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Traffic casualties in London since 1901

TfL’s most recent report on traffic casualties shows that 126 people died in collisions on London’s roads in 2010. While this figure represents a terrible loss of life, one which can and should be reduced, it is also – as TfL point out – the first time the number of road fatalities has fallen below 150 since their records began in the 1970s.

It is in fact possible to go further back in history then that. Statistics for 1901 onwards were collected by the London County Council and then the Greater London Council, first covering the Metropolitan Police District and then (from the mid 1960s) the Greater London area. Fortunately these two geographies match up fairly well – the Metropolitan Police District is larger than the Greater London area, but until around the mid 60s its outer reaches were sparsely populated enough to make little difference. Using LCC and GLC statistical reports found in the libraries of the London School of Economics and the Greater London Authority, we reconstructed trends of fatalities and total casualties (i.e. including ‘serious’ and ‘slight’ injuries) in London between 1901 and 2010, shown in the two charts below.

Some clear overall patterns emerge. First, each world war resulted in a large fall below trend in both fatalities and total casualties. Taking the effect of the wars into account, the basic trend in terms of fatalities seems to be an increase to a peak of around 1,400 a year in the early 1930s, followed by a long decline that continues to this day, with the 2010 figure of 126 deaths the lowest in the entire record. Total casualties peaked much later, in the early 1960s at 70-80,000 a year, and have fallen proportionately less to around 30,000 a year.

The chart below, derived from the two above, confirms that fatalities have fallen as a share of total casualties over time, though again with notable breaks from trend at the time of the two world wars. The overall downwards trend is presumably due to improvements in emergency care and overall health over time, with the ‘blips’ during the wars probably due to a combination of factors such as blackouts and a shortage of medical care.

You can download the data for these charts in csv format here. In a future post we’ll look at the long-run trend in cyclist casualties.

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Filed under: Data, Historic, London, Safety, TfL

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