Road deaths fell in OECD countries in 1999, but injuries rose

Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry

The downward trend in road fatalities in 18 OECD countries for which data are available continued in 1999, with a 1.9% reduction compared with 1998. However, crashes in which people were injured maintained the disturbing upward trend of the past 20 years, with a 1.5% increase in 1999 relative to 1998.

In 1999, Greece, Hungary, Norway, Poland and Spain achieved reductions in the number of road accidents in which fatalities or injuries occurred. France, Iceland, Japan, and Switzerland also achieved reductions in road fatalities. But the number of road deaths in Australia, Denmark, Germany and the United States remained relatively stable. And in Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden, the number of people killed on roads increased by more than 2%. To put these figures in context, the fatalities per 100,000 population are also given in the table (see link).

On average, OECD countries’ road safety performance in 1999 followed the trend of a general decline in road fatalities over the past 20 years. Since 1970, despite a 50% jump in the number of registered vehicles and increased usage of individual vehicles, 30% fewer people have been killed on OECD roads.

Even so, despite substantial improvements made in road safety, an estimated total of around 125,000 people were killed in road crashes in the OECD’s 29 member countries in 1999, more than enough to fill 300 jumbo jets or a giant football stadium. What is more, though the 1999 estimate for total road deaths is slightly lower than the 130,000 estimate for OECD countries in 1998, this reduction masks some key issues in road safety.

In many OECD countries, the rate of improvement in road safety has fallen markedly since the mid-1980’s. Some countries are even facing a worse situation than in 1970. These include Greece, Korea, Poland, Portugal and Spain, all which have suffered large increases in both fatalities and injuries. Furthermore, during 1970-95, the number of crashes involving injuries rose 12% in 17 OECD countries for which statistics are available. The real situation may well be worse, given the under-reporting of traffic injuries that is suspected in many OECD countries.

Improved safety features in vehicles (including airbags and anti-lock braking systems), better road construction techniques and design, improved road signs, and higher standards of infrastructure provision and management have contributed to promoting improved road safety over the past 20 years. However, new strategies, including measures to encourage proper behaviour on the part of drivers, are needed to reduce further the enormous waste to society caused by road accidents.

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©OECD Observer April 2000 

File: cars.GIF (46k)

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