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Transport Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 506
Taken before the Transport Committee
on Tuesday 24 January 2012
Mrs Louise Ellman (Chair)
Mr Tom Harris
Mr John Leech
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Rob Gifford, Executive Director, Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, Julie Townsend, Campaigns Director, Brake, and Malcolm Heymer, spokesperson, Association of British Drivers, gave evidence.
Chair: Good morning and welcome to the Transport Select Committee. I understand there is a declaration of interest from Mr Stewart.
Iain Stewart: I am a trustee of PACTS.
Mr Leech: So am I.
Steve Baker: I am a patron of the Association of British Drivers.
Q86 Chair: Would our panellists like to say who they are and who they are representing? This is for our records.
Rob Gifford: Good morning. I am Rob Gifford. I am Executive Director of PACTS- the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety-but I am also speaking here on behalf of the 14 other organisations that signed the joint memorandum that we submitted to the Committee.
Julie Townsend: I am Julie Townsend, Deputy Chief Executive of Brake, the road safety charity.
Malcolm Heymer: I am Malcolm Heymer, a traffic management adviser for the Association of British Drivers.
Q87 Chair: Mr Gifford, are the Government right to drop targets in relation to road safety?
Rob Gifford: The short answer, Mrs Ellman, is no. We can have a debate about semantics and whether we mean "targets" or a "performance outcome framework". Internationally, the evidence is clear that those countries over the last 20 years that have had a target for casualty reduction have achieved higher levels of reduction in fatalities than those countries without. The average over the period is 4%, but that varies between 4% and probably about 17%. You can see that having a target has provided leadership from Government, which has meant that those other institutions, whether they are local government, the private sector or the public sector, have all had a common goal at which to aim. In our view, the Government were wrong to drop the target principle.
Julie Townsend: We would second that. We think it was an incredibly detrimental step to abandon casualty reduction targets. As Rob has said, we have the international evidence that they are valuable. We also heard from road safety practitioners and those working within the sector in the seminars organised by PACTS in advance of the Government’s publication of the strategic framework. That established a very widespread consensus that targets are valued within the sector and that they would be welcomed by practitioners. Given the Government’s focus on localism and devolving a lot of responsibility and decision making to local level, having national targets to create impetus and to drive progress at both local and national level is even more important.
Q88 Chair: Could there be local targets rather than national ones?
Julie Townsend: We think that local targets are valuable as well. Ideally, we would like to have seen targets at national level but also local authorities encouraged to implement targets locally that show how they will contribute to national progress. Clearly there are some measures where it is more valuable to monitor and establish progress at national level because of the small numbers involved.
Q89 Chair: Mr Heymer, you have a very different view, don’t you? Could you tell us what your view is and why?
Malcolm Heymer: Basically, the ABD would agree with the Government that targets are probably no longer necessary. Our concern is that targets tend to produce actions that are aimed more at achieving the numerical figure than the method by which it is achieved. For example, with reductions in killed and seriously injured-KSI-figures, it can lead to pressure being put on police officers attending road accidents to categorise borderline serious injuries as perhaps slight injuries in order to improve the numbers. We also know, as this Committee has accepted in the past, that there is significant under-reporting of non-fatal injuries so that, when the Government claim that the 40% casualty reduction target for KSI as set for 2010 has been achieved, we don’t know whether that has actually been achieved or it is just a quirk of the figures and the under-reporting.
Q90 Chair: Do you have any actual evidence that pressure has been put on police officers?
Malcolm Heymer: There is certainly anecdotal evidence from one police force where a police officer admitted that people in the Safety Partnership who were in charge of trying to meet the targets were putting pressure on police officers to make such judgments, yes.
Q91 Chair: Where was that pressure coming from? Who was doing it?
Malcolm Heymer: From the Highways Department or the Transport Department responsible for achieving the targets.
Q92 Chair: Was that locally or from the Government? Who was doing it?
Malcolm Heymer: It was locally.
Q93 Paul Maynard: I realise that this might be regarded as an issue of semantics, but it does seem to go to the heart of the road safety debate here. I spent the weekend reading the road safety strategy of every Australian state, New Zealand and a number of Canadian provinces in addition to our own. What strikes me is that we are a world leader already in road safety. It is clear from the Government’s own documentation that there is a philosophy of continuous improvement if all their actions are delivered. On pages 11 and 12 it states what it expects the outcome to be.
I am concerned that the road safety lobby, whatever the benevolent reasons might be, prefers the comfort blanket of national targets when, despite our excellent achievements, we have striking regional disparities that I believe should be the focus of a road safety strategy. Why do you think the road safety organisations in this country disproportionately favour national targets compared to many other countries?
Rob Gifford: First of all, other countries have favoured targets as well. I accept that we may be going through a process of philosophical change. If you look at the OECD report on Vision Zero, what underpins many of the new generation of strategies is the adoption of what is called the systems approach, similar to that in air and rail, where you recognise that humans, machines and environment interact with each other, and the system designer and regulator has a responsibility to ensure that the system is safe before the human being is allowed to operate it. That is where we are beginning to move. That is certainly what has happened in Sweden with Vision Zero, in the Netherlands with the concept of sustainable safety, and, I would suggest, in many of the Australian states.
I recognise that underneath your question, with reference to continuous improvement, there is a really interesting issue. I was sitting in the Public Gallery last week, and when I heard the question, I thought, "That’s a fantastic question; I don’t know how I am going to answer it if you ask me again." But you gave me a week to think about it, so I am very grateful.
I would answer it in three parts. First, the principle of continuous improvement requires leadership. I would be comfortable if I felt the leadership from the current Government was a very strong one. I have a fear, though, that the leadership we have had from this current Government is very mixed on road safety.
Secondly, if I put together ending the war on the motorist, axing grant for road safety partnerships, cutting capital for speed cameras, however popular or unpopular they were, moves to raise the motorway speed limit to 80 mph, suggesting that a target does not matter, and also moving toward a four-year MOT, possibly, plus biennially after that, the mood music suggests that this Government believe that road safety is not such a high priority as their predecessor-or their predecessor Conservative Governments; I am not making a party political point. Continuous improvement works where there is an environment of leadership. It works in rail and air, because it is a closed system and it has a stronger regulatory framework. It is written into law in the European Aviation Safety Directive and in the European Railway Safety Directive.
Thirdly, in order to prove continuous improvement, you need to know where you are and have some way of measuring that you are improving. I accept that a target of just death and injury is an outcome measure. I am also interested in the inputs. What is the percentage of vehicles and the vehicle fleet that are Euro NCAP 5 Star? What is the percentage of people who are now complying with the 30 mph speed limit voluntarily in free-flowing traffic? Continuous improvement requires you to develop a system of measuring inputs and outputs much more. It is very complex. It is where we are going to have to go, by the way, but we are probably one step behind rail and air. Of course, we have many more crashes than in rail and air and therefore we have many more things to investigate.
Julie Townsend: We believe there is a wider issue here with the strategic framework. The lack of targets is one part of it. There is also a lack of ambition, drive and leadership in progressing road safety and bringing down casualties as rapidly as we possibly can.
As a charity that provides support to families whose lives have been devastated by road death and injury, we witness first hand the appalling suffering that results from these crashes. We know, of course, that these deaths and injuries are preventable. We believe therefore that we should be viewing them as an unacceptable occurrence. We believe the only acceptable number of deaths and serious injuries is zero. We advocate a long-term vision of working toward eradicating road deaths and serious injuries. We believe that targets can be incredibly valuable in helping us to drive progress and move toward that long-term goal.
Q94 Paul Maynard: Leaving aside your vision of the perfection of mankind with regard to driving, which I am sure is laudable but unachievable, do you believe that both Brake and indeed the wider road safety lobby here in the UK have endorsed the safe system approach to road safety, or do you feel that you are still relying upon the model where the driver is the key variable and the key problem, and other systems-based approaches are less valid in achieving your admittedly laudable but frankly unachievable goal of zero deaths?
Julie Townsend: We do support the systems approach. We believe that, yes, people will always make mistakes using roads and we should be creating an infrastructure, safer vehicles and a system that allows for those mistakes but ensures that deaths and serious injuries do not result from them.
Q95 Paul Maynard: How is the safe system reflected in your campaigning?
Julie Townsend: We believe, in particular, in improving the safety of people on foot and bicycle within communities. To give you an example, we believe that we should be enabling and encouraging local authorities to implement more widespread 20 mph limits and safer infrastructure for people on foot and on bicycles that, in particular, allows for the mistakes of vulnerable road users, not least children, who of course will always make mistakes using roads but who don’t deserve to die for those mistakes. That is one example of our campaigning where we believe that infrastructure needs to be improved within communities to allow for the mistakes of the individual road user.
Q96 Mr Leech: Mr Heymer, what are the main aims of the Association of British Drivers?
Malcolm Heymer: In a nutshell, what we would like to see are sensible restrictions sensibly enforced. In other words, the vast majority of drivers are safe and responsible drivers. There is a minority of course who are not, but what we want to see is a road safety framework within which the safe majority is not needlessly penalised for minor technical transgressions, and enforcement is targeted toward those who are causing the real problems and are responsible for a high proportion of the casualties that take place.
Q97 Mr Leech: Do you consider yourself to be a road safety organisation?
Malcolm Heymer: Yes.
Q98 Mr Leech: Why is it then that the views of the Association of British Drivers are so at odds with every other road safety organisation?
Malcolm Heymer: We believe that our views are based on empirical evidence that goes back decades, particularly, for example, in the case of speed limit setting. That evidence has now been dismissed and speed limits are being set at lower levels. That is having an adverse effect on compliance and therefore on road safety generally.
Q99 Chair: I just want to clarify that. Are you saying that lower speeds are having an adverse effect on road safety?
Malcolm Heymer: No, not lower speeds-lower speed limits. If speed limits are set below a level that the majority of drivers consider to be reasonable, you get a very high level of non-compliance. You get a greater disparity of speed and more frustration. A small minority of drivers will obey the speed limit even if they think it is really silly, and that will result in a large queue of drivers behind who want to drive at what they consider to be normal speeds. That leads to frustration and dangerous overtaking. It can also lead to long queues of traffic that prevent side road traffic from entering or crossing a main road. You get additional conflicts and even road rage as a result. If you have sensibly set speed limits, which means set at the 85th percentile level, which is the level that 85% of drivers would not want to exceed anyway, experience that goes back, certainly in the United States, to the late 1930s has shown that that is the safest level at which to set speed limits and you get the lowest casualty rates.
Q100 Mr Leech: In a previous answer you admitted that there was no empirical evidence that there was misreporting of serious injuries. You just talked about anecdotal evidence.
Malcolm Heymer: No. The anecdotal evidence was not about the under-reporting of serious injuries. That has been acknowledged by this Committee in a previous report. What I was referring to was-
Q101 Chair: Let me just get the record straight. The previous report was to do with statistical reporting and not to do with people being pressured to define things differently from how they might have actually been. I just want to put the record straight on that.
Malcolm Heymer: No; there are two separate issues here.
Q102 Mr Leech: You said that you relied on empirical evidence, but, whenever I have heard you in front of this Committee, the evidence that you have given has always been anecdotal evidence about why the Association of British Drivers takes the view that it does.
Malcolm Heymer: No, it is not anecdotal at all. The empirical evidence is based on speed and accident surveys that have been taking place for decades in Britain, as well as in the United States and elsewhere.
Q103 Mr Leech: The Association of British Drivers supports the increase in the speed limit on motorways to 80 mph.
Malcolm Heymer: Yes.
Q104 Mr Leech: Given that we have among the safest motorways in the world, regardless of whether changing the speed limit has an impact, why would we want to risk the chance of making our motorways more dangerous?
Malcolm Heymer: Obviously the ABD does not believe that it would make motorways more dangerous. The Department for Transport figures show that, averaged over the motorway network, the 85th percentile speed of cars on the motorways is 79 mph. That will vary from motorway to motorway. That means, with the 85th percentile being the ideal speed at which to set the limit, 80 mph is in accordance with that and it is therefore the right speed limit for motorways in the majority of cases. Of course there are places where a lower speed limit may be necessary. There are sections of motorway today at 50 mph and 60 mph, and they would no doubt remain the same.
Q105 Mr Leech: If the 85th percentile is currently 79 mph, is there not a suggestion among different organisations that, if you increase the speed limit to 80 mph, the 85th percentile will go significantly above 80 mph?
Malcolm Heymer: I know a lot of people believe that, but the evidence is that it is not so. I have a case in point, admittedly from the United States. It is a dual three-lane freeway, which is the equivalent to one of our three-lane motorways. In the 55 mph era the 85th percentile speed was 73 mph. That is 18 mph over the speed limit, and in fact 98% of drivers were exceeding the speed limit. When the limit was raised to 70 mph on that road, the 85th percentile fell to 72 mph. The mean speed only increased by just over 1 mph, so there was a reduction in the spread of speeds as a result.
Q106 Mr Leech: Would you not accept, though, that there is a significant difference between a speed limit of 55 mph and 70 mph?
Malcolm Heymer: Indeed, yes.
Julie Townsend: I would first like to draw the Committee’s attention to the very extensive academic evidence that charts the relationship between speed and both crash frequency and severity, which is referenced in Brake’s written evidence. There is also a huge amount of evidence showing the effectiveness of lowering speed limits within communities to 20 mph and the reduction in casualties among vulnerable road users and, in particular, among children. A relatively recent study that looked at 20 mph zones in London, to come back on one of Mr Heymer’s points, found no indication of migration of crashes to surrounding roads.
On motorway speeds, we have evidence that, if the motorway speed limit was raised to 80 mph, there would be an increase of around 3 mph in average speeds. It has been predicted by a Norwegian academic, Rune Elvik, who created a very widely accepted statistical model on the relationship between speed and casualties, that it would result in 25 extra deaths per year and more than 100 extra serious injuries.1 The Department for Transport have themselves said that this is the model they will use to predict the effect of an increase in motorway speed limits. We have the evidence that this will be detrimental to road safety and will result in an increase in carbon emissions. We believe it is a desperately inhumane proposal and we don’t believe that the Government’s reasoning for looking at this as a policy stacks up in terms of economic and journey time benefits.2
Q107 Chair: Mr Gifford, would you give the views of the organisations that you are representing?
Rob Gifford: Our position might be a bit nuanced between the two, if you see what I mean. One has to recognise that the motorway network in this country has developed over a very long period of time, from the mid-1950s to the early years of this century. There might well be some stretches of that motorway network-three or four lanes with very little bends-where the design speed is higher than 70 mph-it might well take people driving safely at 80 mph. What we don’t know is the point that Mr Leech was getting at, which is what human beings will actually do. It is possible that they may stay doing 79 mph. It is also possible that a number of them will think, "Good, I can get away with nearly 90 mph." We will still have on the network heavy goods vehicles, buses and coaches that are speed limited. It is not just about absolute speeds; it is variability of speed that matters here. It is about conditions and allowing, or not allowing, yourself enough room when somebody else in front of you makes a mistake. If it is purely and simply to make it legal, that seems a rather bizarre way of making policy. We don’t normally rewrite the law because a lot of people are breaking it.
Q108 Mr Leech: Are there any other countries where the differential between the HGV speed and the car speed would be as much as 20 mph on the motorway?
Rob Gifford: Yes. In France, of course, the car speed in good weather is 130 kph. Therefore, you are extending it to just over 80 mph. I don’t know what the average speeds are. The other problem is also that most of our motorway network is very heavily used by freight. I think you possibly have Ellen Townsend from ETSC coming to give evidence. This is a question on which a European perspective would give you much more certainty. My hunch would be that much of our motorway network is more heavily used by traffic for shorter distances than much of the other European network, which is for longer journeys for less freight.
Q109 Mr Harris: Mr Heymer, is it your view that, already, when a speed limit in a local area is reduced the road rage becomes so intense that accidents do go up? There is a direct correlation between lowering the speed limit and an increase in the number of road accidents?
Malcolm Heymer: There can be, if the limit is reduced to well below the 85th percentile, yes.
Q110 Mr Harris: That is not anecdotal; that is empirical evidence that you can submit to us?
Malcolm Heymer: There is evidence, for example, from the county of Suffolk, which at the end of 1995 introduced 450 new 30 mph speed limits within a three-month period. Some of those were on roads that previously had the national speed limit. When you look at the trend in casualties for that county, it was continuously downwards from 1990 to 1995. In 1996 it reversed direction and started going upwards. That was for the county as a whole and not necessarily for individual roads.
Q111 Chair: So it was not necessarily on those roads.
Malcolm Heymer: No; it was for the county as a whole.
Q112 Mr Harris: For your premise to stand up, you would have to show that the increase in accidents happened on the roads where the speed limit reduction took place.
Malcolm Heymer: Not necessarily, because you can get migration of accidents. If people are slowed down unnecessarily in some areas, they might then try to make up time somewhere else.
Q113 Mr Harris: They might, but we are talking about empirical evidence here. You are just talking about "might" and supposition. You are not talking about actual evidence.
Malcolm Heymer: There is also a coroner’s inquest from late 1996 that specifically cited one of these new speed limits as being a contributory factor to a fatal accident.
Q114 Mr Harris: Fair enough. You mentioned in your earlier comments about targets and that you don’t like them. Is it your view that national targets have been counterproductive in the fight to reduce road accidents?
Malcolm Heymer: They can be, because they may channel energy into the wrong direction, rather than looking at the real reasons for road casualties and addressing them.
Q115 Mr Harris: If we had not had those national targets for the past 20 years, would we have a lower accident rate now?
Malcolm Heymer: Not necessarily. We may well have had the same accident rate. If you look at fatality rates, which are the only ones which are reliable, because fatality reporting is virtually 100%, the rate in this country has been reducing ever since 1950. That was the first year when traffic data was available in order to compute a fatality rate. The same trend has been seen in every other developed country. The only real fluctuations in the fatality rate that are recognised in the Government’s framework are in relation to economic performance. In other words, in times of low economic growth the fatality rate comes down faster than during the good economic times. This is again found in every other country. I refer in the written evidence to the Canadian researcher Al Gullon, who found a 99% correlation rate between GDP and the fatality rate. That is very striking. To a large extent fatality rates come down almost regardless of what road safety interventions are introduced.
Q116 Mr Harris: Are you saying that we don’t need road safety interventions?
Malcolm Heymer: No. We certainly need them locally, as we used to do in the 1960s and 1970s, engineering out accident blackspots. Building motorways, which are the safest roads, has helped to reduce casualties.
Q117 Mr Harris: Would I be being unfair if I suggest that your organisation sees road safety enforcement as a bit inconvenient?
Malcolm Heymer: No, as long as it is the right sort of enforcement against those people who are acting in dangerous and irresponsible ways.
Rob Gifford: I never like to come to a Committee meeting where witnesses disagree with each other, but I think I have to. I have heard Mr Heymer use the phrase "minor technical transgressions" and imply that what we should be doing is enforcing road traffic law on those people who are dreadful sinners. I absolutely agree with that, but road safety is never a matter of either/or. A minor technical transgression, by which I think he means breaking the speed limit, could in other circumstances lead to a fatality.
If you look at the analysis of why incidents occur, it is a combination of acts of violation-the things people do that are wrong-and the latent conditions, the conditions of the environment in which the activity is going on. That is long established in industrial analysis, particularly through the work of James Reason at Manchester university in a book called Managing the Risk of Organizational Accidents.
In certain circumstances, I, as an entirely law-abiding motorist but committing a minor technical transgression, can kill someone. We need to enforce the law on both groups of people. That means the really serious offender-the person who does go out to kill-and the rest of us, who just need to be reminded every so often.
Q118 Mr Harris: You pre-empt my next question. I was about to ask Mr Heymer this. You mentioned minor technical transgressions. Could you give us an example of a minor technical transgression that should not be prosecuted or enforced?
Malcolm Heymer: As Mr Gifford has suggested, minor transgressions of speed limits in places where it is safe to do so. Speed limits in this country are set at multiples of 10 mph. They are quite rigid. You can go from a 30 mph limit to a 40 mph limit at an instant point. What is regarded as perfectly safe on one side of that line suddenly becomes dangerous on the other side.
Q119 Mr Harris: Is there an alternative methodology for changing speed limits?
Malcolm Heymer: Obviously you don’t want speed limits to change too often. Within a speed limit you are going to have sections where it is probably not safe to drive up to the limit.
Q120 Mr Harris: ACPO guidelines are generally 10% +1.
Malcolm Heymer: 10% +2, yes.
Q121 Mr Harris: You are not going to get done for doing 31 mph in a 30 mph limit.
Malcolm Heymer: No, of course not.
Q122 Mr Harris: But if you are doing 39 mph you will get done. Are you saying that is a minor technical transgression?
Malcolm Heymer: It depends on the nature of the speed limit at that point.
Q123 Chair: Who should be deciding whether it is a minor transgression?
Malcolm Heymer: The police should be using their discretion, as they used to do in the pre-speed camera era.
Q124 Mr Harris: Mr Gifford, my ears pricked up when you talked about the road safety improvements abroad. You said there was an average of 4% increase and it went from 4% to 17%.
Rob Gifford: Yes.
Q125 Mr Harris: I am no mathematician, but if the average is 4%, it means that some of the reductions were less than 4%.
Rob Gifford: Indeed they were. The point is that the average is 4%. I take your point.
Mr Harris: I was just being pedantic.
Q126 Julian Sturdy: In last week’s evidence session we talked a lot about education at an early age, so not when people are taking the driving test but going into schools and getting young children at 13 or 14 years of age and educating them about the issues of driving and the consequences that can have. It is targeting boys specifically, who do tend to have a problem when they pass their driving test. What are your views on that? Is there any specific view that the Government should be doing more and targeting education at that sort of level?
Rob Gifford: We need to be very careful. I know that there are some people who are very keen on getting young drivers behind the wheel at the age of 13. The key thing here is about attitude rather than skill. Anybody can be trained to move a lump of metal. It is what you are thinking about while you are moving that lump of metal, if I can put it crudely. My concern is that a focus on pre-driver training that only looked at manoeuvring, clutch control and so on would have a counterproductive element. It would breed complacency among the 17 or 18-year-olds, who would then think, "Right, I have passed my test. I can do it."
What we probably need to do, given that this age group are at risk whatever they do-because it is not just on the road that they get killed but it is also sex, drugs and failure at school-is to have, and I hesitate to use a clichéd word, a holistic approach to risk education in the teenage years, which could well include road use. There is certainly a big gap between the amount of work we have done for primary pupils in terms of safe road use and for those in secondary schools until they get to the age of 17, when we let them behind the wheel of a car. We need to package it much more cleverly than just saying, "Come on, you can have a go in this Ford Mondeo and really enjoy yourself by putting your foot down in safe circumstances on an airport runway."
Julie Townsend: We would agree that an approach of compulsory road safety education within schools, aimed at raising awareness of the risks and the steps that young people can take to help reduce those risks, would be extremely valuable. We would also have concerns about the introduction of skills-based training at a young age. First, there is some evidence that skills-based training can cause heightened overconfidence in terms of young drivers’ ability to handle different situations. There is also a concern about promoting learning to drive at a young age and encouraging more people to learn young. That is a risk of introducing skills-based training at a young age.
The approach that we support in terms of reducing risk among young and inexperienced drivers is a more structured learning-to-drive system. We advocate graduated driver licensing, which breaks the learning-to-drive process down into stages. It means that new drivers develop their skills and experience gradually over time while their exposure to the riskiest situations is restricted. We are talking about a minimum learning-to-drive period, followed by a test and then a novice driving period with licence restrictions.
We now have evidence both from overseas and within the UK that this would be an effective approach in reducing casualties involving young drivers.
Q127 Julian Sturdy: Going back to the speed limits, on the education side there was also talk of the three "E"s: education, engineering and enforcement. We know that engineering is improving. New technology is coming on board all the time with vehicles. When we are talking about speed limits, is there not a case for talking about more variable speed limits up to 80 mph, but in the right weather conditions? It would be very similar to what happens on the continent and in France-reducing speed limits in more adverse weather conditions and higher levels of congestion.
Rob Gifford: The evidence from the M42 Active Traffic Management scheme, where speed limits are reduced from 70 mph to 60 mph and occasionally 50 mph, and include when traffic flows demand the use of the hard shoulder, is that journey times have become more predictable. It has not been tested at its ultimate. There has not been a fatality, but certainly the number of serious and slight injuries has fallen. The overall emissions from vehicles on that section of motorway have fallen. You can get better reliability, journey times and capacity from lowering speeds rather than raising them. That is quite interesting, because it is, in a sense, counterintuitive. The same is true on the M25 around Heathrow.
You could be clever and say they can go up at some point and they can go down, but you would have to put in a whole technological infrastructure on the motorway network to ensure that that information was available to drivers. That is therefore quite a cost in these times of austerity. When Justine Greening was here as Secretary of State, I certainly heard her comment on improving the experience of the "user" of the network. Reliability is what people want more than anything.
Q128 Chair: Ms Townsend, do you agree with that, or do you have any other views?
Julie Townsend: First, I would like to point out that the example Rob is giving is a stretch of motorway where variable speed limits are being used, up to the current maximum limit of 70 mph. That goes without saying. We absolutely support those sorts of initiatives and are aware of the evidence that lowering the limit where there are congestion problems, as well as bad weather conditions, helps to improve traffic flow and journey times. We advocate wider use of variable speed limits within our existing limit.
The fact remains that we have evidence that, if we were to up our maximum limit to 80 mph, it would result in an overall increase in emissions and casualties. We remain fully opposed to that proposal.
Q129 Steve Baker: Starting with Mr Gifford, to what extent does the panel believe that people consent to the current motorway speed limit?
Rob Gifford: I suppose it depends on how you ask that question.
Q130 Steve Baker: I am asking if you think that people consent to it.
Rob Gifford: I think people consent to its being 70 mph, yes. They may not abide by it, which is a different question.
Q131 Steve Baker: I think that means they don’t consent to it.
Rob Gifford: We don’t know. That is my point. At least, I don’t know whether, for example, the AA through their Populus poll have asked people what they think the motorway speed limit should be. I am giving you a personal answer.
Q132 Steve Baker: But you accept that people don’t obey the 70 mph limit.
Rob Gifford: I accept that the evidence from the Department’s speed surveys suggests that the average motorway speed limit in free-flowing traffic is 79 mph. I don’t know whether that means people are thinking about this.
Q133 Steve Baker: So the evidence is that people don’t comply with the motorway speed limit.
Rob Gifford: That does not mean they don’t consent to it.
Julie Townsend: I would agree with that. It does not add up to say that, because people break a speed limit, it means that they don’t agree with the limit being set at that particular level. The research that we and others have carried out into driver attitudes shows that there is widespread understanding of why limits are set as they are. There is widespread understanding of the fact that, if you drive faster, the risk increases. There is also research that shows the different psychologies of speed. The majority of people that break speed limits do so occasionally and accidentally.3 It is only a very small proportion of those who break the speed limits who-
Q134 Steve Baker: If I understand your argument correctly, if I can paraphrase it and make sure I condense it correctly, the majority of people do break the motorway speed limit despite the fact that they consent to it. Is that what you are saying?
Julie Townsend: Yes.
Q135 Steve Baker: They break the limit but they do consent?
Julie Townsend: We know that the majority of people do break speed limits from time to time. Only a minority completely adhere 100% to speed limits at all times.
Q136 Steve Baker: But on the motorway the average speed is 9 mph in excess of the limit.
Rob Gifford: For car drivers.
Malcolm Heymer: Clearly, if somebody says they believe a speed limit should be 70 mph and then they do more than that, I would have said that is hypocrisy. It is like saying, "It’s okay for everybody else to be limited to 70 mph, but not me." The fact that 50% of people break the speed limit means that 50% of people don’t think the speed limit is correct.
Julie Townsend: That is a widespread attitude among drivers. We know from research that the majority of drivers regard their driving skills to be superior to those of others and above average.4 There is widespread complacency about the importance of adhering exactly to the law on our roads. Because there is complacency, that does not automatically mean that people don’t agree with the way that limits are set.
Q137 Steve Baker: But you believe that compliance with the law and attitude of willingness to comply with the law are promoted by having a speed limit that is lower than that at which most people drive on the motorway.
Julie Townsend: I don’t believe that we should be realigning our speed limits with the fact that there is a significant part of the population that is currently breaking that law.
Q138 Steve Baker: So you don’t believe in government by consent in a democratic society.
Chair: I don’t think you have to answer that.
Steve Baker: You always do that on the fun ones.
Chair: Answer it if you want to.
Julie Townsend: I don’t think we have had any indication that there is majority support among the general public for a higher motorway speed limit.
Q139 Steve Baker: Except for the empirical evidence of the speed at which they drive on the motorway.
Julie Townsend: There is a difference between the speed at which people drive and their behaviour, and views about what is the most appropriate limit.
Rob Gifford: I would like to make one point, Mrs Ellman. I wanted to add to Mr Baker’s line, that we should not forget that there are a lot of people who don’t have a car and who therefore will not be displaying a view one way or another about a speed limit. There are a number of people who probably like to drive on the motorway at 70 mph; I plead guilty myself. We may be causing road rage among Mr Heymer’s members-I don’t know-when my wife and I are on the motorway. To make a policy change on the basis of a smaller minority of drivers is questionable, and it would not be one that I would make if I was the Secretary of State. I would be focused more on safety.
Mr Harris: For the record, Mrs Ellman, I may well be one of Mr Heymer’s hypocrites, because I support the current speed limit of 70 mph and regularly travel above 70 mph.
Chair: We will move on quickly.
Q140 Julie Hilling: I want to change the subject completely and ask about fitness to drive, what effect you think that has, and whether there should be any changes. I am particularly thinking about sleep apnoea and eyesight. Do you think there should be more done in those areas?
Julie Townsend: We are concerned that poor driver eyesight is a widespread problem.5 It is one of these issues where we don’t have a clear picture of the number of casualties exactly that result from poor driver eyesight. However, we have indications from surveys of drivers that there is a large proportion of the driving population that are not getting their eyes tested regularly, and a large proportion of drivers who should be wearing glasses or lenses but regularly do not when they drive. We have evidence of the very significant effects that poor eyesight has on driving performance. 6 7
We have a European directive coming in that aims to standardise driver eyesight standards across the EU.8 We believe that what we have in place at the moment is not adequate to ensure that drivers on our roads have an appropriate standard of eyesight. We don’t believe that the number plate test is adequate. It does not look at peripheral vision and it is not an accurate measure of visual acuity, which is the one thing it does look at. We believe we should be having proper scientific eyesight tests at the point of taking your test and on a regular basis thereafter. We have suggested that demonstrating that you have had an eyesight test every 10 years at the same time as renewing your photocard is an option that the Government should be looking at to ensure appropriate standards among drivers.
Q141 Julie Hilling: What about sleep apnoea?
Julie Townsend: In terms of sleep apnoea, again we don’t have an accurate picture of the number of casualties that are resulting from this problem, but we have indications that it is likely to be a widespread problem, particularly among commercial vehicle drivers.9 We believe that there is a wider issue with the Government needing to do more to engage fleet operators, in particular, in promoting best practice and encouraging policies and procedures to reduce road risk among at-work drivers, such as introducing screening for sleep apnoea. There is very little contained within the strategic framework in terms of promoting fleet safety. There is nothing contained within the action plan in the strategic framework in terms of what would be delivered by Government to improve the safety of at-work drivers. We believe that is a major omission. Certainly Brake is very active in promoting fleet safety through our fleet safety forum. We no longer receive any Government support or engagement on that front as we have done in the past.
Rob Gifford: I am glad we have mentioned driving while at work, because that is an important issue, particularly on the sleep apnoea side. On eyesight, there is a key role at the point when you get to renew your photocard licence every 10 years. Just a reminder from DVLA to say, "Have you had your eyes tested recently?" might not be a bad idea. It is quite simple and does not require new regulation. It could be done by an e-mail.
There is a key role for the GP here as well. The issue of fitness to drive is not going to go away as our population ages. There is evidence that the GP does not really think about asking patients as they get older, "Are you still driving?" Some prompts to the GP about, "Remind this person about their fitness to drive as they are getting older," are really important.
Julie Townsend: We would second that, and add that we have been calling for clinical guidelines to be published on the diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnoea. We are aware of numerous cases of drivers not being swiftly diagnosed and treated for the condition, when it is a treatable condition.10 We think there is a problem there within the medical profession as well as a need for the Government to do more to engage fleets on the issue.
Q142 Graham Stringer: On the eyesight test, do you think there is a case for more regular compulsory testing of eyesight for the over-65s? There have been some horrific accidents with elderly drivers. In one case in my constituency, they did not even know that they had wiped out half a family on a road, because they basically were half-blind. Do you think there should be compulsory testing every two years after the age of 65 or 70?
Rob Gifford: I am not sure that I can categorically answer that one, to be honest. I would like to think about it. What I can say is that there is much more that we could do to intervene earlier. Some local authorities have schemes aimed at older drivers-there is SAGE in Gloucestershire and there is also a similar scheme in Suffolk-to which older drivers can refer themselves, are referred by the police if they are involved in an incident, or are referred by the GP. We do not have a national scheme of that type. It is down to individual local authorities to decide its importance. Part of that process of assessment is checking that they can pass the number plate test. There are probably some earlier interventions. I believe the eyesight test is free once you are over 60.
Graham Stringer: It is.
Rob Gifford: There is no suggestion that that should be removed. Again, the optician ought to be asking, "Are you still driving?" I am not sure that that is always a prompt question within the actual eye test. We could be doing more preventative work, if you see what I mean, as well as the regulatory work.
Q143 Graham Stringer: Is there any evidence about whether lighting on motorways reduces accidents? There is possibly more data now that lights are switched off for five hours during the night in a way that they were not previously. Is there evidence one way or another on this?
Rob Gifford: It is interesting you should ask that question, because at a meeting of our Road Environment Working Party this afternoon we are going to talk about that very issue. Can I send you a note?
Q144 Graham Stringer: Yes.
On age, young drivers are most at risk in the year after they qualify for driving. Do you think there is a case for raising the driving age to 18?
Julie Townsend: The system that we advocate of graduated driver licensing would mean that you could not drive independently until the age of 18, if you incorporated within that a 12-month learning period. It would mean you could start learning to drive when you turn 17 and you can stipulate within that a certain number of hours of supervised tuition. Then, when you reach age 18, you can drive independently but with restrictions placed on your driving. We believe that strikes a balance between enabling new drivers who are learning young to develop experience over a longer time period and driving on a range of different types of roads in different weather conditions, but also enabling those young people who need to drive to get to work or college to start driving independently at a relatively young age, albeit with those restrictions to limit exposure to risk.
Rob Gifford: Again, we need to improve the entry points as well. There is an interesting European initiative known as Goals for Driver Education, which tries to move young drivers beyond normal vehicle control to the purpose of the journey. We need to incorporate that so that we can improve the learning as well as the post-test changes that Julie is talking about.
De facto I would suspect that most drivers are not driving until they are 18. It is probably 17 years and nine months or 10 months when they get their full licence. It is that first six months, whatever age they are, when they are most at risk and it is about improving that exposure.
Julie Townsend: About 50,000 17-year-olds pass their test each year with less than six months’ driving experience. There is a concern that we have a significant number of young people who are becoming fully licensed and hitting the road with very little driving experience under their belts, but we should also be considering in the mix the reason for many young people learning to drive young. We have seen a trend in recent years of a lot of young people delaying learning to drive until later in life, which means that the risks they face in those early years of driving, despite the inexperience, will be lower, because it is a combination of youth and inexperience that combines to put young drivers at risk.
We know from research that the reason a lot of young people are learning to drive young is due to limited access to public transport; expensive public transport; and feeling that other options are not available to them. We believe we should be looking at the bigger picture of the different transport options available to young people, as well as looking at how we can improve the safety of those who do need to drive.
Q145 Paul Maynard: Ms Townsend, you cited the Norwegian evidence. Can you confirm that that applies to if we were to introduce an 80 mph speed limit across the entire motorway network irrespective of road conditions, because it seems that one possible outcome would be a trialling of the 80 mph on only certain sections and not in wet weather? It would seem that the 25 fatalities figure is a key part of the argument.
Julie Townsend: I will go away and double-check that, but I believe that to be the case. Those figures are based on an across-the-board rise.
Q146 Paul Maynard: Even more quickly to Mr Gifford-and forgive me for trying to be fashionable-crowdsourcing, Wikipedia and Google are all big things at the moment. We have one excellent non-governmental source of information at the moment, the EuroRAP survey on how dangerous roads are, which does not feature in the Government’s strategy as far as I can see. We will be hearing later about the stillborn national speed limit database, which is crucial if we are going to have ISA. What is your view as the road safety guru of the nation, as it were? How can we-
Chair: It’s meant to be a quick one.
Paul Maynard: In these times of austerity, how can we bring these sources of information into play that don’t require Government funding? Is it anything you have given thought or consideration to?
Rob Gifford: The Government have to say it is important: the private sector, the public sector and the Big Society of road safety. I am not being flippant here. I think road safety is a very good example of the Big Society in operation. It is not central Government that does it; it is us that do it-it is a shared responsibility. If central Government said, "This matters," a lot of us would turn round and say, "Okay, we will make it happen for you."
Q147 Julian Sturdy: My question is very quick to all the panel. Is the current driving test fit for purpose? A simple yes/no answer will suffice.
Rob Gifford: No.
Julie Townsend: No.
Malcolm Heymer: No.
Q148 Julie Hilling: I have a quick question. It is on penalty points and people driving with more than 12 points on their licence. What should be done about them?
Chair: Can we have very quick answers?
Rob Gifford: We need to identify why they have been allowed to carry on. We need to talk to magistrates and tell them that they should not be. It is as simple as that.
Julie Townsend: We think it is unacceptable that such a huge proportion of drivers are allowed to carry on driving when they have been given umpteen chances to mend their ways. We already have plenty of room built into the system for people to see the error of their ways. We should not be giving them a second chance when they hit 12 points as well.
Q149 Chair: Mr Heymer, do you want to disagree with that?
Malcolm Heymer: We say it should remain at the discretion of magistrates, provided they have all the information about a particular individual’s driving history. If there are extenuating circumstances why they should be allowed to continue, then it should be down to the magistrates’ decision.
Chair: Thank you very much for coming and answering our questions.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Nick Clennett, Head of Transport Strategy, Gateshead Council, Local Government Technical Advisers Group, Peter Francis, Programme Manager, West Midlands Road Safety Partnership, Ken Wheat, Partnership Manager, South Yorkshire Safer Roads, and Simon D’Vali, Chair, West Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership, gave evidence.
Q150 Chair: Good morning, gentlemen. Would you give your name and organisation for our records?
Nick Clennett: I am Nick Clennett. I am here representing Local Government Technical Advisers Group.
Peter Francis: I am Peter Francis from the West Midlands Road Safety Partnership.
Ken Wheat: Good morning; I am Ken Wheat. I am the South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership Manager.
Simon D’Vali: I am Simon D’Vali. I am representing the West Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership.
Q151 Chair: Mr D’Vali, in the written evidence we have had from the West Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership, you talk about the Government’s strategy being "a missed opportunity to forge partnerships and continue the reductions made in road deaths and injuries." That is a pretty strong statement. Why do you say that?
Simon D’Vali: It is, Chair, but the document as it stands seems to be going back to earlier times. We have proved over the last 10 years that having targets set out in the strategy has worked very well in terms of road safety and casualty reduction. Bradford itself, as part of West Yorkshire, has also proved in the last 13 years that partnerships and partnership working is a key area for casualty reduction. We have adopted a multi-agency approach to this, bringing on board the health service, police, fire, ambulance and other professionals in and outside the field. That has given an overarching view on road safety. The current partnership just feels that this document is moving away from that. We should be looking at forging partnerships rather than holding authorities to account. That is our view.
Q152 Chair: Are there any other views on whether national targets should be maintained? Do you have views on the Government’s views on that and on what you might do locally?
Nick Clennett: It has been very useful to have targets. In terms of local authorities, it allows them to set agendas to try and meet those targets and it directs resources, although in relation to road safety I would say that road safety practitioners would always want to reduce accidents. To have those targets and to be measured against them allows you to put the resources where you need to and explain to local politicians why we do the things that we do.
Q153 Chair: Do you really need national targets? Can’t you do things locally?
Peter Francis: They provide us with the opportunity to galvanise people into action. It also sends out a message to local authorities that road safety is important. There has been a slide in the last 12 months or so where perhaps local authorities don’t see road safety with the same importance that they did previously, because there is nothing to measure them by and nobody is holding them to account.
Q154 Chair: Mr Wheat, do you have similar views?
Ken Wheat: The absence of a national target, even though perhaps there are projections and forecasts with a number associated with that, reinforces the impression to me that is given in the document that it is transferring responsibility and accountability from the Government to local authorities without perhaps acknowledging the need to support local authorities to meet those responsibilities. Local authorities have to have targets, but it would be helpful to us, when we are arguing for limited resources, to say, "These are to meet national targets."
Q155 Chair: The written evidence that you have all submitted talks about the challenges facing local government at the moment in relation to funding and removal of certain grants. Is that not something that local government could overcome if it was really concerned about road safety?
Nick Clennett: That is quite a difficult one. Local authorities across the country and road safety practitioners have worked very hard with their finance officers and chief executives to persuade them of the importance of continuing their funding, particularly for camera partnerships where all the funding has gone now. It is difficult to assess where that funding should come from. It makes it difficult for road safety officers to win the case.
Ken Wheat: One of the benefits of the road safety grant that went was that it was ring-fenced for use in road safety activity. Now that it has been rolled into the local government formula grant settlement, it is far harder to make the argument with financial officers and politicians about the value of road safety that may or may not happen when you are arguing against social services, libraries, culture, old people and young people. Those are the debates that go off in town halls in October. It is more difficult to argue that case now that that funding has been subsumed in the local government grant settlement than it was previously.
Q156 Chair: What about the skills available in local government? Has there been any reduction in officers with particular road safety skills?
Nick Clennett: My experience has been that over the last 12 months we have lost a significant number of skills, not just in road safety but across the board, due to the cuts in funding. In the majority of cases it tends to be the older people, because they are the ones who can access their pensions, so we tend to lose a lot of experience.
Q157 Chair: Is that a general picture?
Peter Francis: Yes, I would agree with that. It is not the fact that these people probably would have retired anyway in two, three or perhaps four years’ time, it is the speeding up of that process, and the lack of succession planning, that has hindered us in retaining those skills and knowledge.
Ken Wheat: In three out of the four authorities in South Yorkshire there is hardly anybody left now with road safety officer experience. If you look back to Local Government Association guidance on best practice for the number of road safety officers per authority, the guidance is one road safety officer per 50,000 population. It means that we are something like 10 road safety officers short on those guidelines because of what my colleagues said about voluntary early severance, part-time working and a lack of recruitment.
Simon D’Vali: And the removal of the road safety grant at the same time.
Q158 Mr Leech: What use do you make of local authority powers to reduce speed limits to 20 mph?
Simon D’Vali: In West Yorkshire we adopt a local area committee system, which is a devolved responsibility down to local level. The powers from the executive function of the council are removed to a local area to allow our members to make decisions on that. We still operate within the guidance of current national legislation. We take on board the relaxation that has come in recently from the various documents that we use on how we go about processing that, but the local authority is able to determine speed limits at a very localised level, which is good for us.
Ken Wheat: We make use of the legislation in South Yorkshire and have a small number of 20 mph areas. South Yorkshire Police, however, have a current policy that they don’t enforce 20 mph areas because they don’t have the resources or the technology to do so. We have to look at implementing engineering measures to engineer the speeds down to 20 mph so that they are effectively self-enforcing them. There is an issue then of the money you have to spend and the popularity or unpopularity of them when you start introducing traffic- calming measures.
Q159 Mr Leech: Would you prefer the police to enforce the 20 mph zones?
Ken Wheat: Certainly, but I do understand the police’s issues and problems with that. There are other ways of tackling it through Community Speed Watch and things like that. We are awaiting the new legislation that is promised-the change to the circular.
Q160 Mr Leech: Why would the police see that as any more resource-intensive than enforcing the 30 mph speed limit?
Ken Wheat: I personally cannot speak for the police, but my impression is that it is much more resource-intensive in terms of having bobbies on the beat, if you like. The current technology-cameras-is not type-approved in order to be able to secure a successful prosecution. That is my understanding of the situation, but, as I say, I cannot speak for South Yorkshire Police.
Q161 Mr Leech: Is that the same experience in other areas?
Simon D’Vali: I would say in terms of West Yorkshire that it mirrors very much what Ken has said there. Roads policing is down to a level now where it is just another part of the cuts that the police are facing. It is just another thing to do. I am sure that is how it is seen.
Q162 Mr Leech: Is that fair? In my experience that has been going on for many years, where the police have seemed reluctant to enforce speed limits on local roads or to put enough resources into it.
Simon D’Vali: In terms of what we have now in West Yorkshire, we have dedicated roads policing teams. Before, with the road safety grant, we would have supported that financially by paying for certain items. For example, when a roads traffic unit wanted to go out and do enforcement, we would pay for their time to go and do that out of the road safety grant. That money is no longer there; so it is just another drain on the resources that were there previously. I dare say the extra 20 mph zone is just something that is on top of more roads policing.
Q163 Chair: Is that work continuing? Has that gap been filled by the police?
Simon D’Vali: Things have changed since the road safety grant was removed, in that we have dedicated roads policing teams. However, they are shared between various authorities. I would not like to comment that we have any more or less roads policing in those areas. It just seems to be another drain on a resource in terms of having manpower to do a job.
Q164 Mr Leech: Could changes in legislation be made to make it cheaper to introduce 20 mph zones by reducing the amount of legal work that needs to be carried out to change the speed limit?
Ken Wheat: That is planned. The Government are planning that.
Q165 Chair: That is under the current plans.
Ken Wheat: Yes, but, as I understand it, the guidance-the circular-that advises on how that is to be done, and advises local authorities on the national approach, has yet to be released.
Q166 Chair: But you think that will be helpful in doing this.
Ken Wheat: That will be helpful.
Q167 Mr Leech: What impact will that have on the cost of implementing a 20 mph speed limit?
Nick Clennett: Most local authorities are putting 20 mph speed limits in. Of course, you have the "20’s Plenty" approach, which is not backed up with legislation but is there to try and encourage. Obviously you cannot enforce that. If you take a more engineered approach with traffic regulation orders and signage, obviously it is a bit more expensive but much more robust. You want to be evidence-led in how you deal with 20 mph zones. The Association of Chief Police Officers’ stance on 20 mph is that they want certain criteria to be in place before they will enforce it. That basically says that people travel at 20 mph or within that region already, and therefore it is an exception where people travel over that, which makes it quite difficult. Local authorities are very much in favour of 20 mph, but the most serious accidents are not happening between 20 mph and 30mph.
Q168 Chair: Are there new regulations coming in which are going to make it easier to implement 20 mph zones? Are you aware of anything?
Nick Clennett: I am not unhappy with the legislation as it is.
Q169 Mr Leech: Do you all support a reduction in the default limit to 20 mph?
Simon D’Vali: In certain areas. We need to be careful that we don’t suddenly say that every site is suitable for a 20 mph zone.
Q170 Mr Leech: That is not what I was suggesting. I was suggesting that the default would be 20 mph, and then roads where 20 mph was not appropriate could be rated at 30 mph or 40 mph or whatever it might be.
Simon D’Vali: That is only at a local level.
Nick Clennett: That is certainly worth exploring.
Q171 Chair: At a local level.
Ken Wheat: Our Safer Roads Partnership supports the "20’s Plenty" initiative. We don’t have a policy, as I understand it, on whether we support a default of 20 mph. You certainly have to separate casualty reduction from anxiety relief in an argument like this. Thank goodness we don’t get that many killed and seriously injured casualties in residential areas where there would be the default. Certainly, if the default is 20 mph, then for it to be effective it has to be enforced. The speeds have to come down to that default limit. That is the issue for me. It is how you enforce, introduce and fund a 20 mph default.
Q172 Mr Leech: Isn’t the issue at the moment that when people move into a 20 mph zone it seems a slow speed, so therefore they are less likely to stick to 20 mph, whereas if you have a default limit of 20 mph people would be used to driving slower?
Ken Wheat: I take your point.
Q173 Graham Stringer: A number of very young people are killed on the roads on off-road vehicles such as mini motors. Do you think those vehicles should be brought into a registration scheme or regulated system?
Chair: There are no views.
Graham Stringer: It surprises me that there is no response, because there are a number of young people killed on our roads every year with these off-road vehicles. I am surprised that there is no response on how you deal with that problem.
Simon D’Vali: Is it a particular problem? I am not aware that that is any higher priority than any other aspect of child KSIs on the network.
Q174 Graham Stringer: There are children, in effect, driving off-road vehicles on roads, and they are often squashed by lorries and buses. Sometimes the vehicles themselves break down and it does not even involve another vehicle, but young people are killed every year on the roads on off-road vehicles.
Ken Wheat: We certainly have an issue with off-road motorcycling, but those casualties, if they are off-road, don’t feature in our casualty stats. If they are off-roading and they have an accident or incident on the roads, then they do feature in our casualty stats. Our casualty stats in South Yorkshire don’t record a great number of road traffic collisions involving off-road vehicles, if that answers your question.
Q175 Graham Stringer: It doesn’t really.
Ken Wheat: We have an issue with off-road vehicles, but they are being driven off-road.
Q176 Graham Stringer: But sometimes they are being driven on road.
Ken Wheat: They have accidents off-road and they feature in casualty stats in terms of hospital admissions, but they don’t feature in terms of road traffic collisions that are reported to the police. Where those off-road vehicles are involved in a road traffic collision then they are recorded by the police, but in South Yorkshire we don’t have a problem with off-road vehicles having on-road collisions.
Q177 Paul Maynard: That answer has just demonstrated why national targets distort local priorities. You have just said you have an issue, but you won’t do something about it because it does not feature in your casualty targets. Would that be a correct interpretation?
Ken Wheat: Not quite, because it would feature in our casualty targets if they were road traffic collisions.
Q178 Paul Maynard: But they are on private land, so you don’t do anything about it. I don’t want to labour the point. It is just an observation.
Ken Wheat: We do do something about it.
Q179 Chair: Is it recorded anywhere?
Ken Wheat: It is recorded in hospital admission statistics.
Q180 Paul Maynard: To what use do you put the Road Safety Action Plan and the outcome measurements? How do they impact on the work you do? What use do you make of them?
Nick Clennett: Evidence-led solutions are very important. The evidence that we collect, however those statistics are collected, is very important in determining how we tackle road safety incidents. There is a lot of value in them as long as what we are measuring can be measured and understood.
Ken Wheat: In South Yorkshire our strategy, which is called "Making South Yorkshire Roads Safer", is a 10-year strategy. It very much follows the aims and ambitions of the Government’s document. Our performance measurements are based upon the outcomes framework and the action plans in the Government’s framework, with certain adjustments for local issues. As the gentleman said, we are evidence-led; so we look at the evidence, formulate the strategy and measure our performance. That informs the review of the strategy, which is reviewed every year, and the process continues.
Q181 Paul Maynard: In your local strategy you presumably have local targets, do you?
Nick Clennett: Yes.
Ken Wheat: We have set aims.
Q182 Paul Maynard: I want to ask Mr Clennett this question directly. One of the more powerful pieces of evidence we had last week was that the injury rate per 100,000 in the east midlands was twice what it was in the north-east. What are you doing in the north-east that they are not doing in the east midlands?
Nick Clennett: I can tell you what we are doing in the north-east, obviously-
Q183 Paul Maynard: But what are they not doing in the east midlands? I am sure you are all doing wonderful things, but why are you twice as safe as the east midlands? Are you so much better or are they so much worse?
Chair: What do you think you are doing right, Mr Clennett?
Nick Clennett: In the north-east there are two camera partnerships, which are very powerful tools for road safety. One covers the Cleveland area and the other covers the Northumberland police area.
Q184 Paul Maynard: Do they have no traffic cameras in the east midlands?
Nick Clennett: They will have traffic cameras; it is all linked together. Certainly the Northumbria Safer Roads initiative has a very strong publicity and education campaign. That is a very important element in road safety. It is not just about catching people and enforcing by doing engineering. Education, publicity, promotion and training are vitally important, particularly for vulnerable road users. We do an awful lot of work on that.
Simon D’Vali: I want to clarify a few points there. It is very easy to look at authorities on performance in terms of a casualty level. There are areas of casualty reduction that are outside the remit of road safety or, indeed, there are other factors that play a part in that, such as social deprivation and unemployment. It is not just the geographical make-up and the capital work that we do or even the revenue work like education. There are other themes that may not feature in the framework that have a substantial effect on the rates of casualties in certain areas around the country.
Q185 Chair: There are other things you are doing that might not be technically-
Simon D’Vali: There are other things outside the remit of what we actually do.
Q186 Paul Maynard: That does not appear to explain why the more affluent parts of England are the more dangerous roads, according to these indicators. You have all stressed the importance of national targets, having a national strategy and a degree of national leadership. Yet you also speak of what you are doing at a regional level in your own areas. To what extent do you think that, by focusing on the lack of a national target, you are somehow trying to avoid accountability for what is occurring in your own regions? How do you have accountability for what occurs in your own regions?
Simon D’Vali: We have accountability now.
Q187 Paul Maynard: To whom?
Simon D’Vali: To the community as a whole.
Q188 Paul Maynard: How is that exercised?
Nick Clennett: Through our local transport plan.
Simon D’Vali: Exactly. That would be the LTPs and work with the integrated transport authority.
Q189 Paul Maynard: What happens if you don’t achieve safer roads?
Nick Clennett: We will still be challenged on whether or not we meet our targets locally.
Q190 Paul Maynard: What happens to you if you don’t? Are there any sanctions?
Simon D’Vali: We used to be led on performance-related grants that used to come out. They were stopped some time ago. That still does not stop us striving for safer roads. The consequences of that are that road casualties go up. What we are trying to say here is that we have an approach where we can all understand that there is a problem, and leadership from the top down is very important. However, we must not ignore the fact that a lot of what we do is bottom up. It is community-led, but it needs direction from central Government and the DfT.
Peter Francis: In the west midlands our road safety partnership board is made up of elected members from each of the local authorities. That will be put through to the planning and transportation sub-committee for the west midlands. I am often called to account to that higher committee to explain performance, to set out a plan for the next 12 months and to identify how we are going to tackle those issues by working in partnership. On a personal level, I feel that I am constantly being scrutinised about how we are doing through various committees which are led by elected members.
Q191 Chair: You are called to account by elected members, basically.
Peter Francis: Yes.
Q192 Julie Hilling: I want to ask a question on speed cameras. Since the lack of funding for speed cameras has there been a reduction in speed cameras in your areas? What do you think the effect of that has been?
Nick Clennett: Speaking for Tyne and Wear and Northumberland, we work very hard with the chief executives and the police to secure the funding, because we have used the NDORS money as well as funding from the local authorities to keep the partnership moving forward. The risk there, of course, is whether we catch people committing offences who end up on training courses. If people continue to commit offences, it will continue in force, but if that does not occur then that funding will dry up.
Ken Wheat: As a result of the funding issues, but also as a result of good business practice, South Yorkshire is reviewing all of its cameras, including fixed cameras. We have a decommissioning strategy that is looking at reducing, over a period of time, from 57 fixed cameras that we have at the moment to something like 35.
Q193 Chair: What is that based on? What is the reason for doing that?
Ken Wheat: That is based on a year’s worth of data from the fixed camera sites measuring speed and volume, as well as a look at the casualty rates and also alternatives that could do the same job, such as variable message signing and speed information devices and so on.
Q194 Julie Hilling: Where the speed is being kept down, you are then going to decommission the cameras.
Ken Wheat: We will decommission the cameras.
Q195 Julie Hilling: Don’t you think the speed may be being kept down because there is a camera there?
Ken Wheat: No, because we bag the camera over and study it over a period of a year, as I say. We don’t just leave the camera housing in place.
Q196 Julie Hilling: As a motorist who hates speed cameras, but as a person living in a community that loves them, when I think there is a speed camera I make sure, as I am sure we all do, that I am travelling at the appropriate speed.
Ken Wheat: But the camera is bagged over and it is quite clear it is decommissioned. The trial runs for a year.
Q197 Julie Hilling: Do you have a big sign up saying, "Camera decommissioned"?
Ken Wheat: Effectively, yes.
Q198 Julie Hilling: But don’t you have a sign at the start of it that says, "Traffic enforcement cameras on this stretch of road"? Do you get rid of all of that?
Ken Wheat: All of that signage that goes with the warning is removed.
Peter Francis: We would probably come down on your side in the west midlands. We tend to leave the camera housings in place because the partnership does believe there is a deterrent effect, even though we don’t actually deploy to them. We only deploy to about 90 of our 300 cameras because that is all we can afford to do at present. We deploy to the most risky sites-what we grade as red/amber sites. Clearly there is a partnership view among the elected members that leaving housings in situ does have a deterrent effect, although there are probably one or two we would like to take out.
Q199 Mr Leech: I have a follow-on question for Mr Francis. You say that about a third of your cameras are active.
Peter Francis: Yes.
Q200 Mr Leech: Do you keep it quiet as to which ones are active and which ones are not?
Peter Francis: We are required now to publish data from each of the sites. We think that is a bit of a disadvantage to us, because we do have an increase in vandalism and damage at those sites that have clearly been identified as the most active sites. That again pushes further cost down to local authorities, because we either have to repair them or do something with them to restore them to looking like they are being used.
Q201 Mr Leech: We have two safety partnerships who have taken a completely different view on whether or not to bag them over or leave them there. From your experience of talking to other safety partnerships around the country, do most people follow Mr Francis’s model or Mr Wheat’s model?
Nick Clennett: We have certainly decommissioned sites, but based on evidence that speeds and accidents have reduced. A lot have simply been very historical, before camera partnerships were formed. They were dealing with the perception of problems rather than real accidents.
Simon D’Vali: We would follow exactly what Nick has said there. At the end of the day, before the legislation was in place, certainly some cameras around the UK were installed on a perception basis-I would not use the word "whimsical"- rather than its being data-led. We would look to decommissioning those if that was the case.
Q202 Julie Hilling: I want to come back on what you were saying. It seemed to me that you were saying there is a bit of a perfect storm of the road safety grant going; cuts to police officers, road safety officers and engineers; and cuts to speed cameras. Is it your opinion that there is, and therefore what should be done, and are there specific things being lost in terms of road safety within what you seemed to be describing as a storm?
Nick Clennett: It might be too early to tell. When you look at the dedication of the remaining officers in dealing with road safety, because for engineers road safety is the top of the list, that dedication helps to overcome some of those problems but does not mean that there won’t be a longer-term problem as we fail to have proper succession planning.
Ken Wheat: There has been a bit of a storm. Certainly in South Yorkshire, we are sailing into calmer waters because there has been a policy shift. The policy shift has really been to educate errant drivers rather than to penalise them. That has allowed us an opportunity through the Safety Camera Partnership to introduce things like driver improvement and speed awareness courses, which generate some income to allow us to put that back into road safety initiatives. We are only just emerging into the light following that storm. One of the things we have been very keen to keep going is the Safety Camera Partnership, because that does allow us to introduce these educational-type activities rather than the penalising activities. The police are recognising errant driver behaviour rather than criminal driver behaviour. It is quite encouraging that if we follow that policy shift-
Q203 Chair: So you are looking at that different approach.
Ken Wheat: That is the area that we are looking at in South Yorkshire.
Q204 Chair: Are there any other comments?
Peter Francis: Our concern is that we need to be cautious about trying to develop a strategy which is based on raising income rather than the safety issue. We are quite concerned about our safety camera strategies being about trying to make as much money as we can.
Q205 Chair: Do you think that is a danger at the moment?
Peter Francis: It is a danger. We have had quite a lot of splits among the partnership as to how we make that work. Certainly from a local authority point of view, they still have the liability for the upkeep of the housings on their highway, but they don’t have any income to do that, because the income runs through the speed awareness courses, which the police and the company who run the courses keep for themselves.
Q206 Chair: There is a company running the course.
Peter Francis: There is a private company running the course, which of course is not accountable to any of us as such.
Q207 Chair: Are there any other comments? Do you have anything additional, Mr D’Vali?
Simon D’Vali: Going back to the effects of this in West Yorkshire, the figures are not in yet, but the early indications are that we are seeing a slight increase in child KSIs across West Yorkshire. There could be multiple reasons for that. As Nick pointed out, it is quite early to start pointing the finger or looking at the reasons why, but it is the loss of certain grants like the road safety grant and elements where we have money for education and training purposes where we would see these knock-on effects. That now goes into the councils for general consideration against other budgets. It is these types of things where we would see this knock-on effect.
Q208 Chair: We would like to have some information on what the trend is from the data.
Simon D’Vali: We will know more clearly in six months’ time. We generally go January to January, and the figures will be released this week.
Q209 Chair: When you have them, it would be helpful for us to have them.
Ken Wheat: I can certainly confirm and let you have South Yorkshire’s provisional figures. As Simon said, we mirror that in South Yorkshire. Our provisional figures are that KSIs have gone up this year, as have child KSIs. It is too early to say what the reason is for that because things like this are complex. When there has been a low point you may have a bounce back.
Chair: If you let us have whatever information you have, it would be helpful for us. Thank you very much, gentlemen, for coming and answering our questions.
<?oasys [np[pg6,cwe1] ?>Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor Oliver Carsten, Professor of Transport Safety, Institute for Transport Studies, and Richard Cuerden, Technical Director for Vehicle Safety, Transport Research Laboratory, gave evidence.
Q210 Chair: Good morning, gentlemen, and welcome to the Transport Select Committee. Could I have your name and organisation for our records?
Richard Cuerden: My name is Richard Cuerden. I am from the Transport Research Laboratory.
Professor Carsten: I am Oliver Carsten. I am from the University of Leeds Institute for Transport Studies.
Q211 Chair: The written evidence we have had from you suggests that you are very dismissive of the Government’s approach and don’t think they are looking at proper use of Intelligent Speed Adaptation. Could you tell us why you feel so concerned, Mr Carsten?
Professor Carsten: Yes. In many ways Intelligent Speed Adaptation fits in entirely with the Government framework, the "nudge" strategy and the idea of encouraging road users to behave better. What has been disappointing is the lack of follow-through on that. We need to get away from the idea that the only way to make drivers obey the speed limit is to enforce speed limits because there will always be gaps where drivers are complying. We have heard that on the motorway network. In its advisory form, which we have been testing in Lancashire and where we are getting positive results in greater compliance with speed limits across the board, particularly in that purely advisory form of adding a speed limit to a sat-nav, you would think the Government would be really gung-ho about promoting that-and they are not. They are very dismissive of it in their own way. They would rather it went away, I think, and I find that extremely disappointing. We should be taking advantage of new technology where it can deliver. Where we know it is effective we should use it, particularly where the benefit-to-cost ratio is so high.
This is something that is extraordinarily cheap to deploy. We are talking about £10 million to £20 million to create a national speed limit map. Yet so far we have managed to do three highway authorities or three areas of the country. As far as I know, London is not even being maintained; so we may be going backwards.
Q212 Chair: You say that development of these speed limit maps has been curtailed.
Professor Carsten: The previous Government was encouraging highway authorities, albeit very slowly, to develop the map. They were giving a little bit of a nudge and extra money through the road safety partnership grants and whatever. That was slowly happening. It was happening far too slowly, because I don’t really see why it should take 20 to 30 years to do something as simple as moving from pieces of paper sitting in people’s drawers that record where the signs are to an electronic database. It is something that is unbelievably straightforward to do. It cost £230,000 to do the whole of London. In Lancashire it cost about £150,000 to get that accurate information. We are talking peanuts here, and big benefits, if we can get people to comply voluntarily. People indicate that they like the system and favour its deployment. We just need a bit of central leadership.
Q213 Paul Maynard: You have just said now that your understanding was that the Government wished this would go away. Is that your perception or is it based upon something specific that has occurred?
Professor Carsten: Yes, it has occurred specifically: they have stopped any funding through the road safety partnership grant scheme for the development of the maps. As I put in my evidence as well, there are various other tweaks that one could do to encourage the deployment of Intelligent Speed Adaptation that have not happened. One example is Euro NCAP. Under the Euro NCAP advanced initiative there is Intelligent Speed Adaptation on the table to encourage the car manufacturers to fit it, so they would get points.
I asked the Department for Transport whether I could get paid to go as an expert, as I knew the Department for Transport itself was not sending one. I was told that in the current political climate that is not favoured. That was the answer.
Q214 Paul Maynard: Financially, the Government have said, "We are not funding this project any more." Have they indicated to you that they are actively hostile to the concept or is it merely that the money isn’t there to proceed at this moment, because that is an important distinction?
Professor Carsten: No, it isn’t money. Let us just be clear. What I was asking for in going to Euro NCAP was travel expenses to go to three meetings in Europe.
Q215 Paul Maynard: More generally, your £10 million to £20 million.
Professor Carsten: The £10 million to £20 million was not necessarily going to be Government money. That was going to be partnership money. They would probably have to put up half or less of that to get it to happen. We are talking very small sums of money. Yes, they have completely stopped that. What is going to happen now of course is that, even if motorists want to be advised about it and even if the satellite navigation systems and other providers want to provide the information, they cannot because we don’t have a national database. Maybe there will be some highway authorities that do it, but driving is not a local thing. People don’t just drive in one particular area. They don’t drive just in London or Lancashire. They go across the borders, one community to another. They will expect national speed limit support. It is only natural that you would want that.
Q216 Paul Maynard: You have referred to the sat-nav companies. The emergence of sat-nav was a commercial innovation in itself, although it initially arose out of American military GPS research. Why can’t the sat-nav companies themselves aggregate this information and deliver the product you want?
Professor Carsten: They can aggregate the information but they cannot aggregate it accurately. How is a sat-nav company to know when a local street has gone from a 30 mph speed limit to 20 mph? Unless they have spies in every highway authority, they could not possibly acquire that information.
Q217 Paul Maynard: They could ask the highway authority.
Professor Carsten: They could ask the highway authority to supply it, but that is exactly what we need. We need a structure in place to provide this information, and that is what is lacking.
Q218 Chair: Are you saying that is what is required?
Professor Carsten: Yes. We need a national structure to provide a central database that can then be sucked into the various authorities. As I said, we are talking about a cost here of something like 10 or 20 fatalities. We are talking very small amounts of money. It is far less than we spend on speed cameras and so on. To me it beggars belief that it has not been done.
Q219 Paul Maynard: While I am sympathetic to the points you are raising, you are curiously making me less inclined to criticise the Government over this by what I might call your obstinacy over looking at how we might achieve this very important goal in an age of austerity where we need to find new ways of doing things. Could you explain to me very clearly once again why the only way this can be done is by the Government putting their hand in their pocket?
Professor Carsten: I don’t think we are talking about the Government putting their hand in their pocket to anything more than a negligible extent.
Q220 Paul Maynard: That is a lot of money to some people.
Professor Carsten: Let me just make it clear at the moment how speed limit orders are processed. A local authority processes a speed limit order at the moment and then has to notify central Government that it has been done. There is already a procedure and storage in place, but it is all done by paper. We need to make all that mechanism electronic. That does not mean it would cost more; it would probably cost less. It would be more effective. The highway authority would notify that it wants to change the speed limit on a particular road at a particular time, push a button and send that off to a central database. It is just the initial putting together of that database that is lacking. There is no drive to do it.
I suspect that, even if it was co-ordinated nationally and everybody was brought together, it could probably be done for far less than the £10 million I have talked about because many highway authorities would be willing to invest in it. We are talking about leadership rather than finance.
Q221 Iain Stewart: I would like to have a clear idea of what Intelligent Speed Adaptation can achieve. Are you envisaging that you look at the current maximum road speeds across the network and then, if a driver exceeds it, there would be a warning or some sort of limitation, or are you envisaging it becoming something more adaptive so that on a road the speed limit might be 60 mph but the conditions at that time, be it temperature or volume of traffic, warrant a 50 mph limit as an advisory limit? Do you envisage this scheme giving that sort of information to drivers?
Professor Carsten: We can already give extra information to drivers. In our Lancashire map we added in locations where there were known problems: in other words, speed-related crashes-for example, sharp curves on rural roads. You can easily compile those into a map and then you can advise people about an appropriate speed for a curve. All those things can be done extra. We could of course have some communication system so that when you were driving on a managed motorway you got the current speed limit on your dashboard. Further, we could move to pretty flexible limits. We have had some discussion earlier about whether speed limits should be in 10 mph increments. We have 1930s technology with signs on posts. Eventually, when every car has the technology, we are going to move to fully dynamic speed limits where people are advised and told about the speed limit for the circumstance at the particular time, given the current conditions.
Q222 Mr Leech: I want to ask a very different question. Do either of you know what proportion of the current motorway network does not have a 70 mph speed limit?
Chair: Mr Cuerden, can you help us on that?
Richard Cuerden: No. Do you want it in terms of miles?
Mr Leech: Yes.
Richard Cuerden: I could find out and let you know.
Q223 Mr Leech: On the M60, the Manchester ring road, there is a section around Stockport on the clockwise bit that has a 50 mph limit rather than a 70 mph limit. My concern is whether, if we increase the speed limit to 80 mph, enough work has been done on what sections of the motorway network would not be considered to be appropriate to increase the speed limit from 70 mph to 80 mph. Has any work like that been done, to the best of your knowledge?
Richard Cuerden: The Highways Agency has a pretty good understanding of its network in terms of motorways and major roads. There is quite a large evidence base on where incidents are happening and the speed limits. I do not know what has happened more recently with the talk of going to 80 mph. My view would be that a universal jump to 80 mph is not a terribly sensible thing to do, but there is data there to look at. I just don’t know if it has fully analysed it.
Q224 Mr Leech: Do you know whether there is any data on the sections of motorway where the speed limit is consistently reduced? Do you know whether or not there is more breaking of the speed limit in those areas of the network?
Richard Cuerden: That is a great question. I don’t believe that is altogether national. Locally, it may be held, but not nationally. That would be a piece of work to try and collate some information there.
Professor Carsten: On the managed motorway network-the M42, M25 and so on-when speed limits are brought down, then the speed limits are also enforced. Motorists know that, so they comply with those. I don’t know, on the general motorway network, with the 50s, 40s and 60s, without camera support, whether those speed limits are violated more or less than they are on 70 mph stretches.
Q225 Mr Leech: There is fairly strong anecdotal and empirical evidence that the managed motorways around the M42 work very well. This is just anecdotal evidence, but when I drive along that section of the M60, there is not very much evidence of people slowing down through the section at 50 mph. My concern is whether or not, if we have a speed limit of 80 mph, we will see a big increase in accidents where the speed limit is already lower, because car drivers will be going even faster in areas where the speed limit is supposed to be lower.
Professor Carsten: I could not answer that.
Q226 Mr Leech: You are not aware of any evidence.
Professor Carsten: No.
Q227 Chair: If we look at the Government’s road safety strategy generally, do you think there is enough emphasis on technology there? I don’t want to get back to the specific issue, which we have aired very fully, but how do you see that strategy in relation to using technology for road safety?
Richard Cuerden: From a personal point of view, I have worked in vehicle technologies now for about 20 years. In the work that TRL and my colleagues have done, we have identified that if you look at the casualty savings over that time they have been attributed to the vehicle and vehicle technology, and perhaps an awful lot to secondary safety in recent years, the Euro NCAP stuff, so when the car crashes, how well are the people in that vehicle or outside of it protected? That is very briefly covered within the strategy.
There is mention of the move toward the newer technologies, the crash avoidance technologies, but again, very briefly, what are those technologies, and what should we be looking to do, be it Intelligent Speed Adaptation, advanced braking systems, blind spots or lane departure warnings-the list goes on and on.
When I speak to motor manufacturers they often talk about loads of technologies being out there, but which ones are going to work? It is a bit like being in a sweet shop for them. They can choose all these technologies and the consumer can go and buy a car or a truck or whatever they want with all these different gadgets on board, but understanding how effective they are is key. If we don’t prioritise those, how can we promote the best technologies going forward?
Q228 Chair: Do we know what is effective?
Richard Cuerden: Yes and no. There is never a simple answer; I am sorry. We have some good evidence on perhaps the easy wins-things like making sure people wear seatbelts is a good way forward. There are things like managing speed, or at least taking speed out of the collision. We looked at collisions and how often people brake, and, when there has been a crash, how many people got their foot on to the brake pedal and braked significantly. We had about 50%. Half of the people out there who are crashing don’t have time, don’t react quickly enough, or for whatever reason don’t brake in a crash. If you had some technology on board that would brake the car for those people when the car detects that they are not doing perhaps what they ought to do and a collision is imminent, it is going to happen-you could save lives and reduce injury.
Q229 Chair: What are the barriers to developing and promoting things like that?
Richard Cuerden: That is a great question. All of this technology is governed at a European level, as I see it. A lot of my work now is through Europe. If you want to encourage, you are going to do it in one of two ways. You are either going to regulate for it or put it into a consumer test, a Euro NCAP-type system, so that the consumer will be so aware of it that they will want to purchase it, or you are going to make manufacturers all play on a level playing-field. The barriers at the moment on some of these issues are lack of understanding of which horses to back and having the evidence to say, "That’s the technology we really ought to be going for."
Q230 Chair: Who should be producing that evidence? What I am trying to work out is, if this knowledge is around, what needs to be done to make a difference?
Professor Carsten: I don’t think the knowledge is around on many of these systems. For example, if we want to prevent fatigue-related accidents or road departure crashes, there is some knowledge around. Generally, that knowledge is acquired through real-world trials. For example, they are often European-funded and sometimes conducted in different parts of the world such as North America, Australia or wherever. We need to gain the evidence to prove what is effective. There is only any point in giving points stuck to systems at Euro NCAP, or promoting directives on systems, if we know they are going to be effective.
Q231 Chair: Who should be responsible for working that out?
Professor Carsten: That is partly an EU responsibility, but it is also partly a Government responsibility in the UK, so that they have the evidence when they go to the EU table and can say, "Do we support this directive?", or "Do we support promoting this system over another?", to go for what is most effective and what is the least cost option in terms of that effectiveness.
Q232 Chair: Do you think enough is being done at a national level to do this?
Professor Carsten: In the past we have been fairly active in carrying out research on these vehicle technologies. That is another area where everything has stopped completely. As far as I know, the Government have not funded any major research in the new technologies area or new vehicle systems in the last couple of years. One of the things that is lacking as well is a little bit of leg-up or support for European research. When TRL or the University of Leeds get involved in European research projects we are not paid the full cost of doing it. A few tens of thousands of pounds, not millions even, but hundreds of thousands of pounds so that we do not lose money on doing that research, which of course makes us reluctant to participate, would be a great help. That is not forthcoming at the moment.
Richard Cuerden: With regard to the other big part of the evidence base from which we have benefited, the UK has been a world leader in terms of the accident studies we have taken over perhaps 30 or 40 years now, but certainly in the last 10 or 15 years. There are plans in place now to start some in-depth accident studies again, which is great news. These are going to provide us with the information of what works and does not work. It helps to identify the problem. What you get from police data and trials are really good indicators, but it is quite high level.
If you are looking at something quite complicated-whether a certain braking system is better than another one or whether a seatbelt system with an airbag, pre-tensioner and load limiter and all of the different technologies on board are effective for everybody from my mum to my children who may be in the vehicle-we need that high level of information. Industry cannot provide that. That is something on which Government have to lead, in a consortium ideally, but getting that in-depth data is crucial. My personal view is that you then get a little bit of a leg-up for UK plc because we have this unique asset that we can take to Europe and other places and use.
Q233 Chair: Can I go back to the Department for Transport’s road safety strategy, which is what we are discussing here? Would you say that the issues you are talking about are reflected sufficiently in that general approach?
Professor Carsten: I think they are slightly reflected in the general approach. The general tenor of the road safety framework is one that decisions should be devolved to local authorities. First, local authorities clearly cannot make decisions on vehicle systems. That is incongruous. Secondly, for more technology-based solutions it is said that the Government can rely on vehicle manufacturers and Europe to do it. That is all very well, but the Government need to be a player or UK plc, research establishments, vehicle manufacturers and other technology providers need to work together. That is generally done through research and other initiatives. If the vehicle manufacturers were asked, "Do you have the knowledge to give or provide all the answers?", they will say, "No, we need further research; we need a bit of assistance in doing it. We need the evidence base to know what is most effective." Of course, we want the institutions to promote what is most effective. I don’t see the way that that knowledge is going to be acquired within the framework.
Q234 Chair: Mr Cuerden, do you want to add to that?
Richard Cuerden: I am an engineer, so I am biased; I will put my hand up on this. The strategy is education and enforcement, and then there is a bit of engineering in that. There is a bit of vehicle technology. That is the way I could see it.
Q235 Chair: You put engineering and technology third.
Richard Cuerden: It does not necessarily do it third. I have not counted the words or the spaces, but it is quite a small part of the document. That said, there are some good things written in there. They are quite high level and I would like to see them go further. My example would be that, if we now know that we have an issue because we see more older people using vehicles, whether they are driving or have more passengers within them, and we know that we have a Euro NCAP crash test which is really high severity, that means that a manufacturer makes a seatbelt and an airbag system to work in a high-speed crash to get the best points. If then most of us have crashes at more moderate speeds, at slower speeds, and we are more vulnerable because we are ageing and becoming less tolerant to injury, we could see more people having more chest injuries through seatbelt loading. I suspect we are doing that now. We have written some work on it recently which seems to indicate that.
If you want to make a change there, you have to go to Europe or through a consumer testing group. You have to say, "We probably need two tests. We have one in Europe for impact already. I now want to produce a second one." You can imagine the cost for manufacturers. Why on earth would they want to do that unless there is some really good evidence to support why you would do it? The only reason you would want to do it is because you could show that now and in future you are going to save lives and prevent all the cost to the NHS that we are currently paying out through thoracic trauma. My argument is that there is quite a lot of saving you can get from the engineering that is not coming out of the strategy to me as a reader.
Q236 Chair: Could you give any kind of assessment of the significance of the potential in this whole engineering sector to save lives or prevent injuries? Are we talking about something substantial? What are we talking about?
Professor Carsten: We are talking huge numbers. As I said in my written evidence, full compliance with the current speed limits alone can deliver 50% savings in fatalities. On top of that we can encourage or promote seatbelt wearing. We can deal with all kinds of crashes. We can deal with events in which drivers are fatigued. We can deal with events in which the drivers do not notice that something is happening through various warning systems. We have the potential through vehicle technologies to go far beyond what even the Government envisaged and move very close to the vision of having zero fatalities. Vehicle-based technologies will have a very major role in that.
They could also compensate not only for individual deficits but they can help to compensate for road design deficits. We do not necessarily have to rebuild the whole road network to the highest standards if we can have vehicle technologies that allow the vehicle to adapt to lower standards.
Q237 Julian Sturdy: I fully accept that better engineering and new technology is going to save lives. There is some strong evidence already out there about that. I want to touch on the research you talked about and the in-depth data that is needed, but also the funding element of it. You said that manufacturers would not fund that and it is Government that need to fund that. I would argue against that and like you to go into a bit more depth. When you see manufacturers promoting new vehicles, they really do promote the safety records. We have new features like intelligent braking and things like that. They are promoting it within their sales pitch. It is surely in their interests to improve safety and get that in-depth research that is needed to do that. Should it be Government to guide rather than to fund?
Richard Cuerden: I apologise if I did say Government funding. Certainly it should be Government-led and there are some reasons for that, but my preferred option is consortia funding. I want Government money too, if I am honest, but I also want industry money. The best ways to get the best results in terms of road safety and vehicle technology is always when you have industry involved. They know what they can and can’t do, and you can get some sensible and pragmatic solutions as opposed to something that is perhaps aiming a bit high and would not get off the ground.
The difficulties you have when you go into getting in-depth data, in the practical sense of collecting the data, are the whole data protection and ethical issues, especially if you are accessing medical information and injury data. Having Government involvement is pretty key and also for that sort of independent leadership steer, trying to keep a clear aim on what these projects are trying to do. For example, if I was a manufacturer and I had a particular vehicle technology that was unique to my product, I am going to sell that in my marketing. It may not be as effective as something else. By getting this broad church approach, you can prioritise better what you want to promote or regulate, if you want to go down that route.
Q238 Julian Sturdy: An element of the funding has to come from the manufacturers, but do the Government need to guide rather than directly fund?
Richard Cuerden: The best example I have is a 2010 project, which has ended, called "The Co-operative Crash Injury Study". That ran from 1983, so it went on for about 27 or 28 years. It was principally Government-led and certainly something like 70% Government money. Different motor manufacturers paid into the pot and therefore helped to steer the project. We were looking at the secondary safety of cars. They were helping the people who were investigating the accidents to understand what to record off the vehicle and to understand if it worked or not. We then had the injury data and Government working with industry helping to set rules, which became the Frontal and Side Impact Directive in Europe. There was only UK and German data that could support it. It is the bedrock for Euro NCAP as well. All of that process has been proven to work in my opinion.
Q239 Chair: Who took the lead in that? Industry put money into it, but where did the lead come from?
Richard Cuerden: The lead came from the Department for Transport. It was Government-led.
Q240 Julie Hilling: Can I ask about current telematics in cars? When we did our inquiry into the cost of motor insurance we looked at that for young drivers, but there is a question about it for all drivers. Is the current standard of telematics adequate to reflect insurance premiums?
Professor Carsten: The pay-as-you-drive insurance schemes and whatever could be more sophisticated. One of the big potentials of telematics over the next 10 or 20 years in driving down casualties is going to be in the fleet market. We have moves toward making fleets more responsible for road safety management. There is an ISO standard coming. It is ISO 39001 on road safety management, which is going to promote road safety management within organisations, and organisations will increasingly be telling their drivers, "You have to comply with the rules of the road. We are going to be making sure that you wear your seatbelt, you don’t break the speed limits and you drive in a fuel-efficient manner," and so on. Yes, I see a lot of potential there for delivering road safety.
Q241 Julie Hilling: When you are talking about potential, is that about needing to improve the technology we have or is the technology already developed to an adequate standard to do what you have just been talking about?
Professor Carsten: The technology is adequate. What we don’t know yet is how much the technology can deliver in terms of improved performance. One of Richard Cuerden’s colleagues, Shaun Helman, made a presentation a couple of weeks ago to the Road User Behaviour Working Party of PACTS, which I chair. It was a review of the evidence base on work-related road safety. The solid evidence base on what is effective was extremely thin. Again, we need the knowledge. People delivering the product will often talk it up, for obvious reasons, and will say that they are getting brilliant results, but we need an evidence base to support that and to promote best practice. Without the evidence base, we don’t know what best practice is.
Richard Cuerden: Just to add to that, where lots of things become lacking is the evaluation process. The technology is there and it works fine. In my view, and it is not my area of expertise, I have seen some really nice examples for young drivers where they get feedback on their driving through these systems and they can get all the green lights when they do everything well. It looks really neat, but I don’t know how well up until now we have evaluated that. It is very difficult in a cost-benefit way to see how much we should promote. If it is really effective, the cost can go up a little bit. If it is just a little bit effective, you start to go there. It is evaluating what data already exists.
Q242 Chair: Who should be doing that evaluation? Whose responsibility should that be?
Richard Cuerden: This is probably a little bit out of my area. In the evaluation of all these technologies, if you, as a society, want to save lives and reduce casualties, there is some central need for it just from a public health point of view. There are many companies out there that are developing the technologies and want to sell them. There is all of that stuff going on. Perhaps some collaboration needs to be brought together, and there is the insurance industry of course. But, ultimately, in my view, it has to be led by a Government body.
Professor Carsten: One of the reasons why the UK has been one of the best-performing countries in the world, if not the best-performing country, is because there has been an evidence base for road safety policy. If research is not funded, that evidence base will no longer exist.
Q243 Chair: Are you concerned on the current plans that that is the way it is going?
Professor Carsten: At the moment there is almost zero funding for new research initiatives. There is almost zero support for large European initiatives where, of course, by being one of 10 or 20 partners in a European project, you can leverage the contributions so that you get very large benefits from a small investment.
One example was in the last Transport Research programme, the one with the December deadline. There was a call for a large-scale naturalistic driving study across Europe. That is basically putting technology into vehicles-the kind of telematics systems we have been talking about, but often with video cameras and so on-to observe what people are doing. That would help us to understand, for example, why young drivers improve so much in the first six months. We really don’t know that. The plan is to get 2,000, 3,000 or 4,000 vehicles equipped across Europe and then running for a year or two to collect data, just to find out what people are doing, what problems occur and how people deal with near crashes so that they do not turn into crashes. A contribution of £500,000 or £1 million would make a huge difference to UK participation in those kinds of research initiatives, and that is simply not happening.
Richard Cuerden: I would like to add to that slightly. I don’t know what is coming in the future so I don’t know what the Department for Transport has in mind for a research programme. Certainly in the past, the research organisations, not just the two represented here, have had a bit of a heads-up as to what is being planned. There have been priority areas and people can decide if they want to work in that area and build businesses or understand what research needs to be done. Having that forewarning would be very helpful to the people out there who are doing this research and certainly to people like me, who are trying to keep members of staff and skills in place.
Chair: Thank you very much indeed for coming and answering our questions.
 http://www.bra k e.o r g.uk/assets/docs/Whatshappening/Influencegovernment/Motorway_speed_limits_-_costs_policy-Ja n 1 2.doc
 Research into the extent of sleep apnoea by sleep specialists suggests that up to 41% of HGV drivers have a sleep disorder of some form, with one in six suffering from severe sleep apnoea requiring immediate treatment. See Respironics SASA research, BBC Real Story with Fiona Bruce, BBC1, 21 November 2005.
 In one case a driver went on to cause a fatal crash, ending a young life, due to falling asleep at the wheel, despite having sought medical advice.