The Government is failing to take the lead on road safety and is instead relying too heavily on individuals and local authorities (whose budgets have been “decimated”) to take action.
That’s the view of Gary Rae, director of communications and campaigns at road safety charity Brake.
“Sometimes governments need to do more than nudge,” he says. “Sometimes they need to lead, and I see a complete lack of leadership from this Government on road safety.”
Rae stresses that, as a charity, Brake is not party political and that previous Labour governments “could also have done more”.
“You always can do more,” he says. “ It’s whether there is a willingness and a desire.”
His views come in the wake of the Government’s decision not to re-introduce casualty reduction targets (Fleet News, November 12) despite the recent 4% rise in deaths and 5% rise in serious injuries. Rae believes it is too early to say whether the rise is a trend or “just a blip”, but it means that at present Brake is “some way off” achieving its ultimate aim of zero road deaths and serious injuries worldwide.
It is one of a number of organisations backing the UN’s goal of halving road deaths worldwide (currently an estimated 1.24 million) by 2020.
Brake has first-hand experience of the devastation road casualties cause. Chief executive Mary Williams founded the charity in 1995 after her mother was killed by a truck with faulty brakes, and Brake’s helpline offers support for anyone bereaved or seriously injured in a crash.
Brake relies heavily on fundraising (47% of its funding is corporate support, 23% from volunteer fundraisers, 16% comes from Government and the rest is from events).
“We see and hear the effects of the loss of five lives every day on UK roads and the 62 people seriously injured on a daily basis,” says Rae. “That puts us in a very strong position not just to offer that evidence but also that emotional burden that people carry for the rest of their lives.”
It also puts Brake in a strong position when it meets Government ministers, something it does two or three times a year. But is Brake’s ultimate goal of zero road deaths and serious injuries realistic?
“We wouldn’t talk about it if we didn’t think it was achievable and for it to be achievable we don’t just need governments plural to change laws we need people who use the roads to change attitudes,” Rae says.
“Yes, it’s a long-term goal but if we didn’t have that we would be settling for second best and accepting that casualties are inevitable. And we don’t accept that casualties are inevitable and that’s why we don’t use the word accident because that suggests there is a shrug of the shoulder. Action can be taken to stop crashes happening and that’s through education, enforcement, and engineering – the three Es. Engineering is in terms of road design as much as it is vehicle design. There are some exciting things happening in terms of vehicle design.”
Brake is participating in the autonomous vehicle trial in Greenwich and Rae believes that driverless vehicles will play an “increasingly important part” in road safety over the coming decade.
“There is huge potential there to remove the one threat to driving: the human behind the wheel,” he says. “It’s something we’re very excited about.”
In the short-term, Brake wants to see safety technology, such as autonomous emergency braking, standard across all cars. It also wants to see action taken to tackle mobile phone use at the wheel with a ban on hands-free use, tougher penalties (fixed penalty fines should rise from £100 to £500-1,000 and there should be more penalty points), and widespread enforcement.
Without this action, Brake believes mobile phone use could significantly contribute to an increase in road causalities.
“The evidence shows that hands-free is just as big a distraction for the driver as if they had been drink-driving in terms of their reaction rates and so forth,” Rae says. “We think any interaction with your mobile device is a distraction and is therefore potentially dangerous. Distraction is deadly.”
Ellie Pearson, Brake’s professional engagement manager, says that a lot of the major fleet operators she works with are putting full bans in place. Van and truck fleets who recognise that they have ‘professional drivers’ have been much quicker to introduce bans than company car fleets, who may have sales managers saying ‘I need to make sales calls at the wheel’.
“The argument we make is ‘you’re probably not putting in a very good sales call if you’re also driving at 70mph’,” Pearson says. “As much as it affects your ability to drive safely it will affect your ability to have a good conversation.”
Until the use of apps that block a mobile phone’s signal when the vehicle is moving becomes widespread, Brake advocates that drivers put their mobile phone in the boot to avoid being distracted by it ringing or vibrating.
“It’s that clear message: out of sight, out of mind,” Pearson says.
Brake accepts that this means the driver cannot make an emergency phone call in the event of a serious accident, but in those cases it is often witnesses who make that call.
To put an effective hands-free ban in place, companies need to explain to drivers why the ban has been introduced, put mechanisms in place to stop drivers feeling they have to check their phones and tell managers not to ring people when they are driving, according to Pearson.
Brake also wants companies with young drivers, who are most likely to use their phones behind the wheel, to take action to protect them.
Rae points out that fewer than one in 12 licence holders is under 25 yet one in five fatal and serious incidents involve a driver in that age range. Companies that are recruiting that age group are well advised to put a comprehensive training programme in place, like British Gas and Ocado have done.
“They’re not recruiting a 19-year-old and then giving them the keys to the van, they’re putting them through internal training, monitoring and assessment, and that’s ongoing, it’s not three weeks when you join the company, it’s throughout your time with that company you’re expected to keep that up,” says Pearson. “That’s what we’d like to see more of.”
Brake would also like the Government to introduce a graduated driver licensing system.
“We need to look at how and when they’re qualified,” says Rae. “It can’t be right, in our view, that on Thursday you’re not qualified and on Friday you’re qualified. Qualified doesn’t equate to experienced so we’re calling for a system of graduated driver licensing.
This Government doesn’t support that – they think it’s interfering in individuals’ lives. But that won’t stop us calling for it.”
Brake is also calling for the drink-drive limit to be lowered to 20mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, in line with evidence that drivers in the 20-50mg range are three times more likely to die in a crash.
Rae accepts that going from 80mg (the current limit in England) to 20mpg might be “too much in one fell swoop” but he would like to see an interim measure of 50mg, following Scotland’s lead.
Tackling speeding is high on the agenda too. Brake is part of the GO 20 coalition, a group of charities campaigning for a default urban speed limit of 20mph.
“We’ve received criticism on that but it’s about looking after people where they live, work and play,” says Rae. “It’s not about turning a stretch of 40mph ‘A’ road into a 20mph road. It’s about keeping an eye out for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists in really built-up areas.”
Fleet operators can play a part by encouraging drivers to drop their speed, Pearson explains.
“When you do your route planning, ask yourself ‘do you want to send a truck or a van outside a school at 3pm?’ she says. “Actually, no you don’t and you need to factor that in at an early stage.”
Speed cameras alone are not the answer, says Rae.
“Speed cameras have an important role to play but they can’t replace road traffic police of which there are now 4,300,” he says. “There were 7,000.”
As well as investing in road policing, Brake would like the Government to look at how footpaths, roads and cycle routes are designed and to separate out vulnerable road users.
“As cycling gets more popular and there is promotion of cycling because of the health and environmental benefits, we need to make sure we’re positioned to reduce the number of incidents involving cyclists,” says Pearson.
“Fleet operators need to make sure their vehicles are safe around those more vulnerable road users.”
Cycling is a key part of this year’s Road Safety Week theme, ‘drive less, live more’, with drivers being encouraged to seek alternatives to the car – for environmental as well as road safety benefits.
“Some of our fleets have really got involved in this year’s theme and are running car-free days,” Pearson says. “We have also had some pushback that the theme is about not driving. We’re realistic in that delivery drivers are going to have to do deliveries, we’re not telling them to cancel their orders for the week.
“We’re asking them to be aware of people who are walking and cycling. And from the management side, to look at journey planning, making sure that drivers know about eco driving techniques and to consider electric vehicles and alternative fuels.”
Rae is keen to point out that Brake is not ‘anti-car’. “We’re not anti-driving, we’re anti-bad driving,” he says.
More than 10,000 organisations and individuals registered to take part in Road Safety Week last year.
“It’s the UK’s biggest road safety event, it’s a huge thing to take part in,” Pearson says. “People do internal things but a lot of people are going out into schools, running community events, working in partnerships with local emergency services to do some really great events that benefit more than just their organisation.”
Brake’s annual Fleet Safety Awards recognise fleet managers who do exactly that.
“It’s going above and beyond,” Pearson says. “It’s going out to schools in their area and delivering presentations. It’s thinking ‘what can we do with our drivers and what can we do more broadly?’
“It’s not people who wait for some Government legislation to come in and then take action.
“It’s the ones who, off their own backs, are aware of the issues and are doing really good work in their organisation to tackle them ahead of the curve.
“They are the ones leading the way in terms of what we want to see from the industry.”
1995: Brake is founded by Mary Williams from Sheffield whose mother was killed by a truck with faulty brakes. It is set up as a commercial vehicle campaign, later developing its support services for all those involved in crashes.
1997: Brake sets up Road Risk Forum (now Brake Professional), with the aim of stopping death and injury on the road by researching and promoting road safety initiatives, ranging from road engineering, vehicle and componentry design, regulation and education of road users (drivers, mechanics and fleet managers), policing of the roads and the penal system for breaking the law.
1997: The first annual Road Safety Week is held. It has now become the UK’s biggest road safety event with thousands of schools, organisations and community groups taking part each year.
1999: Mary Williams is awarded an OBE for her services to road safety.
2002: The first Fleet Safety Awards are held, recognising the achievements of those working to help reduce the number of road crashes involving at-work drivers.
2011: Brake New Zealand is founded after Williams emigrates there.
2014: Brake Professional is created, replacing the Fleet Safety Forum and Road Safety Forum.
Brake Professional gives guidance to fleets
Brake Professional, which provides road and fleet safety information for industry professionals, has more than 1,200 members from more than 750 organisations.
It was created by merging Brake’s Fleet Safety Forum (aimed at fleet managers) and Road Safety Forum (aimed at councils and road safety partners) last year.
Ellie Pearson, professional engagement manager, who runs Brake Professional, says: “Keeping those two groups apart was counter-intuitive because one of our main aims is sharing information and best practice. Bringing those professionals together in one place was a good way of doing that.”
The rebranding has helped Brake to appeal to SMEs that don’t identify themselves as operating a fleet.
Membership costs £186 for professionals in organisations with a turnover of £1 million or more and £60 for those with a turnover of less than £1m. Members receive research and guidance reports on the most important road safety themes; tools for at-work drivers; case studies of organisations’ policies and procedures relating to drivers, vehicles and journey planning and the results achieved; newsletters; free and discounted rates to attend Brake Professional events; free training on the Brake Pledge for road safety; and opportunities to get involved in Brake’s community events.
Members range from SMEs, such as O’Donovan Waste Disposal, to councils, such as Gateshead, and major corporates, such as Arval.
Brake will be revamping its Pledge training with new resources next year and will deliver it as a full day course rather than a webinar.