Doha: World motorsport's governing body on Monday put its quest for improved road safety on a par with the fight against some of the world's deadliest diseases, warning of a high price to pay if nothing was done.
The president of the International Automobile Federation (FIA), Jean Todt, said reducing deaths and serious injuries on roads around the world was "one of the central priorities" of the body.
The FIA is not only the ruling body for the hugely popular sport of Formula One but also the umbrella group for the world's leading motoring organisations.
Speaking at the Doha Goals sporting forum in the Qatari capital, Todt described road accidents as a "plague which causes 1.3 million deaths and 50 million injuries annually" and cost society more than $500 billion a year.
"If vigorous action isn't taken at all levels, there will be nearly two million deaths and 80 million injuries in 2020," he warned.
The FIA said it intended to act on the everyday level, particularly in developing countries, where the cost of injury and death can be higher for those affected, in particular the affordability and provision of healthcare.
"Road insecurity is a plague at the same level as tuberculosis, AIDS or malaria, if only because all these diseases are tending to regress while the number of road accidents are increasing," he added.
"In developed countries, given the education, the application of laws with road inspections, the technical nature of the cars, it's true that it (accident levels) are down.
"But in developing nations, which corresponds to about 90 percent of cases, accidents are on the rise."
The FIA has launched an awareness campaign in conjunction with one overseen by the United Nations, which is currently running its "Decade of Action for Road Safety" initiative.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that 2.3 million people could die in road accidents by 2030, making it the fifth leading cause of death in the world, if nothing is done.
In 2004, road traffic accidents were the ninth leading cause of death around the world, according to the Global Status Report on Road Safety, published in 2009.
Overall, the FIA and the UN aim to cut road deaths and injuries by five million and 50 million by 2020 through "golden rules" such as wearing a seatbelt or regular tyre inspections.
Todt said the FIA could help because "sensational progress" had been made in safety over the years in F1, whose current and past champions such as Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher were also road safety ambassadors.
The scheme is working with governments, WHO and the World Bank to make road safety part of "countries' priorities", while adapting to their specific needs, he added.
Todt, though, admitted that the message was harder to get across in some countries than in others, particularly in places with high levels of corruption and where older vehicles were the norm on roads.