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Little change in road fatalities as injury reporting questioned

07 August 2020

The number of people killed last year on Britain’s roads was 1,748, a similar figure to those recorded throughout the 2010s,  according to provisional data published by the DfT. 

Road deaths fell sharply during the 2000s – having stood at 3,221 in 2004. But numbers plateaued in the 2010s. 

“The evidence points towards Britain being in a period when the fatality numbers are stable and most of the changes relate to random variation,” says the Department. 

The number of fatalities in 2019 was two per cent down on the 1,784 in 2018. “However, this small decrease may be due to natural variation,” it says.

The 2019 data prompted AA president Edmund King  to call for a ‘vision zero’ approach to road safety: “Now is the time to set some significant and challenging road safety targets with the ambition of zero road deaths within a decade.”

The largest number of fatalities were car travellers – 743. Of the others, 462 were pedestrians, 335  motorcyclists, 98 cyclists, and 110 ‘other’.

The flatling of deaths in the 2010s came against a background of rising road traffic volumes, so the number of fatalities per billion vehicle miles travelled has fallen, from 7.1 in 2009 to 5.2 in 2019. 

Motorcycling is by far the most dangerous mode measured by fatality rate per billion passenger miles. The figures are: 

  • motorcyclists 113.3 
  • pedestrians 34.1
  • cyclists 29.4
  • car occupant  1.8
  • HGV occupant 0.9
  • bus occupant 0.6
  • van occupant 0.6

The DfT report illustrates the increasing complexity of interpreting the aggregate road casualty figures. As well as the well-known historic under-reporting of non-fatal casualties, police forces use and different reporting systems for recording accidents, which can influence overall casualty figures, as well as different reporting systems for casualty severity.

The overall number of road accident casualties in Britain recorded by police forces in 2019 was 153,315, five per cent down on 2018 and  31 per cent below the 222,146 recorded in 2009. The figure for 2019 is also the lowest level recorded since the statistical series began in 1979. 

The DfT says the figures should be treated with caution. “It has long been known that non-fatal (and particularly slight) casualties are underreported to the police and therefore this figure is likely to be an underestimate of the total.”

Furthermore,  it says the number of non-fatal, particularly slight, casualties reported to the Metropolitan Police in London and some other forces may have been affected by their move to an online self-reporting system for road users. The Met Police introduced this at the end of 2016 and some other forces adopted it in 2018.

Leicestershire County Council recently said that Leicestershire Police believed that about half of a recent drop in reported slight injury collisions in the county council area could be a result of “resource-driven process changes” (LTT 12 Jun). 

The council reported: “Police officers are typically no longer deployed to collisions where casualties have only suffered slight injuries, despite such collisions being part of the STATS19 dataset. It is therefore incumbent on the casualties involved to report such collisions to the ever-lessening number of police stations.”

The number of serious injuries recorded by the police across Britain in 2019 was 25,975. But the DfT says the figure is “not comparable to earlier years due to changes in severity reporting”. 

The classification of injuries as slight or serious has varied between police forces since 2016, when the first forces switched to new reporting systems (CRASH and COPA, the latter used by the Metropolitan Police). More forces have adopted CRASH in subsequent years. 

“It is likely that the recording of injury severity is more accurate for forces using these new reporting systems,” says the DfT. 

Some injuries now classified as serious were previously recorded as slight. 

Using a methodology developed with the Office for National Statistics, the DfT estimates that 27,840 serious injuries would have been recorded in 2019 if all forces adopted the new recording systems.   

Reported slight injuries in 2019 were 125,592. The adjusted figure assuming all forces used the new recording systems is 123,727.   

London deaths rise

The number of people killed on London’s roads increased from 111 in 2018 to 124 in 2019, according to Transport for London. 

Pedestrian, motorcyclist, car occupants, and bus/coach passenger fatalities all rose but the number of cyclist deaths fell to five – the lowest number ever recorded. 

The reported number of people killed or seriously injured declined five per cent  and is now 40 per cent below the 2005-08 baseline. 

Reported KSI figures: are 3,818 (2016), 3,881 (2017), 4,065 (2018), and 3,825 (2019). Pedestrians make up the largest proportion. 

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