Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Ninth Report


The Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee has agreed to the following Report:


Conclusions and recommendations

Deaths and serious injuries on our roads bring misery to hundreds of thousands, including the relatives and friends of the dead and injured. Although the huge number of serious injuries on the roads is still declining, the number of deaths, including pedestrian deaths, has been at the same high level for several years. We have one of the worst child pedestrian safety records in Europe, and children from poor families are far more likely to be killed. Speeding is endemic. Excessive and inappropriate speed is the largest single contributor to deaths and serious injuries on our roads and significantly reduces the quality of life in many urban and rural areas. The failure to tackle the consequences of speed affects Government policies on the welfare of children, social inclusion, urban regeneration, health and integrated transport.

We know what to do reduce the casualties. The Government has commissioned research and funded the pilot projects which show what should be done. It also monitors best practice from the Netherlands and other European countries, particularly in how to reduce pedestrian casualties. In those places in England where many of the right measures have been taken, such as York, Gloucester, Hull, Northamptonshire and Nottingham, there have been significant reductions in casualties and improvements in the quality of life. In 1997, TRL estimated that the cost of a comprehensive series of measures in urban areas would be £3bn.. The sum would be considerably higher today, and measures need to implemented in rural areas too. Nevertheless, the cost of making very important changes is relatively small: the Gloucester Safer City was a £5m project which transformed a whole city. Unfortunately too few local and police authorities have put the money and effort into implementing the measures which are known to work.

A major reason why too little has been done is that road casualties are a forgotten story which receives far too little national attention. If any disease killed as many people, as die on the roads, there would be an outcry. There would be national campaigns to insist that the Government do something about it. In its reporting of speed, however, the media too often does the reverse, implying that drivers are the best judge of the right speed, and that attempts to get them to observe speed limits in built-up areas are an unacceptable infringement on their liberty. Press reporting too often focuses on the inconvenience to drivers, ignoring the potentially fatal consequences of their attitudes.

A second reason is the slow progress of Government policy. In March 2000, the Prime Minister launched the Government's Road Safety Strategy Tomorrows roads - safer for everyone, but unfortunately since then little has happened: projects have not been undertaken; some proposals have not been implemented; others have been dropped. New rules about the location and visibility of safety cameras have been promulgated which are in danger of reducing their effectiveness. Reluctant local authorities are unlikely to implement effective measures for which they may be criticised if Government Ministers are unwilling to put the case for them.

The Government's principal task now is ensure that all local and police authorities give reducing road traffic speed the same priority as the best. It must insist that they do so because saving lives is not a matter of discretion. It will also need to provide the funds to enable it to be done. Specifically, the Government should:

- improve the National Safety Camera Scheme by allowing local and police authorities to decide where to site cameras; and ensure that the whole country is covered by 2004

- issue the promised revised Guidance to local authorities about speed limits; this should include a number of changes, in particular, that 30 mph should be the speed in villages,

- re-engineer the roads to ensure that speed limits are obeyed and to make roads safer and more pleasant for pedestrians

- ensure that the funding of Local Transport Plans is dependent on measures to reduce speeds; and

- make road safety a priority for the Ten Year Plan and provide specific funds for a national programme to re-engineer and re-design our roads.

The Government also has to give leadership. It needs to make it very clear that speeding is unacceptable. Drivers should not exceed 30 mph in a residential area where a child might dash onto the road. The Prime Minister has recently rightly stressed the importance of basing decisions on scientific analysis. He now has to decide whether Government policy on speed will be dominated by concerns about how it is portrayed by a section of the motoring lobby and in parts of the press. The alternative is to base it on the detailed research of experts, including TRL, the AA, and the Royal College of Physicians. The evidence which we received is that such a policy would be popular with the public for whom speed is a very serious concern. Drivers are also residents and pedestrians. With the right policies we could reduce deaths on the road to under one thousand a year.

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Prepared 19 June 2002