Mexico’s road death stats cited in call for safer cars
RAMOS ARIZPE, MEXICO | In Mexico’s booming auto industry, the cars rolling off assembly lines may look identical, but how safe they are depends on where they’re headed.
Vehicles that will be exported to the United States or Europe must meet stringent safety laws, including as many as six to 10 air bags. But for cars destined to stay in Mexico or go south to the rest of Latin America, there’s no need for antilock braking systems, electronic stability control, or more than two air bags, if any.
Because the price of the two versions of the cars is about the same, the dual system buttresses the bottom lines of automakers such as General Motors and Nissan. But it’s being blamed for a surge in auto-related fatalities in Mexico, where laws require virtually no safety protections.
“We are paying for cars that are far more expensive and far less safe,” said Alejandro Furas, technical director for Global New Car Assessment Program, or NCAP, a vehicle crash-test group. “Something is very wrong.”
In 2011, nearly 5,000 drivers and passengers in Mexico died in accidents, a 58 percent increase since 2001, according to the latest available data from the country’s transportation department.
Over the same decade, the U.S. reduced the number of auto-related fatalities by 40 percent.
The death rate in Mexico, when comparing fatalities with the size of the car fleet, is more than 3.5 times that of the U.S.