Casualty trends and their causes have been long discussed and are notoriously hard to explain. Understanding cause and effect is particularly tricky, a fact recognised by a new TRL report which is helping to shed new light on this complex area.
The report reiterates the often repeated fact that the number of people killed and seriously injured on Britain’s roads has fallen steadily since the 1980s. Deaths and serious injuries have largely fallen in tandem, with a divergence from 2000 onwards (See graph below). Only in 2009 did deaths and serious injuries start to converge.
But the question remains – why are death rates continuing to fall? The fall in road deaths since 2007 is clearly “good news”, but the reasons for this are poorly understood. The TRL work provides some answers indicating that death reductions are largely due to:
- A decrease in overall traffic, especially a large reduction in HGV traffic, and
- A fall in the number of young male drivers, who are typically high risk takers
The report concludes that substantial increases in pedal cycling have tended to lessen the overall reduction. Statistical models developed to look at casualty trends and the effects of secondary safety improvements within cars found that vehicle safety improvements have made a vital contribution to increasing safety throughout the decade, but the reduction of overall fatalities between 2007 and 2010 was not directly related these improvements. The economic downturn from 2007 appears to have had a beneficial effect on driver behaviour, with less speeding and drink driving seen over this time. The effect of weather on the fatality trend as recently proposed by the DfT is less certain, but it was thought possible that people may have driven more cautiously in the progressively colder winters since 2007.
These findings, particularly those relating to young male drivers, chime with those in the RAC Foundation’s recently published ‘On the Move’ report. Questions still remain about data accuracy, due to under-reporting of STATS19. But given that fatality data is thought to be largely accurate, this report is clearly telling us something new.