Britain is in a period where the number of road deaths is ‘fairly stable’, with most annual changes relating to ‘random variation’, according to the DfT’s annual report giving casualty statistics for 2015.
The report, published today (30 June), shows that 1,732 people were killed in reported road traffic accidents in Great Britain in 2015 – the second lowest on record after 2013.
Although this represents a decrease of 43 fatalities (or 2.4%) from 2014, the report says that ‘natural variation’ explains the reduction.
The DfT says in statistical terms the number of fatalities has remained unchanged since 2011. There were 45% fewer fatalities in 2015 than a decade earlier in 2006 and 4% fewer than the 2010-14 average.
The report says there has been ‘no clear trend’ in the number of fatalities since around 2011 but, prior to that, and particularly during 2006-2010, the general trend was for fatalities to fall.
Since 2010, most of the year-on-year changes are either explained by ‘one-off effects’ such as extreme weather conditions, or ‘natural variation’.
With regard to seriously injured casualties, in 2015 there were 22,137 – again the second lowest annual figure behind 2013 and 2.9% lower than in 2014. The DfT says this decrease is ‘statistically significant’ and ‘more likely than not reflects genuine changes on British roads’.
The number of casualties of all severities (186,209) is around 4% lower year-on-year, and also the second lowest level on record.
A total of 140,086 personal-injury road traffic collisions were reported to the police in 2015. Of these, 1,618 resulted in at least one fatality.
The figures lead the DfT to conclude there have been ‘statistically significant decreases in the number of people seriously and slightly injured (but not killed) in road traffic accidents between 2014 and 2015’.
The report goes on to say: ”This indicates that there are a number of factors that have combined together to improve some aspects of safety on Britain’s roads. However, it is not definitive evidence of a continued improvement in road deaths.”
Figure for 2015 published yesterday (29 June) by the Scottish Government show a 3% reduction in all casualties, 20% reduction in fatalities, 6% reduction in serious injuries and 2% fall in slight injuries.
Welsh Government figures for 2015 show a 6% year-on year-reduction for both personal injury accidents and casualties. There were two fewer deaths on Welsh roads while the number of serious and slight injuries fell by 7% and 6% respectively.
While Road Safety GB has welcomed the decline in the numer of casualties of all severities, it has called on road safety practitioners to do more to initiate further progress.
Iain Temperton, director of communications, said: "Putting aside the headline, the most welcome aspect of this report is that the number of casualties of all severities is around 4% lower year-on-year, and also the second lowest level on record.
"However, as practitioners we feel that progress is slowing down far too much and we need to share all available researched and evidenced best practice. Utilising resources such as the Road Safety Knowledge Centre and Road Safety Observatory we need to ensure that our ever stretched resources are used in the most effective way possible and that we continue to invest in proven schemes of work."
The RAC says it is a relief to see the number of road deaths fall during 2015, although it has expressed concern over the rise in motorcycle fatalities.
David Bizley, chief engineer, said: “It’s a relief to see that fewer lives have been lost on our roads than in 2014 which showed a very unwelcome rise on the record low level of the year before. It is, however, worrying to see motorcycle fatalities are 8% up.
“While the latest figures indicate that the 2014 increase was an anomaly, concerted efforts are still needed to ensure we do not see any further rises in road fatalities in the coming years.
“We know casualty reduction targets have been ruled out by the Government, but simply aspiring to zero road deaths is unlikely to make the difference we need to see to bring the figures down further.
“There are some very clear areas of opportunity to reduce casualties which could easily be targeted. These include better traffic law enforcement as roads police numbers have fallen 27% since 2010, making the use of handheld phones whilst driving as socially unacceptable as drink-driving, lowering the drink-drive limit in the rest of the UK to match Scotland’s 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, and finally getting to grips with the high level of casualties involving young drivers.”
“Another straightforward step would be to make automatic emergency braking compulsory in all new vehicles.”
RoSPA has also wecolmed the fall in fatalities. Kevin Clinton, head of road safety, said: “We are pleased to see that fatalities and injuries have dropped since 2014, but the longer-term trend seems to be showing stagnation, so they are not falling steadily as they were before 2011.
“This means that we need to do more to get back on a long-term downward trend – these accidents don’t have to happen.”
However, IAM RoadSmart says while 2015 was a good year, the lack of real progress in the last five years is unacceptable.
Neil Greig, director of policy and research, said: “Five years of flat lining on road deaths is unacceptable. Whilst 2015 was a relatively good year the huge gains in road safety made in the past now seem a distant memory.
“The government must show more leadership to really drive down road deaths in the future. Key trends still show the increasing risk to vulnerable road users, particularly motorcyclists, and big increases in fatal crashes involving vans and lorries. The rise in goods vehicle related deaths is worrying and is probably linked to the surge in van sales and use on Britain’s roads.
"IAM RoadSmart supports police campaigns to crack down on those driving for business, but we also need more firms to step up the plate and take occupational road safety more seriously.”
Along similar lines, Brake has warned the government to guard against complacency when it comes to people lives the safety of the UK’s road network.
Lucy Amos, research advisor for Brake, said: “While we welcome the reduction in road deaths and serious injuries in 2015, the government figures released today reveal the danger of complacency.
"Although slight reductions have been achieved, we must remember that no road death is acceptable and we should not compromise when it comes to people’s lives and the safety of our roads.
"Vehicle traffic has been steadily increasing for the past few years; action must be taken now to prevent the numbers of vehicles overwhelming safety measures.
"The increase in motorcycle deaths last year is a clear indicator that something must be done now to secure the safety of vulnerable road users in particular. This is why Brake is calling for the reintroduction of ambitious casualty reduction targets to act as a driving force for the fight against road death and injury at the national level.”
Richard Owen, a director of Road Safety Analysis, said we are in a period of ‘significant change’ in road safety performance.
He said: "It is clear now that the last five years have marked a significant change in road safety performance which is markedly evident when compared to the 2005-2009 period which saw large casualty reductions.
"A closer inspection of the data does identify where progress can be kick-started, especially with regard to certain road user groups.
"Vulnerable road users (and especially motorcyclists) are not benefitting from the casualty reductions seen for vehicle occupants and the focus should turn to preventing fatal and serious injuries in these groups. There is already strong evidence of how reductions can be achieved through implementing safe systems and future casualty reduction must rest on implementing well-evidenced interventions."