British road traffic deaths fall but casualties rise

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 29 July 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:281

The number of deaths from road traffic accidents has continued to fall, but the overall number of casualties has not, according to figures in Road Accidents Great Britain 1994: The Casualty Report. There were 3650 deaths, compared with 3814 in 1993. Total casualties rose slightly from 306020 to 315189.

Deaths and serious injuries were substantially fewer than the averages for 1981-5, but the number and rate of slight injuries increased. The improvement over 1981-5 is due in particular to a considerable drop in casualties among 17-21 year olds (especially men), with a smaller drop among people over 59; other age groups had increased numbers and rates of casualties. During these years, the report points out, there was a significant fall in the population of 17-21 year olds and—more importantly—a big reduction in motorcycling, formerly a notorious source of injury.

Deaths among car drivers were the same as in 1993 but fewer than in 1981-5. Slight injuries among car drivers rose significantly, by over two thirds, car traffic having increased by nearly half. Casualties among women more than doubled; many more women now hold licences, and they drive more.

In 1994, 1124 pedestrians died, of whom 160 were aged under 16, which is fairly similar to 1993 figures. But serious and slight injuries were a little higher than in 1993, though fewer in children. Deaths and serious injuries were substantially fewer than in 1981-5.

Drink-driving remains an important cause of accidents despite improvement. In 1979 an estimated 1650 people died in drink-drive accidents, and in 1994 about 510 (provisional figure) did so. But the latter represents around one seventh of all deaths in road accidents, and the report points out that nearly half the victims had not been drinking and driving themselves.

Better enforcement of the law has been important. Some 680 000 roadside screening breath tests were attempted in 1994 and in 14% of cases the person was over the legal alcohol limit or refused the test (42% in 1984). An estimated one in five drivers killed in accidents were over the limit compared with one in four in 1984, but the proportion has plateaued. Some police forces test drivers in only a small proportion of accidents.

Publicity campaigns against drinking and driving, says the report, have helped to change attitudes. In 1979, for example, 31% of those surveyed said that they had driven at least once the previous week after drinking six or more units, compared with 9% in 1994.—DAPHNE GLOAG, freelance journalist, London

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