(Contributed UK post)
In most respects, the world is becoming a safer place and UK roads are no exception. According to a recent government report, more than 25,000 serious injuries occurred in road traffic accidents reported to the police in 2018. While this might seem a high figure, it is actually part of a downward trend. The rate of fatalities per billion vehicle miles has actually fallen by 1% over the year from 2017 to 2018, with a proportionate fall in accident claims. Over the long term, the trend is even more pronounced; there were 6352 road fatalities in 1979, and just 1784. When you consider that the population of the country has risen over the intervening decades, this is a fairly impressive turnaround.
What has made UK roads safer?
Several factors are behind this improvement. For one thing, we’re all better drivers – or, at least, we’re more aware of the types of driving that qualify as dangerous. In 1967, the Road Safety Act introduced the UK’s first drink-drive limit, along with the breathalyser test. But it took gradual cultural change before the idea of ‘one for the road’ became widely disapproved-of.
Another influence comes from the vehicles themselves. Crumple zones, airbags and seat belts have all been around for a while, but they’re just the most obvious examples of a broader trend toward safer vehicles.
Other short-term factors can reduce the casualty number. For example, anything that reduces the amount of traffic on the road, like a hike in the price of fuel or a decline in wages, will also slash the rate of accidents.
Just about every category of road vehicle has enjoyed a decline in fatality-rates over the year between 2017 and 2018. But there is one exception, and that’s motorcycles, where the rate has risen by 1%. With that said, the rate of casualties has fallen by 7%. You’ll find similar statistics in other countries, like the US, which suggests that the problem lies with the vehicle itself rather than any quirk of UK law.
So what makes motorcyclists such a special category? To begin with the obvious, motorcycles have two wheels rather than four, and so the rider’s skill can play a much more important role in preventing a fatal injury during a crash.
Second, motorcycles are smaller and more difficult to see than other sorts of vehicle. This lack of visibility makes it more likely that another motorist will pull out into the wrong lane, for example, resulting in an accident.
Third, while motorcycles come with their own safety features, they’re not developed with the same focus on safety as the equivalent cars. Moreover, airbags and mirrors and other safety equipment take up space, and add weight. On a smaller vehicle, presents a dilemma for manufacturers.
Finally, motorcycles are generally more fun to ride, and offer a sense of freedom which can encourage riders to take unnecessary risks.