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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 339-359)




  339. Good morning, Minister. Thank you very much for joining us this morning. Would you be kind enough to identify yourself?
  (Mr Spellar) I am John Spellar, Minister for Transport. On my right is Kate McMahon, head of the Road Safety Division and, on my left, Adrian Waddams, head of the Speed Policy Branch within that division

  340. Did you have an opening statement?
  (Mr Spellar) Very briefly, Chairman, I would just like to thank the Committee for taking on the task of investigating all aspects of traffic speed. We in government take speed very seriously but, within that context, I think we should emphasise that, along with Sweden, we have the safest roads in Europe and, indeed, amongst the safest roads in the world. There is still the issue, however, that motorists exceed the speed limit or drive too fast for the road and conditions, and that can seriously injure far too many people. So we have a target to reduce casualties; we have developed and published a strategy to achieve those reductions; effective speed reduction is a vital element of that strategy, and I look forward to answering any questions or issues you feel may not have been covered in the Department's memorandum to the Committee, or that might have emerged in the earlier sessions.

  341. I think that is helpful, Minister, and I must say we were impressed with the quality of the memorandum submitted by the Department but the reality is that, in this country, we kill more children than almost any other European country. We also have one of the highest levels of pedestrian casualties. Frankly, what are you doing to change that?
  (Mr Spellar) I think you are absolutely right that one of our concerns is that while we have been very successful in reducing motoring casualties, and I think that is acknowledged by the Committee and more widely, we still have to do work not just here but also we have to look at some of those other countries that do have lower rates of casualties, particularly amongst children as part of the overall pedestrian issue, and Kate McMahon's division has been doing quite a bit of work on those comparisons.

  342. Did you wish to comment at this point, Ms McMahon?
  (Ms McMahon) One thing I could add is that I, at present, chair an OECD expert group on child road safety which will bring a lot of lessons from other countries who have better records than us, so we can learn from their good practice.

  343. Does that include work on the Netherlands, who seem to be doing better on road traffic calming and who produce rather better figures than us?
  (Ms McMahon) Yes. The Netherlands are part of the committee and I particularly asked that the Netherlands would be represented on the group because they have such a good record.

  344. How long do you expect your group to sit and what will come out of the conclusions in the sense of them being published and when, and how they will be disseminated?
  (Ms McMahon) We should report in the spring of next year.

  345. 2003?
  (Ms McMahon) Yes, and the OECD will publish a report in their normal research series which will also be available on their website.

  346. Do you expect to copy the best of the recommendations in countries like the Netherlands?
  (Ms McMahon) We would certainly take account of them and see how they would fit in with our policy here, yes.

  347. The Commission for Transport thinks that, unless we have a step change in safety, we are not going to hit our cycling targets. Do you think speeds are a major contributory factor in the lack of cycling?
  (Mr Spellar) I think the perception of speed is partly an issue, certainly for many cyclists. The availability of dedicated track which is improving considerably under the SUSTRANS programme is improving that. Also one of the key issues has been the security of cycles when parked, and one of the factors that has been helping us to increase cycling in a number of areas has been the availability at stations of safe parking facilities for cycles. I think whatever we do in terms of provision while people are cycling, they are not going to be encouraged to cycle to other modes of transport or, indeed, to work or, indeed, to school unless the bike will be there when they go back to it.

  348. I think we can take on board that if your cycle has been stolen it is difficult to ride home.
  (Mr Spellar) But it is also less likely that people will be encouraged then to continue, or to start to cycle, if they have a perception that there is a high level of cycle theft.

  Chairman: We will come back to the business about the plans and SUSTRANS, I think.

Ms King

  349. How many road accidents, or what proportion, does the government think are attributable to speed or excess speed?
  (Mr Spellar) Or within which speed is a significant factor, because there may be other factors but speed may well be significant, and the estimates, as I think you will have heard from the Transport Research Laboratory, are that in about a third of accidents it is a significant factor. There may be other factors as well but in some cases they can also be partially related to levels of speed. In other words, reaction times to take account of some of these other factors are obviously less at higher levels of speed, so that leads us to believe it is in about a third of the cases.

  350. Do you think you are going to be able to achieve the 40 per cent reduction in the numbers of people killed or seriously injured (KSIs) by 2010?
  (Mr Spellar) Certainly we intend to achieve that and I think that we have already been moving down in the levels of killed and seriously injured. I think that is encouraging, but at the same time I think we need to be looking further. That is partly about driver behaviour but also about road design and about issues that have come out related to, for example, the sort of walking strategies that have been reported by this Committee—in other words, enabling pedestrians to be safer as well.

  351. How much of your strategy will be based on enforcement of speed limits as compared to re-engineering of road design?
  (Mr Spellar) It is a mixture. That is why we have been undertaking the scheme, for example, on speed cameras, on a whole number of unsafe stretches of road, and we have had significant impact on accidents on those stretches—


  352. What are you calling "significant"?
  (Mr Spellar) My recollection is something of the order of 29 per cent on some stretches.
  (Mr Waddams) It can be higher. For the eight pilot areas which have been running since 2000, in the first year the results showed that at camera sites there was a 47 per cent reduction in the number of killed and seriously injured people. Over the areas as a whole there was an 18 per cent reduction in killed an seriously injured people.

Ms King

  353. Why not just have cameras everywhere, then?
  (Mr Spellar) Because what the police forces together with the local authorities have been looking at is the evidential base where there has been a high incidence of accidents and where those have been speed-related and, therefore, where they have been introducing cameras, and that is why we are insisting that they are going to be painted bright yellow, clearly indicated—in order to adjust people's behaviour on those stretches, and what we are seeing as a result of that is a significant reduction in accidents. On stretches of road where we do not have those difficulties, it then becomes less relevant and it is very important I think that it is structured towards particular areas of road which, for a variety of reasons, show higher levels of accident. Now, apart from looking at speed we do also, as you rightly indicate, have to look at the structure of the road, whether people are emerging from side turnings in those particular areas; whether there therefore needs to be stronger signing so that people stop; whether there needs to be greater visibility on those stretches of road. All of those factors we know can lead to accidents but that needs to be very much locally focused and, if necessary, with local re-design of those roads and traffic lights as well.

Mr Cummings

  354. I think we are all witnessing our cities and villages under siege at the present time with the amount of works being carried out by what can be termed utility companies—water companies, gas and electricity companies and cable TV. It is quite apparent to me that road signs appear overnight: there does not seem to be any co-ordination: there does not appear to be any prior warning: there does not seem to be any sort of plan at all in relation to reducing speed knowing full well that extensive works are to be carried out. What does the Department think of this laissez faire and the situation which has been with us now for a number of years and which appears, certainly in the area in which I live, to be getting much worse?
  (Mr Spellar) There are a number of aspects to that. One is the impact of what are described generally as utility works—sometimes, of course, it is actually work by the Highway Authority as well—and the concern is both the numbers of them, whether in any way they are co-ordinated, and also the length of time that is undertaken on those works—

  355. But, Minister, we have talked about this year after year, government after government, with people trying to co-ordinate and to plan ahead, and it does not seem to be happening at all. How serious is the department taking this?
  (Mr Spellar) Very seriously and that is why just about this week we will be starting the pilot schemes on lane rental in both Camden and in Middlesbrough to get a different experience from different areas where, therefore, utilities who will be digging up the road will be having to pay a lane rental to the authority for using that section of road. That, to us, will give a much greater incentive to the companies both to co-ordinate their work but also, where they are undertaking the work as an individual utility altogether, to speed that work up. Previously there would have been agreement reached as to the length of time and then penalties beyond that, and there was a feeling that in many cases the utilities were going for far too long a period of time in order to build in an area of safety for them in order to avoid payment, yet the disruption to traffic was considerable. Few things irritate the public more than queueing up for a great period of time, not just motorists.

  356. It is not so much the queuing; it is the guidance upon what the speed limits ought to be. There seems to be a distinct lack of information for the public.
  (Mr Spellar) The first thing is earlier information to indicate that those works are being undertaken and then proper signing for people going through those roadworks, particularly if they are elongated and therefore there is a change in the speed limit. That slightly moves on to, with trunk roads and arterial roads, the question of speed—

  Chairman: We will come back to that.

Helen Jackson

  357. You mentioned the pilot schemes and the reduction in those pilot schemes of casualties of up to 47 per cent. When you get those figures, what is your estimate of costs that they have saved your Department and other departments?
  (Mr Spellar) My recollection is that the estimated average cost for a casualty that has been drawn together across the various departments £1.4 million, roughly.
  (Mr Waddams) For a fatal.
  (Mr Spellar) Yes. Obviously for accidents it varies according to the degree of the accident with partly, of course, cost to the National Health Service but also earnings loss from the injury.
  (Ms McMahon) I can give you a figure of about £25 million as our best estimate.


  358. For what?
  (Ms McMahon) The cost benefit value of the savings in casualties that have been made in the pilot areas, using our standard values.

  359. How many test areas is that?
  (Ms McMahon) Eight.

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