Road deaths reach four-year peak, prompting calls for investigation branch

Written on October 26, 2017

New Government statistics released by the Department for Transport (DfT) show 1,792 people were killed in road collisions in the UK last year. This represents an increase of 4% since 2015 and the highest yearly total recorded since 2011.

A further 24,101 were seriously injured in collisions – a rise of 9% since 2015 – although this increase has been partly attributed by Government to changes in the way police forces report on collision data.

The data also shows that no reduction in deaths of people on foot, bikes or motorbikes has been recorded since 2012.

Jason Wakeford, road charity Brake’s director of campaigns, said: “On average, five people continue to lose their lives [in road collisions] each and every day – a deeply worrying figure which has not improved for some six years.

“Progress on road safety has stalled, pressing the need for a road collision investigation branch, similar to those already in existence for air, rail and sea, so that lessons can be learned to prevent future crashes.

“Only through in-depth investigation, at a national level, can solutions be found to stem the needless deaths on the roads every day.”

The statistics additionally reveal how new drivers continue to be disproportionately involved in a significant number of collisions. Consequently Brake is pushing for a gradual licensing system to be introduced, enforcing minimum learning periods and limitations on newly-qualified motorists. This approach – allowing new drivers to improve their skills over a greater timespan – has been implemented in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and parts of the United States where youth road casualties have been radically reduced.

“We are also calling for a review of speed limits on rural roads – where most deaths occur – and for Voluntary Intelligent Speed Adaptation, which helps drivers keep within the limit, to be fitted as standard to new cars as part of proposals being considered by the European Commission,” Wakeford continued.

“The increase in road casualties reinforces the need for the establishment of a UK Road Collision Investigation Branch to gather and make available better data to provide the evidence base to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries on our roads.

“Every single person killed on our roads represents a tragedy and it is imperative that road safety is given the same level of attention as that of air and rail.

“It is essential that future casualty prevention strategies are informed by latest trends such as the digital revolution and rapid development of vehicle technologies, change in mobility habits and the rise in active travel such as cycling.

“Only this way can we ensure that casualty prevention strategies are not only fit for purpose but future proofed too.”

A great cause for concern, statistics show that the amount of children killed in collisions has increased by 28% since 2015, with 2016 seeing a total of 69 deaths of under-15s. Out of all road casualties involving children (15,976 in total) 38% involved pedestrians and nearly a quarter (22%) were injured or killed during the afternoon school run hours between 3pm and 5pm.

RoSPA (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) is calling for greater investment in teaching life-saving road safety skills to children. Their proposed measures include road safety education in schools, practical pedestrian training for children, wider provision of safe cycling and walking routes to schools, as well as greater promotion of the safety benefits of driving at 20mph in built-up areas.

Nick Lloyd, RoSPA road safety manager, said: “When there’s an increase in traffic with economic growth, generally casualty statistics do tend to go up, but this in no way justifies these shocking figures.

“Britain traditionally has one of the best road safety records in the world, but we must focus our efforts through effective education, engineering and enforcement if we are to make our roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

“These statistics demonstrate the need for motorists to be extra vigilant when travelling during school-run hours – young children can be impulsive, so there is a need to be constantly aware of what’s happening around the car. More than 90 per cent of road crashes involve human error, which demonstrates the need for drivers to concentrate at all times, watch their speed, and avoid distractions.

“We also urge parents to kit their children out in high-visibility gear for the school journey, especially as the nights are now drawing in.”

RoSPA suggests that these statistics suggest the need for Government to review proposals for introducing Single/Double Summer Time (SDST), projected to provide an extra hour of daylight in the evenings around the time of the typical afternoon school run.

Richard Cuerden, academy director at TRL (Transport Research Laboratory), indicated the findings would further motivate TRL’s team of engineers, psychologists and scientists to improve their understanding of road collisions and work to prevent future tragedies.

A small silver lining can be found in the statistics, showing that the number of motorcyclists killed has reduced from 365 to 318 despite a rise in overall motorcycle traffic, suggesting that motorcycle safety initiatives are having some effect on driver behaviour.