Road deaths steady, except among older motorcyclists

OECD Observer

The number of road deaths in the first half of 2002 was little changed from a year earlier, perhaps signaling an end to a steady decline in road fatalities that has lasted for a decade, according to preliminary figures for 12 OECD countries.

Deaths rose in Hungary, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Norway, Germany and Australia, while declining in New Zealand, Spain, Austria, the Slovak Republic, Japan and Denmark.

Though speeding and alcohol remain among the primary causes of road deaths, driving under the influence of drugs appears to be an increasing problem. Recent research in the UK found that 18% of those killed in road accidents had one or more illicit drugs in their systems. Similarly, Australian police said that 29% of people in serious accidents tested positive for illicit drugs, compared with 22% who were under the influence of alcohol.

Another emerging concern is traffic deaths among older motorcyclists. France, the UK and the US have all experienced a rapid rise in the proportion of fatalities involving riders aged 25 to 64. In the US, for instance, the sharpest increase in fatalities was for males over 40 riding larger motorcycles.

Road deaths declined by an average of 4.4% in 2001 in OECD countries for which statistics are available, and by an average annual rate of 2.3% between 1990 and 2000. Still, fatality rates vary widely among countries: the death rate per 100,000 inhabitants is twice as high in France and Belgium as compared to the UK and the Netherlands, for example. Rates tend to be lower where road safety laws are strictly enforced and a large proportion of people regularly wear seat belts.

©OECD Observer No 236, March 2003

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