Transport accident statistics

From Statistics Explained

Data from September 2011. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.

Safety and security are of primary concern for any transport system. According to Eurostat statistics on the causes of death, the number of people in the European Union (EU) who died as a result of transport accidents (covering all transport modes) fell by 37 % between 1999 and 2009. Transport accidents remain the largest single cause of death among people aged 15 to 29.

Figure 1: People killed in road accidents, 2008
(persons killed per million inhabitants) - Source: Eurostat (tsdtr420), European Commission CARE database (Community Database on Road Accidents)

While rail, air, or sea transport incidents often receive considerable media coverage as they generally involve larger numbers of people, road accidents are often treated in a more mundane manner by the media, despite the fact that the vast majority of transport accidents and deaths in the EU occur on the road; the high number of deaths related to road transport reflects in part the high level of road traffic.

Main statistical findings

Table 1: Rail accidents - number of fatalities, by type of victim and accident, EU-27, 2009
(number of persons) - Source: Eurostat (rail_ac_catvict)
Figure 2: Air transport accidents - number of fatalities, annual average 2007-2009 (1)
(persons killed) - Source: Eurostat (avia_ac_fatal)

Road accidents

The annual number of road fatalities in the EU is falling, despite growth (prior to the financial and economic crisis) in passenger and freight transport. The reduction in road fatalities may be attributed, among others, to: improved road design and construction; stricter enforcement of drinking and driving legislation; improved vehicle safety standards; the introduction of speed limits; stricter rules on lorry and bus driving times; and reduced lorry overloads.

Indeed, the number of road fatalities in the EU-27 fell sharply during the decade between 1999 and 2009, from 57 691 deaths to an estimated 34 500 deaths (down 40.2 % overall). Nevertheless, the number of people killed on Europe’s roads still accounted for almost nine out of every ten deaths resulting from transport accidents in 2009. The use of alcohol or drugs, the failure to observe speed limits, and the refusal to wear seatbelts are involved in about half of all road fatalities in the EU.

The road fatality rate, expressed as the number of deaths per million inhabitants, averaged 78 across the EU-27 in 2008, although there were stark differences between the Member States (see Figure 1). The highest road fatality rates were recorded in Lithuania (148 deaths per million inhabitants), Poland (143), Romania (142), Bulgaria, Greece and Latvia (all 139). The rates reported by these six countries were considerably higher than in the other Member States, as the next highest figure was recorded for Slovenia (106). In contrast, road fatality rates were much lower in Sweden, the United Kingdom (both 43), the Netherlands (41) and Malta (37).

Rail accidents

Some 1 428 people were killed in railway accidents in the EU-27 in 2009 (see Table 1); this represented a slight increase (119 more victims) compared with the year before; it should be noted that the number of victims in any particular year can be greatly influenced by a small number of major accidents. Of the total number of persons killed in railway accidents in the EU-27 in 2009, around 1 in 20 (5.1 %) were either train passengers or railway employees. Approximately two thirds (63.0 %) of the lives lost in rail accidents were from incidents involving rolling stock in motion, with almost all the others (30.6 %) from incidents at level-crossings. The highest numbers of rail fatalities within the EU in 2009 occurred in Poland (365) and Germany (185).

Air accidents

In a similar manner to rail accidents, the number of air fatalities has an irregular pattern, due to the relatively low number of accidents each year and the large variations in terms of people involved in each event. In the three years covered by the average presented in Figure 2 the largest single aircraft accident within the EU-27 happened in August 2008 when a flight crashed just after take-off from Madrid’s Barajas International Airport, resulting in 154 fatalities. Accidents outside of the national territory are not included in the statistics presented, regardless of whether the airport of departure or destination was in a Member State: for example, the statistics do not include the June 2009 crash in the Atlantic Ocean of a flight from Brazil to France which resulted in 228 fatalities.

Data sources and availability

Road accidents

CARE is the EU’s road accident database that collects information on accidents resulting in death and/or injury. The legal basis for CARE is Council Decision 93/704/EC on the creation of a database on road accidents. Its purpose is to provide information which makes it possible to: identify and quantify road safety problems; evaluate the efficiency of road safety measures; determine the relevance of EU actions; and facilitate the exchange of experiences. Road injury accidents are defined as any accident involving at least one road vehicle in motion on a public road or private road to which the public has right of access, resulting in at least one injured or killed person. Included are: collisions between road vehicles; between road vehicles and pedestrians; between road vehicles and animals or fixed obstacles and with one road vehicle alone. Included are collisions between road and rail vehicles. Road deaths are defined as any person killed immediately or dying within 30 days as a result of an injury accident, excluding suicides.

Rail accidents

The legal basis for the collection of statistics on rail accidents is Regulation 91/2003 on rail transport statistics (Annex H), amended by Regulation 1192/2003. The data collected includes information on the number of persons killed or injured (by category of persons) and the number of accidents (by type of accident). An injury accident involves at least one rail vehicle in motion, resulting in at least one killed or injured person. Accidents in workshops, warehouses and depots are excluded. Rail deaths are defined in terms of any person who is killed immediately or dying within 30 days as a result of an accident, excluding suicides. Rail accident statistics are available from 2004 or 2006 onwards for all EU Member States, except for Malta and Cyprus (where there are no railways).

Air accidents

The questionnaire on air transport safety statistics is not supported by any legal acts. Rather, it is based on a gentlemen’s agreement with the participating countries (EU Member States, EFTA and candidate countries). The final section of the questionnaire (part IV) deals with the topic of accidents. It contains requests for information on the number of injuries and the number of fatalities that take place as a result of aircraft accidents. Accidents are measured during the operation of an aircraft, which takes place between the time any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight until such time as all such persons have disembarked (injuries sustained from natural causes or injuries that are self-inflicted are excluded). As with the other modes of transport, a fatal injury is one that results in death within 30 days of the accident.


In June 2003, a European Commission Communication launched an action programme for European road safety (COM(2003) 311), which encouraged:

  • road users to improve their behaviour in particular through greater respect of existing rules, initial and continuous training of private and professional drivers, and better law enforcement against dangerous behaviour;
  • the use of technical progress to make vehicles safer through improved safety performance standards;
  • the improvement of road infrastructure, in particular through the identification and diffusion of best practices and the elimination of black spots through the European Road Assessment Programme (EuroRAP) and the European Tunnel Assessment Programme (EuroTAP).

Railway, aviation and shipping accidents result in far fewer deaths than road accidents. The main reason for this is the limited size of these sectors, relative to the number of cars and goods vehicles that are on Europe’s roads. However, when accidents involving trains, planes or ships do occur they have the potential to cause considerable environmental damage and often result in serious commercial and financial consequences. Major transport accidents are almost always investigated in great depth in order to find the cause of the accident, such that a reoccurrence may be prevented.

In March 2011 the European Commission adopted the White paper titled ‘Roadmap to a single European transport area – towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system’ (COM(2011) 144 final). This comprehensive strategy contains a roadmap of 40 specific initiatives for the next decade including initiatives specifically related to road safety, civil aviation safety, safer shipping and rail safety – more information on the White paper is available in the transport introduced article.

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

Regional transport statistics (t_tran_r)
Victims in road accidents, by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00074)
Road transport (t_road)
People killed in road accidents (tsdtr420)


Regional transport statistics (tran_r)
Victims in road accidents at regional level (tran_r_acci)
Railway transport (rail)
Railway transport - Accidents (rail_ac)
Road transport (road)
Road transport - Accidents (road_ac)
Air transport (avia)
Air transport - Accidents (avia_ac)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

Other information

External links

See also