Recklessness in traffic has increased; in fatal crashes, the risks usually accumulate

Onnettomuustietoinstituutti (OTI),
22.12.2022 | Release

Underlying factors in fatal motor vehicle accidents in Finland are often speeding, use of intoxicants, and deficiencies in the use of safety devices. In 2021, 45% of the at-fault drivers in accidents were driving at least 10 km/h over the speed limit, and 40% were under the influence of an intoxicating substance. The use of a seat belt could have saved 33 of those who died in passenger cars and vans. The report published by the Finnish Crash Data Institute compiles data on fatal road accidents investigated by the road accident investigation teams that occurred in 2021. 

In 2021, there were a total of 193 fatal road accidents investigated by the road accident investigation teams (excluding accidents related to illness). 151 were motor vehicle accidents, 40 were pedestrian and cyclist accidents, and two were light electric vehicle accidents. A total of 209 people died in the accidents.

Head-on collisions and running off the road were the most common types of motor vehicle accidents. In 2021, they accounted for a total of 77% of the accidents. The majority, i.e. 71% of all fatal motor vehicle accidents, occurred when the speed limit was 80 km/h or higher. The majority of all motor vehicle accidents occurred on dry roads (65%) and in clear or cloudy weather (85%).

– The annual number of fatal motor vehicle accidents investigated by the road accident investigation teams has decreased by about a hundred in twenty years. However, during the last five years there has been no improvement. The target of fewer than 100 deaths in 2030 will not be reached at this rate, laments Kalle Parkkari, Road Safety Director at the Finnish Crash Data Institute.

Accidents are typically accumulations of risks – recklessness in the use of a seat belt features especially prominently

There are usually many risk factors underlying motor vehicle accidents, the most important of which is often found behind the wheel. In general, 89% of accidents involved an underlying human-related risk factor such as driver intoxication, failure to use safety devices, or speeding. Risks related to the vehicle, such as technical or tyre defects, occurred in 62% of accidents. Likewise, risk factors related to the traffic environment were identified in 62% of accidents. Examples of such factors included the lack of central guardrails or the poor condition of the road. It is good to bear in mind that risk factors related to the vehicle or the traffic environment are rarely the sole underlying factors.

In 2021, the mixed use of intoxicating substances in accidents was common, and 40% of the at-fault drivers were driving under the influence of an intoxicating substance. The most commonly used intoxicant was alcohol (28% of the at-fault drivers) Drivers under the influence of drugs accounted for 15%, while 14% of the of the at-fault drivers were driving under the influence of medicines that may have affected their ability to drive.

Of the at-fault drivers in accidents, 16% did not have a driving licence, or it was invalid or insufficient. Eight of the at-fault drivers were driving a stolen vehicle. Almost every second at-fault driver was over the speed limit in the accident situation: 45% of the at-fault drivers were driving at least 10 km/h above the speed limit.

In passenger car and van accidents, the proportion of those without a seat belt was larger than the long-term average. In 2021, 65 people who were not wearing a seat belt died, and 15 were injured in passenger car and van accidents. In the road accident investigation teams’ assessment, a seat belt could have saved half of those who died in passenger cars and vans not wearing a seat belt, i.e. 33 people. And on the other hand, 19 people who were wearing a seat belt were saved from death thanks to the seat belt.

– Accidents are typically accumulations of risks. In 2021, one in four of the at-fault drivers of passenger cars and vans were speeding, intoxicated, and not wearing a seat belt. The increase in recklessness can be seen as a clear decrease in the proportion of those who followed these rules. In 2021, the proportion of the at-fault drivers who were sober when driving and driving in accordance with the speed limits and with their seat belt on was at a record low. We’ve come down by ten percentage points from the 20-year average (31%), meaning that now only one in five of the at-fault drivers was driving according to the rules, explains Niina Sihvola, Road Safety Researcher at the Finnish Crash Data Institute.

Pedestrians and cyclists killed in traffic are often elderly 

Pedestrian and cyclist accidents claimed 40 lives: 23 pedestrians and 17 cyclists. The majority of those who died in accidents were elderly. Twelve of the deceased cyclists and 11 of the pedestrians were over 64 years old. One cyclist under the age of 15 and one pedestrian were killed in accidents.

– The number of investigated pedestrian and cycling accidents has slowly decreased in recent years. In cycling accidents in particular, the risk of being left out of the investigation is higher than in motor vehicle accidents because the accidents do not always come to the attention of road accident investigation teams. The data on the number of accidents is therefore not necessarily completely comprehensive, explains Niina Sihvola.

A total of 38 motor vehicles was involved in the 40 fatal pedestrian and cycling accidents. One of the motor vehicle drivers was driving at least 10 km/h over the speed limit. The majority of pedestrian accidents (82%) occurred elsewhere than on a crosswalk.

A helmet and a safety reflector would have saved lives 

Nine pedestrians died in pedestrian accidents that occurred at dusk or in the dark. Eight were not wearing a safety reflector. The road accident investigation teams evaluated the effect of the use of a safety reflector in seven cases, and according to their estimate, the use of a reflector could have saved four of the dead pedestrians.

Of the 17 cyclists who died in accidents, 12 were riding without a helmet. According to the assessment of the road accident investigation teams, the use of a helmet could have saved four of them.

Four pedestrians and three motor vehicle drivers were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident. None of the cyclists was under the influence of alcohol.  

In pedestrian and cycling accidents, it was typical that those involved in the accident did not notice the other party or the situation. According to the road accident investigation teams, insufficient anticipation of situations was also common. This included trusting in one’s own rights and trusting that others would give way.

– Traffic is a team effort, but motorists have a pronounced obligation to pay attention to unsafe road users, that is, to watch out for pedestrians and cyclists. Every road user should take care of their own safety with all the available means, that is, by not driving while intoxicated, by complying with traffic regulations, and by making use of safety devices and equipment. There is also a clear need for traffic control by the police. On the other hand, society is responsible for taking care of the safety of the traffic environment with regard to the traffic infrastructure, for example, Kalle Parkkari points out. 

– In connection with each accident investigation, the road accident investigation teams strive to find ways to prevent the occurrence of similar accidents in the future. The proposals for improving traffic safety made by the road accident investigation teams are related to influencing human activity, vehicle-technical solutions, and measures to improve the traffic environment, for example, says Niina Sihvola.   

Selections from the safety improvement proposals given by the road accident investigation teams in 2021

  • Breath alcohol ignition interlock devices for those repeatedly caught drunk driving 
  • Technology to ensure the use of a seat belt, such as a seat belt alarm or driving speed limiter if the seat belt is not being used 
  • Installation of edge and central guardrails to prevent collisions and mitigate their consequences 
  • Driving assistance systems such as an electronic stability control system, a warning system that detects pedestrians and cyclists, and a system that limits the driving speed 
  • Control of the preservation of driving ability and development of the traffic physician system 
  • Measures to support mental healthcare  
  • Communication about risk factors such as those related to driving ability and mobility 
  • Education emphasising caution and responsibility, as well as anticipation, especially when driving at an intersection or crossing the road 

Background information

In 2021, 28 fatal road traffic accidents in which the victim of the accident died of an illness instead of accident-induced trauma were investigated. Of those accidents, 25 were motor-vehicle accidents and 3 were single cyclist accidents. In the OTI Annual Report 2021, accidents related to illness are discussed separately under a separate chapter. 

Information about road traffic accident statistics maintained by OTI and Statistics Finland: 

  • Road accident investigation teams also investigate accidents involving people who died of an illness while driving. These accidents are not included in Statistics Finland’s official traffic accident statistics.
  • As a general rule, road accident investigation teams investigate accidents where an involved party dies within three days of the accident. In Statistics Finland’s statistics, a person is deemed a road casualty if they die within 30 days of the accident. 
  • Road accident investigation teams also investigate all fatal off-road traffic accidents. These are not included in the OTI annual report. 

Read the OTI Annual Report 2021 (pdf) The annual reports include English summaries.

Annual reports on the OTI website

Additional information: 

Niina Sihvola, Road Safety Researcher, +358 40 922 5544

Kalle Parkkari, Road Safety Director, +358 40 450 9884


Finnish Crash Data Institute (OTI) information service, +358 40 450 4666, tietopalvelu(at)

Communications, +358 40 450 4700, viestinta(at)

The Finnish Crash Data Institute (OTI) works to prevent road accidents in Finland. OTI coordinates the operations of road accident investigation teams and administers the data collected in the investigations, in addition to its other traffic accident statistics. The amount and quality of the statistical data are unique by international standards. OTI provides important information that can be used to improve traffic safety at both legislative and practical levels. The institute operates as an independent unit within the Finnish Motor Insurers' Centre.