20/12/2002 - The steady decline in road fatalities over the past decade may be levelling off, based on preliminary figures from twelve OECD countries. The trend varies by country, with Hungary, Germany and several others experiencing a rise in traffic deaths in the first half of 2002. Moreover, in recent years some countries have noted a rise in the number of drug-related fatal accidents and an increase in deaths among middle-aged motorcyclists.
Although speeding and alcohol remain among the primary causes of fatalities, driving under the influence of drugs appears to be an increasingly widespread road safety problem. In the U.K., for instance, recent research indicated that 18% of those who died in traffic accidents had one or more illicit drugs in their systems. Police in Victoria, Australia found that 29% of individuals involved in serious accidents tested positive for illicit drugs, compared with 22% who were under the influence of alcohol. Recent research in Holland highlighted the increased risks involved in driving under the combined influence of drugs and alcohol - a problem related to prescription as well as illegal drugs.
Some countries have seen recent increases in traffic deaths among older motorcyclists. The UK, U.S. and France, for example, have experienced a rapid rise in the proportion of fatalities involving riders between the ages of 25 and 64. In the U.S., the most affected group has been males over 40 years old riding large, powerful motorcycles.
During the first six months of 2002, there was no improvement in the number of road fatalities in preliminary data reported by twelve OECD countries, with deaths nearly stable compared with the same period in 2001. The number of deaths rose in Hungary, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Norway, Germany and Australia, while declining in New Zealand, Spain, Austria, Slovakia, Japan and Denmark.
That compares with an average 4.4% decline in road fatalities for all of 2001 in those OECD countries for which statistics are available. During the decade from 1990 to 2000, deaths in OECD countries declined at an average annual rate of 2.3%.
Despite improvements in overall road safety since 1990, performance varies widely from country to country. Fatality rates per 100,000 inhabitants in the U.K. and the Netherlands are half what they are in France and Belgium, for instance. Rates tend to be lower in countries where road safety rules are strictly enforced and where a large proportion of people use seat belts.
Countries with relatively good road safety records, such as the U.K. and the Netherlands tend to have tough enforcement and are more likely to stop speeders and alcohol offenders. Seat belt use, meanwhile, continues to increase, with more than 90% of vehicle occupants in countries such as Germany, Australia and New Zealand wearing them. However, a number of countries - including the United States, Austria and Hungary -- still report average usage rates of 75%, or below. About half of road fatalities could be avoided if everyone wore seat belts.
For more information : Road Safety Performance - Trends and Comparative Analysis
For further information, journalists are invited to contact John White in the OECD's Transport Division (Tel: +33 1 45 24 95 96).