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Thursday, June 17, 1999 Published at 23:07 GMT 00:07 UK


Road deaths up after Berlin Wall falls

The slower Trabant car was a firm East German favourite

Inexperienced drivers from the former communist East Germany have helped quadruple the road death rate, after experiencing powerful western cars and high speed limits for the first time.

A study, published in the British Medical Journal, reports this dramatic rise in deaths over a two year period, starting with the fall of the Berlin Wall in late 1989.

The toll was heaviest on Germany's young drivers - deaths among those aged 18-20 increased 11-fold, and among those aged 21-24 eight-fold.

Researchers from Pennsylvania University say the death rate in the reunified Germany rocketed because East Germans, many of whom could not afford the most sluggish state-produced car, suddenly had the currency to buy more powerful models.

Speed limits raised

[ image: East Germans were able to upgrade to faster cars after reunification]
East Germans were able to upgrade to faster cars after reunification
This, coupled with the extension of higher speed limits to motorways in the east of the country, led to the marked increase in deaths and injuries.

The research calls for countries undergoing rapid economic change, such as China, to give more priority to protecting road users.

Its authors wrote: "The lesson learnt from Germany is that during times of economic change and modernisation, measures to prevent the predictable injury deaths that will result, need to be considered."

The two years following reunification brought a 41% increase in the number of cars owned by East Germans.

Poor roads a factor in crashes

The researchers said that the general increase in traffic, and the poor condition of roads in eastern Germany contributed to the rise in the accident rate.

In Britain, road accidents are the cause of a large proportion of the major injuries encountered by accident and emergency departments.

[ image: Access to the Deuschmark has brought new opportunities to East Germans]
Access to the Deuschmark has brought new opportunities to East Germans
At the Taunton and Somerset Hospital, consultant A&E physician Mr Cliff Mann said that inexperience coupled with extra power often proved a deadly combination.

He said: "We find that young people and older people tend to have as many road accidents, but that those involving young people tend to be more spectacular.

"They are much more likely to be related to excess speed, which is one of the most important factors in determining the severity of the injuries.

"If you have the power in your car, the temptation is to use it."

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