Fleet News

Insight: Criticism from House of Commons committee comes in wake of rising casualties

An influential House of Commons committee has lambasted the Government for a lack of leadership on road safety. Statistics from the Department for Transport have revealed an increase in people killed and seriously injured on British roads for the first time in 17 years.

In 2011, road deaths increased by 3% to 1,901 and serious injuries increased by 2% in 2011, meaning 51 more deaths and 462 more serious injuries compared to 2010.

It’s estimated that one in every three people killed on the roads in the UK was driving for work, which equates to 12 fleet drivers per week after the increase has been taken into account.

However, road deaths have been decreasing year-on-year by an average of 9% since 2004, and in 2010 decreased by 17%, so the figures represented a dramatic reversal in the long-term trend.

Louise Ellman MP, chair of the Transport Committee, said: “If the Government is not willing to set targets, it should show more leadership.”

Hampshire, Lancashire, Essex and Surrey reported the highest number of people who were killed or seriously injured. Hampshire suffered 42 fatalities and 722 serious injuries.

The figures come one year on from the launch of the Government’s strategic framework for road safety, which Brake criticised for its lack of ambition and decisive action on key issues.

As a result, it is urging the Government to reinstate national casualty reduction targets, which were abandoned last year, and take action on priority areas to bring road casualties down.

Julie Townsend, Brake deputy chief executive, said: “Successful road safety measures are a critical investment that can deliver a range of benefits to society and the economy, yet in recent years we have seen dramatic cuts in road safety funding, casualty reduction targets abandoned, and a lack of decisive action on many key issues.”

The Government says its long-term vision is to ensure that Britain remains a world leader in road safety. It plans to achieve this through an action plan and an ‘outcomes framework’, which uses a set of indicators “designed to help Government, local organisations and citizens to monitor the progress towards improving road safety”.

This will “be used against the figures for individual local authorities so that their progress can be compared against the national picture”.
The so-called outcomes framework has replaced the targets which were a central feature of the previous Government’s strategy for road safety.

However, the only countries in the European Union that do not have targets as part of their road safety strategies are the UK, Luxembourg and Malta.

The Government justified its position by claiming that, while previous road safety targets have been useful, it does not consider that over-arching national targets are still necessary for road safety. This is because it does not believe that further persuasion is needed on the importance of road safety.

This thinking is flawed, according to the Transport Committee.

“The evidence we gathered suggests the principal factor in improving road safety is robust political leadership,” said Ellman.

“The Government’s strategy sets out to devolve decision making on road safety to local authorities, but many authorities face a shortage of funding and the loss of many skilled road safety personnel.”

Funding is also an issue for law enforcement, with the Association of Chief Police Officers saying that road safety is not part of their strategic policing requirements and hence Chief Constables “will not necessarily look at roads policing because there are no national targets”.

AA president Edmund King said: “The AA believes that more emphasis in road safety needs to be put on enforcement and that a reduction in cops in cars will do nothing to deter the drunk, drugged, distracted dangerous drivers.”

The Transport Committee is urging the Government to use the opportunity presented by a planned update for the Strategic Framework for Road Safety in September 2012 to reassess its road safety strategy.

Philip Somarakis, head of the motoring offences team at Davenport Lyons and ACFO company secretary, looks at proposals to reduce speed limits on rural roads. Read his blog here.

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