- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2003

They say death doesn’t discriminate, but when it comes to road accidents, the evidence indicates otherwise.

Some people are much more likely to be killed, injured or disabled for life by traffic accidents, depending on their age, sex, economic status and home country, the United Nations and the World Health Organization say in a report.

“Road traffic injuries involve issues of equity,” said the report, which was based on information from the year 2000 gathered in countries all over the world.

Age and sex are determining factors. Young adults are affected disproportionately, with traffic injuries among their leading causes of death. About 60 percent of those killed in motor vehicle accidents around the world are between 15 and 44 years old.

Worldwide, the traffic mortality among men is nearly three times as high as it is for women, especially in places like China and India.

“In many countries, men drink more alcohol and have more access to cars. … They also tend to take more risks [while] driving,” said Etienne Krug, director of the U.N. Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention.

Street use also is a factor. In developing countries, most traffic victims are pedestrians, cyclists, children, users of public transportation or others not inside cars.

In developed countries, the victims tend to be automobile drivers and passengers. Children of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to die on the roads than those of more affluent parents.

“A further inequality issue is that poorer socioeconomic groups have less access to medical services, leading to disparities in chances of recovery or survival,” said the U.N.-WHO document.

Charles Mock, associate professor of surgery at the University of Washington in Seattle, said a study showed that among seriously injured patients, the mortality rate is 65 percent in Ghana (a low-income country), 50 percent in Mexico (middle income) and 30 percent in the United States (high income).

Life-threatening injuries that were treatable were fatal in 36 percent of cases in Ghana, compared with 6 percent in the United States.

Even weight and size matter. Britain’s Royal Automobile Club Foundation for Motorists said a study in the United States showed that people weighing between 220 and 238 pounds are almost 2 times more likely to die than people weighing less than 132 pounds.

A different study in New Zealand reached a similar conclusion, but also found that thin people are less protected by body fat, and thus have an increased risk of bone fracture that raises their injury rate.

The chances of injury in a road accident are higher for people living in low- to middle-income countries, where about 90 percent of the injuries occur. In 2000, the report shows, road injuries killed more than 1 million people in low- to middle-income countries, compared with 125,000 in high-income countries.

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