Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
The southeast Asian country has become a hotbed of road deaths.
Sure, the roads are dangerous here in America. As the indisputable world champ of driving, we've typically set a high bar for horribly deadly roads. And, according to a new report [PDF] from the International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group (or IRTAD), we're still number one, with more than 32,000 road deaths in 2010. USA! USA!
But before we get too comfortable with this unfortunate notoriety, we should know that there's competition out there. Malaysia, according to the IRTAD report, is a rising star in the world of dangerous roads. In 2010, 6,872 traffic deaths were reported in this country of 29 million, the second highest number of fatalities in the reports' 34 country survey.
Malaysia is one of only three countries to see an increase in road fatalities between 2001 and 2010. They grew 13.9 percent during that time, which is not as bad as the 16 percent growth in Argentina and hardly noticeable compared to the 295 percent increase in Cambodia.
Malaysia has the report;s highest rate of traffic deaths per 100,000 residents, at 23.8. Cambodia is a not-too-close second at 12.7 deaths per 100,000. America's rate is 10.6. The average of the 34 countries included in the report is 7.4.
The report cites the rapid rise of vehicle ownership in the country, which nearly doubled from 10.5 million in 2000 to 20.1 million in 2010.
Motorcyclists represent 60 percent of all road deaths in Malaysia. That figure has been growing an average of 2 percent annually since 2000. And as this graph shows, the impact is getting worse.
Most of these deaths occur on rural roads, where compliance with a mandatory helmet law is about 50 percent, compared with 90 percent in urban areas. If the rise in vehicle ownership rates continues, the problem is likely to grow in Malaysia.
Photo credit: Bazuki Muhammad / Reuters; Graph from IRTAD