Expert Blog

A guide to the road safety statistics

One of the standout statistics in Hitachi Capital's Road Safety Survey is also one of the saddest. That is, the rise in road casulties. According to figures from the Department for Transport, the annual number of reported road casualties in Great Britain rose from 183,670 in 2013 to 194,477 in 2014, or by almost 6 per cent. This is the first such increase since 1997.

To explain this more fully, we’ve produced the graph below. It shows the annual number of reported road casualties for every year since 1990, split into three categories. The large grey area is for those road casualties classed as ‘slightly injured’. The black area is for ‘seriously injured’. The red area is for ‘killed’.

Road casualties have decreased since 1990

The first thing you’ll notice is how much things have improved since 1990. Back then, there were 341,141 reported road casualties in total (275,483 slightly injured, 60,411 seriously injured, 5,217 killed). By 2014, this horrible sum had been reduced by 43 per cent – and despite a 44 per cent increase in the number of vehicles on the road.

In fact, the total of 194,477 for 2014 is the second-lowest on record. Decades of safety campaigns and technological improvements to cars have had a happy effect.

Casualties on the road have risen between 2013 and 2014

Yet we shouldn’t be complacent. The total for 2014 is only the second-lowest on record because the total for 2013 is the actual-lowest on record. As we’ve already said, the number of reported road casualties increased between those two years. You can see this unfortunate uptick at the end of the graph.

Perturbingly, the increases occurred across the board. The number of slightly injured rose from 160,300 in 2013 to 169,895 in 2014, or by 6 per cent. The number of seriously injured rose from 21,657 to 22,807, or by 5 per cent. The number of killed rose from 1,713 to 1,775, or by 4 per cent.

What's causing the rise in road casualties?

Taken all together, these numbers surpassed the Department for Transport’s expectations for 2014. They had come up with a central forecast of 174,700 casualties for the year, yet the outcome of 194,477 ended up beating even their most pessimistic forecast. This made it what they call ‘statistically significant’. The rise in casualties wasn’t just a result of random chance. Something made it happen.   

But what? This is a question that the Department for Transport has been wrestling with, and there may be many answers. It could have been the increase in traffic between 2013 and 2014. It could have been the worse weather conditions. It could have been all of these things and more.

Thankfully, the figures for 2015 may well be better. The Department for Transport hasn’t published its statistics for the full year yet – which is why we’ve used the ones for 2014 in our Road Safety Report and in this post – but it has published its provisional findings for part of the year. According to those, there were 188,830 reported road casualties in the year ending September 2015, which is 3 per cent lower than for the previous year.

But, whether the numbers improve or whether they worsen, we should never forget that each of those casualties is an individual tragedy. This is the motivating principle behind our own report. We can always work to make the roads safer.

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