Health

Car deaths in England and Wales 'down 40% in 50 years'

  • 7 November 2013
  • From the section Health
Crash test dummies
Technology has made cars safer

The annual figures for people dying in car crashes in England and Wales have fallen by 40% in the past 50 years.

A paper in the Emergency Medicine Journal says this is despite the rise in the number of drivers on the road.

Men were more likely die than women in each year studied.

Safety experts said measures including seat belts, speed cameras and curbs on drink driving had all helped cut deaths.

About 1.3 million people die globally in crashes every year.

Current trends suggest road accidents are expected to become the fifth leading cause of death by 2030.

Interventions

In this study, a team from the University of Nottingham looked at data on road deaths from the Office of National Statistics from 1960 to 2009.

During that period, 102,196 people died as a direct result of a road traffic accident.

In 1960, car crashes caused 1,647 deaths, but by 2009 the figure had fallen to 964 - a drop of 41%.

Over that time, car ownership across the UK increased by about 3% every year.

Men were more likely to die than women in every year studied. And those who from socially deprived backgrounds were consistently more likely to die in a car crash than those who were more affluent.

There was a 70% fall in deaths among infants and children, from 66 in 1960 to 20 in 2009.

Fatalities among the over-75s did rise - from 68 to 109 - but the researchers say this should be seen in the context of the increase in the number of drivers in this age group.

Share of risk

Writing in the journal the researchers, led by Dr Andrew Fogarty, said factors such as the introduction of compulsory seat belts, drink driving curbs, child safety seats, and speed cameras, as well as the development of specialist trauma centres, had all helped to cut deaths.

They added: "However, it is possible that while these interventions have resulted in a reduction in the absolute number of deaths from [road traffic accidents] in England and Wales, they have not modified the relative differential in age of death between sexes or socioeconomic groups in those who die after [a car crash]."

Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), said: "The reductions in road deaths over the last five years or so have been particularly substantial, although this is partly due to the effects the economic downturn and periods of unusually poor weather on the level of driving.

"However, as the BMJ report identifies, not everyone has benefited equally from these improvements in road safety, and people from less well off backgrounds suffer a disproportionate share of the risk.

"The social factors that create this increased risk need to be tackled in a systematic way by organisations responsible for road safety.

"Common approaches to improving the health, wellbeing and the safety of individuals and communities need to be identified, and closer ties and partnership working between road safety and health professionals should be developed at all levels of work."

He added: "We also need to focus on specific groups of road users who face higher risks, especially cyclists, pedestrians, motorcyclists and young, novice drivers."

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