Incidence of road injuries in Colombia

[Download detailed results tables: Colombia-WebTables]

Last Updated: June 2 2010

Important: Please note that the results presented here are preliminary. Additional adjustments will be necessary as the results are made consistent with the ongoing Global Burden of Disease (GBD-2005) project, for which the results presented here are an input. Final estimates of the GBD-2005 study will be released in late 2010.  

About this report

Reliable statistics of road injuries are an essential input for describing the public health burden of injuries, evaluating the impact of safety policies, and benchmarking achievements. While injury surveillance systems are common in high income countries, most low and middle income countries are unlikely to have such capacity for several decades. In the interim, estimates should be derived by harmonizing injury statistics from the wide array of data sources that may be available in a country or region. 

This report summarizes our findings for the incidence of deaths and non-fatal injuries from road crashes in Colombia. It is one of a series of national road injury assessments that we are producing during the course of this project. The intended audience of these reports includes the global donor community, the international research community, and national health and transport policy makers. We are committed to keeping this project open-source and collaborative in nature. All readers are encouraged to provide feedback to help improve methods, incorporate other sources of information, and suggest more effective methods for communicating these results.

Summary Results

In 2005, road crashes resulted in 6,351 deaths in Colombia representing an annual injury rate of 14.1 deaths per 100,000 people. In addition, almost one million people were victims of non-fatal injuries due to road crashes. While the road injury death rate in Colombia is typical of other countries in the Latin American region (Figure 1), it is  more than twice (2.4 times) the death rate in countries with the best road safety performance (Sweden, UK, and Netherlands).  

Injuries as a whole, including from unintentional and intentional causes, resulted in 34,529 deaths or 18.3% of all deaths in Colombia in 2005. Road injuries were the second leading cause of injury deaths in Colombia, second only to homicides and substantially in excess of deaths from suicides (Table 1). In 2005, road injuries account for nearly over one-fifth (18.4%) of all injury deaths in Colombia.

How did we compute these estimates?

Our general methodology for estimating deaths and non-fatal injuries involves piecing together data from a wide array of sources that typically include death registers, hospital records, funeral records, health surveys, and police reports. This requires filling information gaps, mapping from varying case definitions, deriving population based incidence estimates from sources that may not track denominator populations, and appropriately reapportioning cases assigned to poorly specified causes. For a general description of the broad methodology, please visit the Methods-overview section of our website.

The following sections describe the specific data sources used, the estimation methods, and the key results for our estimates of road injuries in Colombia. The analytical adjustments to the data introduce uncertainty in the estimates. Thus, wherever possible, we have outlined the effects of the adjustments on the estimates. 

Overview of data sources

We estimated the incidence and distribution of road injury deaths in Colombia using national death registration data obtained from the WHO Mortality Database. We estimated the incidence and distribution of non-fatal injuries using the results of the 2007 National Health Survey.

Estimates of road injury deaths

Our review of data sources for estimating national road injury deaths in Colombia revealed two potential data systems: national death registration data, collected by the Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadísticas (DANE) and official national statistics on road injuries reported by the national forensic medicine agency, Instituto Nacional de Medicina Legal y Ciencias Forenses. In this study, we have computed estimates of national road injury deaths from the former (death registration) and compared them with the statistics from forensic medicine available from the annual road accident report Accidentalidad Vial en Colombia published by Fondo de Prevencion Vial.

We obtained death registration data from the publicly available WHO Mortality Database. These data are tabulations of deaths recorded by national civil registration systems. Typically these systems record age, sex, and causes of death coded using principles of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD). 

A total of 45 years of data were available, most recently for the year 2005. We only analyzed data for the most recent eight years available (1997-2002, 2004-2005), which had causes of death coded to ICD-10 categories. Data from prior years was not analyzed because it is not reported at a level of detail that allows us to use our analytical estimation methods. In particular, several years of data from the ICD-9 coding era has not been analyzed because the data was reported in the WHO Mortality Database using a condensed tabulation list (ICD-9 BTL). 

Reclassification to GBD-2005 definitions: We reclassified age into 38 age-sex groups. The age definitions match those used by the GBD-2005 project and are available on the GBD-Injury expert group website. Click here to go directly to the age definitions. 

We reclassified the ICD coded deaths to the definitions of road injuries (and other injuries) as recommended by the GBD-Injury expert group [Click here for full details]. These definitions map all ICD codes for external causes of injury to 48 fully-specified cause categories and 21 partially-specified and undetermined cause categories.  The fully-specified cause categories include nine road-user categories:

In addition, there are two partially-specified sub-categories of road injuries:

Table 2 shows the distribution of the 34,529 injury deaths reported in the death registration data for the year 2005. It should be noted that the 21 partially-specified categories have a hierarchical structure of specificity and many of these categories are not related with road injuries. 

We assessed the quality of the death registration data based on the distribution of the number of deaths in the partially specified categories. As shown in Table 2, the quality of the death registration as measured by the fraction of death registration cases assigned to partially specified categories is reasonably good for estimating total road injury deaths in Colombia. About one-fourth (23.8%) of cases assigned to road injuries do not have a road-user specified. While this introduces the potential for some biases in estimating the incidence of road injuries disaggregated by road-user, it is relatively small.  

Reallocation of injury deaths coded to partially-specified causes: 

The effect of these redistribution steps is evident in Figure 2, which shows the change in the estimated number of road deaths after each redistribution step. The death registration data has 6,026 deaths specified as road injuries to begin with. As expected from the distribution of deaths shown in Table 2, there is only a small increase in the estimates of road injury deaths during the redistribution of deaths coded to partially specified causes. The re-distribution of these partially specified deaths results in an increase of about 4.5% in our estimate of national road injury deaths. 

Adjustments that have not applied yet: Two key adjustments that are likely to modify the road injury death counts have not been applied yet. First, we have not reallocated deaths coded to unspecified causes outside the ICD injury chapter. This reallocation has not been done yet because research into the causes of deaths coded to this category is currently ongoing. However, it should be noted that in Colombia, only a relatively small fraction (1.3%) of deaths are coded to this category and the effect on road injury death counts is thus expected to be small. 

Second, we have made no adjustments to account for incomplete death registration because estimates of completeness of global death registration data are currently being developed. However, our preliminary comparison of total all-cause deaths reported in the death registration data analyzed by us with deaths reported by the UN Population Division suggests that death registration in Colombia is near complete. It should be noted that both of these adjustments would increase the estimated death counts. Thus, the mortality results presented here likely underestimate the true number of road injury deaths.

Comparison of our estimates with other sources

Our estimates of road injury deaths in Colombia are about 15-20% higher than those reported by official government statistics, which are based on data from forensic medicine.   

The likely reason for the difference between these estimates is that data from the forensic medicine agency is likely not complete because they may not investigate all injury deaths. In particular, we expect that data from the forensic medicine data is more complete for sudden deaths and violence related deaths. Deaths after hospitalization may be under-represented in the forensic medicine. 

Road deaths by age and sex

Most road deaths in Colombia occur among adult males (Figure 4a). Over 3/4th (78%) of all road injury deaths were men and most of these men (87%) were adults older than 20 years. Death rates (Figure 4b) among men are almost four time those among women overall. Men have higher death rates for all age groups but the gender differential is smaller among the older age groups.  Both death counts and death rates rise dramatically in the transition in age from childhood to young adults (see age groups 10-14 years and 15-19 years). Death rates continue to rise with age and are highest among the elderly. 

Such age and sex patterns in deaths and death rates are consistent with those seen in other countries. For the most part, the gender differentials in death rate are a result of higher exposure to road traffic among men in combination with higher risk-taking behavior. Similarly, the age pattern of death rates partly reflects patterns of exposure and partly case-fatality rates. While exposure to road traffic declines with age among older populations, the bio-mechanical tolerance to injury (i.e. the likelihood of death in the event of a crash) also declines, resulting in increasing death rates with age. 

Road deaths by type of road-user

Most road deaths (45%) in Colombia occur among pedestrians (Figure 5). Motorcycle riders account for an additional 28%. In comparison, vehicle occupants together account for only 19% of all road injury deaths in Colombia.

The large number of deaths among motorcyclist in Colombia is of special concern. Motorcycles are among the most risky modes of transport. It is already well known that in South-East Asia motorcycles comprise a large proportion of the vehicle fleet and this is reflected in their road injury statistics. However, our analysis suggests that motorcycle fleets and the injuries resulting from their use make up a substantial fraction of injury deaths in Latin America as well. 

Estimates of non-fatal road injuries

The incidence of non-fatal road injuries can be estimated from various sources, including police reports, hospital administrative records, and population surveys. Among these, police reports are widely known to underreport road injury cases in low income countries as well as in high income countries. Hospital records have the advantage of providing detailed medical descriptions of injuries making classification of injuries by severity possible. However, estimation of population rates is difficult without investing substantial efforts in identifying the hospital catchment population. Thus, population based health and injury surveys are the most reliable sources of information for incidence of road injuries, especially in information-poor settings. 

We estimated the incidence of non-fatal road injuries in Colombia using the 2007 National Health Survey (NHS), a nationally represented household survey that included a module on road injuries. The survey had a nationally representative, multi-stage, cluster sample of 40,000 households. It was conducted in 2007 and asked about involvement in road traffic crashes, types of injuries, respondent's vehicle type, impacting vehicle, and type of medical care.  We used survey (svy) commands in Stata 10 for the analysis of the NHS.

Non-fatal injuries by age, sex, and residence

Our analysis of the 2007 NHS suggests that nearly 1 million people in Colombia are involved in non-fatal road crashes annually. This corresponds to 2.2% [95% CI:2.0-2.4%] of the population. 

Road injury incidence is statistically significantly higher among residents of urban areas than residents of rural areas (Figure 6), which a point estimate that is 74% higher. Men have significantly higher rates of non-fatal road injury incidence than women (Figure 7), with a point estimate that is over twice that of the rate among women. Road injury incidence is significantly higher among young adults (15-49 years) than among the youngest (<15 years) and oldest (>50 years) age groups. 


These country reports were produced as part of a project funded by the World Bank Global Road Safety Facility. The results presented here are based on secondary analysis of data collected by various national and international agencies, including the World Health Organization, the Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadísticas (DANE), Instituto Nacional de Medicina Legal y Ciencias Forenses, and Fondo de Prevencion Vial. We are grateful to the following individuals for providing access to key data sources and help in interpretation of the results: Ramiro Guerrero, Lope Hugo Barrero Solano, Jorge Mena, Victoria Espitia, Leonardo Augusto, Quintana Jimenez, and Jesus Rodriguez Garcia.