Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)




  140. But what if you are killing 3,000 people? If you kill 3,000 people with dysentery, can you imagine what the headlines would be, yet we cheerfully seem to accept a figure of 3,000 deaths on the roads.
  (Dr Kimber) I believe that there is scope for reducing that number very significantly by the application of speed management policies.

  141. But are you saying to us that the Home Office said that they were going to review penalties and suggested a higher penalty for drivers exceeding the speed limits, but they have not made a final decision? Mrs Ellman's question is a very good one. Who is not taking responsibility? Is the Home Office not taking the lead in the way that they should? It is quite clear the motoring organisations are not, because they do not even believe the evidence of you or anybody else.
  (Professor Allsop) We would like to see these things move faster.

  142. Do not let Dr Kimber off the hook, Professor. I shall come back to you in a minute. Come on, Dr Kimber.
  (Dr Kimber) I cannot comment on the rate at which the Home Office move forward on these issues. All I can say is —

Andrew Bennett

  143. You just want more speed, is that right?
  (Dr Kimber) It would be nice to go faster in all of these things.


  144. Do not rise to that!
  (Dr Kimber) There is a strong imperative in that, as you say, Chairman, the figures remain high, and despite the gains of recent years there are still nearly 3,500 people a year being killed.

  145. And children. Look at the number of children we kill.
  (Dr Kimber) We need to move forward as fast as we can.

  146. And the Home Office have not taken a decision. Dr Carsten, do you want to take this?
  (Dr Carsten) Yes, I do have concerns here. It is my belief that there is a danger that the current Government will not move as fast as the previous Administration promised in the ten-year plan.

  147. Why do you think that is so?
  (Dr Carsten) There are some signs of hesitation, and I think they are to be deplored.

  148. Professor Allsop, you wanted to say something.
  (Professor Allsop) Oliver has said part of it. This is a personal view, it is not scientific, but my perception is that when it comes to measures that would bear a little bit noticeably on the very large number of drivers who have votes, there is a reluctance to do something.

  149. You are saying that populist responses are more important than saving lives?
  (Professor Allsop) I am not saying that. I am saying that they may be seen as more important on the part of the Government.

  Chairman: I sit corrected.

Mrs Ellman

  150. Would you say that the motoring organisations exert a disparate proportionate influence and in fact are impeding progress in this area?
  (Dr Carsten) I think there is solid public support for dealing with this problem. I think the Government is actually often mis-perceiving what the great British public thinks here. As Richard has already said, most residents want traffic-calming on their streets; they fundamentally understand that fast traffic and their children playing on the street are incompatible. People understand that and people will learn over time that they can be taught to reduce their speed. Enforcement and other measures will help that. I do not think there is a real danger that we will lose solid public support for this.

  151. If the Government is getting this wrong and is not fully understanding the general public's concerns, whom is the Government listening to too much?
  (Dr Carsten) I think certain newspapers often carry undue influence. There is a lot of worry. Press officers in Government sometimes have undue influence. I know from my personal experience with research that sometimes there is interference by press officers who do not want research published, and things like that.

  152. Which government departments are these press officers in? Can you name any?
  (Dr Carsten) I do not think I would like to comment on that.
  (Professor Allsop) I think those who want to use their cars most freely shout louder than people who want to be spared the effect of that happening. The people who are wanting lower speeds around their homes, I agree, in some areas are organised, they are asking for things and there is action, but I am pretty sure—and there is technical support for this—that there are silent majorities that we do not hear of, quieter majorities that we do not hear about. When I say that there is technical support, in the MASTER research programme, which is referred to in my memorandum, both drivers and pedestrians and cyclists were asked, and both groups recognised speed as adversely affecting their quality of life and their use of the road system. There is a Europe-wide programme called SARTRE which is now in the second round of asking people in a range of EU countries about their attitudes to these kinds of road safety related questions. As Oliver has said, many of the answers show that the scientifically sound cross-section of opinion is much more favourable to quite tough road safety policies than we have the feeling that our politicians are sometimes aiming for.

  153. Dr Carsten, following up the last comment you made, has any government department, official or press officer ever attempted to suppress any work that you have done or that your colleagues have done?
  (Dr Carsten) I think that if I gave the honest answer to that, in terms of "attempted", the answer would be yes. What I heard is—


  154. They did not succeed, did they?
  (Dr Carsten) No. There have been attempts at stopping research that was currently under way, because of concerns about the publicity that might arise from that research.

Mrs Ellman

  155. Were those attempts successful?
  (Dr Carsten) No. So in the end I think they thought better of it and they realised probably that we would make an incredible fuss if we did that and that would perhaps rebound to their discredit.

Andrew Bennett

  156. Yellow cameras for checking speed: are they a good idea?
  (Mr Lynam) Perhaps I could answer that initially. I said before that there were two purposes for cameras. If your purpose is to identify very clearly a high-risk site, in much the same way as many years ago there used to be signs saying "High-risk site", then there is not necessarily a problem in having a very conspicuous camera. Where it has in fact the wrong message and a negative effect is in the situation where you are trying much more broadly to influence people's attitudes and not trying to identify it and simply say, "Slow down at this particular site and drive fast everywhere else."

  157. So you can have empty cameras that are yellow and functioning ones that are covert?
  (Mr Lynam) I would advocate having no cameras that were empty, but it is a matter of cost, as I think the chief constables said.
  (Professor Allsop) We need both kinds of cameras. The law-abiding motorist should have nothing to fear from inconspicuous cameras.

  158. Dr Carsten, with regard to this system for controlling cars, is it a myth that I can accelerate out of trouble on the road?
  (Dr Carsten) The research evidence is that it is a myth. Research studies on what we call conflicts—near accidents—indicated that the vast majority of them, something like 95 per cent of them, are avoided by a combination of braking, or braking and swerving or swerving on its own, but primarily braking, particularly in urban areas where the incidents are longitudinal.

  159. So the system could actually be 100 per cent effective if it could stop people breaking the speed limit?
  (Dr Carsten) The system could completely stop people from breaking the speed limit, and if we wanted to we could be absolutely precise on that, we could cut them off at 31 mph or even 30.1 mph in an urban area, because we can use digital speed limiters.

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