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Interactive map of the world's road toll

Map of highway fatalities around the globe (via the Pulitzer Center).

Here's a sobering thought as you head off in your car to work -- or the weekend. According to the Pulitzer Center in the US, 1.2 million people die on the world's roads every year -- and that figure is likely to get worse as the number of cars in service climbs. The problem is particularly bad for emerging nations.

As the authors of the article explain: The toll is highest in the developing world. Poor countries account for 50 percent of the world’s road traffic, but 90 percent of the traffic fatalities. Road accidents will soon become the fifth leading cause of death in these countries, leapfrogging past HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other familiar killers, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) most recent Global Burden of Disease study.

Grim as that sounds, the statement makes sense. Developing nations lack the road safety infrastructure -- such as protective barriers and well-lit roads -- and safety regulations found in the developing world. Such things have reduced the number of traffic fatalities in first-world countries.
What's more, in parts of the developed world, road traffic appears to have peaked and people are relying more on public transport. In developing countries, those options are less available, forcing both motorists and pedestrians onto dangerous roads. 

Worst of all, traffic fatalities are part of a vicious circle, preventing poor nations from growing more rapidly. According to Jose Luis Irigoyen, a highway safety expert at the World Bank, in low- and middle-income countries, traffic fatalities reduce GDP by 1 to 3 percent. That's money that could otherwise be funneled back into developing countries.

As you'll see from the map embedded below (click "view fullscreen" to review the most data), the Pulitzer Center has compiled fatality stats for most countries on the planet. Compare the Australian estimated fatality rate of 6.1 per 100,000 to that of other nations, like the Dominican Republic, Iran, and Thailand. Pay particular attention to the way in which people were traveling when killed: in a car, on a motorcycle, on a bike, or while walking.

The map is missing a good bit of information, but even so, it raises plenty of intriguing questions.

Map of highway fatalities around the globe (via the Pulitzer Center).