Road safety performance in the UK is often cited as world leading and in 2011, the Secretary of State said it was ‘the envy of the world’. The European Transport safety Council Road Safety performance index report is an excellent resource that has benchmarked performance in Europe for over a decade. The most reliable method for comparing risk is to look at deaths per million inhabitants as this removes the variation in serious injury classification between countries and largely avoids under-reporting as fatal injuries are generally well recorded in the comparison countries.
The results for 2011 showed a rate of 31 road deaths per million people in the UK which was the lowest in the 32 countries reviewed. Analysis of 2021 data, using provisional figures and estimates for the UK, showed that although rates are now lower at 23.9 deaths per million people, performance in other countries has been better over the last decade. the UK is now 6th on the list with Norway leading on 14.8 deaths per million inhabitants. It is worth noting that reduced traffic levels in 2021 dues to COVID lockdowns may have suppressed these values.
This does highlight the need to consider an alternative performance management metric, one based on vehicle traffic. The 2021 IRTAD annual report on road safety looks specifically at traffic, speed, and casualty impacts in different countries in the 2020 COVID period. It showed that even in countries where traffic decreased, casualties did not always drop commensurately. The central IRTAD database contains other information on exposure including vehicle kilometres driven in member countries. Although this database is available to members only, results have been summarised in previous reports. These show deaths per billion vehicle km driven and provide an alternative and complementary assessment of road safety performance at a national level.
Comparing performance between different countries is complex with alternative recording and classification systems in place. Comparing raw numbers of course is misleading and care should be given to small sample sizes or single year-on-year changes. Longer term trends using robust data measured as rates per population or vehicle miles driven are always the most reliable approaches.