Lincoln and Hull among UK’s traffic collision hotspots

Cities such as Lincoln and Hull and towns including Woking, Maidstone and Ashford have more road traffic collisions than would be expected given their population size, a new study by UCL researchers has found.

For the study, published in PLOS ONE, researchers analysed traffic collision data along with population data from over 300 urban areas in England, Wales, France, Germany and Spain in 2018 and, for Spain only, 2015.

They found that, across all five countries, port towns and cities often had higher than expected collision rates, suggesting a link between the presence of a sea or river port and more traffic collisions.

In Lincoln, there were 35% more collisions than expected given the city’s population size, while in Hull there were 22% more collisions. The authors noted that the two cities were also among the top ten cities with the most traffic congestion in the UK.

The study also found a number of collision hotspots in the south-east of England, in between London and large ports on the coast. The worst hotspot was Woking (47% more traffic collisions than expected), followed by Maidstone (44% more) and Ashford (43% more).

The researchers also found rates were higher than expected in London and Paris, but not in major cities in the less centralised countries of Spain and Germany.

PhD candidate Carmen Cabrera Arnau (UCL Mathematics), lead author of the study, said: "Our study shows there is remarkably high variability in traffic collision rates in towns in the UK and Europe. Our results can help policymakers identify the priority areas for reducing traffic collisions and highlight the regions that are below the national standard for road safety and therefore should be included in the government’s levelling up strategies.

"The surprisingly high collision rates in port areas need to be investigated further. The presence of more heavy goods vehicles may be a factor, contributing towards more traffic congestion."

In the paper, the researchers aimed to investigate how the population size of towns and cities affected the number of traffic collisions. They found that the number of collisions increased in line with population size - that is, collisions stayed largely at the same rate per 100,000 population as urban areas got bigger.

However, they found high variability in collision rates in smaller urban areas, with port cities tending to have higher rates than average. In France, these included the seaside towns of La Rochelle, Loirent and Marseille; in Germany, they included Bremen, Hamburg and Regensburg; and in Spain, the towns of Aviles, Cadiz, Gijon and Seville (Guadalquivir port) had more collisions than average. They also found higher than expected rates in the mega-cities of London and Paris.

The researchers analysed urban areas defined by Eurostat, the European Commission’s statistical office, based on commuter flow - that is, the urban area is limited to where more than 15% of residents commute into the town or city.

The collisions recorded in the data do not include all collisions. In the UK, collisions are recorded if they incur personal injury, while in France they are recorded if medical treatment is required.

The study’s co-author, Professor Steven Bishop (UCL Mathematics), said: "This study investigated data to effectively reveal patterns in human behaviour with the mathematics of scaling."