Road traffic accidents

Globally, road traffic accidents are a leading cause of death and serious injury among young people, but rates in the UK have fallen and compare against high income countries.

This indicator was published in March 2020.

In May 2021 we updated our graphs and charts where new data had been published, and we reviewed our policy recommendations by nation.

Road traffic accidents | 4,000 17-19 year olds died or were seriously injured in Great Britain 2013 to 2017

Background

  • Globally, road traffic accidents are the leading cause of death among children and young people aged 5-29 years.1 In the five year period from 2013 to 2017, a total of 4,090 17-19 year olds in Great Britain were killed or seriously injured in road traffic accidents.
  • Road traffic accidents are preventable.
  • The UK has much lower road traffic death rates among children and young people than comparable Western countries.2 In 2017, the UK had the third lowest rate of road deaths in Europe, and second in the European Union.3
  • There are significant health inequalities, with the risk of road traffic injuries is higher for those young people living in deprived areas.4
  • The highest risk of injury occurs immediately after young people can start legally using cars and motorcycles in terms of rates of both hospital admissions and police-reported serious and fatal casualties.5

I get street anxiety when running across the road.

Young person speaking to RCPCH &Us

Key findings

  • This indicator focuses on road traffic injuries for those aged 17-19 years. The data do not include pedestrian injuries on the roads.
  • Among young people aged 17-19 years, the overall rate of road traffic injuries has steadily decreased in England, Scotland and Wales from 2005 to 2017. In 2017, the rates were: 3.4 in Wales, 3.4 in England and 2.8 in Scotland per 1,000 young people aged 17-19.
  • Rates of serious or fatal road traffic injuries have decreased in the past decade, but is plateauing – and rose in England from 2016 to 2017. Despite a long term reduction since 2005, the latest figures show a rise in England from 33.2 (2016) to 37.7 (2017) per 100,000 young people aged 17-19. Trends in Scotland and Wales have fluctuated from 2005-2017, though reduced overall.
  • In 2017, Wales had the highest serious or fatal injury rate, at 47.7 per 100,000 17-19 year olds.
  • Male injuries remain more common than female, despite the gap closing dramatically from 2005 to 2013. In 2017, there were 198 more male than female fatalities or serious injuries in 17-19 year olds in Great Britain. Between 2005 and 2013, there was a dramatic reduction in serious or fatal injuries among young men aged 17-19, falling from 128.9 to 40.7 per 100,000. However, since then, the trend has levelled and recently rose to 45.7 per 100,000 in 2017.

Additional information

What does good look like?

Continued focus on national road safety as a priority. The significant reductions in road accidents in recent decades is a good news story for the UK, and demonstrates the value of a nationally-led strategic approach to injury prevention incorporating a blend of the so-called “Three Es”: Engineering, Education and Enforcement.6 Close attention should be paid to the recent increase in road traffic injuries in England to ensure it is not the start of an unwelcome trend.

Design safer roads and communities. Safe environments encourage safe, active travel among children and young people. Active travel, including walking and cycling, has been encouraged by Public Health England7 and the Government has committed to providing safe streets for 12 year olds by 20408. This cannot be achieved without significant investment and focus in designing and planning healthier built environments, and harmonious and safe interactions between road, cycle and pedestrian routes.9

Speed restrictions especially in high risk areas. Judicious spread, and effective enforcement, of 20mph speed limit zones, especially in urban areas, should be encouraged. 20mph speed restrictions have already been implemented across the UK in high risk areas, and there is evidence that they can be effective in injury reduction, with a 6% reduction in collisions noted for every 1mph speed reduction in urban areas.10 There may be benefits too in reducing inequalities, and wider public health impact on active travel and air quality.11

Prevention of road traffic accidents, particularly for at risk young people. Increased education and training for young drivers is required to improve hazard perception skills for: rural environments, independent driving, and driving in dark / extreme weather conditions.12 The risk of young drivers being involved in a road traffic accident drops sharply after the first six months of driving;13 exposure to scenarios increases the experience of young drivers, leading to positive behaviour change. Measures are available to assist young drivers, such as Intelligent Speed Assistance and Automated Emergency Braking, which can mitigate or prevent traffic collisions.14 Graduated Driver licensing, which places safety restrictions on newly qualified drivers, have been shown to reduce road related deaths.15

Implement commitments made within the 2019 Road Safety Statement. In 2019, the Department for Transport’s Statement provided recommendations to ensure ‘safer people, safer vehicles and safer roads’ in Great Britain; outlining that road accidents are a result of the wider transport system, from road design and signage to road user education.16 The Statement outlines actions for the UK Government specific to young adults, including the exploration of a Graduated Learner Scheme. Furthermore, in 2018 the Department for Transport announced £100m for the Safe Roads Fund, to review cycling and walking safety, targeting 50 of the most dangerous roads in England. We also welcome Public Health Wales’ 2016 draft position statement in support of Graduated Driver Licensing.

Policy recommendations

  • UK Government should resource Local Authorities to provide safer environments for children and young people to walk, play and travel. Local Authorities should commit to:
    • Expansion of 20mph zones within built up / urban areas;
    • Greater number of cycle lanes;
    • Greater number of pedestrian zones;
    • Monitoring and measurement of their population’s exposure to air pollution, particularly in urban areas and near schools.
  • We welcome the Department for Transport’s research into graduated driver licensing as part of their two-year road safety action plan; which should be introduced for novice drivers in England as a priority
  • Local Authorities should provide safer environments for children and young people to walk, play and travel. They should commit to:
    • Expansion of 20mph zones within built up / urban areas;
    • Greater number of cycle lanes;
    • Greater number of pedestrian zones;
    • Monitoring and measurement of their population’s exposure to air pollution, particularly in urban areas and near schools.
  • We welcome Welsh Government’s commitments within ‘Healthy Weight, Healthy Wales’ to expand 20mph zones and increase the number of pedestrian and cycle routes, which will provide safer environments for children and young people to walk, play and travel. Welsh Government should implement these changes within the first two-year phase, as outlined in the delivery plan.
  • Department of Infrastructure should prioritise publication of a successor strategy to the Road Safety Strategy to 2020.
  • We welcome the 2018 Statutory Rule – The Schools (Part-time 20mph Speed Limit) Order, which introduced a part-time speed limits on a select number of roads where primary schools are located and the ongoing expansion of 20 mile per hour areas generally. This should be expanded to cover more built up / urban areas where there is a significant presence of vulnerable road users.
  • The Department of Infrastructure should continue to provide safer environments for children and young people to walk, play and travel. Including:
    • Implementation of the ‘Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland’;
    • Creation of more pedestrian zones and implementation of ‘Exercise – Explore – Enjoy: A strategic plan for greenways’;
    • Monitor and measure of the population’s exposure to air pollution, particularly in urban areas and near schools.
  • We welcome the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act (NI) 2016, which made provision for the introduction of a Graduated Driving Licence (GDL) scheme. The Department of Infrastructure should ensure that the scheme is implemented by the target date of the end of 2020. Continued reporting by way of the GDL Monitoring Reports should be ensured.

What can health professionals do about this?

Advocate for safe built environments in your local area: The voice of clinical champions in the community can be a powerful one. Use available local or national data to articulate the needs of your local population, highlight road safety concerns that come to your attention as healthcare professionals, and bring them to the attention of local decision makers and commissioners.

Contributing authors

  • Dr Ronny Cheung, RCPCH State of Child Health Clinical Lead
  • Rachael McKeown, RCPCH State of Child Health Project Manager
  • Dr Rakhee Shah, RCPCH State of Child Health Clinical Advisor

Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (2020) State of Child Health. London: RCPCH. [Available at: stateofchildhealth.rcpch.ac.uk]

References

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(1)

World Health Organisation (2018) Global status report on road safety: 2018. ISBN: 978-92-4-156568-4.

(2)

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (2018) Road Accidents. OECD Data. Available from: OECD Data

(3)

Department for Transport (2019) The Road Safety Statement 2019: A Lifetime of Road Safety. Moving Britain Ahead. July 2019: Crown Copyright.

(4)

Public Health England (2018) Reducing unintentional injuries on the roads among children and young people under 25 years.

(5)

Public Health England (2018) Reducing unintentional injuries on the roads among children and young people under 25 years. Available from: GOV.UK (pdf)

(6)

Christoffer T, Scavo Gallagher S (2006). Injury Prevention and Public Health: Practical Knowledge, Skills, and Strategies. Jones & Bartlett: Sudbury MA, USA.

(7)

Public Health England. 2016. Working together to promote active travel: A briefing for local authorities.

(8)

Department for Transport (2018) Government Response to Call for Evidence: Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy: Safety Review. November 2018: Crown Copyright.

(9)

Public Health England (2017) Spatial Planning for Health: An evidence resource for planning and designing healthier places. Available from: GOV.UK (pdf)

(10)

Davis Al (2018). The state of the evidence on 20mph speed limits with regards to road safety, active travel and air pollution impacts: A Literature Review of the Evidence. Available from: GOV.WALES (pdf)

(11)

Dorling D. (2017) 20mph speed limits for cars in residential areas, by shops and schools. Available from: The British Academy (pdf)

(12)

Pressley, A., et al. (2016) Published Project Report PPR781. A review of interventions which seek to increase the safety of young and novice drivers. TRL: The Future of Transport. The Department for Transport.

(13)

Maycock, G. (2002) Novice driver accidents and the driving tests. TRL. Report: TRL:527.

(14)

European Transport Safety Council (2018) Reducing Child Deaths on European Roads: PIN Flash Report 34. Brussels: 2018 ETSC.

(15)

Russell  KF, Vandermeer  B, Hartling  L. (2011) Graduated driver licensing for reducing motor vehicle crashes among young drivers. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews Issue 10. Art. No.: CD003300. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003300.pub3.

(16)

Department for Transport (2019) The Road Safety Statement 2019: A Lifetime of Road Safety. Moving Britain Ahead.

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