Significant reductions in road casualties for vehicle occupants across Europe in the last decade have not been matched by equivalent safety gains for pedestrians and cyclists, a report has shown, with the UK performing particularly badly in some areas.

Road safety groups have called for more government action to protect vulnerable road users after the report showed that while deaths for people in vehicles have dropped by 24% since 2010, the number of cyclist fatalities has stayed virtually the same.

Across the EU, pedestrian deaths fell by 19% over the period. However, the report by the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC) found that the UK was one of only three of the 28 EU nations where pedestrian casualties increased.

The report found that of the 51,300 pedestrians killed across the EU between 2010 and 2018, the latest year for which there are full statistics, 99% were struck by motor vehicles, with 1% hit by bicycles. Almost half of those killed, 47%, were 65 or older, despite this demographic making up only 20% of the combined populations.

Over the period 19,450 cyclists were killed, 83% struck by motor vehicles. Those aged 65-plus comprised 44% of the total fatalities.

While the UK is ranked consistently better than the EU average in road safety – its pedestrian death rate per million inhabitants is 8th-best out of the 28 EU nations – some of the trends in the ETSC report have alarmed campaigners.

EU-wide over the period covered by the report, pedestrian deaths fell 2.6% on average each year, against a 3.1% annual reduction for people in motor vehicles. But the UK performed worst in this metric, rising on average by 1.3% a year.

In contrast, countries such as Norway and Slovenia saw average annual drops of 9% and 8% respectively.

On cycling, the UK was less of an outlier, with the 13th-best average annual drop in fatalities of 1.3% – but with the context that cycling rates have remained largely static in the UK in recent years, while rising in a number of other EU nations.

Across the EU, cyclist deaths fell by just 0.4% on average each year. Beyond the 83% struck by motor vehicles, 16% of the fatalities were single-bike incidents, and 1% involved another cyclist.

Comparisons over injuries are more difficult since not all nations compile equivalent figures. But the report found that across 21 EU nations, including the UK, the annual total for seriously injured cyclists was 28% higher in 2018 than in 2010.

Governments in a number of countries are struggling with recent rises in casualties among pedestrians and cyclists, with possible explanations raised including distraction from phone use at the wheel, increased danger from large and heavy 4×4 vehicles, and the increasing sense of safety of being inside a car making drivers more reckless.

Joshua Harris, head of campaigns for the road safety group Brake, said the study was “a damning report that highlights the need for urgent government action to protect people cycling and walking in the UK”.

He said: “We need significantly increased investment in active travel, building more segregated cycle and foot paths, to give people safe and healthy ways to get around.

“The government must also be bold in its approach to improving the safety of our existing road network, lowering default speed limits to 20mph in urban areas and reviewing rural road speed.”


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