METRO MANILA, September 9, 2003 (STAR) By Sheila Crisostomo  - More than 10 million people all over the world die in traffic accidents every year, "making it a leading cause of death in all regions," the World Health Organization (WHO) said yesterday.

WHO director general Dr. Lee Jong-wook raised the alarm over the rising number of deaths from traffic accidents and said public education about road safety should be strengthened to minimize them.

Lee said the next World Health Day, to be held on April 7 next year, "will be dedicated to road safety and to the clear public health intervention that can be taken to reduce the number of people injured and killed in traffic accidents."

In the Philippines, the Metro Manila Development Authority recorded 1,329 traffic accidents in the metropolis alone in August 2003 — 14 to 17 mishaps a day.

The government has implemented various regulations to prevent road accidents. One of these policies is the passage of Republic Act 8750 or the Seatbelt Law that requires the use of seatbelts in all vehicles. The bill met strong objections from various transport groups but was eventually passed into law.

According to WHO, traffic laws in many developing countries are limited or are inadequately enforced.

"Often the traffic mix is more complex than that in developed countries and involves two- and four-wheeled vehicles, animal-drawn vehicles and other conveyances, plus pedestrians, all sharing the same road space," the WHO said.

It noted that developing countries may have roads that are poorly constructed and maintained, with inadequate road signs and lighting, and motorists that have poor driving habits.

In a study done by WHO dated January 2002, road traffic injuries were the second leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 44 years. Eighty-eight percent of these deaths occurred in low and middle-income countries, where the majority of casualties were pedestrians, cyclists and riders of motorized two-wheelers.

Though more than a quarter of all road traffic deaths occur in Southeast Asia, Africa has the highest road traffic death rate at 28.2 per 100,000 population.

"Studies from developing countries indicate a steady increase in the number of road traffic accidents and in road traffic injury and fatality rates over the past few decades, as a result of increase of motor vehicles and traffic congestion," WHO said.

The study said that globally, almost three times as many males than females die from road traffic injuries. The WHO attributed this to males’ greater exposure to driving, as well as to high-risk behavior when behind the wheel such as drinking, drug use, aggressive behavior to be in control of situations and risky driving.

The study noted that more male pedestrians who are injured are either intoxicated or engaging in risky behavior.

Among child pedestrians suffering road traffic injuries, boys are usually involved in more incidents than young girls. Traffic collisions involving children on bicycles report higher fatality rates for boys, and all deaths involved moving vehicles. Most of these collisions were attributed to unsafe cycling behavior on the part of the children, the WHO said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved