Safety success didn’t make the headlines

While the national Press was happy to report the recent misleading health scare over processed meat — it doesn’t carry the same risk of cancer as smoking at all — some very good news received much less publicity.

This is the fact that the UK’s death rate from transport injuries is now the lowest in the world; we’ve finally managed to beat Sweden, who’ve knocked us into second place for some time.

Though we found this story in The Economist, rankings for Europe (the USA does much worse than Europe) came from the OECD in its report Health At A Glance: Europe 2014, a snappy piece of holiday reading. (It includes life expectancy: if you were born in the UK 2012, it’s now 81, ahead of the European average of 79.2, though worse than all the other major countries: Spain, Italy, France, Sweden, Netherlands, Germany and Austria all doing better).

But for transport-related deaths, we’re now number one in the world, with fewer than five deaths per 100,000 population. Sweden is second.

The report said that injuries from transport accidents — most of which are due to road traffic — are a “major public health problem” in the European Union, causing the premature deaths of around 35,000 people in 2011.

The largest number of transport accidents occurs among younger age groups with the risk of dying peaking at ages 15-24, especially for men. Most fatal traffic injuries occur in passenger vehicles, although other road users such as motorcycles and scooters also face “substantial” risks.

There is variation between EU countries with transport accidents claiming more than four times as many lives per 100,000 population in Romania compared to the UK.

To go all tabloid for a moment, it’s clear that all those speed cameras and road humps are doing their job.

People hate speed cameras and say they’re just there to make money but hey: lowest accident rate in the world, you can’t ignore that. And slowing people down on the roads is a major factor.

True, things other than speed are involved but the World Health Organisation, in another ideal bit of holiday reading, makes it clear: “Speed has been identified as a key risk factor in road traffic injuries, influencing both the risk of a road crash as well as the severity of the injuries that result from crashes”.

In high-income countries, speed contributes to about 30% of deaths on the road; in some low-income and middle-income countries, that rises to 50%.

Pedestrians have a 90% chance of survival when hit by a car travelling at 30km/h (18mph) or below, but less than 50% chance of surviving an impact at 45km/h (27mph). They have almost no chance of surviving an impact at 80km/h (50mph).

This is the rationale for the welcome news that Cheshire East Council is to spend £1m to install 20mph zones near all schools in its area.

The three-year programme will tackle more than 130 schools, which are currently located in areas with speed limits between 30mph and 60mph.

Residents have placed road safety as a top priority, and in its Press release the council cited the same figures as given in the World Health Organisation, that at 20mph, a pedestrian has a 97% chance of survival, adding that only 10% survive at 40mph.

Cheshire East currently has 160 school sites, of which 23 already benefit from either mandatory or an advisory 20mph speed limit. The remaining 137 schools may have advisory, part-time 20mph limit signs with flashing school warning lights fitted over a three-year period.

It’s steps like Cheshire East’s that have pushed the UK to the top of the safety league, though clearly other factors are also at play: improvements in road systems, education and prevention campaigns — Cheshire Constabulary takes a car that was involved in a fatal accident as part of its campaign — as well as being stricter with other laws, such as drink driving.

Readers of the Chronicle may have noticed increased numbers of people losing their licences for drug-driving too, following changes to both the law and the kit available to police.

It’s not just the UK: death rates due to transport accidents have decreased by more than 45% across the European Union since 2000, and Spain, Luxembourg, Ireland, Estonia and Latvia have reduced their mortality rates by 60%.

Of course, as driving gets safer Cheshire East Council should be protecting other road users, such as cyclists, and pedestrians.

The OECD reports noted that these groups are still at risk, saying less success had been achieved in saving lives among vulnerable road users than among car occupants.

As we reported last week, the council is prepared to underwrite a proposed visit of the Aviva Tour of Britain to the tune of £250,000, saying it could cover this with sponsorship.

Reducing the speed outside schools is a good thing but it merely reduces risk.

The council should be pushing road safety into the positive, encouraging more people to cycle by making cycling safer across the borough. If it it’s got £250,000 to gamble on a bike race, perhaps it could find the money to install more cycle paths on roadsides and even traffic lights that favour bikes.

After all, we don’t want to surrender that second place to Sweden again.


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