|Road accidents — not terrorism, plane crashes or crime — are the No. 1 killer of healthy Americans traveling abroad, a USA TODAY analysis of the past 7½ years of State Department data shows.
About 1,820 Americans, almost a third of all Americans who died of non-natural causes while abroad, have been reported killed in road accidents in foreign countries from Jan. 1, 2003, through June 2010. On average, one American traveler dies on a foreign road every 36 hours.
Almost 40% of the deaths occurred in Mexico, the analysis shows. The second-highest number of road fatalities occurred in Thailand, where relatively few Americans visit. The Dominican Republic, a popular resort destination, ranked No. 3 in fatalities, followed by Germany and Spain.
"Road deaths are the No. 1 risk to tourists — ahead of terrorism, plane crashes and infectious disease," says a report released last month by Make Roads Safe, a non-profit group working with the United Nations and World Health Organization (WHO) to promote global road safety.
The report says "a lethal cocktail of killer roads, unsafe vehicles, dangerous driving and disoriented travelers" is killing an estimated 25,000 travelers to foreign countries each year.
With an expected increase in tourists and motor-vehicle use, that number could almost double to 45,000 by 2020 and triple to 75,000 by 2030, Make Roads Safe predicts.
The number of tourist deaths is dwarfed by the total number of road fatalities worldwide. Nearly 1.3 million people die and up to 50 million are injured a year, WHO estimates.
About half of the fatalities are occupants of motor vehicles. Half are bicyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians, says Etienne Krug, director of WHO's injury-prevention department.
More than 90% of the world's road fatalities occur in low-income and middle-income countries, which have 48% of the world's registered vehicles. The fatality rate on their roads is nearly double that of high-income countries. In Mexico, a middle-income country, 682 American travelers died from the start of 2003 through June.
State Department statistics include only reported deaths and may not reflect the total number of American fatalities.
More Americans annually visit Mexico than any other country. Canada, the second-most-visited country, registered 31 U.S. road deaths.