You may not be aware of this, but Britain is actually the safest place in the world in which to drive.
The first recorded road death in a motor accident in this country was on 17 August 1896 when Bridget Driscoll, a London housewife, was run over by a Roger-Benz, being driven by motorist Arthur Edsell at four miles per hour. Apparently the poor woman was so shocked at the sight of the car bearing down on her that she froze with fear.
After that things got worse, the death toll through road accidents just grew and grew and in the 60s and 70s it was between 6,000 and 8,000 annually. The worst years for deaths on Britains roads were actually 1934, 1941 (during the blackout of World War Two), and 1966 (the year before alcohol blood limits were introduced and the fitting of seatbelts in new cars made compulsory).
Death's on British Roads Have Halved
But according to a report from the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), over the past 20 years deaths on Britains roads have halved, with 31,000 deaths avoided, resulting in savings to the economy of around 50 billion. In 2008 and 2009, deaths fell by 724, down to 2,222, and Britains roads have never been safer. Since 1970, road traffic has increased by a factor of two and a half, but road deaths have fallen by more than two-thirds.
This spectacular reduction in the number of deaths on our roads in recent years has moved the UK to number one in the world road-safety league table of safest roads in 2009, from sixth in 2007 and fourth in 2008. Within the EuropeanUnion, the UK has half the road death rates of Austria, Belgium, Portugal and Luxembourg.
The figures are impressive. Car occupant and motorcyclist deaths each fell by 16 per cent in 2009, 13 per cent fewer pedestrians of all ages were killed, and best of all there was a massive one-third reduction in deaths of children and young people under 16.
Rural Roads Pose A Greater Danger
Rural roads are still the most dangerous apparently, accounting for two-thirds of fatal and serious casualties. Despite this, they have also shown the biggest decrease in deaths over the last ten years, with a 40 per cent reduction. The IAM says that changes to the driving test to include rural roads as a mandatory part of the training, would do much to help this trend continue, and who am I to disagree? Motorways are actually the safest roads to drive on, being accountable for only 132 deaths in 2009, even though they have the highest speed limits and large traffic flows.
But while all of this is good news, the IAM is worried that proposed spending cuts to transport and police budgets could have a disproportionate effect on road safety, and it is urging all public bodies involved in reducing deaths on our roads to continue to make road safety their top priority.
And with each fatal accident on our roads costing the UK economy 1.79 million in lost output, health care, pain and suffering, every life saved is a direct benefit to society and reduces the number of families who will suffer personal grief from the loss of a loved one for years after the event.
As the IAM points out,it would be an awful legacy if budget cuts slowed or even reversed the trend to reduce death and injury on the road. Investing in saving lives on the roads saves the country money, so funding being taken away from this area is a false economy. Public bodies have more freedom than ever on where to spend their resources and they would be well advised to keep road safety high on their priority lists.
Britain is the safest place in the world to drive. Lets keep it that way.