ABU DHABI // The Middle East is the only region in the world where high-income countries fare worse than lower income countries in terms of traffic fatalities and accidents, experts said yesterday at the Road Safety Middle East conference.
The two-day conference, which provides a platform for traffic and road safety experts to discuss important issues and propose solutions, started with a grave note on the severity of the safety issue in the region.
Citing figures from the 2010 Eastern Mediterranean Status Report on Road Safety by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Nellie Ghusayni from the Middle East North Africa Road Safety Partnership (Menarsp) said that traffic-related fatality rates in the region, at 32 per 100,000, were the highest in the world, with 17 fatalities and 320 injuries per hour.
Ms Ghusayni suggested this was a possible result of focusing too much on infrastructure and not enough on the human element of road safety. "We have excellent roads, but a lot of deaths, and that's not what we want," she said. "Road safety and infrastructure need to work hand in hand."
The report, which includes all countries in the Mena region as well as Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, also indicated that traffic accidents and injuries formed the leading cause of death for the 15 to 29 age group. The cost of traffic injuries in the region is estimated at US$7.5 billion (Dh27.5bn) a year.
Ms Ghusayni said traffic incidents also topped the list of "global killers" in the region, ahead of tuberculosis, Aids and Malaria. In the UAE, traffic accidents are the second-leading cause of deaths after cardiovascular diseases.
Also citing figures from the 2009 Global Status Report on Road Safety, Sudhir Venugopal, the marketing director at Autograde, said that the UAE's roads were among the deadliest in the world, with road users almost seven times more likely to be killed here than in the UK. The report shows that 37.1 people were killed on the country's roads for every 100,000 - compared to the global average of 18.8.
Experts highlighted speeding as the leading cause for the staggering rates, with excessive speeding accounting for 16 per cent of casualties and 27 per cent of fatalities in the country. Mr Venugopal added that according to the Department of Planning and Economy, most victims of road accidents in the UAE were young Emiratis, despite the fact that UAE nationals made up just 15 per cent of the population.
Only 40 per cent of the countries in the region have a speed limit of 50kph or less in urban areas, Ms Ghusayni said, with four countries setting the limit at over 90kph where pedestrians and school children could be crossing the streets.
Seatbelts, child restraints, the wearing of helmets while driving motorbikes and driving under the influence of alcohol also topped the risk factors in the region associated with traffic accidents and fatalities.
In Abu Dhabi, a new Crash Data Analysis System was announced by the Department of Transport (DoT) to help identify the underlying causes for traffic accidents. Osama al Kurdi, a DoT senior road safety and information data analyst, explained that the system will allow the collection of crash information to a single database that will allow various authorities to access and analyse the information and decide on relevant methods of crash prevention and reduction.
"Researchers stopped calling it an 'accident' for a reason," Mr al Kurdi said. "Because it gives the impression that it's unavoidable, when in fact we can do something about it."