Efforts to cut the numbers of people killed or injured on UK roads need to focus as much on social factors as safety education, according to a new report from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

The policy paper, Social Factors in Road Safety, looks at how issues such as where people live, how much money they have and their family circumstances can impact on their likelihood of being involved in a road accident.

The report shows how exposure to danger is a factor which can vary significantly between socioeconomic groups. For example, children in families in the lowest income bracket cross 50 per cent more roads than families in the highest. They are also more likely to play in the street due to lack of garden space or parental concerns about the safety of public parks, or live in areas where street design limits what can be done to re-engineer the road to improve safety.

It also cites research showing that the number of fatalities per 100,000 children whose parents were long-term unemployed or had never worked was 20.6 times higher for pedestrians, 5.5 times higher for car occupants, and 27.5 times higher for cyclists when compared to the children of professional or managerial parents.

The report demonstrates how lack of money can also impact on road safety. However much advice is given on getting cars serviced regularly and replacing worn tyres, some people simply cannot afford to do so. Similarly, new vehicles with improved safety features can prove unaffordable to many.

Social Factors in Road Safety also examines how family structure can influence the likelihood of injury, with children in both single parent families and large families being more at risk.

It recommends that social factors are taken into account when road safety campaigns and initiatives are being planned and suggests that more partnership-working between road safety practitioners and organisations not traditionally seen as concerned with road safety is the way forward.

It makes five recommendations:

  • The social factors that cause injury need to be tackled in a systematic way by organisations responsible for road safety
  • Common approaches to improving the health, wellbeing and the safety of individuals and communities need to be identified. Developing closer ties and partnership working between road safety and health professionals could help to do this
  • Ways of identifying the effects of local and national government policies on road traffic injury need to be developed to identify opportunities to improve and protect road safety within them
  • Education interventions need to help individuals and communities to overcome the social factors which act as barriers to safer behaviours, and empower them to have more control
  • Wider use of evaluation on road safety projects is essential to identify which ones are more successful at tackling inequalities.

Duncan Vernon, road safety manager at RoSPA, said: “Our report clearly demonstrates that there are a wide range of social factors that impact on road safety and efforts to reduce casualties. Building road safety into everyone’s priorities and policies is therefore an inescapable step to reduce the inequalities in injury.

“Road safety is a public health issue and a greater integration between road safety and public health at all levels would help to create both safer and healthier environments.

“There are more professions and sections of local government that could be engaged to ensure road safety is part of their policy process. There are good examples, both in the UK and abroad, where such collaboration has worked. A project in New York brought together 26 different organisations, including leisure services, to ensure children had safe, accessible places to play and involved them in activities alongside more traditional safety education.”

To find out more about RoSPA’s road safety work, go to