Tony H. Reinhardt-Rutland, Reader,
March 01, 2013

Sosa and Bhatti (1) show that death rates arising from political violence exceed death rates from road crashes in some localities of Afghanistan. In contrast, data from OECD countries indicate that the former are far less common than the latter (2). An implication is that Afghanistan is justified in devoting heavy resources to terrorism. In contrast, OECD countries should be more relaxed regarding the terrorist threat and avoid being unduly swayed by public perception.

Here, I consider data from another troubled region - Northern Ireland. These data have been extracted from yearly reports issued by Northern Ireland's Chief Constables (3); note that there have been minor changes in procedures for data collection over the years, which however do not alter fundamental conclusions.

Differences regarding the backgrounds to the Northern Irish and Afghan data should be noted. First, Northern Ireland is part of the UK, so is relatively affluent and more able to devote resources than relatively- impoverished Afghanistan. Second, Northern Ireland's terrorism deaths have been recorded over a considerable period of time from the late 1960s. They had fitfully reduced by the late 1990s - but not disappeared - around the time of a non-belligerence pact in 1998. In contrast, Sosa and Bhatti restrict themselves to a short period of time (2008 to 2010).

Means per year (SEs in brackets) for road-deaths in Northern Ireland were 309.8 (7.3) for the 1970s, 198.7 (7.4) for the 1980s and 155.6 (5.0) for the 1990s.

Means and SEs per year for terrorist deaths in Northern Ireland were 192.0 (39.7) for the 1970s, 79.3 (4.9) for the 1980s and 51.5 (9.9) for the 1990s.

These figures indicate that the numbers for both modes of death have steadily reduced. The road data broadly shadow what has been happening in transport statistics in Great Britain (4). Subjecting the data to two-way analysis-of variance reveals that cause of death and year-range are both significant (respectively, F(1,27) = 71.76; p < 0.0005 and F (2,27) = 29.88; p < 0.0005). The interaction between the two variables is not significant (F(1,27) = 0.89; p = 0.88).

1972 was the only year in which road-deaths (372) were less than terrorist deaths (467). Indeed, this latter is the highest of any individual year-total. This reflects the unpredictable nature of terrorist incidents in both timing and resources, a point also apparent in the predominantly higher SEs for terrorist deaths. Terrorist incidents are more likely to be newsworthy - often overwhelmingly so - but this should not discourage initiatives to reduce road-deaths.


1. Sosa LMR, Bhatti JA. Inj Prev. Published Online First: [24.1.2013] doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2012-040716.

2. Wilson N, Thomson G. Deaths from international terrorism compared with road crash deaths in OECD countries. Inj Prev 2005, 11, 332-3.

3. Chief Constable's Annual Reports 1970-1999. Belfast: Royal Ulster Constabulary.

4. Reinhardt-Rutland AH. Has safety engineering worked? Comparing mortality on road and rail. In PT McCabe (Ed.). Contemporary Ergonomics 2003. London: Taylor and Francis. Pp. 341-346.

Conflict of Interest:

None declared

Conflict of Interest

None declared