How do road accident stats in Britain compare with other countries?

Back in 2010 the European Union renewed its overall commitment to help improve overall road safety. To achieve this, it set a firm target of reducing road fatalities by 50% before 2020; a similar target having been set in 2001 to half road deaths by 2010.

Unfortunately, since 2014 there has been very little progress on this and in fact, 2016 proved itself to be the third consecutive poor year in terms of road safety.

In this blog we take a brief look at how the road accident statistics in Britain compare to those of other countries across the globe and exactly what is being done to address the situation.

What do the stats look like?

In 2016 there were a staggering 25,670 fatalities on EU roads, although it has to be acknowledged that this did in fact represent a decrease of 2% on the previous year when 26,200 people sadly lost their lives.

To help improve road safety there now exists a policy tool, known as the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) Road Safety Performance Index (otherwise known as “PIN”). By comparing the performance of other Member States, this helps identify and promote best practice across Europe whilst also underpinning political leadership to create a road transport system which ultimately maximises safety.

Launched in June 2006, the index aims to cover all relevant areas of road safety. This includes road user trends, infrastructure and vehicles – as well as general road safety policy making. At the current time there are 32 countries in the scheme, 15 of whom registered a drop in the number of road deaths during 2016. The best results during 2016 were Lithuania with a 22% reduction, Cyprus with 19% and Switzerland with 15%; although Switzerland then became winners of the 2017 ETSC PIN Award for Road Safety – an achievement which undoubtedly boosted progress in the longer term. In fact, since 2010, road deaths have been cut by some 19% (the equivalent of a 2.4% average annual reduction).

What do future stats look like?

In order to reach the EU 2020 target, a 6.7% year-to-year reduction was needed between 2010 and 2020 but as a result of failure to reduce deaths at the pace required, annual reductions of 11.4% each year are now required between 2017 and 2020 if this target is to stay on track.

Is this achievable?

Unfortunately, the lack of progress at EU member state level has contributed to an overall decline in levels of police enforcement, a failure to invest in safer infrastructures and very limited action being taken on both speed and drink driving offences across a number of member countries.

What’s more, the minimum EU vehicle safety standards haven’t been updated since 2009 – nor have updates to EU infrastructure safety rules – even despite the introduction of new technology and advances.  In fact, plans to update the standards have been postponed and new proposals aren’t now expected until at least Spring 2018.

Consequently, if any serious progress is to be made, the European Commission must now concentrate its efforts on introducing a long-term road safety strategy for 2030 – and soon, if this is to have any real impact on current statistics.  What’s more, there also needs to be a serious injury reduction target to cover the period 2020 to 2030. So far, however, this remains to be seen in every sense of the word.

What are the safest roads to travel on?

According to a report produced by the EU Commission, motorways remain the safest means of getting about – particularly when compared to driving on rural roads which have a much higher rate of fatalities.  In fact, over half of road fatalities happen on rural roads compared to just 8% on motorways.

Statistically speaking, the numbers of road accident fatalities are low for many regions despite having high traffic volumes.  This is especially true in many regions across Western Germany, the UK and most parts of the Netherlands.  Around major cities and transport hubs (such as seaports, airports and so on), high traffic volumes tend to cause more congestion, thus reducing average speeds and therefore the likelihood of fatalities when accidents do occur.

What’s more, many of these regions tend to have high motorway density which we’ve already established are much safer than secondary roads; thus, further reducing the number of road accidents despite potentially higher traffic volumes.

It’s also worth noting that fatality rates tend to be high in regions with a low motorway density – for example, most regions of Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic.  Data from these areas suggest that the high proportion of road traffic using motorways is an important key fact behind the lower number of road fatalities in many regions.


Comparing deaths per million inhabitants, the UK ranked fourth in 2016 with 29 deaths per million inhabitants. This figure was bettered only by Norway, Switzerland and Sweden – all of whom have a road mortality level of less than 30 deaths per million inhabitants – and we’ve already noted that Switzerland were in fact the winners of the 2017 award in terms of road safety.

When taking into account the various stats and information currently available, it seems the number of road traffic fatalities in various member countries very much depends on both structural and socio-economic differences.  Structural differences typically include considerations such as the size of each member country, composition, density and quality of the road network.  Socio-economic differences, on the other hand, look more towards the characteristics of vehicle stock, tourist traffic, behavioural aspects and so on.

In general, improvements in the passive safety of new passenger vehicles may also be considered as having a very positive effect on the reduction of road traffic accident victims and there has certainly been a gradual introduction of safety-enhancing devices to help drive fatalities down.

The good news then, is that the UK’s roads are still among the safest in the world when compared to the number of fatalities across the globe.