UK road casualties

Key facts:

  • In 2015, there were 1,730 people killed, 22,144 people seriously injured on the road in the UK; [1]
  • In 2015, England experienced the highest number of road fatalities, accounting for over three-quarters (81%) of road deaths in the UK; [2]
  • In 2015, Northern Ireland experienced the lowest number of recorded road fatalities (74) and serious injuries (711) in the UK; [3]
  • In 2015, the highest percentage of casualties were car users, both drivers and passengers, who accounted for 44% of road deaths; [4]
  • Between 2014 and 2015, the number of child fatalities (aged 0-15) in Great Britain increased by 2%; [5]
  • Men accounted for 76% of road traffic deaths in 2015, along with 70% of all serious injuries in Great Britain [6];
  • In 2015, although the majority of road casualties in Great Britain took place on urban roads (72%), the highest proportion of road deaths occurred on rural roads (51%). [7].

Introduction

Five people die every day on the road in the UK and countless more are seriously injured. Unfortunately, road casualty reductions have largely plateaued since 2010, aside from minor gains. Worryingly, vehicle traffic levels rose by almost 2% in the past year (1.6%), and much of this increase has been attributed to light goods vehicles (vans), many of which run on diesel. [8]

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Casualties by country

United Kingdom

In 2015, there were 1,730 people killed, 22,144 people seriously injured and 186,189 casualties on the road in the UK.

England 

In 2015, England experienced the highest number of road fatalities, accounting for over three-quarters (81%) of road deaths in the UK. The highest number of fatalities occurred in the south east of England (235) and the lowest in the north east (62). [10]

Wales

Wales was the only devolved administration to see an increase in road deaths in 2015, rising from 103 in 2014 to 105 in 2015. There were 7,682 road casualties in Wales in 2015, over a 6% reduction on the previous year. [11]

Scotland

In 2015, there were 162 deaths, 1,597 serious injuries and 10,950 casualties on Scotland’s roads. The highest percentage of road casualties took place on built-up roads and the highest number of fatalities occurred on rural ‘A’ roads (88). [12]

Car users made up the highest proportion of road fatalities (72) and serious injuries (653) during this period. [13]

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland had the lowest number of road fatalities (74) and serious injuries (711) in 2015. Continuing the trend, car users were the highest proportion of fatalities (46) and serious (390) injuries in Northern Ireland. [14] 

Casualties by road user type

In 2015, the highest percentage of casualties were car users, both drivers and passengers, who accounted for 44% of road deaths (754) in the UK. [15] During the same period, car and taxi traffic in Great Britain rose by 1.1%, reaching a new high, and exceeding the previous peak in 2007. [16]

There were 408 pedestrian deaths in the UK in 2015, an 9% reduction since 2014. The highest number of pedestrian fatalities in this period occurred in England (346) [17], where walking made up 22% of journeys. [18]

There were 100 cycling deaths in the UK in 2015, a reduction of 12% since 2014. There were also 3,239 serious injuries on the road. In Great Britain, 81% of all cycling casualties were male; 10% of victims were 0-15 years old; 80% of all casualties were on 30mph roads. [19] However, between 2014 and 2015 only 2% of journeys in England were made by bicycle. [20]

There were 365 motorcyclist fatalities in 2015, an increase of 8% since 2014. During this period there were also 5,042 serious injuries of motorcyclists on the road. [22] The highest percentage of motorcyclist casualties was in England (91%). In Great Britain, 91% of all casualties were male; 32% of all casualties were aged 17-24; and 44% of all casualties occurred in London and the south east [23]. Motorcycle traffic remained largely unchanged between 2014 and 2015. [24]

This period saw an increase in all vehicle traffic on the road, particularly light goods vehicles (LGVs) such as vans, which continued to grow more quickly than any other vehicle type, rising 4.2% from 2014 levels. This increase in van use has been attributed to a growth in internet shopping and home deliveries, lower costs and less regulation of LGVs in comparison to heavy goods vehicles. [25]  

Road type

In 2015, although the majority of road casualties in Great Britain took place on urban roads (72%), the highest proportion of road deaths occurred on rural roads (51%). [26] During this period rural roads saw a 2% rise in traffic from 2014, with traffic on both ‘A’ roads and minor roads reaching record levels, while urban roads saw little change in traffic. [27]

The number of people killed on built-up 20 mph roads fell by 50% in 2015, while the overall number of road crashes on 20mph roads rose by 27% over the same period. [28]

Fatalities on built-up 30 mph roads fell by 12% in Great Britain in 2015, and the number of serious injury crashes fell by 3%. [29]

The number of people killed on the motorway increased in Great Britain during 2015, rising from 96 to 108, an 8% increase; however the DfT attributed this to ‘a natural variation in the figures’. [30]

Demographics

Between 2014 and 2015, the number of child fatalities (aged 0-15) in Great Britain increased by 2%, raising the number to 54. During the same period, the number of serious injuries fell by 6%. [31] The higher proportion of these fatalities were male (56%) and 36% were pedestrian casualties. The highest concentration of child fatalities (29%) occurred during school leaving hours (3pm-5pm). [32]

For young people (aged 17-24) the death per million population rate, was at 49 road deaths for every million people aged 17 -24 compared with 27 deaths for every million people for the whole population.The number of road traffic fatalities within the older population (aged 60+) fell by 8% to 492 deaths between 2014 and 2015. Although this figure is higher than the road deaths recorded in 2013, they are significantly lower than 2014 and other previous years. [33] 

In terms of gender, men accounted for 76% of road traffic deaths in 2015, along with 70% of all serious injuries in Great Britain [34]. In the same year, 94% of convictions for causing death by dangerous driving were male. [35] 

Combating road deaths and injuries

Preventing casualties on the world’s roads requires a broad, multi-sector approach that accepts human fallibility and works to prevent or mitigate road crashes in spite of this.

Safe systems

In December 2015, the government committed the DfT to adopting a safe systems approach to road safety. [36]

Safe systems is an approach to road safety management, based on the principle that our life and health should not be compromised by our need to travel. No level of death or serious injury is acceptable in our road transport network. [37]

It places the welfare of the human being at its centre, taking human fallibility and vulnerability into account, and accepting that even the most conscientious person will make a mistake at some point. The goal of safe systems is to ensure that these mistakes do not lead to a crash; or, if a crash does occur, that it is sufficiently controlled to not cause a death or a life-changing injury.

Responsibility for the system is shared by everyone. Policy makers, planners, engineers, vehicle manufacturers, fleet managers, enforcement officers, road safety educators, health agencies and the media are accountable for the system’s safety; while every road user, whether they drive, cycle or walk, is responsible for complying with the system’s rules.

A safe systems approach also aligns road safety management with broader ethical, social, economic and environmental goals. By creating partnerships where government or transport agencies work closely with other groups, safe systems tackles other problems associated with road traffic, such as congestion, noise, air pollution and lack of physical exercise.

Great Britain’s approach to safe systems is supported by five pillars [38]:

  • Road safety management;
  • Safer infrastructure;
  • Safer vehicles;
  • Safer road use; and
  • Post-crash response.

The DfT has outlined how it plans to approach each of the five pillars [39]:

Road safety management: The government will continue to invest in local road safety initiatives, supporting the increased devolution of road safety powers. The DfT aims to integrate this approach with the development of sustainable and friendly urban spaces. Highways England will also work towards this goal on the Strategic Road Network (SRN).

Safer infrastructure: This will be achieved by “maximising safety improvements to road infrastructure” by developing road infrastructure and signage. These developments will also be aimed at supporting the increasingly connected and autonomous vehicles available on the market.

Safer vehicles: The government will support the adoption of safer, cleaner vehicles onto the roads and develop effective legislation that supports connected and autonomous vehicles in a safe and practical way that does not encourage driver distraction.

Safer road use: The DfT will evaluate the most effective driver interventions already in use in Great Britain and adapt its plans accordingly, incentivising involvement from industry and state in the enforcement of compliance and the encouragement of safer driver/rider behaviours.

Post-crash response: The DfT intends to work with the NHS and emergency services to ensure that post-crash responses are timely, effective and thoroughly investigated.

Unfortunately, the DfT road safety statement neglects the ‘safer speeds’ component of the safe systems approach. [40] Alterations to the speed limit are currently the responsibility of the local authority in which that stretch of road runs, therefore, the DfT places the responsibility for fulfilling this aspect of the safe system onto the local authority. This has led to patchy implementation of lower speed limits, as some local authorities lack the resources to implement lower limits, while others lack the political will necessary to see these changes enacted.

Speed is a critical factor in all road crashes and casualties. Driving is unpredictable and if something unexpected happens on the road ahead it is often the driver’s speed that will determine the outcome.

Reducing and managing traffic speeds is crucial to road safety. Breaking the speed limit or travelling too fast for conditions is recorded (by police at crash scenes) as a contributory factor in almost one in four (23%) crashes resulting in one or more fatalities. [41]

Learn more: Read our fact pages on the safe systems approach and driverless vehicles.


End notes

[1] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016, Table RAS30032
[2] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016, table RAS30032
[3] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016, table RAS30032
[4] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016, table RAS30034
[5] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016, table
[6] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016, table RAS30009.
[7] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016, table RAS10002
[8] Road traffic estimates: 2015, Department for Transport, 2016
[9] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016, table RAS30032
[10] Ibid
[11] Ibid
[12] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016, table RAS30033
[13] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016, table RAS30034
[14] Ibid
[15] Ibid
[16] Road traffic estimates: 2015, Department for Transport, 2016
[17] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016, table RAS30034
[18] National travel survey: England 2015, Department for Transport, 2016
[19] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016
[20] National travel survey: England 2015, Department for Transport, 2016
[21] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016, table, RAS30034
[22] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016, table RAS30034
[23] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016
[24] Road traffic estimates: 2015, Department for Transport, 2016
[25] Ibid
[26] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016, table RAS10002
[27] Road traffic estimates: 2015, Department for Transport, 2016
[28] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016, table RAS10001
[29] Ibid
[30] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016
[31] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016
[32] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016, table RAS30030
[33] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016
[34] Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016, RAS30009.
[35] Criminal justice statistics quarterly: December 2015, Ministry of Justice, 2016, Motoring tool
[36] Walking together to build a safer road system: British road safety statement, Department for Transport, 2015
[37] Towards vision zero: a statistical paper, International Transport Forum, 2010
[38] Walking together to build a safer road system: British road safety statement, Department for Transport, 2015
[39] Ibid
[40] Reported Road Casualties Great Britain: Annual Report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016, table RAS50008
[41] Reported Road Casualties Great Britain: Annual Report 2015, Department for Transport, 2016, table RAS50008


Last updated: November 2016