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In higher-income countries, road traffic accidents are already among the top ten leading causes of disease burden in 1998 as measured in DALYs (disability-adjusted life years). In less developed countries, road traffic accidents were the most significant cause of injuries, ranking eleventh among the most important causes of lost years of healthy life.
According to a World Health Organization/World Bank report "The Global Burden of Disease", deaths from non-communicable diseases are expected to climb from 28.1 million a year in 1990 to 49.7 million by 2020 - an increase in absolute numbers of 77%. Traffic accidents are the main cause of this rise. Road traffic injuries are expected to take third place in the rank order of disease burden by the year 2020.
The 1999 WHO publication "Injury: A Leading Cause of the Global Burden of Disease," reports that the leading injury-related cause of death among people aged 15-44 years is traffic injuries. Of the 5.8 million people who died of injuries in 1998, 1,170,694 died as a direct result of injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident.
Worldwide, the WHO reports that 38,848,625 injuries were received by people involved in motor vehicle accidents in 1998. The chart below summarizes the traffic statistics in the WHO report. The groupings into poor nations and wealthy nations reflect the report.
United States - The death toll on our highways makes driving the number one cause of death and injury for young people ages 5 to 27. Highway crashes cause 94 percent of all transportation fatalities and 99 percent of all transportation injuries, yet traffic safety programs receive only one percent of the funding of the U.S. DOT budget. The staggering loss of life and the incidence of life-threatening injuries occurring each year is best described as a public health crisis. According to a WHO report, "The Injury Pyramid," for every motor vehicle injury resulting in death in the US, 13 people sustain injuries severe enough to require hospitalization.
In the US DOT publication "The Economic Costs Of Motor Vehicle Crashes," NHTSA investigator Lawrence J. Blincoe reports that in 1994, motor vehicle crashes accounted for 40,676 fatalites, and 4,100,000 injuries (of which 533,000 or 13% were serious). The total lifetime cost to the US economy for automobile accidents that occured in 1994 was $150.5 billion.
The 1996 NHTSA report "1996 Traffic Safety Facts" (pdf) came up with similar though somewhat improved statistics: 41,907 fatalities and 3,511,000 injuries, 456,430 of them serious. The 1997 NHTSA report "Traffic Safety Facts 1997" reports 41,967 fatalities and 3,399,000 injuries, 441,870 of them serious. The 1998 NHTSA report "Traffic Safety Facts 1998 Annual Report" reports 41,471 fatalities and 3,192,000 injuries, 414,960 of them serious.