Comparison of risks among different road user groups

Comparison of risks among different road user groups


Apr 2016

If one now compares the different road user groups in terms of passenger transportation, it quickly becomes clear that the risk of being killed in a road accident is still many times higher in a car than it is on public transport. The main reasons for this, according to a 2011 study published by the Federal Statistical Office of Germany comparing the risks associated with different forms of transport, are likely to be the more comprehensive safety precautions on public transport and the reduced likelihood of human error.

A comparison of the absolute figures for the individual road user groups shows that, over the course of any given year, most traffic fatalities are occupants of cars. If one looks at the number of fatalities broken down by location (urban, non-urban excluding highway, highway), significant differences can be observed. That said, the accident figures for the other forms of transport are much lower.

A simple comparison of the absolute figures for the number of people involved in accidents is not enough, however, for drawing a conclusion regarding the accident risk associated with different forms of transport. This is possible only when one looks at the ratio of accidents and casualties to a common base number (e.g. frequency of use). Possible variables for measuring vehicle use include the number of vehicles on the roads, the number of hours spent in a vehicle, the number of persons conveyed in a vehicle or the distances covered in a vehicle.

Many experts consider “passenger kilometers” to be the most useful reference figure for relativizing the occurrence of accidents in different forms of transport because the combination of “kilometers driven” and “number of persons conveyed” contained in the “passenger kilometers” figure compensates for any distortion that would arise if only one of these variables were used.

In 2011, the Federal Statistical Office of Germany calculated the average number of persons injured or killed per billion passenger kilometers from 2005 to 2009 for five different forms of transport: car, bus, train, streetcar and airplane. The order was the same both in terms of number of people injured and number of people killed. By far the most dangerous was the car (276 injured and 2.9 killed per billion passenger kilometers), followed by bus (74 / 0.17), train (42 / 0.16) and streetcar (2.7 / 0.04). The safest mode of transport was the airplane, with 0.3 injured and virtually zero fatalities per billion passenger kilometers.

Regardless of this, the risk of being killed in a car accident in Germany since 1995 has decreased significantly and over a sustained period by more than 70% – from around seven fatalities per billion passenger kilometers to around two.

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Occupant fatalities per billion passenger kilometers

Car occupants in particular have benefited from increased road safety over the past few decades.

By clicking the colour buttons you can display or hide data. Please note that the real absolute values can have minor differences (<1%).
Data source: StBA (Federal Statistical Office), DIW (German Institute for Economic Research)

As such, the occupants of cars are today almost as safe on the roads as the occupants of often much heavier trucks. Nonetheless, in terms of passenger kilometers, the risk of being killed in a car accident remains much higher than on public transport.

The statistical rankings are reflected EU-wide, too. However, there is one mode of transport that is much more dangerous than the car – and that’s the motorcycle. Per billion passenger kilometers, an average of 53 bikers die on Europe’s roads. In Germany alone, the risk of dying in an accident on an officially licensed motorcycle was, per billion passenger kilometers, 24 times higher than in a car. The risk statistics remain unchanged even if one takes the number of vehicles on the roads as the reference figure. Take Germany, for example: Per 100,000 vehicles, the Federal Statistical Office of Germany’s statistics for 2014 state that four people died on insurance-licensed mopeds, 15 people died on officially licensed motorcycles and four people died in cars. These figures clearly show that, first, the risk of being injured on motorcycles is greater overall than in cars; and, second, the consequences of accidents for riders of officially licensed motorcycles are much more serious than for riders of insurance-licensed motorcycles and for occupants of cars. Regarding riders of officially licensed motorcycles, two factors are important: Despite protective gear, they are much more vulnerable than car occupants and also they travel at much higher speeds than than riders of insurance-licensed motorcycles.

Bus occupant fatalities in Germany and the EU

Since 1995, the data published by the Federal Statistical Office of Germany have also included the number of bus occupants involved in road accidents in Germany, broken down according to the type of bus – coach, transit bus, school bus, trolley bus, other/unknown bus type (i.e. a bus type that the police officers at the scene of an accident cannot assign to any of the aforementioned types). The figures are very low overall, but do contain significant fluctuations due to isolated, severe accidents. For example, an accident occurred in September 2010 in which a coach traveling on the highway collided with a bridge pier after being hit by a car. 13 bus occupants were killed, which represents 59% of all 22 bus occupants killed in 2010. The statistics for 1998, 2001 and 2006 show that no bus occupants died as a result of an accident on German roads. For this road user group, “Vision Zero” had become a reality – temporarily at least. In some years, however, including 2007, 2010 and 2014, the number of coach passengers killed dominates the overall figures for bus occupant fatalities. Thankfully, in 15 individual years over the period under analysis, no deaths as a result of road accidents were recorded among occupants of school buses. EU-wide, too, overall comparatively few bus occupants are killed in road accidents. On the basis of the long-term statistics published by CARE, historical trends for 15 countries can be ascertained, broken down according to location, from 1991 to 2013.

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Bus occupant fatalities in 15 EU states

1991–2013 (EU-15)

EU-15: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom

By clicking the colour buttons you can display or hide data. Please note that the real absolute values can have minor differences (<1%).
Data source: CARE, StBA

The relatively low overall figures reached their peak (267 fatalities) in 1992 and, from 2001 to 2010, fell by 61%, with the target of halving the number of fatalities – as specified in the third EU road safety program – being exceeded.

As can be seen, most bus occupants die in accidents that occur in non-urban areas. Typically, these are occupants of coaches and long-distance buses. While some years saw fatalities due to highway accidents dominate, other years saw more people involved in accidents on other, non-urban roads.

Bus accident statistics are consistently characterized by isolated, severe accidents in which it is generally coach occupants who suffer fatalities. For example, the increase to 118 accident-related fatalities in 2013 can be explained by an accident that occurred in southern Italy in June in which 38 people died because the vehicle plummeted down a 30-meter slope. Another tragic accident occurred in October 2015 near the city of Bordeaux in southwestern France, when 43 people were killed.