Road deaths fall – but cyclists beware!

The number of people killed on Britain’s roads fell to a record low of 1,754 in 2012, according to the latest government report from the Department for Transport. The figure still equates to five road deaths a day or 34 a week, but at least suggests our roads are getting safer and reflects a long-term trend of falling road deaths. When the numbers were at their worst, around 10 people are day were killed on the country’s roads. Fatalities have dipped by about 9% a year since 2006. Serious injuries are also down by about 4% a year.

Take care on two wheels

Cyclists, however, remain vulnerable. The good news about falling casualties is marred by the fact that the number of cyclists killed on the road increased from 107 in 2011 to 118 in 2012, which means cyclists are roughly 11 times more likely to be killed in a road accident than car occupants, based on the number of miles ridden. Serious injuries among cyclists also went up by 4%. The total number of cyclists killed or seriously injured now stands at 32% more than the 2005-09 average and marks the eighth consecutive annual rise in pedal cyclist serious injuries. It seems the rise in the popularity of cycling – and particularly of cycling as a means of commuting to work in busy periods – is being accompanied by an increase in accidents. But motorbikes are an even more dangerous mode of transport, according to the statistics. Motorcyclists, per mile ridden, are over 50 times more likely to be seriously injured in a reported road accident than a car occupant. They are also 35 times more likely to be killed in a road traffic accident.

Young drivers still most at risk

It’s perhaps no surprise that accident rates among young people are high. The three ages with highest casualty rates are 17 to 19, dropping off quite sharply during the mid-twenties. There is then a smaller spike for people in their late seventies and eighties. This is why young people face relatively high car insurance costs. Not only are they involved in more accidents than other age levels, their accidents tend to be more catastrophic and more expensive for insurers to resolve. The level of accidents involving drunk drivers is worrying. Provisional estimates for 2012 suggest 280 people were killed in drink-drive accidents, an increase of around 17% year on year, and accounting for 16% of all road deaths. Most of the fatalities were over the drink drive limit, but 29% were other road users, caught up in an accident. Campaigners attribute this trend to reduced spending on government anti drink-driving initiatives. The reduction in police numbers has also been cited as a reason why the long term trend has been reversed.

Motorways the safest roads

The safest roads – contrary to what many people thing – are motorways. Only 5% of fatalities occurred on motorways, even though they carry 20% of traffic. You are most likely to die on the country roads, which account for 40% of traffic but 60% of deaths. The long-term downward trend in deaths on the road is down to a range of factors, including the state of the economy. Research shows that our roads are safer during an economic recession, possibly as a result of a dip in the number of commercial vehicles. The average traffic speed, as well as the number of motorists driving over the speed limit, has also fallen over the past decade. Even the weather influences the accident rate. Motorists stayed off the roads during the heavy snowfall in 2012 and were similarly reluctant to drive during the wet weather earlier this year. It’s also the case that modern cars are inherently safer, affording greater protection to occupants. In the bad old days, people would drive without a seatbelt – today we have airbags, roll-bars and crumple zones. We also have lower speed limits in urban areas and, one would hope, a greater awareness of the damage cars can do.

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