For evidence that driving works a little differently outside of America, look no further than this video of Russian drivers, whose sheer outrageousness propelled them to Internet fame a few months ago:
But outside of Russia, road safety has increasingly become a major issue around the world as the middle class grows. Thanks to a combination of insufficient or nonexistent safety laws, poor infrastructure and a lack of enforcement, low- and middle-income countries account for 48 percent of the world’s vehicles but more than 90 percent of the world’s road traffic fatalities. The economic cost of road collisions to low- and middle-income countries is at least $100 billion a year.
Here's a map of the 10 countries that cause a whopping 600,000 road traffic deaths annually, brought to you by the people at Bloomberg Philanthropies, which is working to combat the problem.
Each year, 1.3 million people die in car accidents, so these 10 countries are responsible for nearly half of all road deaths. Overall, though, India is responsible for the highest overall number of road deaths, followed by China and the U.S. Meanwhile, Eritrea is home to the highest concentration of road deaths (48.4 per 100,000 people), followed by the Cook Islands, Egypt and Libya, according to World Health Organization figures.
The WHO also estimates that road traffic fatalities will be the fifth leading cause of death by 2030.
It's such a big problem, in fact, that the U.N. feels it needs an entire decade to fix it. In 2011, the U.N. launched a "Decade of Action" that aims to “stabilize and
then reduce” global road traffic fatalities by 2020.
A look at the traffic flows and enforcement practices in some of these areas makes it easy to see why there's a problem:
* In Turkey, federal law does not require commercial drivers or government officials to wear seat belts. In its Turkey driver safety briefing, the U.S. State Department wrote:
"A number of accidents occurred when a local driver stopped, turned or took some unexpected action which caused the U.S. driver to hit the other vehicle or be struck by someone else. Many of the "unexpected" actions were unexpected according to U.S. driving standards but are quite common in Ankara and Istanbul and other parts of the country."
* Addressing Russia's car crash rates in 2009, then-President Dimitry Medvedev blamed the "undisciplined, criminally careless behavior of our drivers," as well as poor road conditions. Russians' extensive use of dashboard cameras also aims to prevent against bribery, police brutality and intimidation by traffic police, which 32 percent of Russians called the most corrupt institution in the county.
* China has roughly one-third as many vehicles as the United States does, yet it sees about 20,000 more traffic deaths a year. Many drivers tend to ignore traffic rules, which has prompted the government to impose strict new laws such as a controversial new measure making it illegal to run a yellow light.
* India's internal National Crime Records Bureau attributes many of the country's road accidents to drunk driving, but the problem is compounded by India's rapid growth in both cars and people. "A large proportion of these deaths can be prevented by simple measures. The most important of these is strict enforcement of traffic rules, which is conspicuous by its absence in our cities as well as on highways," the Times of India recently opined.
*Egyptian newspaper Ahram once offered up the ominous the headline, "Number killed in Egyptian car crashes last year exceeds Revolution's martyrs." Indeed, driving in Cairo can be a harrowing experience as poorly maintained and congested roads are flooded with untrained drivers. The New York Times reported:
Cairenes often shrug off stoplights and traffic rules and what more timid souls might call prudence, Dr. Khedr noted, and the revolution has done nothing to change this. Many Egyptians learn to drive from friends or family, he said, not in classes, and licenses are generally awarded without a road test.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's foundation invested $125 million into global road safety between 2010 and 2014, which the foundation's various partner organizations used for helmet wearing, seat belt, drunk driving and other campaigns.
In Russia, for example, a mass media campaign by the WHO in late 2010 in southwestern city of Lipetsk used the slogan "Do not break the line of life!" Bloomberg Philanthropies said Friday that the campaign increased seat belt use from 52 percent in October 2010 to 75 percent in August 2012.
And after ramping up social media campaigns and increased police enforcement, rates of speeding declined from 32 percent in May 2011 to 9 percent in July 2012 in Dalian, China, and from 47 percent in July 2011 to 33 percent in May 2012 in Lipetsk.
It may not prevent Russian drivers from carrying entire bales of hay on the windshields of their sedans, but it's a start.