DfT promotes debate to take road safety beyond 2010

Road Safety Minister Jim FitzpatrickOn average, almost 9 people lose their lives each and every day on the UK's roads. Jim Fitzpatrick MP, Road Safety Minister, talks to Transport Business about the Government's plans to tackle road safety issues beyond 2010, and asks Transport Business readers to join the debate.

This is an especially important time for road safety. Not only is the UK three-quarters of the way through the present road safety strategy, we are already thinking ahead and debating how best to refine those strategies for the future.

This is a crucially important task and one that the Government is not taking lightly. That’s why we have started a dialogue with a whole host of stakeholders from industry, charity groups, insurance companies, road safety campaigners and academia through to the Police, international bodies, vehicle makers and many others.

The aim is simple – to ask everyone to contribute their ideas and share their experiences to help us define our goals beyond 2010 and deliver safer roads for the future.

The process has already prompted some very interesting discussions. But as we look ahead in terms of re-shaping our thinking, it is first worth looking at how the current 10-year plan is performing.

Certainly, most people recognise that some progress has been made over the last decade. During the first six years of our current road safety strategy from 2001 to 2006, almost 1,500 lives have been saved.

Much of that progress is down to the tremendous commitment, diligence, professionalism and tenacity displayed by local authorities, enforcement bodies, and the many interest groups that work so hard to keep road safety at the top of the social agenda.

However, while 1,500 lives saved doubtless represents a limited improvement, it is also clear from the figures that there remains far more to do. Each year on the UK’s roads, there are still more than 3,000 deaths and another 28,000 serious injuries. That means that, on average, almost 9 people lose their lives each and every day.

Daily tragedy
This is a daily tragedy on a scale that would be entirely unacceptable on other modes of transport. In the air, 9 deaths per day would lead to a mass grounding of flights until the problem was identified. On the railways, 9 deaths per day would lead to widespread train cancellations until investigators found the cause. Yet today, it takes a serious road incident even to make the local newspaper.  Although there is just a suggestion the media attitude is changing.

Looking at the problem in that context highlights two points. First of all, that we endure far too many deaths and serious injuries on our roads. Secondly, that we have to face up to some very difficult challenges in terms of changing people’s attitudes to road safety.

The Government is already working with other stakeholders to address these issues, of course, and we have had many success stories to date. For example:

  • the DfT’s Think! team has regular high profile campaigns such as the Driving for Work initiative that highlighted the dangers of distractions such as eating and drinking, reading maps or talking on a hands-free phone
  • we have the Safe and Fuel Efficient Driving programme – SAFED
  • the Driving Standards Agency recently launched the Enhanced Rider Scheme to help train safer motorcyclists
  • and we are working closely with the enforcement agencies to ensure that we tackle the blight of uninsured and drink drivers.

These are just a few of the many initiatives underway, so it’s clear that we are determined to tackle road safety issues across the board.
{mosimage}We are not stopping there though. We will soon be consulting on plans to reform the driver training and assessment programme as part of our efforts to produce better drivers and reduce casualties.

The question now, though, is how best to proceed with the road safety strategy after 2010 and whether the model we have in place is effective enough to deal with the demands of the situation on tomorrow’s roads.

Take targets, for example. The targets we have represent a simple expression of the objectives for the current 10-year plan and have been welcomed as a tool for galvanising efforts at local and national level. Not only are they firmly grounded in research evidence, but they also benefit from extensive consultation with stakeholders.

As such, they are certainly useful. But they will only remain useful as long as the targets we develop for the post-2010 period stay credible, inspiring, and have broad support among those who have to meet them.

We also need to think about timescales. Should the targets for another 10-year period, or should our aspirations stretch out to 2030 or even further ahead?

What about more specific targets? At present, we are targeting deaths and serious injuries combined (KSIs). But the statistics show that we’re seeing greater reductions in injuries than deaths, so does that need to change?

The data certainly indicates that we need to renew our focus on some of the major contributors to fatal accidents. Drink-driving, for example, still accounts for about the same number of deaths as it did in the mid-1990s. But there are others as well, such as the number of car occupants who still – amazingly – are not wearing seatbelts. Excessive speed remains a problem too.

Our strategy for 2010 and beyond needs to address all these issues and more.

For instance, can we do more to combat fatigue or compensate for the inevitable human error? What role can technology play? And where can we most effectively implement education programmes to help young drivers, children and other pedestrians.

At the same time, we need to put road safety into the wider policy context. As we are trying to reduce casualties, other important l concerns will include reducing carbon emissions; raising levels of physical activity such as walking and cycling; and even demographic changes that will see a higher proportion of older people on the roads.

Complex issues
I appreciate that these are complex issues that have far-reaching implications in some cases. But hopefully they will help spark the high standard of debate we need to ensure we end up with the optimal road safety strategy that will keep cutting casualty rates on our roads.

Clearly, this is more of a journey than a destination, but by taking the right steps now we will progress more quickly toward the safer future we all want to see.

Over the coming months, DfT officials will be looking for your ideas and insights across all aspects of engineering, education and enforcement. A formal consultation will then go out later this year and that is when we will start to lay the foundations for the policies that will take us past 2010.

That’s why I am asking the readers of Transport Business to join in this debate and play their part in shaping the cohesive road safety strategy that can meet the challenges of a new era.

The Government cannot do this alone. It will take a concerted effort from business, local authorities, engineers, fleet owners and indeed everyone that has a stake in the UK’s roads - so do please get involved.

If you would like to respond to this article please email roadsafety@transportbusiness.net with your comments.

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