Troubling Interplay of Different Risk Factors

12 May 2022 News & Campaigns

Alongside the over 65s and motorcyclists, young people between 18 and 24 are among the high-risk groups in road traffic. The accident rate attributable to young people is comparatively high considering what percentage of the population they make up, and is linked to their inexperience, their higher tendency to take risks, and their underdeveloped ability to recognize potential hazards early on and to react appropriately. In order to – quite literally – “steer” this trend in the opposite direction, it is essential to address various different fields of actions.

Mobility behavior is currently undergoing a rapid transformation in many parts of the world. Traditional car traffic is on the brink of unprecedented changes brought about by the increasing electrification of the driveline and by increasingly higher levels of automation when driving. Car ownership as a status symbol is no longer valued to the same degree as before, and connectivity and flexibility now count for much more than power output and top speed. In Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand, the bicycle and its derivatives as well as personal light electric vehicles are gaining in importance for young people in particular (the focus of this report), in part due to a change in environmental awareness.
A survey conducted in fall 2021 by Forsa among 18 to 24-year-olds in Germany (commissioned by DEKRA) revealed some insightful findings about how this age group use different modes of transport in their day-to-day life. Although 46 percent of all respondents stated that they use their own or a private car at least several times a week, a similar number (42 percent) stated that they use public transport, such as the bus or train, at least several times a week. Furthermore, 32 percent said they use a traditional bicycle or pedelec at least several times a week.


This trend is being driven firstly thanks to car sharing schemes, electric scooters for hire, and reliable public transport, particularly in urban areas, and secondly, due to a lack of parking spaces, increasing fuel costs, and a growing awareness of sustainable living. This is also evident – at least for Germany – from the above-mentioned Forsa survey. In particular in smaller towns, and communities with fewer than 100,000 inhabitants, people get around by car at least several times a week. Conversely, in larger towns and cities with over 100,000 inhabitants, residents use public transport or (electric) bicycles more frequently. Another interesting finding was that the reason respondents cited by far most frequently for using a car was that it is the easiest and most convenient solution to get from A to B (84 percent). This applies to a large extent to respondents from more rural regions (towns and communities up to 100,000 inhabitants). Another reason mentioned more frequently by this same subgroup of respondents than those living in towns and cities with over 100,000 inhabitants was that the car was their only means of getting to school or apprenticeship position.
The fact is that with the latest technological possibilities and mobility options, as well as the changing social conditions, the requirements and expectations of modern forms and concepts of mobility are also changing. It is also expected that, along with the described changes in mobility behavior, there will be a concomitant significant change in accident statistics. It is estimated that the biggest changes will apply to older people (the age group addressed in the 2021 Road Safety Report) and younger people – the latter because they are very open to the changes happening in the mobility sector and are willing to try out new things. Thereby, there is an increasing focus on unprotected forms of road use which, for example, do not have a surrounding crumple zone like cars do. For this reason, it is expected that there will be a general increase in casualties in the pedestrians and cyclists segments as well as among micromobility users. There are plans to respond to these changes through making modifications to the legal framework and infrastructure. Over the last years, numerous countries, especially in Europe, have changed their national road traffic acts and implemented measures to make all road users equal.
With the overarching goals of Vision Zero, (road traffic without fatalities or serious injuries), ecological, sustainable, and affordable mobility for all, and the creation of a pleasant living environment instead of traffic environment, countries are following the approach of providing the highest level of protection to road users who would be most at risk in a collision. The fact that this important course of action has received little enthusiasm specifically among car drivers can be seen wherever corresponding measures are taken. For example, the revised UK Highway Code introduced in January 2022 resulted in controversial discussions in politics and society.
In Germany too, the changes to the German Road Traffic Act introduced in 2020 to make cyclists equal with pedestrians was met with much opposition. In particular the corresponding changes to the catalog of fines received such heavy criticism, including from lobby associations, that major sections were substantially moderated or even reversed. As such, the expected positive impact on accident statistics has been minimal to non-existent. It is precisely the interplay of different influencing factors that will account for improvements in road safety in general, and road safety for specific road user groups in particular.


In general, there is an acute need to take action when it comes to road safety for young people. As was established years ago by, among others, the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the organization YOURS (Youth for Road Safety), which the WHO helped set up in 2009, more young people between 15 and 29 around the world die every year in traffic accidents than from HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, or homicide. The average annual rate of young traffic fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants is highest in Africa, South America, and Asia (Figure 1). The conscious or unconscious, often life-threatening risks taken include speeding, being under the influence of alcohol, distraction, not wearing a seat belt, and riding a bicycle/motorbike without a helmet. For this reason, as an official member of the United Nations Road Safety Collaboration, YOURS – like numerous other institutions – is advocating for the inclusion of road safety goals in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. YOURS is also campaigning on a global level for national strategies to focus even more on road safety for young people – including in March 2022 at the African Youth SDGs Summit, for example.
Clearly, the number of young traffic victims cannot be reduced overnight. That is why a strategic approach is required for the effects to last over the long term. This should be an approach that encompasses a stronger focus on sensitizing the public to the problem and the required associated information campaigns, as well as driver training and the test for obtaining a driver’s license, the systematic enforcement of regulations, and the targeted use of modern technologies (e.g., driver assistance systems). It is also important to implement appropriate infrastructure measures, for example to ensure that the road infrastructure mitigates any consequences of accidents. The briefly mentioned set of issues shows that young people as road users is a topic where there are many conflicts and challenges. This will be explored in greater detail in the next sections.