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


Memorandum by the Department of Health (RTS 151)

ROAD TRAFFIC SPEED

INTRODUCTION

  1.  The Department of Health welcomes the opportunity to give written evidence to this Inquiry.

  2.  The White Paper Saving Lives, Our Healthier Nation recognised that accidental injury represented a substantial burden.

  3.  But the burden of death and injury is disproportionately heavy on the worse off in society. For example, children from poorer families are five times more likely to suffer accidental death than children in social class 1. Focussed action to prevent or reduce accidental injury could therefore help address health inequalities.

  4.  The Department has led a cross-Government, cross-sectoral Task Force on Accidental Injury Prevention whose terms of reference were to advise the CMO on ways of delivering the targets in Saving Lives, Our Healthier Nation for reducing accidental deaths and serious injuries by 2010. The Task Force has been wound up and its Report will shortly be presented to the Chief Medical Officer.

  5.  The World Health Organisation projects that, by 2020, road traffic injuries will have the third greatest burden of the ten leading diseases. It recently published a five-year strategy[104] to integrate prevention of road traffic injuries into public health programmes, with particular emphasis on low and middle income countries.

IMPACT

  6.  There were 320,283 reported road accident casualties in Great Britain in 2000, of whom 16,814 were child pedestrians (aged 0-15 years), and 5,832 were older pedestrians (aged 60 or over). A total of 3,409 casualties died, of whom 107 were identified as child pedestrians and 366 as older pedestrians.

  7.  The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) has extensive research evidence showing that there is clear link between speeding and accident risk. The evidence shows a particularly strong link between vehicle speed and the risk of collision with pedestrians and severe injury. Controlled reductions in vehicle speed, such as with 20 mph zones, have been shown to reduce injuries to vulnerable pedestrians by about six per cent for every 1 mph reduction in average traffic speed.

  8.  The total cost to the NHS of all accidental deaths and injuries is not recorded, but the Department estimates the total cost for all external causes (including poisoning and intentional injuries) at around £2.2 billion. The medical and ambulance costs attributed to road traffic accidents was estimated by DTLR as £540 million in 2000.[105]

THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH POSITION

  9.  Much of the work of preventing road accidents at a local level is carried out by local highway authorities and the local police. The Department supports interventions of proven effectiveness. They include environmental interventions that use safety cameras to deter excess speed, and that introduce 20 mph zones where they can be of benefit to vulnerable pedestrians.

  10.  The Department also supports interventions by the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) to influence the behaviour of road users, particularly those which aim to give children training in using the roads as pedestrians.

  11.  The Department is working with DTLR and DfES to encourage schools to develop travel plans to make it safer and easier for children to walk and cycle rather than be driven to school. The Department is a member of the School Travel Advisory Group that was established by the Government in 1998 to find ways to encourage walking, cycling or travel by bus or train to school, whilst at the same time improving safety on the journey.

  12.  The Department notes the report by the DTLR/Health and Safety Executive Work Related Road Safety Task Group, and in particular the recommendation is that employers should do more to manage the risks associated with occupational driving, for example not making work schedules so tight that employees would have to break speed limits to meet them.

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH INITIATIVES

  13.  The National Service Framework for Coronary Heart Disease requires the NHS to develop "green" transport plans by April 2002. To support the development of these plans, the Department has commissioned SUSTRANS to run seminars, and has worked with NHS Estates and DTLR to promote the guidance currently available.

  14.  The Healthy Schools programme funded by the Department of Health and Department for Education and Science encourages staff, pupils and parents to consider cycling and walking to and from schools, and to provide training in road safety awareness and personal safety/security issues.

  15.  NHS Direct Online, the Internet arm of the NHS telephone enquiry service, offers advice on accident prevention which includes road safety. Its recommendations include the correct use of child car seats, the need for children to learn to cross roads safely, and the imperative of not drinking and driving.

  16.  The Department has also funded an initiative called the Injury Minimisation Programme for Schools (IMPS) which complements a similar DTLR initiative by taking groups of children out of school, introducing them to the A & E environment of a local hospital, and exposing them to the reality of accident risks, and ways of avoiding them.

  17.  The Department has grant-funded the organisation BRAKE to help it in mounting road safety campaigns, and has supported campaigns that encourage children to wear helmets when cycling.

THE ACCIDENTAL INJURY TASK FORCE

  18.  The Department's role is to bring together the main Government and non-Government Stakeholders in preventing accidental injuries to give their initiatives greater unity and impact. The report of the Task Force ranges across the entire spectrum of accidental injury, including road traffic injury.

  19.  The Report is still being finalised. However, it recognises the burden of injury related to road traffic accidents, recommends that more co-ordinated efforts are made to reduce accidents, and that those efforts are focussed on areas where they will have greatest impact, including efforts to reduce injuries to child pedestrians and to give focussed attention to reducing the causes of injury that contribute to health inequalities.

CONCLUSION

  20.  The Department welcomes this Inquiry, and looks forward to its report in due course.

February 2002



104   5 year WHO Strategy for Road Traffic Injury Prevention, November 2001. Back

105   DTLR Highways Economic. Note No 1: 2000, Table 5. Back


 
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