Serious injuries from road accidents across County Durham have risen by almost a fifth on the previous year, new data reveals.
In 2017, 186 road users were seriously injured compared to 157 the previous year – a rise of 18 per cent.
While the number of deaths dropped from 21 to 18 over the same period, the overall number of casualties – including those “slightly injured” – rose by seven per cent.
The figures were revealed to councillors at a meeting of Durham’s County Council’s Safer and Stronger Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
Dave Wafer, strategic traffic manager for the council, said the rising numbers could be related to the way incidents are reported nationally.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to get to the bottom of whether it’s a reporting issue. If it is, (figures) should come down and go back on track,” he said.
Other traffic data for the county revealed a 38 per cent increase in motorcycle users being seriously injured – from 24 in 2016 to 33 in 2017 – and figures for 17 to 24-year olds rising by 17 per cent.
The number of casualties for people aged 70 plus also saw a 19 per cent rise, jumping from 81 to 96 over the same period.
While early statistics for 2018 showed improvements in serious injuries, the traffic boss – who is also chairman of the County Durham Road Safety Partnership – said recent rises are a concern.
Councillors heard several road safety schemes have been rolled out in the county, from 20mph zones and police enforcement to education and awareness campaigns.
Despite the number of child casualties dropping from 167 to 143, accidents related to those under-fives was raised as a major issue.
“We’re one of the worst performing authorities in the country for child casualties,” Mr Wafer added. “If you’re a child you’re more likely to be in a road traffic accident.
“When you get to 17, you have less of a chance.”
In response to questions about road safety around schools, the traffic boss added that parents had a role to play.
“The biggest thing we want our parents to do is teach their kids how to cross the road and look out for traffic,” he said.
“It’s an important lesson for life that has perhaps been diluted in recent years.”
He added while there is a direct correlation between child casualties and deprived areas, the cause of accidents is more difficult to assess.
During discussion, councillors raised issues around using mobile phones while driving, street lights and the visibility of pedestrians at night.
Coun David Hall also called for a more “robust process” around recording accidents to help gather evidence on traffic issues – including those where no one was injured.
New council road safety work for 2019 includes mapping casualties for each Area Action Partnership with a focus on community issues.
Other schemes include work with schools, road safety classes for parents, awareness sessions in colleges and training for newly-qualified drivers.
Chris Binding, Local Democracy Reporting Service