For large parts of 2020, our movement was restricted by coronavirus lockdowns. As a result, fewer people used Britain’s roads and fewer people were killed or seriously injured on the roads.

This Insight looks at data on how road traffic and casualties in Britain were different in 2020 compared with 2019, including information on regions, sex, age, and type of road user.

Road traffic fell

Road traffic in Great Britain fell by 21% in 2020 compared with 2019. The largest fall was in April, during the first national lockdown, when overall traffic was 68% below the previous year. But this varied by type of vehicle: car and taxi traffic fell by 25%: HGV traffic fell by 6%, but bicycle traffic rose by 46%.

Despite this, increases in traffic in recent years mean that total car and taxi traffic in 2020 was equivalent to levels in 1993.

2020’s fall in traffic varied across the country. Cycle traffic rose by 65% in Wales and 64% in Scotland, but by only 33% in the East of England and 30% in the North West. HGV traffic fell by 13% in Scotland but rose by 1% in London.

The map below shows data for each local authority. The chart shows the 15 areas with the largest and smallest falls in traffic. The areas with the smallest fall were all urban areas, including several London boroughs.

Map and bar chart showing which parts of Great Britain had the largest and smallest falls in road traffic in 2020 compared with 2019. Falls were greatest in West Berkshire, Windsor and Maidenhead, Conwy and Denbighshire. Falls were smallest in Derby, Leicester, Brent and Knowsley.
Data source: Department for Transport, Road Traffic Statistics

Road traffic accidents fell the most in April

The number of road traffic accidents recorded in Great Britain fell by 22% in 2020 compared with 2019, from 117,536 to 91,199. This data only covers accidents that were reported to the police where someone was injured.

The chart below shows monthly data comparing 2020 with 2019. The largest fall was in April, during the first national lockdown, when accidents were 65% lower than in 2019. After rising during the summer numbers fell again during the November 2020 lockdown, but were only 30% lower than in 2019.

Line chart comparing monthly road accidents between 2019 and 2020. The fall in 2020 was greatest in April.

Time of day

In percentage terms, the largest fall in accidents was between midnight and 5am and 8am to 9am.

During those hours there were over 30% fewer accidents in 2020 than in 2019. By comparison, the number of accidents between 11am and 3pm and between 7pm and 10pm was within 20% of 2019 levels. However, as the chart below shows, accidents remained most common between 3pm and 6pm.

Line chart comparing road accidents between 2019 and 2020 by time of day. Accidents are most common in the evening rush hour, but were lower in 2020 in every hour of the day.

Road type and speed limit

Road traffic accidents in 2020 fell more on certain types of roads. Accidents on motorways were 38% lower than in 2019, compared with the overall average fall of 22%. This corresponds with traffic figures showing that motorway traffic fell more (25%) than the average for all roads (21%), as people took fewer long-distance journeys.

By contrast, the number of accidents on roads with 20mph speed limits fell only 5% in 2020 compared with 2019.

Road traffic deaths and serious injuries in 2020

Data on casualties (including pedestrians and those in or on vehicles) allows us to look in more detail at changes broken down by sex, age, and vehicle type of those involved in road traffic accidents.

There were 1,460 fatal casualties on Britain’s roads in 2020, down 17% from 2019. There were 20,102 serious casualties, down 21% from 2019. The chart below shows longer-term trends for deaths, including a 49% fall between 1995 and 2010. This data doesn’t consider increases in road traffic.

Bar chart showing the number of people killed on Britain’s roads since 1995. There was a fall of 49% between 1995 and 2010. Between 2010 and 2019 numbers changed only slightly. In 2020 numbers fell by 17%.

Sex and age

In 2019, twice as many men (18,600) as women (8,500) were killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads. In 2020 this gap widened: casualties fell by 27% for women but by only 18% for men, meaning a total of 15,300 men and 6,200 women were killed or seriously injured. In discussing this data, DfT refers to Office for National Statistics research showing that women spent more time delivering unpaid childcare and less time travelling during lockdowns.

The chart below shows data comparing April 2019 and April 2020 – the month with the largest fall in casualties. Female casualties were down 72% in April 2020 compared with April 2019, while male casualties were down 54%.

Bar chart comparing the number of men and women killed and seriously injured on the road in April 2019 and April 2020. In April 2019, the number of male casualties was more than double the number of female casualties. In April 2020, numbers fell for both sexes, but female casualties fell by a greater proportion.

The chart below shows data by age group. There largest fall in casualties in 2020 was for people aged over 75, at 41%.

Bar chart showing the change in road casualties in 2020 compared with 2019 by age group. Casualties are most common in people aged 26 to 35.

Cars, pedestrians, and cyclists

The chart below shows the change in the number of casualties based on the type of road user (eg, in a car, a pedestrian or cyclist). This should be interpreted in the context of changes in traffic, for example, while the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured increased by 6%, total cycle traffic went up 46%.

Bar chart showing the change in road casualties in 2020 compared with 2019 by road user type. Pedestrians casualties fell by more than car occupants.

Nations and regions

Wales had the highest fall in the number of casualties in 2020 compared with 2019, at 35%. The South East had the lowest fall, at 12%.

These differences between regions and nations are much larger than variation in the fall in total vehicle miles.

Bar chart showing the percentage reduction in casualties by nation and region in Great Britain. The fall was largest in Wales and smallest in the South East of England.
Data source: Department for Transport, Road accidents and safety statistics

More information

Our road traffic accidents dashboard contains constituency data with maps of accidents in 2020 along with charts showing trends.

The Department for Transport’s, The impact of lockdown on reported road casualties Great Britain, final results: 2020, contains further analysis.


About the author: Carl Baker is a statistician at the House of Commons Library, specialising in geography and health statistics.

Photo by Alex Motoc on Unsplash

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