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What's the Likelihood of Getting in a Car Accident in the UK?

From city streets to motorways, the roads in Britain feel busier than ever. With the rise in vehicles on the road, are you more or less likely to be in a serious/fatal road traffic accident? And how does Britain compare in terms of road safety to other countries around the world? We've gathered official data from the Department of Transport, the Office of National Statistics and the World Health Organization in order to gain a better understanding of road safety in the UK.

Probability of a Car Accident in Great Britain/UK

The number of serious or fatal road traffic accidents has generally risen in the past few years. From 2012 to 2016, the number of accidents in Great Britain resulting in serious injury rose 6.2%, from 21,692 to 23,045. Over the same time period, the number of fatal accidents rose 10.7%, from 1,722 to 1,906.

chart showing Number or Serious or Fatal Road Accidents in Great Britain
Number or Serious or Fatal Road Accidents in Great Britain

However, the rise in accidents doesn't necessarily mean the average person is any more likely to suffer an accident, because along with a rise in accidents we've experienced increasing population and numbers of vehicles on the roads. It makes sense that more vehicles and people mean more accidents.

The real question is—has the probability of any one person being killed in a road accident changed? In order to answer this, we've standardized the data for the entire UK by calculating the fatalities per 100,000 people. These standardized numbers essentially remove the impact of rising populations to give us a clear picture of accident probability for the average person.

As you can see in the following table, the fatality rate by population has essentially remained steady between 2012 and 2016, hovering around 2.8 deaths per 100,000 people. The roads are, generally speaking, as safe as ever for the average person despite more cars on the road.

Road Traffic Fatality Rates in the UK

YearNumber of Licensed VehiclesNumber of Seriously InjuredNumber of FatalitiesFatality Rate per 100,000 People
201235,582,65023,8341,8022.8
201336,100,99122,3771,7702.8
201436,714,83423,5171,8542.9
201537,570,56922,8551,8042.8
201638,388,21424,9291,8602.8

Are UK Roads More Dangerous than the Rest of the World?

While our research indicates that road safety is holding steady in the UK, how safe are our roads compared to other countries in the world? It turns out, the UK ranks 3rd safest out of the 180 countries participating in the WHO Global Status Report on Road Safety, 2015; with 2.9 fatalities per 100,000 people, the UK was only beaten by Monaco (0), Micronesia (1.9) and Sweden (2.8). The following chart gives a sample of fatality rates around the world.

chart showing Road Accident Fatality Rates Around the World per 100,000 people
Road Accident Fatality Rates Around the World (per 100,000 People)

To truly understand how dangerous it is to drive in a country, it can be more useful to consider fatalities per vehicle. In many countries, relatively few people drive and are therefore not exposed to the risks of road accidents. In that case, understanding the risks per vehicle instead of per person can give a more accurate picture of road safety. Generally speaking, fatality rates are higher in countries with lower car ownership levels—when the fatality rate is calculate on a per vehicle (not per person) basis.

CountryFatalities per 100,000 PeopleFatalities per 100,000 VehiclesVehicle Ownership % (registered vehicles/population)
Sweden2.84.760.1%
UK2.95.156.4%
Spain3.75.369.5%
Germany4.36.863.3%
Japan4.76.571.9%
France5.17.666.6%
Australia5.46.973.6%
America10.612.982.8%
India16.6130.112.7%
China18.8104.518.1%
S. Africa25.1133.918.8%

As you can see, UK roads are still very safe relative to other countries in terms of fatalities per 100,000 vehicles, despite the relatively low vehicle ownership rate in the UK compared to other high-income countries.

chart showing Road Accident Fatality Rates Around the World per 100,000 vehicles
Road Accident Fatality Rates Around the World (per 100,000 Vehicles)

We have separately examined the contribution of alcohol to road traffic fatalities and found that Great Britain contrasts favourably to most other EU countries; it is certainly the case that less drink driving contributes to better overall road safety and, hopefully, lower auto insurance rates.

If this article has got you thinking about your car insurance, you can find more information on choosing the best insurance company for your needs in our article on top UK car insurance companies.

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