What is the biggest cause of road traffic incidents?

Whilst the UK has seen an encouraging decrease in the amount of fatalities on our roads between 2006 and 2016, last year there were still 1,792 people killed.

What’s more, according to the UK road safety charity, ‘Brake’, vehicle traffic levels rose by almost 2% last year, with much of the increase being attributed to light goods vehicles.  In fact, usage of these grew more quickly than any other vehicle type, rising by 4.2% between 2014 and 2015.  It’s strongly believed across the industry that the increase in this particular type of vehicle is largely due to a continued growth with internet shopping and home deliveries from some of the major supermarkets such as Asda, Sainsburys and Iceland.

Of course, road traffic incidents can occur for a number of reasons and in this blog, we take a look at some of the basic facts and figures to find the biggest cause of them.

What do the current stats look like?

In a report published by the Department for Transport in 2016, almost half of fatalities were caused by vehicles with the majority of these taking place in the south west region of the UK.

Here’s a summary of the figures reported during 2016:

Number of fatalities: 1,792 (69 of whom were children under the age of 15)

Those who were ‘seriously injured’: 24,101

Those who were ‘slightly injured’: 155,491

That equates to 5 fatalities a day and 66 serious injuries.

The previous year, Brake advise that England experienced the highest number of road fatalities – in fact accounting for 81% of road deaths across the UK.  Again, the majority of these occurred in the south west region.

What are the different road user types?

According to Brake, the highest percentage of casualties during 2015 were car users, who accounted for 44% of all road deaths in the UK. During the same period, both car and taxi traffic rose by over 1%, thus exceeding a previous peak which was evident during 2007.

There were also 408 pedestrian deaths in the UK during 2015, although it’s certainly encouraging to note that this represented a reduction of 9% on the previous year.

A further reduction was also seen in the amount of cycling deaths, in fact some 12% since 2014.  Of these, 81% of casualties were male and the vast majority of incidents (80%) occurred on roads with a 30mph speed limit.

Unfortunately, the 2015 statistics also showed that motorbike fatalities had increased by 8% when there were 5,042 serious injuries on the road, with the highest percentage of these again taking place in England (91%).  The vast majority of motorcyclist casualties were male and 44% of these incidents occurred in both London and the south-east regions.

What sort of road type sees the most incidents?

During 2015 almost three quarter of incidents in the UK took place on urban roads (which saw little change in actual traffic usage), although the highest amount of fatalities (51%) took place on rural roads.

Fortunately, the number of people killed on 20mph areas fell by 50% during 2015 yet the number of road crashes rose by 27%.

So what causes road traffic incidents?

Road traffic incidents can happen for a huge number of different reasons which include (but are certainly not limited) to the following:

  • Driver error or carelessness; including failing to look properly – for example, when pulling out of a junction or not properly assessing a vehicle’s speed

  • Speeding

  • Drink or drug driving

  • Losing control of a vehicle

  • Failing to correctly predict another road user’s actions – for example, a pedestrian stepping out into the road

  • Poor manoeuvring

  • Failure to take road conditions into account – for example, driving at speed on a wet road

  • Driver fatigue

  • Driver distractions – such as the use of mobile phones or sat nav systems whilst driving

  • Vehicle defects – such as flat tyres

  • Weather conditions

  • Inexperience

What sort of road type sees the most incidents?

Look at any official publication and it’s quite apparent that the biggest cause of road traffic incidents in the UK is “driver error or reaction”.  Police reports list this as being attributable to over 65% of all fatal crashes and covers a multitude of driving sins; all of which are listed above.

Is it possible to reduce the number of road traffic incidents?

Absolutely. Each and every driver has access to numerous resources which are intended to help reduce the number of road traffic incidents across the UK.

Road safety charity ‘Brake’ also have a 6-point plan to help make the streets safer for everyone – as well as helping the environment.  These key points are listed as follows:


  1. Go slow

It’s no great secret that speed can (and does) kill so simply reducing your speed by just a few miles an hour will certainly help prevent incidents on the road.

Also remember that speed limits are just that – ‘limits’ and not ‘targets’.  By exceeding them you not only increase your chances of causing an accident but are also likely to get a speeding fine.

  1. Stay sober

Remember that even very minimal amounts of alcohol or drugs can massively affect your ability to drive so never be tempted to drive whilst under the influence of drink, drugs or even medication. Instead, plan ahead, use public transport or book a taxi.  It simply isn’t worth the risk.

  1. Be secure

Make sure that you’re safe every time you go onto the roads.  By this we mean checking that all passengers are wearing seatbelts and that the vehicle itself is safe to drive. Also, be sure to give your car a regular service to avoid any potential hazards, such as tyre blow out’s.

  1. Be silent

Driver distractions are one of the biggest causes of road traffic incidents so make sure that you’re fully focused on the road ahead. Avoid using mobile phones and if you’re intending to use a satnav then make sure it’s set before you start your journey, rather than attempting to adjust it en-route.

  1. Stay sharp

Drivers should always be fully alert whilst driving.  If you’re planning a long journey, particularly on a motorway, then ensure you take regular breaks to avoid fatigue and ensure that any medical conditions are properly managed and addressed with your GP if necessary.

  1. Be sustainable

Before jumping into your car – particularly for shorter journeys – why not ask yourself whether you could walk, or take public transport instead?  By reducing the number of vehicles on our roads it naturally goes without saying that the environment benefits but ultimately, it also helps to reduce the overall number of accidents.  Aside from that, walking is a great way to keep fit so there are certainly plenty of benefits to be taken advantage of!


Given that driver error causes the most road traffic incidents, it’s crucial that everyone plays their part in helping reduce them.

By simply following the above guidance you can quite easily play your part and help save lives across the UK.

If you need compensation information around motorcycle accident or car accident claims refer to Smith Jones Solicitors resources linked.