The Government publishes annual road accident statistics some nine months in arrears of each given year and the 2020 figures were released on 30 September 2021.
General media reporting tends to focus on the headline figures, from which many conclusions may be drawn that do not necessarily stand up to an analysis of the many detailed tables included in the report.
Deeper investigation of this information is therefore useful to road transport operators, as it can indicate the most effective areas to concentrate on when monitoring or training drivers in order to improve road safety. Here we look in more detail at the road accident statistics for 2020.
2020 was clearly an unusual year owing to the national restrictions from March onwards. Compared with 2019, total road traffic fell by 21% and total casualties by 25%. The overall casualty rate per billion vehicle miles also decreased slightly, on trend with previous years. There was a marked shift in modal use with much less use of buses (and trains) and more use of cars and pedal cycles and this has skewed the detailed figures somewhat by an increase in use, often by relatively inexperienced users, of more vulnerable modes of transport.
Provisional international comparisons show that of all European countries, the UK had the fourth lowest death rate at 23 per million population, bettered only by Norway (17), Sweden (20) and Iceland (22).
Of the home nations, the rate per million population for both England and Wales was 22, for Scotland it was 26 and for Northern Ireland 30.
A new feature this year is the inclusion of a separate report on e-scooters. The figures for these are included under the heading “Other Vehicles” in the tables but the report disaggregates these from the total. There were 460 accidents involving e-scooters, with 484 casualties. Of these casualties 100 were people other than the scooter rider, predominantly pedestrians but also pedal cyclists, motor cyclists and occupants of vehicles. 60% of accident reports came from the Metropolitan Police, compared with 21% of all accidents.
The GB figures are produced from the STATS19 report completed by a police officer following an accident where there is police attendance. Therefore, they will not include accidents where there is no police attendance and/or no STATS19 report.
It is also possible that two or more contributory factors may be recorded for a single vehicle and that there may be contributory factors recorded for more than one vehicle per accident.
The most revealing information as far as operators are concerned comes from a closer analysis of the detailed statistics, especially table 50005 which allocates contributory factors to the different categories of road user, enabling us to see where education and enforcement should be most profitably directed.
A quick glance across the categories of contributory factors shows that the percentage contribution from each remains the same as in every previous year — an indication that even though the amount of traffic and casualties falls dramatically, people keep making the same mistakes.
The driver error group is consistently where the greatest percentages are found every year — 39% in 2020. Within that group the common contributory factor is “failed to look properly” (also the most common reason for failing the driving test), which was 21% of all recorded accidents and the single greatest factor across all vehicle types by an order of magnitude. The worst offenders were van drivers, but “other vehicles” (e-scooters) were not far behind in percentage terms. This is followed by “failed to judge other person’s path or speed” at 11%. Other significant factors were “poor turn or manoeuvre” and “loss of control” both at 6% overall.
Vehicle defects figured in only 1% of total accidents (same as 2019) but within that 1% “other vehicles” and pedal cycles were disproportionately represented at 3% and 2% respectively. This 1% represented 1204 occurrences in total, with buses and coaches accounting for only 9 occurrences and large goods vehicles 37. Vans featured 101 times in this group. The most common contributory factor for large goods vehicles was overloading or poor loading (20) and this factor was second most common for vans at 29.
Defective brakes were the second most common factor for large goods vehicles (8) and the most common one for buses and coaches (7). The figure for vans was 38, though the numbers for cars, pedal cycles and motorcycles were much greater at 241, 105 and 63 respectively. Significant numbers of cars, motorcycles and pedal cycles had defective lights or indicators reported as contributing to their accidents.
Behaviour and Experience
This group of factors came second overall to driver error, on 14%. The most common single factor was “careless, reckless or in a hurry” accounting for 10% alone (10,802 occurrences), by a long way the greatest single component of all for all road users. Second most common was “aggressive driving” (2785 occurrences), recorded 23 times for pedal cycles, 14 times for large goods vehicle, 139 times for vans and just once for buses and coaches.
This group was third overall at 12%. Exceeding the speed limit was, as usual, a factor in 4% of all accidents with “travelling too fast for the conditions” (ie not exceeding the speed limit) just behind on 3% overall. Third came “following too closely” at 1%.
As usual, motorcyclists in accidents were most likely to have been exceeding the speed limit at 6% compared with 1% of goods vehicle drivers and fewer than 1% of bus and coach drivers. Interestingly, the actual number of pedal cycles exceeding the speed limit involved in accidents was 21 compared with 22 for large goods vehicles and 7 for buses or coaches. Equally, the number of goods vehicles traveling too fast for the conditions was 46 (2%) against 163 for cyclists and 489 for motorcyclists (5%). For bus and coach drivers the figure was less than 1%, equivalent to 7 cases.
Accidents as a result of disobedience to other road traffic laws also featured only to a relatively small extent, spread more or less equally across all types of road user in terms of percentages, though the total figure recorded against pedal cyclists for the five specific offences recorded was approximately four times greater than for lorry drivers and 12 times greater than for bus and coach drivers.
Impairment or Distraction
Impairment by alcohol featured just once for bus and coach drivers and 16 times for larger goods vehicle drivers, less than 1% in both cases. Unsurprisingly, the biggest percentage was for car drivers (4%), with van drivers at 3% and motorcyclists and pedal cyclists only just behind at 2% each — 147 cyclists and 209 motorcyclists. Impairment by drugs (both medicinal and illegal) also occurred in about 1500 accidents, with 2 for bus and coach drivers and 9 large goods vehicle drivers. This contrasts with 35 pedal cyclists, 132 motorcyclists, 80 van drivers and 14 other vehicles.
Distraction by use of a mobile phone was present less than 1% of the time for all types of road user, appearing only twice for bus and coach drivers and 13 times for goods vehicle drivers but 42 times for van drivers. Both motor and pedal cyclists featured significantly at 25 times and 27 times respectively along with 8 other vehicles. While the other figures are the same as last year those for motorcyclists and pedal cyclists have increased by 40%.
Particularly prevalent in this group for cyclists were “rider wearing dark clothing” and not “displaying lights”, accounting for 369 accidents between them.
Consideration of the contributory factors above shows where drivers of buses, coaches and large goods vehicles need to pay particular attention and also where managers particularly need to direct training and monitoring.
One other very significant lesson for transport managers and their drivers (and legislators), though, is the disproportionate contribution to accidents involving the most vulnerable road users that actually comes from those groups themselves. Professional drivers are therefore forced to attend not only to the standard of their own driving but also to be alert to the failings of the many others on the road.