UK road casualties reduced during the pandemic – Are they likely to increase again?

27th April 2021

The enforced lockdown measures that were rolled out across the UK in 2020 prompted a massive reduction in road traffic. This, in turn, had the welcome side-effect of reducing the number of casualties on British roads.

Statistics released by the Department for Transport in January show a year-on-year decrease in road deaths of around 14%. This is especially impressive when you consider that we’re examining the year ending June, which means that the drop comes from just a few months out of the entire year. Similarly, we find a reduction in road casualties of 16%, which is statistically significant.

The authors of the report note that the reduction in casualties is roughly proportionate to the reduction in traffic, which fell by around 14% over the same period. Also worth noting is that cyclists experienced a significant drop in fatalities – but that the drop wasn’t quite as large as with other road users. At the peak of the April lockdown, fatalities for all road users had dropped by more than 60%. But if we consider just cyclists, then the figure is closer to 30%.

How can I reduce the likelihood of an accident?

If you’d rather not become an unfortunate statistic, then there are several measures you might take to.

Among the most important is to get sufficient sleep. The impact of chronic sleep deprivation is similar to that of drink-driving, according to multiple studies. One of the key drivers of the downward trend in fatalities throughout the 80s and 90s was a growing taboo against drink driving – and a similar thing might happen when it comes to drowsy driving.

Slowing down is also vital. If you’re speeding, you’re not only more likely to be involved in a car accident, but more likely to be seriously injured or killed.

Another contributor to accidents is inferior tyres, which vastly increase braking distance at high speed. Tread depth is an indicator of tyre quality and lifespan, but low-mileage drivers might also consider the age of the tyre – cracks that appear can eventually lead to burst tyres. Fortunately, you can buy tyres online and fit them yourself, and thereby stay on top of the problem!

Between 2010 and 2019 road deaths have remained more or less constant, at just over 1,700 each year. Might we expect the figures to return to these levels after Covid-19 has been dealt with, and we’re back to previous levels of road traffic?

There’s reason to suppose so, though this would be a function of traffic volume. With several large employers announcing their intention to extend working-from-home practices indefinitely, we might indeed see slightly fewer cars on the roads – enough to offset growth in population. In the long-term, technologies like lane assist, assisted braking, and ultimately driverless cars, will all make their mark on the statistics.