Halloween is here! Like every year, our deepest fears come to the surface in the form of lethal snakes, spiders, sharks and other deadly creatures (not to mention imaginary ghouls like zombies, vampires and the like). And why should we not be afraid? According to the World Atlas, snakes kill approximately 50,000 people every year, crocodiles end over 1,000 lives globally and sharks fatally attack 10 people. Spooky. Yet, people fail to feel any fear for one of the major causes of death globally.
Road accidents are, according to INEGI and the World Health Organization (WHO), one of the biggest threats to human life. In its last report from 2015, the WHO classified road injuries as the number 10 main cause of death globally. In Mexico, the situation is far worse. In 2017, INEGI reported that in 2015, 17.8 percent of all deaths of males between 15 and 29 were due to car accidents, which was the second most common cause of death only after assault and aggression. For women in that same age bracket, the percentage was 10.7 and it was the number one cause of death.
INEGI reports that in 2017 there were a total of 367,789 road accidents throughout the country. Of these, 3,829 were fatal, resulting in 4,394 deaths, 64,552 of which were non-fatal, while the rest resulted only in damages to the car. Over 4,000 deaths seems to be a high toll but the reality is that the number does not show the whole picture. Those figures show the people that died on impact. Data from the Executive Ministry of the National Public Security System shows that in 2017, a total of 11,996 people died in the aftermath of traffic accidents throughout the country. But Laura Ballesteros, former Deputy Minister of Planning at SEMOVI, told Mexico Automotive Review (MAR) in 2018 that even these estimations may fall short of the actual fatalities. “There is a miscount when we consider complications arising at hospital, which could lead to a higher death toll related to road accidents,” she said.
As Mexico City is the entity with the largest population and the worst reputation regarding traffic, at least according to the TomTom Traffic Index that places it first out of 189 cities, it would be natural for this region to be the one with the most road accidents. However, INEGI highlights Nuevo Leon as the state with the most accidents with 77,620 reported in 2017 followed by Chihuahua with 28,631, Jalisco with 24,465 and Guanajuato with 20,324.
In 2015, Ballesteros and her team at SEMOVI adopted the Vision Zero multi-national strategy that aims at eliminating road fatalities completely. The goal was to reduce deaths in Mexico City by 35 percent by 2018, which led to the establishment of new speed limits and cameras that automatically issue tickets. The latter have been a source of controversy, especially during the elections in mid-2018 but in her interview with MAR, Ballesteros urged the new government to maintain the program because, far from a source of profit, they are keeping people alive. “We must not give into populist practices and endanger the population,” she said.
Speeding is not the only cause of road fatalities, though. Looking at the data from INEGI a bit closer, seatbelt use or the lack thereof stands out in a significant number of accidents. In 2017, 58,520 of the 367,789 road accidents happened when passengers where not using the seatbelt; in 242,540 of the cases the matter was unclear. An even more disturbing statistic is the number of accidents involving people driving under the influence of alcohol. INEGI shows that in 2017, 4.6 percent of all accidents happened while the driver was over the legal limit, while in 28.3 percent of the cases this was unclear.
Both drunk driving and not using a seatbelt are old problems when it comes to road accidents, together with sleep-deprived driving. However, in recent years two new threats have contributed to the number of accidents on the road: texting while driving and doing so under the influence of drugs, most commonly marihuana. According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2016 there were 3,450 deaths related to distracted driving which includes texting and looking at a cellphone. Moreover, the agency reported that 481,000 vehicles were driven by people using cellphones in that same year. Regarding drug use, a report from Automotive News shows the US National Transportation Safety Board has approached the NHTSA after detecting a rise in cases of driving under the influence of marihuana, which followed more lax regulation on the drug in several states and Canada.
The data used in this article was sourced from Mexico Automotive Review, YouTube, INEGI, the Executive Ministry of the National Public Security System, the World Atlas, WHO, TomTom, Automotive News and NHTSA.