Safe in the slow lane
New figures suggest deaths and injuries on the UK's roads are now the lowest since records began in 1926. So why all the anxiety about road safety?
According to the latest statistics from the Department for Transport (DfT), 3,221 people died on the roads in 2004. That's a decline of eight per cent on 2003, and a fall of 10 per cent on the average from 1994-98. In fact, the number of people killed or seriously injured has fallen by 28 per cent compared to the 1994-98 average - including a 43 per cent drop for children. Only among motorcyclists are the figures going up.
This is in spite of the fact that volumes of traffic continue to rise. There were roughly 300billion miles travelled in motor vehicles last year - that's one death every 93million miles travelled. A number of factors have had an effect here, including improvements to the way cars are built, and new road markings and layouts. Cars have also been increasingly restricted by speed bumps, speed cameras and the narrowing or removal of lanes.
But while Britain's roads are safer than ever, all we seem to hear about is the need to place even more restrictions on drivers, and outlaw 4x4s and sports-utility vehicles (SUVs). Meanwhile, average speeds seem to be falling because road building is not keeping pace with traffic increases. With serious accidents so rare, we should focus on the true purpose of our roads - getting from A to B as quickly as possible. It's time drivers put their foot down.
Road Casualties in Great Britain, Main Results: 2004, Department for Transport, June 2005 [pdf format]
Drivers: guilty as charged?, by Jennie Bristow