Are Britain’s roads getting safer? A few years ago, the answer would have been a straightforward, unambiguous ‘Yes’. Now, sadly, it’s not that simple.
According to the latest figures from the Department for Transport, 1,792 people were killed on Britain’s roads in 2016, and another 24,101 were seriously injured. Those numbers represent a big improvement compared to the 1980s, ’90s and early 2000s – but they’re actually worse than the casualty rates for the last few years.
As the graph below shows, the total number of annual road casualties (including slight injuries as well as deaths and serious injuries) fell significantly between 2000 and 2013 – from 320,283 to 183,670, a rate of 4% a year.
Road deaths have stopped falling
Since then, however, we have not seen much improvement at all. The total number of casualties in 2016 was 181,384 – and even the small reduction since 2013 has only come in the form of fewer slight injuries. The number of people killed or seriously injured has actually risen, to its highest level since 2009.
Part of that rise is due to statistical changes. A number of police forces have switched to new reporting systems, resulting in more casualties being classified as serious injuries rather than slight ones (though this has not affected the reported number of deaths, nor the overall casualty totals). And part of it is due to the growing volume of traffic on our roads. The total number of miles driven has been rising by roughly 2% a year since 2013.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that progress on reducing road casualties appears to have stalled in recent years. In particular, as the government report puts it, ‘The number of fatalities has been broadly flat since 2010. The evidence points towards Britain being in a period where fatality numbers are fairly stable and most of the changes relate to random variation.’
Still some of the world’s safest roads
Despite the worrying lack of progress in recent years, Britain’s roads remain some of the safest in the world. As our second graph shows, the UK had 28 road deaths per million people in 2016, giving us one of the lowest fatality rates, along with Norway, Switzerland and Sweden.
By comparison, Japan had 37 deaths per million people in 2016, while Germany had 39 and France had 52. At the other end of the spectrum, the USA had 109 road deaths per million people in 2015.