Road Deaths Fall to Lowest Level Since 1926, but Motorway Fatalities Rise

National statistics show that the number of road deaths in 2013 fell to the lowest since records began in 1926.

Official figures revealed a total of 1,713 deaths, a two percent reduction on 2012 figures. This figure is almost half that of 2005, when 3,201 were killed.

The news isn’t all positive, however. Motorway fatalities increased from 88 to 100, a rise of 14%, prompting motoring groups to warn that government ministers need to remain vigilant.

Motorways have traditionally been classified as the safest roads in the UK, so what could be responsible for the increase, the first in nearly a decade?

AA road safety spokesperson Paul Watters suggests a less visible police presence and driver distraction could be to blame. “There has been a huge drop in the number of visible police traffic patrols on our motorways in the past five years,” he said. “It begs the question whether more drivers are being distracted on their mobile phones or texting because they don’t think there’s a risk of getting caught.”

Despite the increase in motorway fatalities, Transport Department officials said the 100 deaths were still 42 per cent below the average for 2005 to 2009.

What can the overall lower death toll be attributed to?

Various factors may have contributed to the deceasing number of road fatalities over the years.

Speed Cameras

Speed cameras are a familiar sight on UK roads and are thought to be a major contributor to lowering driving speeds. Cuts in road safety funding have resulted in many cameras becoming non-operational in recent years, however in many areas, existing speed camera housings remain in place and continue to deter speeding motorists.

RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister, said, “Our best evidence is that if all speed cameras were turned off around 80 more people would be killed on the roads each year with 700 others seriously injured.”

Car Design

Safety assessments for new cars have become far more rigorous over the years. In response, car design and safety features have improved and now offer drivers, passengers and pedestrians far more protection in road accidents.

Since 2009, Euro NCAP (European New Car assessment Programme) has released an overall rating for each tested vehicle, with assessments in various areas. With consumers now able to easily compare the safety performance of a vehicle ahead of a purchase, car manufacturers are at pains to introduce the development of new safety features, even for lower budget vehicles.

Driver Education

Are drivers more educated today? The written driving theory examination was introduced in 1996. With a whole generation of new drivers now having passed through this system, one would hope there is a much higher percentage of “safety aware” drivers on the roads now than 20 years ago.

Police forces around the country also operate Traffic Offender Education courses, National Speed Awareness Schemes and Drink/Drive Rehabilitation Courses.

In certain circumstances, these courses can be offered to drivers caught committing traffic offences as an alternative to prosecution or as a way to reduce their sentence.

The Transport Research Laboratory found significant evidence of success with such schemes, with participants showing far less tendency to reoffend.  

There is certainly no room for complacency, and particular efforts must be made to arrest the increase in motorway deaths in the UK, but it does seem that years of investment in road safety is paying off in many areas in the UK. 

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