ROAD casualty figures published last week paint a mixed picture of the perils facing Scots as they get behind the wheel, ride a bike or dare to cross the road.
In one interpretation, Scotland is the "deadliest place in Europe to go for a walk" after the number of pedestrians knocked down and killed in 2012 shot up by one-third compared to the previous year's figures. Cyclist deaths were also at their highest level in five years.
On the other hand, overall road casualties had reached a record low, falling to their lowest level since the data was first collected in 1938. The total number of accidents on Scotland's roads was also the lowest since 1966, the first year figures on road crashes were compiled, while fatal crashes were at their lowest since 1970. This continues a long-standing trend. Since 1989, road crashes have fallen year-on-year in all but three years. The annual Scottish Government figures offer a wealth of detail on what is happening on the country's roads. Trying to make sense of all the numbers to detect any meaningful patterns, however, is a harder task.
The overall impression seemed to be that, while the roads were becoming safer in general, vulnerable road users (particularly those on bike or foot) were facing heightened risks.
So how much does this stand up to scrutiny?
Take the pedestrians figures. It is true that there was a spike in pedestrian deaths between 2011 and 2012, from 43 to 57. But, at the same time, the number of people killed in 2011 was the lowest it has been in the last five years, so it is not necessarily the best year to compare against. Over the past five years, an average of 51 people in Scotland have died after being struck by vehicles. In that sense, last year shows a move in the wrong direction but it is still far off the peak of 121 in 1995. Nonetheless, the figures will be worth watching over the next few years to ensure that we are not seeing the start of an upward trend, which would be worrying.
The increase in cyclist deaths also attracted attention. There has been a 23% increase in cyclist casualties over the last five years, from 730 in 2008 to 901 in 2012. This is undoubtedly something to be taken seriously, and part of the impetus behind the campaign to introduce strict liability laws in Scotland is the wish to make our roads safer for cyclists by encouraging greater caution and responsibility from motorists.
But at the same time it should be noted that the biggest increase is among cyclists suffering slight injuries. These have been rising steadily over the past five years, from 566 in 2008 to 725 last year, an increase of 28%. Meanwhile, the number of cyclists killed over the same period has actually remained the same - nine in 2008 and nine last year. In between, it dipped to five in 2009 and seven each in 2010 and 2011. The number of cyclists seriously injured has gone from 155 in 2008 to 167 last year, an increase of 8% - or around two more serious crashes per year.
Of course, this should not detract from efforts to make Scotland's roads safer for all, but at the very least it should reassure us that there's no cause for panic - yet.
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