Driven to Destruction: How Safe are the World’s (and the UK’s) Roads?

Being complete geeks about all things related to driving, we just happened to be looking at the UK’s road safety record. Pretty soon, we were down a rabbit hole of international and global statistics. Here’s what we found out.


1. The global road safety picture is grim…

It’s not good news. Globally, there are still 1.35 million road traffic deaths a year. That colossal number translates to one every 24 seconds. To put it another way, by the time you finish this article, around 10 more people will have died on the roads. In fact, road accidents are the 8th leading cause of death worldwide. But the real shocker is the statistic for young people: road traffic accidents are now the leading cause of death in both children (5-14) and younger people  (15-29).

2. …though things are improving

The latest WHO reports tell us that road traffic deaths increased from 1.15 million in 2001 to 1.35 million in 2016. And although that’s worse in absolute terms, remember that the number of road users has increased massively in fifteen years. So, everything points to the rate of fatal accidents having significantly decreased over time. But there’s still a long, long way to go.

3. The poorest countries have the worst road safety

It’s not too surprising that road safety is better in rich countries. But quite how much better is an eye-opener. The high-income countries (as defined by the WHO) own 40% of the world’s vehicles, but only contribute 7% of the global road fatalities. By comparison, the poorest countries own just 1% of the world’s vehicles, but suffer 13% of the world’s fatal accidents. On a car-by-car basis, it’s 74 times more dangerous to use the road in the world’s poorest countries than in the richest.

4. Europe has the safest roads

The WHO compares six regions for driving safety: Africa, the Americas, South-East Asia, Eastern Mediterranean, Western Pacific and Europe. As you can see, out of the six, Europe is absolutely miles ahead.

Looking at fatalities per 100,00 population, the European average was 9.3. The next best region (the Americas at 15.6) has a 67% higher mortality rate.

5. There are some mind-bogglingly dangerous countries to drive in…

Thailand: not for the faint-hearted driver

There are plenty of countries with fatal accident rates almost twice the global average (18.3 per 100,000). To pick just three:

  • Thailand has a terrible road safety record. The 2017 New Year festival saw 478 killed in one week, due to the volume of people travelling to see relatives.
  • In some years, the Dominican Republic has come bottom of the road safety list. This is in part because many scooter riders don’t wear helmets, leading to a horrific numbers of head injuries.
  • Liberia loses about 5% of its GDP every year because of road accidents. The problem is that the country is so poor, it has no money to invest in basic infrastructure or road management improvements

6. So, how does the UK compare?

The UK government compiles statistics relating us to 39 other developed countries. They make for interesting viewing:

As you can see, we are nearly at the top of the list. In fact, only three countries do better than us: Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. At the other end of the scale, the USA has some catching up to do.

We know driving British roads can be downright unpleasant. With heavy traffic, filthy weather and potholes like bomb craters, UK car journeys can feel like endurance events. But it turns out that there is one great thing to be said about our roads: relatively speaking, they’re among the very safest in the world.

With thanks to our sources:

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