaths and injuries, but vehicle-based strategies don't address the entire problem. Better road infrastructure and adoption and enforcement of laws that address preventable deaths and injuries also are needed. Only 28 countries, representing 7 percent of the world's population, have comprehensive national laws to address five key risk factors, WHO estimates. These include laws on speeding, alcohol-impaired driving, safety belt use in front and rear seats, child restraint use and motorcycle helmets for all riders.

In the U.S., 32,367 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2011, the lowest number of fatalities recorded since 1949. Of the total, 66 percent were people in passenger vehicles, 14 percent were pedestrians, 14 percent were motorcyclists, 2 percent were bicyclists and 2 percent were people in large trucks. See more in Fatality Facts.

Safety gains aren't global

Car buyers in the U.S. benefit from a safety marketplace where there is a wealth of consumer information. The story is different in developing markets, but some groups are helping them catch up.

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