Monitoring road safety

16 November 2020
Iain Ritchie
Iain Ritchie
Performance Analyst, Roads
Cover Image
M1 motorway

Improving road safety is a global challenge. Road traffic injuries and deaths have a terrible impact on individuals and communities, and too many people still die on our road network despite it being one of the safest in the world. 

In September 2020, the Department for Transport reported road casualties for 2019 that showed that 2,189 people were killed or seriously injured on the strategic road network in 2019, which is 106 (4.6%) fewer than in 2018. 

Today we published an update to our assessment of Highways England’s performance in Road Period 1 to reflect the latest figures. 

Highways England has now achieved a 34% reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured on the strategic road network, compared to the 2005-09 average baseline. This is against its target of achieving a 40% reduction by the end of 2020.

The final figures for 2020 won’t be available until summer 2021. However, it appears likely that Highways England will achieve its target, at least in part due to the lower levels of traffic – and therefore casualties – on the strategic road network due to coronavirus in 2020.

While the expected drop in road casualties is positive, we recognise that any significant reduction experienced in 2020 is likely to be temporary. We expect Highways England to continue to focus on its long-term goal of zero casualties by 2040, and explore every avenue to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured on its roads. 

The impact of coronavirus on Highways England’s operations means that ORR has been required to display flexibility in how we monitor the company against a number of its performance targets. ORR’s outcome-focused approach in holding Highways England to account enables us to deal with these challenges. While the company’s performance against its targets will always be important, we equally want to know the approach that it takes to achieve its results.  

In the case of safety, this means looking at the actions taken by Highways England, and considering whether they are likely to help achieve a reduction in the number of casualties on the strategic road network. 

Last year, we commissioned the Road Safety Foundation to undertake an in-depth review of how the company prioritises its investments to improve safety. This identified that Highways England’s commitment to safety is world class, but also highlighted areas where the company can improve. For example, by making greater use of the data within its star-rating systems to inform its investment priorities. We published the final report alongside our annual assessment in July 2020.

In Road Period 2, we will continue to monitor Highways England’s progress against its safety targets, as well as looking closely at the wider approach it is taking to achieve better safety outcomes. This will include monitoring and reporting on how the company is delivering the actions it has been set as part of the Department for Transport’s action plan for smart motorways. 

We will publish the latest position in our assessment of the company’s performance for the first year of Road Period 2, in July 2021.