Road Danger and safer roads

This article was published in 1999, in Newsletter 23.

Slim attended a Road Danger Reduction conference in Leicester on 16 February.

With the platform now graced by the Road Safety Minister himself, the Road Danger Reduction Forum has certainly made progress since the small band of transport planners and road safety officers initiated it about four years ago. Whether ‘transport radicals are now the new Establishment’, as one speaker claimed, may still be open to question – at least in Cambridge.

Certainly, many in authority are now talking in much more encouraging language. Roads and Safety Minister Lord Whitty spoke enthusiastically of an Integrated Transport Policy which ‘must include safety benefits to cyclists and pedestrians’, while Inspector Manning, chair of the Association of Chief Police Officers’ Traffic Committee, strongly favoured ‘joined-up road safety’.

Sadly, joined-up integration is not yet what characterises the sum of the various official policy initiatives. While local transport authorities are being instructed even now to produce their first provisional five-year plans, the DETR’s Road Safety Strategy, already delayed, will not be finalised until later this year, to coincide with its (separately commissioned) Speed Management Review, nor will the Home Office’s National Road Policing Strategy, which may or may not be influenced by the Crime and Disorder public consultation, just completed. The revision of the Highway Code (see article) might have benefited by waiting on all the above, and hopefully the National Cycling Strategy will not get lost and forgotten in all the excitement.

Speed reduction

The more tangible good news, as assured by the Minister:

  • Speed camera fines are to be retained, at least in part, by the operators, i.e. make them self-financing, once the DETR has overcome an alleged popular ‘fear’ that it be seen as a revenue-gathering operation (which it is now, the revenue going to the Exchequer).
  • The regulations governing 20 mph limits will be relaxed ‘soon’. Such speed limits are, apparently, very popular where canvassed. One survey showed 90% in favour where applied around schools. In response to lobbying by the London Cycling Campaign, all the candidates for the new Mayor of London have promised 20 mph zones. In various European cities, meanwhile, the equivalent 30 km/h seems set to become the urban standard (or ‘default’) speed.

Policing

It is now acknowledged that police resources devoted to road traffic (6-7%) are, on average, less than half that committed in the 1980s (12-15%). One reason, as suspected, is ‘performance’-driven strategy objectives which tend to concentrate on what is easily measurable. While alcohol and velocity certainly are, bad driving is not – in the sense of securing convictions.

Here it is doubly regrettable that motoring crime is not included in the six priorities for attention as presented to us in the Crime and Disorder consultation. On the other hand, a recent report by HM Inspector of Constabulary stressed that road policing had been neglected, and strongly recommended a reversal of the trend.

Health

Until now there has been little official recognition of the impact of planning and transport policies on the nation’s health, in particular how the car-less suffer social exclusion leading to a poor diet and lifestyle (the disbenefits to the car-bound population are different and attract more attention). Indeed, the first draft of last year’s Transport White Paper failed to mention the word ‘health’. The NHS’s traditionally weak stance on public health matters partly explains this. Now that the full costs accruing to the Health Service are being appreciated, things are changing: expect more from the forthcoming Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health.

Slim

On current trends, the WHO predicts the leading causes of death in 5-10 years’ time:
1. Heart Disease 2. Road Crashes 3. AIDS

The scale of general mayhem on British roads. In (very) round figures, each year:

3,000 dead
30,000 seriously hurt
300,000 slightly hurt
4 million insurance claims

These are of course just the officially reported ‘accidents.’ A survey by Autoglass revealed regular drivers admitting to 50 ‘blunders’ every week.

From Road Danger Reduction Conference workshop ‘Changing the Law’

What is Road Danger Reduction?

The Road Danger reduction approach to achieving safer roads seeks to reduce the danger at source. This calls for a recognition that the principal source of danger on the road is motor vehicles.

Traditional approaches to road safety have taken casualty reduction as a measure of achievement.

The Road Danger Reduction Forum has a vision of:

  • All road users being able to travel where they choose with a minimum of threat from other road users
  • All road users taking full responsibility for the effects their transport choices have on others
  • An environmentally sustainable transport system which provides equity and accessibility for all road users, permitting no disadvantage for those who choose not to own a car.

Encouraging walking and cycling presents something of a dilemma in road safety circles. Perceived danger is one factor which deters people from the attractions of walking and cycling. Ironically, it is this avoidance of danger which has achieved some measure of casualty reduction.

If a road safety strategy concentrates less on casualty reduction, and more on achieving an ethos of genuine road safety, it begins to develop meaningful links and share common aims with transport policy and health issues.

Danger and risk levels need to be minimised for all road users by reducing motorised traffic and speeds, achieving a greater awareness of the risks imposed on others by driving behaviour, and giving full consideration to the needs of pedestrians and cyclists at all stages of transport planning, in order to decrease perceived danger for these benign road users.

David Earl