With all the talk and focus on organized crime and other matters of security in Latin America, I wanted to take pause to underscore one often over-looked fact: traffic accidents are the leading cause of death in many Latin American countries.
Most of these "accidents" are due to driving under the influence of alcohol.
In Mexico, for example, a consultant for the Pan American Health Organization, and the World Health Organization, says that Mexico ranks 7th in the world for deaths caused by vehicle accidents. The total surpasses 20,000 a year, averaging about 55 a day.
Compared to the swine flu, the consultant states that for every one death caused by the swine flu, some 20 deaths are caused by automobile accidents.
Murders related to organized crime in Mexico, while by no means benign, have yet to surpass 5,000 a year.
In a city such as Rio de Janeiro, traditionally considered one of the most violent in the region, automobile accident deaths have outpaced murder for well over a decade. Last year, for example, a car full of teenagers speeding home after a long night at some of the city's most expensive dance clubs, jumped a curve and hit a pedestrian before wrapping itself around a tree. Body parts were found strewn across the accident scene.
In Peru, where many people die due to bus accidents, investigations in 2007 found that many of the bus drivers were drinking behind the wheel. One particularly nasty accident in December, 2006 sparked the accident. A bus had slipped off the side of a high Andean road and plunged well over 1,200 feet to the valley floor below, killing 45 passengers. A five-year-old boy and the bus driver were the only two survivors.
Some 4,000 people die and another 40,000 are injured in traffic accidents every year in Peru.
Buenos Aires, surprisingly, was the only city where I found that death caused by traffic accidents did not surpass other causes of death. I say surprisingly because Argentine drivers in the capital drive offensively like just about every other driver in Latin America.
Apart from that small slice of life in Latin America, across the region, from Mexico south, you will find many examples of drunk-driving deaths. With all the focus on organized crime and violent death, it's important to consider the leading, rather than the most news-worthy, cause of death in Latin America.