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Road Safety by Dr. Rajiv Narula

The peak travel season is on us, due to the slow down in the economy, there has probably been some reduction in spending towards leisure activities, like vacations. However in our Travel Clinic in NYC we are seeing a lot of travels who are going to locations like India, Peru, Bolivia, Thailand, Cambodia , China, etc. People travel for several reasons: for adventure, exploration, relaxation, see how other people live and for other countless reasons. During the pre travel consultation we do a risk assessment on possible health issue that will face the traveler at the destination. Most of the infectious issues are looked after with proper advice, vaccinations, medications, and sometimes with treatment if exposure occurs. One aspect of the talk has to do with road safety . Things that we take for granted here are – like road conditions/ traffic laws / vehicle safety do NOT exist is many parts of the world.

According to the World Health Organization study, World Health Report 1999 1,171,000 people are killed and approximately 10 million are injured annually in road traffic accidents. These numbers do not include data from countries where road accidents are unreported. Numbers like this should cause alarm but unfortunately, as most road accidents occur one at a time society does not register much interest unless a famous person is involved. Dr. Alan Ross, technical Director of the Global Road Safety partnership, put these in a different perspective – “ 2925 JUMBO JETS EACH CARRYING 400 PERSONS CRASHED THIS YEAR”. This would have formed the creation of commissions to look into and to try an reduce the numbers.

In the year 2020 , road accidents will become the third leading cause of death, this as pera a study by the Harvard School of Public Health. In 1997 a study done by Dicle Univ School of Medicine, Diyarbakir, Turkey, found that out of the 329 deaths due to trauma 131 or 40% were caused by motor vehicle accidents., is the web site of the Association for Safe International Road Travel, they have all the information on road accidents by countries, according to them the top countries for fatalities per 100 million vehicle kilometers are Egypt (44), Krygstan(24), Sri Lanka (23), Rep of Korea(21),Turkey(20).

The developing world owns 32% of the world’s vehicles, but account for 75% of the annual vehicle accidents. 85 % of road fatalities occur in developing countries. There are several reasons for this:

  • Poorly enforcement/ or existence of traffic laws.
  • Poor road construction and/or maintaince.
  • Inadequate road signs/ poor street lightening.
  • No formal driving training required.
  • Mixing of motorized, animal drawn, pedestrian traffic, without any form of control
  • Lack of seat belts, the concept of using one is seen in the West, other parts of the world see seat belts as ‘uncool/ a western paranoia’.
  • Lack of a proper trauma system, whereby accident victims can be properly triaged and taken for treatment.

As you can imagine the economic toll of road accidents is enormous, the World Bank estimates it to be in the vicinity of $500 billion dollars per year, in some countries this accounts for 1-3 % of the GNP . For developing countries road crashes cost $60 billion , this is almost twice the amount that is received for assistance from world bodies.

So as a traveler who is going for a 2 week vacation or on a business trip what should you do :

  • Do NOT drive or attempt to drive while on your trip, rent a cab.
  • Night driving even if in a cab can be unsafe, travel at night ONLY if you have to.
  • Public transportation in several developing countries can be an experience – they will probably be dangerously overloaded, lack of clean rest rooms, etc.
  • Do NOT use mopeds/ motorcycles and other recreational vehicles, if you do then make sure about their safety and make sure you use a helmet and are aware of the road rules. And NO DRINKING !! Among Peace Corp Volunteers 33% of all motor vehicle accident deaths occurred because of use of these vehicles. In European studies death rate from motorcycle accidents is ten times higher than for car accidents and injury rate is six times higher.
  • Getting evacuation insurance, so that in case of hospitalization in a foreign country , you can get air-evacuated to a hospital in your hometown.
  • Before you leave familiarize your self with what to expect at your destination, provides useful info on country specific traffic issues.