1. Transport
December 18, 2014

Driving in Europe is getting safer

By Jonn Elledge

You know, there’s a tendency, sometimes, for the news to focus on the negative. On things that are blowing up, falling to bits or otherwise going to hell.

So here’s a bit of Christmas cheer for you: right across Europe, driving is getting safer. Not just a bit safer. A lot safer.

Here, courtesy of the European Commission, is a map of European traffic fatality rates in 2001.

And here’s the same map in 2012.

You don’t even need to look, do you? It’s immediately obvious that, with very few exceptions, every country featured has become significantly safer. Those that were blue are now green; those that were green are now yellow.

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We can find only two exceptions. And on closer inspection it turns out that at least one of those, Romania, has got safer; it just hasn’t done so by enough to jump categories on the map. 

In most countries, in fact, the number of traffic deaths have fallen quite significantly. Here’s a graph of the figures covering five of the largest European countries:

Now these are absolute figures, not adjusted for population size. That flatters the numbers for Spain (which is relatively small), while making the numbers for Germany (which is enormous) look worse than they are.

All the same, the trend is clear. In the two decades to 2012, the total number of traffic deaths in all of those countries halved.

Also, while we’re here, let’s have a big hand for the relatively safe UK, shall we? Huzzah.

Drill down into the figures from individual countries, you’ll find that this trend holds true for different sub-categories of traffic death, too. (We’ve chosen Belgium, but the same holds true elsewhere.) It doesn’t matter which type of road you drive on…

…or whether you’re the driver, passenger, or a passer by.

Things are getting better.

There are all sorts of explanations for why this might be. Cars now come with all sorts of safety features – anti-lock brakes, airbags, crumple zones – that were rare or unknown in the early nineties; that makes them easier to control, and less likely to kill their occupants if something goes wrong. There are behavioural changes at work, too: more drivers wear seatbelts; fewer drive while drunk.

But whatever the explanations, it is abundantly clear that roads are getting safer: on all types of road, in all European countries.

Happy Christmas, everyone.

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