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


1. Seven people died on May 10 as a result of the tragic railway accident at Potters Bar. It was rightly a matter of great concern. The Secretary of State made a Statement in the House. There was enormous news coverage: newspapers devoted pages to analysing why it happened, and it was the lead story on many radio and television news programmes.

2. Every day, year in year out, about 10 people are killed on our roads. In 2000 3,409 died, including 857 pedestrians.[1] This dwarfs many other causes of death: it is four times the number of homicide victims.[2] There can be few of us who do not have a relative, friend or acquaintance killed or seriously injured on the roads. Many of these deaths and injuries are avoidable.

3. The Government has set a target of reducing deaths and serious injuries in road accidents by 40%. This may be met by a reduction in serious injuries, but the number of deaths on the roads has declined little in recent years. The numbers killed fell from 4,568 in 1991 to 3,598 in 1996, but have remained at that level since: there were 3,421 deaths in 1998 and 3,409 in 2000. With the right measures in place we could probably reduce road deaths to under 1,000 each year. There would also be huge cost savings from taking these steps, but there is surprisingly little pressure to act to achieve this.[3] Road casualties rarely merit a mention on the national news; they are indeed greeted with complacency as we pride ourselves on having the best road safety record in Europe.

4. The largest single contributor to casualties on our roads is driving at either excessive (breaking the speed limit and therefore illegal) or inappropriate (ie speeds which are foolish for the conditions even if within the speed limit) speeds.[4] It is now a more important factor in road traffic deaths and serious injuries than alcohol.[5] As the AA told us: "the wrong speed on the wrong roads kills around 1000 people a year".[6] Road traffic speed in both urban and rural areas inhibits walking and cycling and so makes people less physically active. It reduces the quality of life. We are not going to regenerate our towns and cities and make them attractive places to live while they are dominated by fast moving vehicles. In the country too villages are severed and country lanes, once enjoyed by those taking a stroll, or riding a horse or bicycle, are now dominated by traffic travelling at high speed.

5. Children suffer particularly. Road crashes are the single biggest killer of school age children, accounting for "two-thirds of premature child deaths".[7] The UK's child pedestrian casualty rate is worse than many other European countries'.[8] It is so bad because of the lack of speed restrictions rather than increased exposure to traffic.[9] Poor children are much more likely to be the victims of traffic accidents: they are more likely to play on the street. There have been a number of effective programmes to educate children, parents and carers, notably Kerbcraft and the work undertaken through the Drumchapel project. Nevertheless, parental fear of road traffic has reduced the independence of children from all backgrounds. It has been a significant contributory factor in the decline in the number of children walking to school: in 1971 72 per cent of seven year olds travelled to school unaccompanied; by 1990 only 7 per cent of seven year olds went to school alone.[10]

6. The Committee decided to hold an inquiry to find out the answers to a number of simple questions:[11]

  • What is known about the causes and consequences of speed, and what to do about it?
  • How far are the necessary measures being taken?
  • What should the Government and other relevant groups and organisations be doing, and are they doing it?

7. This is an opportune time to undertake this inquiry. It enables us to chart the progress made in the two years since the Prime Minister launched the Government's Road Safety Strategy, Tomorrow's roads:- safer for everyone in March 2000. It is also almost two years since the Urban White Paper, Our towns and cities: the future, which proposed measures to ensure that the adverse impacts of traffic are reduced in cities and towns.[12]

8. Our decision to examine this subject has also been influenced by growing concerns that since 2000 progress has been slow and that road safety has become less of a priority for the Government. Since 2000, the Government has:

  • dropped its previous commitment to press within the European Union for a Pedestrian Safety Directive
  • decided that road safety cameras should be painted yellow and should be restricted to serious accident blackspots
  • failed to implement a number commitments made in its Road Safety Strategy
  • been slow to bring forward proposals to increase penalties for road traffic offences

The problem is that: "Most drivers and pedestrians think speeds are generally too high but 95 per cent of all drivers admit to exceeding speed limits".

9. We received 157 memoranda. Among those who submitted evidence were the leading researchers on road safety, senior health professionals, motoring organisations, several local authorities, groups working on behalf of children and road safety campaigners. We would like to thank all of them, and our specialist adviser, Rob Gifford of the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety.

1   HDA (RTS 153). Back

2   ACPO (RTS 137). Back

3   Professor Allsop has discussed the potential reduction in fatalities in Britain in Europe, 12th Westminster Lecture on Transport Safety, PACTS 2002 (in press) For the discussion of the potential reduction in fatalities; see para 112 below. In Victoria, Australia, there has been a 52% reduction in road deaths (see HDA, RTS 153); Road Accidents Great Britain: 2000 states: "the total cost-benefit value of prevention of road accidents in 2000 was estimated to be £16.920 million, of which £12,170 million is attributable to personal injury accidents, with damage-only accidents accounting for the remainder" (p. 16).  Back

4   Tomorrows roads, p. 48. Back

5   Road Accidents Great Britain: 2000 states that the "numbers of people killed on the roads in Great Britain in incidents involving drink-driving fell to their lowest levels in 1998-9. However, it is estimated that there were still 460 such deaths per year..." (p. 34).  Back

6   RTS 48. Back

7   Cyclists Touring Club (RTS 26); and see RTS 4 from the Faculty of Public Health Medicine of the Royal Colleges of Physicians: "Two-thirds of the deaths and serious injuries among children involve child pedestrians injured in road crashes..." The Traffic and Children Coalition stated: "the number of children killed and seriously injured in car crashes is many times higher than the number harmed by strangers" (RTS 47). Back

8   In 2000, 9 EU countries had a lower child pedestrian death rate than the UK (Road Accidents Great Britain: 2000, Table 50; we were also told that "The death rate from road traffic injuries for children in the UK is twice the European average" (RTS 4); Back

9   RTS 47, quoting DETR, Comparative study of European child pedestrian exposure and accidents, 1999Back

10   RTS 47. Back

11   Our full terms of reference were:

better enforcement; road re-design and traffic calming; road re-classification; physical measures to separate pedestrians and cars (e.g. barriers); technology (e.g. through Intelligent Speed Adaptation and car designs which promote pedestrian protection); education to improve drivers' and motor cyclists' behaviour and pedestrian and cyclist awareness; changes to speed limits; and what specific policies should be implemented.

  • The extent to which relevant bodies are taking the right actions
  • Whether local authorities, DTLR, the Highways Agency, the police and Home Office are providing a co-ordinated approach to speed management, and what they should do
  • Whether the sentences imposed by magistrates and judges on those convicted of speeding offences have in all cases been appropriate and what other approaches ought to be considered
  • Whether motor manufacturers, the national press, TV programmes about motoring and advertisers have shown an appropriate attitude to speed, and how they should change
  • The role of speed management strategies


12   Cm 4911, November 2000. Back

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