By Conor Humphries
MOSCOW, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday called on world powers to battle a rising tide of road accidents which he said killed the equivalent of a major city each year and drained the global economy of $500 billion.
Medvedev, speaking at the first ministerial conference devoted to road safety, called for tougher action to clamp down on speeding, though he admitted Russian roads were haunted by dangerous drivers.
"Every year, a large city, a megapolis, is wiped off the map of the world," Medvedev told the conference, adding that 3,500 people were killed each day in road traffic accidents.
"The price of human tragedy is impossible to measure but the damage to national economies from road accidents is possible to measure — this damage is more than $500 billion," he said.
Road accidents kill more people worldwide than many wars, though campaigners say the issue has so far been largely ignored by the international community and most charities.
"If this were not happening on the world’s roads but in a conflict there would be urgent calls for intervention," said road safety expert Kevin Watkins.
Without action, road deaths would probably rise to just under 3 million by 2030, the Oxford University academic said.
Medvedev, acknowledged that thousands still died needlessly in traffic accidents. Speeding and overtaking into oncoming traffic is common on Russia’s congested roads, which officials concede are some of the most dangerous in Europe.
So far this year, there have been 168,000 traffic accidents in Russia, killing 21,300 and injuring 212,500 people, according to government statistics.
"Last year, 30,000 people died on Russia’s roads and though the headline figure is improving it has not changed as much as we would have liked," Medvedev said.
Russia’s chief traffic policeman, Vitaly Kiryanov, said that the number of deaths on the country’s roads had been reduced by focusing on simple measures such as discouraging drink driving.
He said the poor state of many of the country’s roads — which have been congested by a massive rise in car ownership over the past decade — contributed to the high death rate. (Writing by Guy Faulconbridge, editing by Jon Boyle)