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Traffic accidents are primary killer of teenagers in developed world

A recent report by the World Health Organization addressed childhood fatalities in developed and undeveloped countries.  It noted that world-wide, accidents kill 830,000 children each year--the equivalent of all of the children in metropolitan Chicago.  The major causes are drowning, burns, traffic accidents, falls and poisoning.  In the developed world, motor vehicle collisions are the primary threat to kids.

Ninety-five percent of injuries to children occur in poor and middle-income countries, however, accidents also account for forty percent of childhood deaths in rich countries.  Birth complications and disease are much more likely to kill children in the developing world, but among toddlers, accidents quickly predominate, with drowning edging out meningitis and whooping cough.  In the 15-19 age group, the leading causes of death are:  traffic accidents, suicide, homicide, pneumonia, drowning, tuberculosis, fire, AIDS, leukemia, meningitis, childbirth, falls, poison, abortion and epilepsy, in order.

In the U.S. accidents kill 12,175 children annually:  more than all diseases combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In the first year, suffocation is the primary cause of death.  From ages one to four, the greatest danger of fatality comes from drowning.  After age four, car crashes are the redominant killer.  Thus, the emphasis in the past decade on "graduated drivers license" laws, seat-belt enforcement, and booster seat usage.  While teen drivers are a huge risk, fatalities occur most often among children traveling as passengers (of course there are 3-5 times more seats for passengers in most vehicles).

Sweden recently cut the death-rate among teenagers by almost 80 percent when compared with statistics from 1969.  It did that primarily in response to efforts of a single pediatrician, Ragnar Berfenstam, who championed such reforms as diverting traffic from residential areas, enforcing vehicle speed limits, teaching swimming, enclosing swimming pools, requiring helmet and seat belt use, improving product safety and other more generic safety programs.  Canada has also been a leader in protecting its children and recently decided to ban baby walkers because of their unsafe record. Other successful safety programs cited in the report included the New York City effort to to prevent window falls (it reduced these deaths by fifty percent in the Bronx) and Vietnamese efforts that resulted in 90 percent helmet usage among children.  Dogbites are also a concern, especially in nations where rabies and other problems increase the associated mortality.

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