Map of the World’s Most Dangerous Countries to Drive In

Highway deaths are adding up. On a global scale, what is now 1.24 million deaths a year will triple by 2030 if something is not done. To raise awareness, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting has come up with Roads Kill, a project that draws on the Center’s worldwide network of journalists to create a map highlighting road dangers around the world.

Need more reason to be concerned? In some parts of the world, road accidents and highway deaths rank fifth as a leading cause of death. That’s more than HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and others.

Seven reasons cell phones kill people on road trips

Even though Thanksgiving is behind us, there are still plenty of reasons to road trip before the end of the year. Well, there’s one reason, really, and that’s Christmas. But, a lot of people are going to get behind the wheel or whine in the back seat. Of course, we can expect a lot of people to be on their cell phones while they’re driving about, according to the Insurance Information Institute’s blog.

Do the math on this: cell phone + car + stupidity = dead people

It really is that simple, but there are some reasons for this equation. In fact, even though I go over seven of them here, the Insurance Information Institute has pulled together an impressive list of distracted driving statistics and insights, and I just lost interest in making the list any longer than it already is (so I suggest you take a peek over on the institute’s blog) … but check out my stuff first:1. Distracted driving: the number of people killed in distracted driving incidents is up a whopping 22 percent from 2005 to 2009. Fortunately, not as many people seem to be dying from cell phone-impeded driving in the recent past, though.. The Department of Transportation reported a 6 percent decline in distracted driving deaths in 2009, which means people are either doing it less or have gotten better at it.

Of course, traffic crashes declined slightly overall for that period, which means the share of them belonging to distracted drivers actually increased. So, there’s no way to rationalize yourself out of this one: stay off the damned phone while you’re driving.

2. Leading cause: cell phones are the top reason for distracted driving, with a variety of perspectives considered. For the future though, texting appears to be the next big killer.

3. Texted to death: 18 percent of drivers in the United State have done it in the past 30 days, according to a recent study by the Insurance Research Council. Drivers 25 to 39 are most likely to be guilty: 41 percent of them copped to it, compared to only 31 percent of drivers 16 to 24.

4. Banning it does nothing: the Highway Loss Data Institute “found that texting bans may not reduce crashes,” writes the Insurance Information Institute. Collisions actually increased slightly in three of the four states examined (but the change was not statistically significant).

5. Complacency: teens are more ready to blame drunk driving than texting for traffic accident fatalities. According to the Insurance Information Institute: “The survey seems to indicates that despite public awareness campaigns about the dangers of distracted driving many teens still do not understand the risk.”

6. Hypocrisy: even though 62 percent of AAA Foundation for Safety survey respondents feel that cell phone use while driving is “a serious safety threat,” close to 70 percent admitted to talking on their phones. Twenty-four percent read or sent text messages.

7. Teenagers are stupid: while 84 percent said in a Seventeen magazine survey said “they were aware that distracted driving increased the risk of a crash,” writes the Insurance Information Institute, 86 percent engaged in distracted driving behavior related to a cell phone.

[photo by inhisgrace via Flickr]

Travel insurers pay mostly for Brits beaten up in Asia

It’s a pretty specific trend, which makes you wonder just what the hell is going on. According to the latest data from travel insurance provider, more than 65 percent of all major claims submitted by UK travelers are for injuries sustained in Asia. North America, on the other hand, is only good for 25 percent … I guess there aren’t too many Brits twisting their ankles on the Times Square sidewalks. Nineteen percent of the claims involved road travel accidents, and there was a shocking increase in mosquito-borne illnesses, such as Dengue Fever and Malaria, which are responsible for 14 percent of claims.

“The rising increase in incidents relating to road traffic accidents and mosquito borne diseases is of great concern and traveler education needs to play a large role assisting to reduce this,” says Nick Pound of “Travelers also need to understand that the rules of the road that apply at home in the UK are thrown out the window when traveling by road through Asia. Extra precaution when crossing roads, driving scooters and hire cars needs to be taken.”

Dengue is a viral illness spread by infected Aedes mosquitoes and is no longer confined to Southeast Asia. It’s now more common in Latin America, Asia, Africa, North America and even Australia. Nicknamed “breakbone fever” because of the muscle cramping it causes, Degue has no specific treatment and carries a case fatality rate of 40 percent to 50 percent if left untreated (and if it progresses to Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever).

“Travelers headed to areas with Dengue activity should travel prepared to do what they can to prevent mosquito bites. Caution should also be used when looking at the time of year traveling occurs, especially during rainy seasons,” comments Dr. Erik McLaughlin,’s roving medical expert.

“Dengue is a serious and persistent health risk and savvy travelers need to be aware of it and start getting used to taking proper precautions.”

Dangerous Roads: The Ones Where You Wreck

In an article published this past April on the Web site now public: crowd-powered media, John Carrey presents startling facts about China’s roads and the number of people who wreck when navigating them. One statistic he cites is that 45,000 people are hurt every year. India’s traffic accidents are not as numerous as China’s, but the numbers are increasing.

As more and more people get disposable income, I can see how the statistics might get worse before they get better. Sure, curvey roads that hug the side of mountains are horrific (see post) but driving where more and more people have quickly acquired motorbikes, motorcycles and cars because more people can afford them, adds to the mayhem.

The first time we went to Vietnam, Hanoi was a fairly relaxed place for meandering. Taking cyclos was common. This was back in 1994. When we returned in 1998 and again in 2001, motorcycles buzzed everywhere, including the narrow streets of the Old Quarter where people jockeyed for room to walk. Then by December 2003, when we were there again, I noticed how the number of cars had increased. On one hand, this shows that the economy is perhaps looking up. On the other, this is a place where many people didn’t grow up with cars or motorcyles being part of their daily life so there isn’t as much practice with rules of the road. (See description of Vietnam’s transportation situation.)

Likewise, India is also getting more busy with motorized traffic. You can be driving along any road, and then there’s a cow. Once, while going home after a New Delhi outing, my husband grazed the side of one at the outskirts of the city. The cow wasn’t hurt, but after it took out the driver’s side mirror with its backside, my husband did say, “He must have been in a reflective mood.” At night once, we almost drove into an elephant–and that was in the city.

To increase our odds at traveling on roads safely, we’ve tended to hire drivers since a seasoned driver knows what to look for. The one time we decided to forgo the driver for our trip to Bharatupur Bird Sanctuary, a tractor crossed the highway and we hit it. There wasn’t any indication there was an intersection coming up. After that big bang, enough to make the car undrivable, we decided it was better to hire a driver since seasoned drivers tended to know the roads and are much better at predicting where road hazards might appear. Here’s a Web site for a car rental company in India that also has drivers for hire. This is just to give an idea of what is available. Shop around.

The photo by Michal Zacharzewski is posted on stock.xchng.

Traffic Accidents #1 Cause of Death for U.S. Citizens Abroad

The first time I tried to ride a motorbike “sidesaddle,” I almost fell off. Two months later, and I was whizzing around S.E. Asia on the back of motorbikes, legs to one side, like I’d been doing it my whole life. No helmet. Random driver. I loved the surprise expressed by locals when they saw me in my skirt, riding along sideways like it was nothing. I knew it was dumb, but everyone else was doing it so I figured it was okay. But my instinct influenced me just enough to keep me from bragging to my mother, who would not have been impressed.

Travelers tend to feel invincible when abroad. I know I performed stunts I would never do back home, like riding on the edge of an open truck bed for four hours on a dirt road in Cambodia. When I tried to pull the same trick in Seattle (across a parking lot, mind you) my parents refused to drive one more foot until I was back in the cab.

In retrospect, maybe I was lucky I was never in an accident. I certainly witnessed a few. A friend in the Peace Corps was not allowed to ride motorbikes because, he said, motorbike accidents are the largest cause of Peace Corps deaths. USA today reports that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for traveling Americans. The article cites many reasons, including substandard roads, poor or nonexistent signs, and lax law enforcement. And accidents are not isolated to developing countries, either. About 15% of traveler fatalities occur in high-income countries.

Personally, I found riding sidesaddle on the back of a motorbike much easier than trying to drive on the left side of the road in Ireland. But maybe next time I’m in Asia I’ll forgo the motorbike in favor of a taxicab — and a seatbelt.