Understanding the Strengths and Weaknesses of Britain's Road Safety Performance PPR796

Transport Research Laboratory (TRL)
Publication date: 
September 2016

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There are fewer road deaths per head of the population in Britain than in almost any other country in the world. With minor variations in international rankings, this has been the case consistently for many years. The most recent data (2015) show that Norway and Sweden both have fewer road deaths per head than Britain while Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands have more. The work reported here has attempted to disaggregate this important but high-level statistic and to explore the relative safety of Britain’s roads, road users and vehicles in order to see if there are areas where renewed focus might deliver significant safety benefits. In areas where Britain’s road safety record is even better than those of other countries, it may be possible to improve Britain’s roads further still through measures which have been found to be effective elsewhere, though these areas were not the focus of the study reported here.

Britain’s relative position is broadly consistent when the road fatality rate is expressed in terms of road deaths per head as above, road deaths per person-kilometre, or road deaths as a proportion of all deaths. Britain’s relative performance may partly be due to higher levels of compliance, for example with mobile phone and drink-drive legislation.

The comparisons used to assess the relative safety of different countries’ roads described above necessarily involve using figures which are averaged across each country as a whole. These can disguise the variation within each country and differences in different aspects of the road safety system. Nonetheless, some indicative differences between Britain and other countries with similar numbers of road deaths per head emerge in relation to the safety of each of the three aspects of roads, road users and vehicles.