The latest Department for Transport statistics show a big drop in traffic levels. The lockdowns have had a huge effect overall, but the detail shows a variable picture.

An estimated 670 people were killed in reported road accidents in the first half of 2020 – a decrease of 21% year on year. However, traffic levels decreased by 30%. This means the fatality rate per billion vehicle miles increased by 14%.

Serious and slightly injured casualties were 30% lower than the first half of 2019.

The Big Picture

The 12 months as a whole, ending June 2020, 1,580 road deaths occurred (1,827 the previous year). It’s a decrease of 14%, matching the 14% reduction in traffic levels.

Total casualties were 131,220 casualties compared to 156,034 previously. It is a slight reduction in the overall casualty rate per billion vehicle miles, down by 2% to 427.

Stay Home, Stay Safe

April, in the midst of the first lockdown, witnessed the the most notable reduction in casualties. They were down 67% compared to 2019. Figures increased for May and June, but remained considerably lower than a year earlier – 45% and 33% lower, respectively.

Traffic volumes for these months were 49% lower.

The DfT report shows the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. However, it affected road traffic differently by road user type. There has been a larger percentage reduction for pedestrians, but a smaller reduction for pedal cyclists when compared to other road users.

A more detailed analysis of the trends, including road user type and severity, in June 2021.

Devil In The Detail

Neil Greig, Director of Policy & Research at the UK’s largest independent road safety charity, IAM RoadSmart, said: “Despite fears that speeding has increased substantially during the first lockdown it does now look as if the number of casualties has gone down in line with falling traffic numbers. This is certainly good news as it shows that the vast majority of car, van and lorry stuck drivers to the rules.

“However, the only way to confirm these trends and measure the true impact of local traffic closures and temporary cycle lanes is for the government to publish more details on what has happened throughout the rest of 2020.

“IAM RoadSmart thinks that it is unacceptable that we may have to wait until June 2021 to get the full picture for UK road safety during the pandemic. Other countries seem to be able to produce crash statistics much more quickly, allowing planners to deal with safety issues as they emerge and not after the event.”

Ups and Downs

While the reduction in overall casualties is good news for road safety generally, the reduction in casualties for cyclists were however less impressive, with the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured down just 4% in the period covered by the DfT’s report, compared with 26% of car users and 25% for all other road users in the same period.

It could be expected that casualty rates in the lockdown periods would be even greater. With less traffic, especially commuters, there is more time, space and driver pressure. Adversely, it may be that coming out of lockdown leaves road users more vulnerable.

The full report from DfT can be found here.