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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 245-259)




  245. I welcome you to the second session this morning and ask you to identify yourselves for the record.
  (Mr Roberts-James) I am Carlton Roberts-James. I am Director of Technical Affairs at the Institution of Highways and Transportation.

  (Ms Broome) I am Wendy Broome. I am Head of Road Safety for Hertfordshire County Council. I am a member of IHT.
  (Mr Askew) I am Tim Askew. I am a traffic engineer with Devon County Council. I am representing the Institute of Highway Incorporated Engineers.
  (Mr Palmer) My name is Stephen Palmer. I am President of the Institute of Highway Incorporated Engineers. I am the Transport Planning Manager of Suffolk County Council.

  246. Would anyone like to make an introductory statement or are you happy for us to go straight to questions?
  (Mr Roberts-James) I would like to make a statement. Firstly, I want to point out that the IHT represents about 10,000 transport professionals who are concerned with all aspects of land transport and interchange between modes. Hence, safety, speed and other transport-related issues are very close to our hearts. When thinking about the effects of road traffic speeds, it is easy to focus purely on safety considerations and casualty reduction. While that is important, in our written submissions we were keen to stress the relationship between speed and social, environmental and economic well-being in a much broader way. We suggest that there is a balance to be struck between those and that broadly speaking reducing the highest speeds would serve to improve social and environmental well-being, and, while having some impact on economic well-being, it may well not compromise it unduly. We believe that in terms of speed, rural areas need more attention than urban areas. Since 1985 there has been a 52 per cent decrease in fatalities on urban roads and the corresponding figure for rural roads is just half that. In the evidence that you have just heard, there was an urban focus. In terms of the institution's priorities, we would stress a rural dimension. In our evidence we offered to report back on the key findings of a national seminar that we ran yesterday on rural road speed management. That was attended by some 170 or more delegates. If the Committee would find it of assistance, I would be delighted to summarise some of the key points in that.

  Chairman: Perhaps we can come on to that in the questions.

Dr Pugh

  247. My first question is for the Institution of Highways and Transportation. You may have a chance to enlarge on some of the points that you want to make. In your submission you say that it is necessary to demonstrate clear grounds for regulations to gain public acceptance. Clearly, one of the points is the design of the road. What can be done to indicate to motorists what is an appropriate scheme apart from signs and indicating the speed limit?
  (Mr Roberts-James) The key point in respect of the road environment, and trying to give a message to drivers of what the appropriate speed should be, is consistency. There must be consistency of design, consistency of information so that as a driver passes along a route he finds himself in a situation that clearly indicates what speed he should be doing. At present that is not always the case, particularly in respect of the national speed limit signs and so on. It is the idea that roads should explain to drivers what is the best speed for them to drive at, which in many situations may be less than the speed limit. I would say first and foremost that there should be consistency of design and message to drivers and to other road users.

  248. The appropriate speed may vary according to the time of day, how many other road users there are, whether or not there are parked cars on the road, and so on. Is there anything else, apart from consistency of design that can be done to tackle the problem of inappropriate speed?
  (Mr Roberts-James) In road safety we talk of the three Es. No doubt you have heard about them. They are education, enforcement and engineering. Those are the three critical factors. There are measures that can be taken in terms of engineering that will provide consistency for drivers through design and through information. There are measures that can be taken in terms of education. Probably the toughest one is to achieve success in terms of changing attitudes and behaviour. Then there is enforcement, which is absolutely essential to send out the right signals about what society values and how people should behave. There are three prongs to any potential solution and the balance between them is essential.

  249. Progressing to the Ten Year Plan target, 40 per cent reduction in death and serious injuries, do you think that the funds are available for the engineering, for the education and the enforcement?
  (Mr Roberts-James) There are two parts to the funding issue, the first part is capital funding to implement schemes and projects, and such like, and the second relates to revenue funding to enable that capital to be spent, revenue funding being staff and scheme development budgets, and the like. We are, potentially, in terms of local authority funding, facing a situation where authorities are capital rich in terms of the Ten Year Plan generally but revenue poor. That means that in practice where there may be capital to do a job it cannot be done promptly or in the way that may be desired because there are not the resources, both human and financial, to get things done. There are issues relating to funding primarily in terms of revenue, I would argue, at the present time.

  250. Do you think local authorities are sufficiently aware of this in terms of local transport plans and national plans?
  (Mr Roberts-James) I am sure they are, yes.

  251. The single capital pot will enable local authorities to move funds round far more, is that a threat to the Ten Year Plan target?
  (Mr Roberts-James) We are concerned about the single capital pot if it is not properly monitored. The evidence in Scotland was that once the single capital pot was introduced expenditure on transport decreased by over 40 per cent over three years, whether that is all about safety I am not sure. Clearly at the frontline faced with difficult spending decisions concerning social services and transport and immediate and long-term benefits there is every possibility that a more short-term approach might be taken. We are concerned that what needs to be done there is to ensure there are proper monitoring arrangements within local transport plans.

  252. I am not quite clear what the focused monitoring is, I am talking about local authorities being aware of what they are doing, I am not talking about the government interfering to a greater extent?
  (Mr Roberts-James) I am talking about the Department keeping a fairly close watching brief to ensure that money allocated for transport is being spent.

  253. Monitoring, but not interfering.
  (Mr Roberts-James) You may class it as interference, but it is monitoring to ensure that what was intended has been achieved.


  254. Is that not a failure of you as a professional body, should you not be shouting long and hard about road safety and convincing councils it should be given a higher priority?
  (Mr Roberts-James) We are certainly doing our best in that respect in trying to promote road safety through conferences, best practice guidelines and through other means. At the end of the day in terms of monitoring overall expenditure we can do surveys and provide evidence to enter into the debate, but ultimately it is a matter for the department to ensure that what was intended is being achieved.

Helen Jackson

  255. Is it possible to put monetary estimates on the cost of speeding?
  (Mr Roberts-James) I do not know, Chairman, that that would be a great help. I think some of these exercises can be academic and at certain times it is a matter more of a qualitative and subjective approach. We know that speeding has significant implications for the severity of accidents. We know that the highest speeds have impacts and compromise the ability to achieve certain targets we have otherwise set in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, in terms of noise, and in terms of community severance. There are a whole range of factors that are important but are very difficult to put a price on. I am not of the school that suggests that there should be a price put on the thing to appreciate there is a problem and a solution required.

  256. Yes. We have heard from the previous witnesses that there was not any necessity placed on hospitals to monitor the cost of their casualty departments in terms of road traffic accidents. Cost to the Health Service is a big issue, would it be helpful if they were asked to do this?
  (Mr Roberts-James) In that specific case I would say yes, because it is important in the longer term to look at achieving our desired outcomes in a range of policy areas, whether that be health, education and transport, by sometimes pooling resources. I think that if there could be savings achieved in the Health Service by investment in other areas, such as in local safety schemes or rural safety management then, yes, there are benefits there. What is important is to understand what those costs are. In that respect I understand, perhaps, the direction of the earlier question, I do think there would be a worthwhile advantage in understanding better what the practical costs are. How you would then determine whether that related to speed or to other aspects of poor driving practice could be something that would need to be carefully looked at. In general an understanding of casualties in terms of road safety practice would be of benefit.

  257. Do you feel the police authorities in the same way should be asked to monitor the staff costs of emergency call outs that might take them away from other very important areas of crime reduction?
  (Mr Roberts-James) We already know, generally speaking, the costs of fatal, serious and slight accidents through the cost benefit analysis process. There are generalised costs that practitioners use in the cost benefit analysis of local safety schemes, where a price can be attributed to the different elements of the cost of clearing up and dealing with accidents and the human and longer term economic costs. I am not personally aware there are any significant deficiencies in that aspect of our knowledge.

  258. You have mentioned the environmental and social problems, what key measures do you propose to tackle that aspect?
  (Mr Roberts-James) As an institution one of our priorities at present relates to rural safety management. We believe that there is a need for a project which is very similar to the Gloucester Safer Cities Project in concept yet applied to the rural and countryside situation. That will enable us to identify what works, what does not and how best to do things in terms of whole routes between urban areas rather than in terms of hot spots that we are aware of in particular areas where accidents have happened. This gets back to the point in my introduction about consistency, making sure that a particular route looks as though people should drive along it at the speed that is appropriate.

  259. What about walking and cycling, do you support the use of cameras to create safer environments for them?
  (Mr Roberts-James) The Institution is very supportive of the Safety Camera Initiative.

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