David Pratte


Road traffic accidents (RTAs) are the leading cause of deaths in adolescents and young adults globally (Mohan and Romer 1991). The World Bank (1993) estimates that of the 865,000 traffic deaths occurring annually worldwide, 74% are in developing countries. While the RTA rates and related death and disability are decreasing in most industrialized countries, they are increasing rapidly in many less developed countries (LDCs). RTAs also exert a considerable economic burden on developing countries, estimated to cost 1-4% of a country's GNP per annum (Zwi 1993). In an effort to examine the underlying causes of this growing burden of premature death and disability developing countries are experiencing due to RTAs, the available epidemiological and anthropological literature has been reviewed. The concepts of risk and vulnerability have been employed in order to explore the complex web of socio-cultural and politico- economic factors influencing the rapidly increasing rates of RTAs in developing countries, as illustrated by cases of Nigeria and Kenya. It is argued that an approach which incorporates elements of epidemiological and anthropological concepts of risk and vulnerability, based on a mutual understanding about the limits of knowledge, while legitimizing different way of knowing, may well be the path to a comprehensive coverage of the issues. It is further argued that, beyond the theoretical and methodological issues being explored, the highest priority should be a focus on the more immediate concerns including the apparent lack of basic data and the complete absence of anthropological studies of any sort in relation to RTAs in developing countries.