Every year, at least 200,000 people die as a result of road accidents in China, the World Health Organization said Wednesday. The number is more than four times the death toll from such accidents published by the Chinese government.
"Much more needs to be done to spur the adoption of measures to raise road safety, especially with respect to children," Bernhard Schwartlander, the WHO's representative in China, wrote Wednesday in a commentary published in the China Daily, a government newspaper. In China, where roadways are famously clogged with cars, bicycles and pedestrians, more than 10,000 children die annually from injuries in road crashes, and more than one-third of these children are pedestrians, Schwartlander said. The WHO figures didn't take into account the number of children who are injured but not killed.
The WHO's number is a drastic increase from the most recent death toll offered by the Chinese government in 2012, which estimated the number of deaths in road accidents to be 60,000, Agence France-Presse reported. The news agency calculated, based on the official rate of deaths per vehicle in China and the official number of cars in the country, that 34,292 people died as a result of traffic accidents in 2014.
In his article, Schwartlander called for better speed controls, the use of helmets and seatbelts, and several other safety measures, a package that, if enacted would be "a huge step forward," he wrote. "But of course, it is not enough to adopt laws. They must also be properly and rigorously enforced."
One factor contributing to the number of deaths is that in modern China, particularly in cities, owning a car has become a status symbol, the independent newspaper Caixin reported. The numbers reflect this desirability: In 1990, 5.5 million people owned cars, but by 2010, some 70 million did, Caixin reported. Other estimates suggested that every year for the past decade, 15 million cars were added to Chinese streets, the Economist reported. Thus, the more cars and trucks clog the streets, the more accidents are likely to occur, particularly when vehicles are steered by inexperienced drivers.