Road safety

May 2013

Topic briefing

Seven children are killed or seriously injured on Britain's roads every day. This briefing explains the key issues relating to road safety for senior practitioners and policymakers working in child accident prevention.

Key issues

The number of children killed and seriously injured on the roads each year has been falling in recent years: the figure for 2011 is 21% lower than the average for 2005-09. Still, 2,412 children aged 0-15 years were killed or seriously injured on Britain's roads in 2011 – that’s an average of 7 children every day.1

Road accidents remain the leading cause of accidental death for children and they can cause life-changing injuries including loss of limbs, spinal injuries and head injuries. Sustaining efforts to reduce the number of children killed and seriously injured on the roads is still vitally important.

Road statistics: deaths

Sixty children aged 0-15 years were killed in road accidents in Britain in 2011. Although this figure is 53% lower than the average for 2005-09, there was a 9% increase in child fatalities between 2010 and 2011. Of the 60 fatalities in 2011, half were pedestrians, a third were car occupants and one in 10 were cyclists. In 2011, transport accidents accounted for:

  • a third of accidental deaths among 0-14 year olds
  • over half of accidental deaths for 5-14 year olds
  • 1 in 15 of all deaths among children aged 5-14 years.2

Road statistics: injuries

In 2011, 2,352 under 16s sustained serious injuries on Britain’s roads – that’s around 45 each week. Serious injuries caused by road accidents range from fractures to loss of limbs or sight, spinal injuries, head injuries and internal injuries. Road accidents are a leading cause of acquired brain injury among older children and young people.

A further 17,062 children received slight injuries such as cuts, bruises and whiplash.

Road accidents led to 6,372 emergency hospital admissions among 0-15 year olds in 2011. This is equivalent to around 123 admissions every week.

Types of accident

Children are most at risk of being killed or seriously injured on the roads when they are on foot. In 2011, pedestrians made up more than half of the children killed in road accidents and two-thirds of those seriously injured.

A child’s risk of being injured in a road accident increases as they get older. Pedestrian casualties rise sharply at age 11 and reach a peak at age 12, before decreasing until adulthood. Cycle casualties peak at 12-14 years and then decrease gradually. There’s an upwards trend in injuries sustained by passengers in cars and motorbikes from the age of 14 onwards.3

Costs of road accidents

Each year the Department for Transport (DfT) calculates the costs of road accident casualties, to identify the value of prevention. The costs produced apply to all age groups – there are no separate figures given for child casualties alone – and take into account lost output, medical and ambulance costs and human costs. The cost of a fatal casualty is given as £1.69 million and the cost of a serious casualty is £189,519.

The overall cost of road accident fatalities and serious injuries among 0-15 year olds in 2011 was £547 million.

For more information, see our article on the costs of road accidents.

Policy arena

Public health strategy and outcomes framework

The 2010 public health strategy Healthy Lives, Healthy People highlighted the need to reduce road injuries in children and address strong social and regional variations in road accidents.

The public health outcomes framework, which supports the new public health strategy, was published in 2012. Within the framework, indicator 1.10 ‘number of people killed or seriously injured casualties on England's roads’ tracks the impact of road accidents among people of all ages. Road accidents among children and young people are also captured through indicator 2.7 ‘hospital admissions caused by unintentional and deliberate injuries in under 18s’.

Strategic framework for road safety

The Strategic framework for road safety, published in 2011, sets out roles and responsibilities for local authorities, road safety professionals and other stakeholders involved in improving road safety. It outlines policies that are designed to reduce deaths and injuries on the roads, with some operating at a national level and others based on local priorities, circumstances and economic assessment. In a change to previous approaches to road safety, the framework replaced road safety targets with an action plan and outcomes framework that includes a number of indicators.

In July 2012 the Commons Select Committee on Transport published its second report on road safety, which examined the strategic framework in light of an increase in road deaths in 2011.

Safe, green and active agenda

The need for safer roads is linked to the new public health strategy and other government strategies to increase physical activity and ‘active travel’. Walking and cycling help to improve children’s physical health and mental wellbeing. Making more journeys on foot and by bike is also more environmentally sustainable and helps to reduce air pollution which is linked to childhood asthma.

Having independent mobility – the freedom to play and travel around in their local neighbourhood without adult supervision – is important to children’s wellbeing and development. Yet children have far less independent mobility now than they did in the past, with road safety concerns preventing many parents from letting their children go out unsupervised.4 However, the latest road casualty statistics suggest that encouraging children to be more physically active may have unintended consequences. Provisional DfT figures for 2012 showed an 8% rise in the number of child pedestrians killed or seriously injured in the third quarter of the year, from 390 to 420.5 Some experts pointed to the effect of the Olympics and efforts to encourage children to be more physically active.

Our learning nugget from Bristol Public Health describes local work on cycling designed to integrate injury prevention and the promotion of healthy lifestyles.


There is a clear link between road safety and health inequalities, with children who live in the most deprived areas having a much greater risk of being injured in a road accident compared to those living in more affluent areas.

An analysis of five years’ data covering more than 120,000 child road casualties showed that children in Preston were more than twice as likely to be injured on the road than the national average, and five times more likely than those in Kensington & Chelsea.3 Of all child pedestrian casualties, 40% come from the most deprived 20% of society.6

The Strategic framework for road safety notes there is a need to reduce the relatively high risk of some groups more quickly, including that of children in deprived areas.

European initiatives

The government supports the European Commission’s goal of achieving a 50% reduction in the number of road casualties by 2020. This goal applies to the total number of casualties across the EU, rather than within each member country.

Prevention programmes

Strong social and regional variations in road accidents mean that the issue requires a tailored local approach. The DfT’s Delivery of Local Road Safety research report, published in 2011, evaluates local road safety strategies and plans, and identifies areas of good practice in investment in road safety.

The presentations from our March 2012 Making the Link road safety seminar include examples of effective road safety programmes and partnership approaches from around the country.

The Road Safety Observatory website provides a useful summary of effective interventions focusing on pedestrian safety for children and teenagers, including traffic calming, pedestrian skills training and education programmes.

Approaches to road safety

The Strategic framework for road safety outlines three approaches to improving road safety, which it uses in combination:

  • The three Es: a well-established model which integrates education for parents, carers and children; engineering eg pedestrian crossings and traffic calming measures; and enforcement eg legislation on car seats and seatbelts.
  • The systems approach: identifying and fixing the major sources of error or design weakness that contribute to fatal and serious accidents, as well as to mitigate the severity of injury.
  • The public health approach: developing evidence-based interventions to prevent road traffic injuries, starting with identifying the problems and understanding causes and risk factors, and then working through to evaluation and implementation at scale.

The framework places an emphasis on the public health approach and also highlights the importance of prioritising the most serious problems and highest risk areas and groups.

NICE public health guidance

In 2010 NICE published guidance on preventing unintentional injuries among under 15s. PH29 – Strategies to prevent unintentional injuries among under 15s contains strategic and workforce development recommendations for a variety of stakeholders, to support the implementation of tailored local approaches.

One key recommendation is that partners including highway authorities, road safety partnerships, local authority children’s services and local safeguarding children boards work together to co-ordinate unintentional injury prevention activities across local areas.

PH29 also includes a number of recommendations that focus specifically on road safety:

  • maintaining and managing road safety partnerships
  • carrying out local road safety reviews and consultations
  • aligning local child road safety policies
  • promoting and enforcing speed reduction
  • involving the police in driver education initiatives and activities to reduce traffic speed.

PH31 - Preventing unintentional road injuries among under-15s: road design includes recommendations on:

  • how health professionals and local highways authorities can co-ordinate work to make the road environment safer
  • engineering measures to reduce vehicle speeds, in line with Department for Transport guidance
  • making routes commonly used by children and young people safer.

Addressing road safety in disadvantaged areas

In 2002 the DfT set up the Neighbourhood Road Safety Initiative (NRSI) in 15 local authorities, with the aim of finding new ways to reach disadvantaged groups and ensure that road safety activity was linked to strategic priorities and regeneration activity. An evaluation of the NRSI was published in 2008, once the initiative had been wound up. Key findings included:

  • High levels of road casualties are as much a characteristic of areas suffering deprivation as better known indicators such as poor health, unemployment or high crime rates.
  • The numbers of road casualties vary significantly between areas and neighbourhoods. A targeted, focused approach at the neighbourhood level is required.
  • Road safety interventions in disadvantaged neighbourhoods must begin with engaging with the community to find out the real issues affecting the area and how they can be tackled.

Education and awareness campaigns

Road safety campaigns are among the most well-established behaviour change programmes. At national level, the THINK! campaign provides road safety information for all kinds of road users, as well as resources for teachers and road safety professionals. Useful resources include campaign research and evaluation reports, and a calendar of national road safety communications activity planned by THINK! and Association of Chief Police Officers.

The road safety charity Brake runs an annual Road Safety Week. Staying safe on the roads is also a key theme for CAPT’s annual Child Safety Week.

In November 2012 a coalition of charities launched the GO 20 campaign to encourage people to reduce their speed to 20mph around homes, schools and shops. The campaign seeks to influence local authorities to establish more 20mph zones and, ultimately, to convince the government to change the default speed limit to 20mph. The campaign website sets out the case for a reduced speed limit, in terms of the safety, health and economic benefits to individuals and the country as a whole.

For schools, interactive safety centres and initiatives such as the Junior Road Safety Officer scheme provide opportunities for children to engage in road safety issues.


The DfT’s Guidelines for Evaluating Road Safety Education Interventions were published in 2004 to assist road safety officers and other practitioners in conducting their own evaluations and to be better informed when commissioning an evaluation.

In 2010 the DfT and RoSPA launched the Road Safety Evaluation website, to help professionals involved in delivering road safety education, training and publicity (ETP) to evaluate the impact of their interventions.

Partnership working

As the NICE guidance makes clear, local partnerships are a vital part of improving road safety for children and young people. Some areas have established road safety partnerships to reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured on local roads. These partnerships bring together road safety professionals with organisations involved in designing roads and those that deal with the results of road accidents.

The DfT’s Delivery of Local Road Safety research report notes the ‘synergy’ effect of integrated delivery and partnership working. It finds that partnership working enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of local road safety delivery, and generates cost savings.

Road safety education is recognised as a priority in life skills development. It requires effective partnership working between road safety practitioners and other groups such as schools, the emergency services, public health professionals and community organisations that can influence safety, risk awareness and behaviour.

Our Crossing Over briefing resource supports road safety teams and practitioners involved in road safety to improve collaboration and form effective local partnerships. It includes sections on making the case for joined-up action, finding data and intelligence, engaging with stakeholders and planning your campaigns.

Our Advocating Child Safety resource also includes a section on making the wider connections with road safety and transport professionals.

Our case study from Bradford demonstrates the value of a partnership approach to child road safety.

How Making the Link can help you

Making the Link is here to support people with a role to play in child accident prevention throughout England. We recognise that effective child accident prevention programmes and strategies happen through successful partnership working.

We’d like to hear about the work you’re doing in your area and what’s worked well, so that we can share the information with other professionals on the Making the Link site.

Email us at to:

  • submit case studies about your child accident prevention work
  • suggest ideas for Making the Link resources that you would find helpful
  • find out more about the project or any of the information on our website. 

Explore the Making the Link website to:

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Useful links

Making the Link site links

CAPT links

External links

Download this topic briefing as a PDF

Notes for this feature

  1. Unless otherwise noted, all figures in this article are taken from Reported Road Casualties Great Britain: annual report 2011, Department for Transport, 2012.
  2. Mortality Statistics, Deaths registered in England and Wales 2011, Office for National Statistics, 2012.
  3. Child Casualties Report 2010: A study into resident risk of children on roads in Great Britain 2004-08, Road Safety Analysis Ltd, 2010.
  4. Children’s independent mobility: a comparative study in England and Germany (1971-2010), Policy Studies Institute, 2013.
  5. Reported road casualties Great Britain: provisional estimates Q3 2012, Department for Transport, 2013.
  6. Stepping Out, Pedestrian Casualties: an analysis of the people and circumstances, Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, 2013.
Updated December 2013