Road deaths fall again

This week the revised traffic accident figures for 2007 were published, and they confirmed the previous good news about a sharp fall in the number of deaths in road accidents:

1994-8   3,578 (average)
1999       3,423
2000       3,409
2001       3,450
2002       3,431
2003       3,508
2004       3,221
2005       3,201
2006       3,172
2007       2,946

What always strikes me about these numbers (even after the very welcome fall in 2007) is just how high they are compared to other forms of death which the national media reports far more frequently. If the national media were to report all the road deaths, that would be eight a day, every day of the week, every week of the year – and you can imagine the public and political pressures for further action on road safety that would flow from this wall-to-wall coverage.

This is what has happened in the past when the media collectively decides to highlight certain forms of death, and can sometimes bring very welcome results. The media’s behaviour in concentrating on deaths caused by fumes from furniture quite a few years ago resulted in action finally being taken to improve safety standards for furniture. That was a very welcome move, which has saved many lives, but in the end it happened when it did (rather than much later or not at all) because the media collectively had in effect decided, “ok, these sorts of deaths are now newsworthy”.

(Figures for injuries have also come down sharply, though they are more prone to issues of under-reporting as when a death is not involved there is more chance the police may not get to know about the incident.)

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12 Comments

  • David Morton 10th Aug '08 - 1:45pm

    Were any of the road deaths caused by Conservative Councillors ?

  • David M – LOL

  • Do not call them accidents. Mostly they are not: they have a clear cause. Call them collisions or casualties, these are neutral words. ACPO and DfT do, and we should too.

    As you say, the numbers are down. Indeed, if drivers still killed people at the same rate per mile driven as at the peak, 140,000 people would have died last year.

    With airbags are now increasingly common on second hand cars, and the recent and welcome emphasis on pedestrian safety by NCAP, it looks likely that this trend will continue, especially if speed limits are enforced, and drink driving and mobile use are not tolerated.

    High oil prices also help – people are driving less, and more slowly.

    I wonder when we will get the first day in which no-one is killed on the roads? That will be something to celebrate.

  • And in the USA the death rate from traffic accidents is about 3 times as high as the UK
    (per 100,000 population) meaning around 40,000 people dies each year.

  • But then lettersfromatory is such a keen media watcher he thinks the Lib Dems didn’t see the credit crunch coming. If only he’d read Vince Cable’s 2005 conference speach that repated the warnings he gave over 3 years previously.

    “The economy has become seriously unbalanced. Its growth has not been driven by investment or by overcoming Britain’s long-standing weaknesses in investment and productivity, particularly skills. Instead, there has been a binge of debt-financed consumer spending. British families have acquired unprecedented levels of personal debt, in relation to their income. I warned, over three years ago, about the dangers of unsustainable personal debt. It is now much worse. I fear that the rising personal bankruptcies and repossessions are the first signs of bigger problems to come and personal debt – Gordon Brown’s legacy to millions of Britain’s families – will hang like a millstone around the neck of the British people for years to come.”

  • We need to know how much of the decrease in fatalities is due to factors such as speed cameras, warning signs in urban areas, traffic calming, etc. Has there really been an overall decline in vehicle usage, and in speeds? The number of child pedestrians has increased over the last two summers (the last major paedophile scare was about 6 years ago). Has this resulted in more child fatalities? People continue to use mobile phones in cars. I saw someone do it only yesterday.

    If we banned all motorised traffic (as I am sure Monbiot and the Green hairshirters would love to do) we would have nil fatalities. How far do we go?

  • I find the combination of the 3x higher death rate in the USA, where there is a lower national speed limit than here, with recent statistics that only around 5% of serious road accidents in England involve a speeding car, potentially revealing. I remain far from convinced that slower speeds lead to safer roads, and have become increasingly concerned as to what might have caused the other 95% of serious accidents that didn’t involve a speeding vehicle.

  • As a matter of historical interest, there were plenty of casualties in the days when horses provided the main motive power for transport: people falling off them, coaches overturning, wheels breaking, people being trampled by runaway horses etc. Any statistics are liable to be suspect, but there is a huge amount of anecdotal evidence of the dangers of travel in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

  • With a lot of pessimism floating around the UK right now, the decrease in road deaths is good news. Its also worth noting we apparently have one of the lowest rates in Europe. But its still a huge toll. And not just in the UK- worldwide. I think the issue isn’t raised in Whitehall half as much as it should be. There will allways be road deaths but as last years figures show, its possible that less people can die on our roads and this should set an example to our international friends.

  • Reply to Letters from a Tory; I think the murder figures were about 1000 last year. Even if we consider there may be unreported murders, our murder rate is still much lower than Russia, South Africa, Venezuela, Brazil or the US, non of which are recognised as warzones. The spate of knive murders in our capital is tragic, but London is still much much safer than Sao Paulo.

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