Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from the Department for Transport (RSF 04)
1. The Government welcomes this inquiry and the opportunity to outline how its policies on road safety will help to ensure that Great Britain remains a world leader on road safety and maintains the downward trend in road casualties.
2. Great Britain has one of the strongest road safety records in the world and the Government is committed to seeing further reductions in the numbers of people killed or seriously injured on our roads. The Government has set out its new strategic framework for road safety, published in May 2011 which sets out its vision and approach to road safety.
3. In line with the Government’s commitment to localism we have promoted local accountability for road safety by giving local authorities the tools they need to tackle problems on their networks, rather than dictating specific solutions to them. We have also encouraged local accountability and transparency through the publication of local road safety data.
4. As the Government’s approach to road safety is set out in the Strategic Framework, this memorandum responds to the five specific issues which the Committee has raised in its call for evidence.
Whether the Government is right not to set road safety targets and whether its outcomes framework is appropriate
Lack of targets
5. The fact that the Government has not set a target does not mean that it does not consider road safety to be a high priority. This Government expects to be judged by its actions and we have set out the measures that we intend to take to continue to reduce casualties. The strategic framework includes forecasts of the casualty numbers that we might expect to see through to 2030 if these measures, and the actions of local authorities, are successful.
6. While we believe that previous road safety targets have been useful we do not consider that over-arching national targets are still necessary for road safety in Great Britain. This is because we do not believe that further persuasion is needed on the importance of road safety. We expect central and local government to continue to prioritise road safety and continue to seek improvements. Instead we need to move to more sophisticated ways to monitor progress which is why we have developed the Road Safety Outcomes Framework.
7. The Outcomes Framework sets out a range of indicators, grouped into categories, that can be used to monitor sub-sections of road safety—such as the enforcement efforts, the learning to drive process and vehicle safety. This will help us, and local authorities, to assess progress.
8. These groups of indicators will show if there are areas where our efforts appear to be particularly successful or if there are areas where a different approach may be needed—this is a much more transparent approach than announcing that progress has been made if the headline figure reduces, as it will be clearer about the trends within that.
9. We recognise that other indicators and information will also be useful in judging success and identifying specific issues and areas for action, and expect to be making more information available on the local comparison website and the Road Safety Observatory Portal for professionals, which are both under development. However we think the key indicators on which central and local government should be monitored are ultimately those covering what is happening to road casualties.
How the decentralisation to local authorities of funding the setting of priorities will work in practice and contribute towards fulfilling the Government’s vision
10. In line with the Government’s wider policy approach to localism in the Big Society we have given local authorities more freedom to assess and act on their own priorities, since they are best placed to assess these.
11. The Strategic Framework recognises that local communities have a central role in making roads as safe as they can be. Examples of localism measures in our Framework include giving local authorities more freedom to assess and act on their own priorities. To aid this we are providing an economic toolkit to help them assess the full costs and benefits of changes to local speed limits so that decisions can be explained and defended to the citizens that they are accountable to.
12. We have provided funding through a new £560 million Local Sustainable Transport Fund which local authorities can use to help address their road safety issues. This has been established to support local authorities in developing sustainable transport packages which help build strengthened local economies and reduce carbon emissions. Guidance for local authorities on the Local Sustainable Transport Fund and how to apply to it was published alongside the White Paper earlier this year.
13. Further funding will now also be available as part of local authorities’ new responsibilities for public health from April 2013. They will have a dedicated public health budget to be spent on the priority public health issues in their area. Improving road safety is one of the public health outcomes which can be included in this funding. The number of casualties killed and seriously injured on English roads has been proposed as an indicator in the public health outcomes framework to monitor this.
14. The Government will report against the indicators in the annual publication of road safety statistics. Separately we will provide information on local authority performance that is easily accessible to citizens in a straightforward format, so that they are able to make their own assessment of performance. We will do this by developing an online road safety comparison tool that would allow local citizens, lobby groups, practitioners and local authority officers to compare local performance information in their area against other areas, whilst comparing improvement rates. This tool will increase transparency and build capability to help citizens and communities solve problems in their area.
Whether the Government is right to argue that, for the most part, the right legislative framework for road safety is in place, and, in particular, whether the Road Safety Act 2006 has fulfilled its objectives1
15. Great Britain is currently a world leader in road safety. This in large part reflects our legislative framework and enforcement by the police, as well as improvements in vehicles, infrastructure, education and marketing and the efforts of road safety professionals and road users.
16. Overall we do think the system of legislation is broadly fit for purpose. Great Britain has a systematic set of road traffic offences, developed progressively over a long period of time. At the same time this is applied in an evidence-based and appropriate way. So for low level offenders where remedial education is likely to be more effective this will be used, rather than fines or other penalties.
17. We see the 2006 Act as an important addition to the legislative framework that is helping to maintain this. Our aim is to continue to reduce deaths and serious injuries on our roads and the Act will play an important part in this going forward.
18. Some of the Act that has not yet commenced, such as mandating remedial education courses with assessment for disqualified drivers. Therefore there is more that we intend to use within the 2006 Act that will help fulfil the commitments in the strategic framework.
19. While it is not possible to isolate the effects of the Act from the other improvements that we have seen in recent years, in areas such as car technology, road engineering, changing social attitudes and enforcement, it is likely to be a factor in Great Britain’s continuing casualty reduction.
20. We are still looking at further strengthening and improvements in some areas such as: a fixed penalty notice for careless driving; the new offence of causing serious injury through dangerous driving; strengthening the drink and drug driving legislation and enforcement; and the aim of mandating education courses for disqualified drink drivers with the possibility of extending this and introducing an assessment. These changes will help make enforcement more effective.
21. We are also conducting further research into the links between traffic offences, traffic casualties and other crime, which will inform further developments and interventions.
Whether the measures set out in the action plan are workable and sufficient
22. The proposed actions and approach to continuing to reduce death and injuries on our roads are underpinned by the Government’s key principles. We have endeavoured to act proportionately in striking the appropriate balance between safety and economic and other objectives, such as ways of improving the efficiency of police enforcement. We consider the set of actions is deliverable, though challenging, and these will make a major contribution to improving road safety.
The relationship between the Government’s strategy and EU road safety initiatives
23. The Government supports the European Commission’s goal of reducing casualties by 50% across the EU by 2020 (Commission’s 2010 communication Towards a European road safety area: policy orientations on road safety 2011–2020, 16951/10).
24. While we are happy to support the EU with a 50% target, we (and the EU) are clear that this does not mean that each member state is expected to deliver this reduction. Those countries with a relatively higher casualty levels will find it much easier to deliver large reductions. The Commission acknowledges this and cites the United Kingdom as being one of the highest achievers, whilst citing other Member States who are lower achievers and have a lot more work to do.
25. We are confident that we will make a major contribution to this goal through our strategic framework. However, we do not need a target to deliver this and the EU’s 50% reduction target is not a target for the UK alone.
26. We are keen to continue to work with the EU on best practice, sharing information, and in areas such as vehicle standards and consumer information on safety of vehicle models where an international approach is needed. However it is important that any new regulation is only progressed where it needs to be undertaken at an EU level and there is a very strong economic justification for the measure.
1 See Post-Legislative Assessment of the Road Safety Act 2006, Cm8141, published by the DfT, July 2011.