Despite an increase in the number of vehicles on our roads we continue to get better at reducing road casualties, however, there’s no room for complacency
Written by Neal Skelton, ITS UK
Road policing officers from more than 20 different European countries attended the TISPOL conference (a network that represents the enforcement arm of any road safety strategy) to hear Mr Paul Clark MP, UK Minister for Transport, give the opening address on how the objectives of the Department for Transport’s ‘Road Safety Strategy 2010’ will contribute to minimising road deaths. He stated: “For governments and police forces across Europe that means they have a duty not only to improve road safety in our own countries, but also to work together and share knowledge on an international level to help fight a common enemy which still accounts for more than 40,000 deaths every year. But when you are in the business of road safety, there’s no room for complacency.”
In addition to the fatalities approximately 1,700,000 people are recorded as injured in police reports each year, among them 300,000 seriously. For every EU road death there are at least 44 recorded road injuries of which eight are serious. Involvement in a road traffic crash is the leading cause of death and hospital admission for citizens of the EU under 45 years and with socio-economic costs of around two per cent of GDP (E180 billion) road safety continues to be a priority area.
During 2007 there were over 700 deaths in the UK where exceeding speed limits or inappropriate speed were a contributory cause. 460 people were estimated to have been killed in a drink-drive crash with a further 400 road deaths attributed to careless or dangerous driving. Consequently the focus of the new Strategy is to re-emphasise minimising road deaths, where recent progress has been slow, protecting children and young people and offering safety on rural roads. Reducing pedestrian and cyclist casualties in towns and cities, especially in deprived areas, protecting motorcyclists (who represent 20 per cent of road fatalities but just one per cent of traffic) and enforcing illegal and inappropriate speed are particular target areas. The aim is to curb poor road user behaviour by the minority by cracking down on irresponsible behaviour, including drink, drugs, extreme speed and failure to wear seatbelts.
Mr Clark focused on the UK’s approach to its road safety strategy and how current achievements might influence road safety on the continent as well as learning from other countries’ successes: “Despite a rapid increase in the number of vehicles on our roads (up by more than six million since 1997) we continue to get better at reducing casualties so that Britain’s roads are currently among the safest in the world.”
In 2000, the UK government set a target to reduce deaths and serious injuries by 40 per cent over 10 years compared with the 1994-1998 baseline average. Last year, deaths on the UK roads fell by 14 per cent to 2,538 (the lowest total for more than 80 years) while serious injuries fell by six per cent enabling the UK to achieve its 40 per cent casualty reduction target two years early. Emphasis will also be directed towards reducing the risks to individual walkers or cyclists through the introduction of targets aimed at reducing the rate of pedestrians and cyclists killed and seriously injured roads (KSI) users per kilometre by at least 50 per cent by 2020, compared with the 2004-08 baseline average.
Notwithstanding these successes the new 10-year strategy has been launched starting with a consultation that sets out a fresh range of ambitious initiatives and ideas as well as drawing on established best practice. This strategy will incorporate new targets, including a suggested primary goal to reduce deaths and serious injuries by a third, and to reduce road deaths and serious injuries to children and young people by at least half by 2020 compared to the baseline of the 2004-08 average number of road deaths. Allied to this will be a minimum 33 per cent target reduction of the annual total of serious injuries on our roads by 2020, compared to the same baseline. These objectives will be achieved by improving the delivery of road safety, and in particular focusing on those locations, types of road and people that contribute most to the toll of casualties.
Integral to this process are enforcement measures therefore, in conjunction with the police and as part of the 10-year plan, the UK government is planning to improve the way the rules of the road are enforced. Speed cameras have already been very effective in slowing down motorists and reducing casualties at collision ‘blackspots’ and will continue to do so. However, early evidence suggests that the introduction of ‘average speed cameras’ on key sections of the road network and specific roadworks has had a marked impact. By slowing down the overall traffic speed it is estimated that they can deliver a 50 per cent reduction in deaths and serious injuries. Local traffic authorities are best placed to make decisions on the appropriate speeds for dangerous local roads and by using good evidence and data in conjunction with new guidance will help to reduce the risks and the number of casualties.
UK casualty data proves that a small minority of motorists persist in flouting the laws and as a result account for a comparatively large percentage of collisions. Mr Clark commented that these irresponsible few consider “that they are better drivers than anyone else; who think speed limits are there to be broken; who believe that alcohol has no impact on their driving; who consider themselves invulnerable once behind the wheel of a car”. The introduction of higher penalty points for gross speeding, linked to tougher penalties and better enforcement, are potent weapons in making speeding as unacceptable to modern society as drink-driving.
Those who drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs are accountable for one sixth of all UK road deaths, therefore ongoing efforts need to be practical and to take into consideration issues which currently hinder enforcement such as the appropriateness of the existing ‘drink-drive’ limit, the wider use of targeted breath testing to catch and deter drink drivers, and the ‘closing’ of procedural loopholes. Rigorous enforcement of these motorists, who consistently fail to adhere to the laws of the road, will be critical to attaining the road safety strategy targets.
It has been proposed that a new offence of driving with an illicit substance in the body will be created for drugs that are known to be impairing. This, like other messages about dangerous driving, will be supported by an education campaign to make sure that the public is aware of the penalties for driving under the influence of drugs (regardless of whether they are illicit or prescription drugs). These campaigns are intended to be graphic and hard-hitting, and as Mr Clark stated: “Sometimes it is the only way to get the message across that if mishandled, cars can be lethal weapons – and that every motorist needs to think about the potential implications of irresponsible driving.”
Although police have recently been given powers to issue fixed penalties to non-UK road offenders, and to immobilise vehicles where drivers decline to pay the requested deposit, or where drivers or vehicles are prohibited from continuing their journeys progress needs to be made on pan-European cross-border enforcement. Pro-active action is being taken through the EU’s development of sophisticated protocols and ITS software in the VERA3 project whereby offences committed by drivers and/or owners of foreign registered vehicles are put on a similar footing to UK drivers. This has far-reaching implications and, irrespective of where the offence has taken place, renders drivers and owners liable for prosecution as though they had committed the offence in their own country.
Enforcement is just one part of the three ‘E’s of a multi-faceted road safety programme – enforcement, engineering and education. Vehicle manufacturers have played their part with significant engineering development in improving vehicle safety by introducing safety innovative technologies that can protect as many road users as possible. UK NCAP is one such initiative which developed into the hugely successful EuroNCAP crash testing programme. Vehicle occupant protection has been an ongoing challenge but through the development of crumple zones and advanced safety systems like pretensioning seat belts and airbags many of the inherent dangers have been minimised. Whilst manufacturers have been committed to promoting and encouraging the uptake of the most effective mitigation systems these are increasingly being supplemented by advanced ‘intelligent transportation’ vehicle technologies that anticipate and respond to imminent conditions and potential collisions by offering warning signs and/or taking pre-emptive avoiding action in advance of drivers’ response capabilities.
Finally, the third ‘E’ of education is being addressed through the introduction of a new National Road Safety Plan that will be independently verified by a Road Safety Delivery Board to oversee how this new strategy is to make Britain’s Roads the safest in the world. In addition ‘refresher driver learning’ and testing to support responsible road use supported by a suitable legal and regulatory framework will ensure national improvements in reporting, scrutiny and evaluation of outstanding ‘hard cases’ rather than applying blanket new rules across the board. All these objectives are intended to improve the standards of the less safe areas, roads, vehicles and drivers.
In conclusion Mr Clark said: “Road safety is driven by good ideas and professional delivery. So, let us all commit, through organisations like TISPOL, through events like today’s, to join together in the fight to make our roads safer; to work more closely in partnership to meet shared goals; and to reduce the senseless carnage that still wipes out more than 100 lives a day across Europe.”