Spending cuts are no doubt making it more difficult for urban authorities to address road safety. But despite, this many local authorities are showing that road safety is still a priority, writes Caroline Rheubottom, communications officer at the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM)
Given the latest road safety figures for 2012, it would seem that all is well again in road safety. After a surprising blip in 2011, with the first rise in road deaths for decades, the 2012 figures showed a welcome return to the long term downward trend that has put the UK at the top of the safety league tables.
This is no accident, with coordinated engineering, education and enforcement all playing their part. Experts suggest that safer cars themselves have played the biggest part and future gains will be harder to come by, but in truth the problem with road safety is that it is often very hard to tell exactly what has worked and what has not.
Accident reductions have delivered savings to society worth billions of pounds according to government figures. Councils rarely see this however, as the main beneficiary is normally the NHS.
Road casualty trends
Within those 1,754 deaths reported in 2012 (still almost five a day) particular trends are starting to emerge, with improvements on rural roads for car occupants but problems for pedestrians and cyclists (deaths up 10 per cent). This is good news for the shire counties – although motorcycling remains a tough challenge on some roads – but for the many urban authorities in England the need to protect vulnerable road users is going to put them under the spotlight. In the view of the IAM this problem can only get worse as more and more cyclists take to the road while infrastructure improvements lag behind.
Factor in a growing issue of elderly pedestrians (as well as intoxicated ones of all ages) and it is clear that future road safety programmes for local authorities are going to be much more focussed on those outside cars than the well-protected people inside them.
Cuts in spending
Last year the IAM undertook research on road safety spending by councils and found it had been cut by an average of 15 per cent. A cut was of course expected in these days of budget constraints and deficit reduction, but with overall council services only being cut by six per cent it would seem that road safety is taking a disproportionate hit. Many road safety units are also being closed altogether. As well as losing many years of valuable experience, this may a have a long‑term effect on many education programmes which, although often hard to evaluate, are a key part of any road safety strategy. So far the accident figures would seem to suggest the impact has yet to materialise, but the IAM are concerned that we may be storing up problems for the future.
Spending cuts must make it more difficult for urban authorities to address cycling and pedestrian issues. The IAM supports segregated cycling facilities and we can also see the benefit of traffic calming and 20mph zones where people live if the appropriate research is conducted first. But such schemes don’t come cheap if they are to operate effectively. Accident savings are often negligible on such schemes, and it is important that they are not oversold but included as part of a package which also aims to provide environmental and quality of life improvements for city dwellers.
The other big safety-related challenge for local councils is pothole repairs. Whilst we can see some progress in implementing the many good ideas contained in the Pothole Review, long‑term budgets are still lacking. IAM opinion surveys show that pothole repairs and the general state of our roads are top issues for drivers and other road users. Councils that commit to high-profile rectification schemes make it easy to report potholes and, above all, those who make it a top priority for spending will see the benefits in other policy areas. This is important because many drivers do feel that they are overtaxed and are not getting a good deal on transport. Councils which show a more consumer‑friendly approach will find it much easier to sell safety schemes, street light turn offs and even parking charges. The final piece in the jigsaw is of course local accountability. This is taking many forms under the current coalition government, but in road safety it includes a new local authority road safety comparison site (www.road-collisions.dft.gov.uk).
The IAM welcomes this move as it highlights best practice and also puts the spotlight on those councils that are falling behind. Also launched at the same time was the Road Safety Observatory, which provides a one stop shop for research and evaluation of what does and does not work in road safety. These initiatives should stop the constant reinventing of the wheel that we often see. The IAM will also continue to monitor road safety spending and performance and highlight those councils making the largest cuts in safety and maintenance-related spending. For drivers and riders, we should be entering a positive period of openness and accountability, and for councils, they know that they are being evaluated locally and nationally as never before.
It would be foolish to believe that since the economic downturn and the knock-on effect of huge cuts being made to Council spending, road safety funding would remain impervious to tightening budgets. But it has become apparent that road safety has taken a bigger hit than other areas in terms of investment. Local authority road safety comparisons have shown that certain areas are being offered very little, if anything, in the field of road safety education and campaigns. However, this is not a blanket generalisation – many local authorities have shown that, despite dwindling budgets, road safety is still a priority. Examples of this positive action can be found in the work of Camden Council and City of York Council.
In 2009, Camden Council tackled road safety by reaching out to young people in the area through the production of a road safety drama entitled ‘Crossing Over’, created in partnership with Arc Theatre. This drama was developed as part of the Camden Child Injury Inequality project which aims to address the higher incident rates among teenagers in less wealthy areas and some ethnic groups. The development of the drama was sponsored by Transport for London.
‘Crossing Over’ tells the story of 15 year old Sol, who is killed in a road collision and wakes up to find himself in the in–between world of the Department of Pedestrian Accidents. As punishment, he is sent back to the living world to collect more road traffic victims.
Exploring the many causes of road collisions, the drama highlights the consequences of risk-taking behaviour and encourages young people to take personal responsibility for their behaviour on the roads.
In November 2009, ‘Crossing Over’ toured secondary schools in Camden, reaching out to hundreds of young residents.
A small scale evaluation of the drama concluded that ‘Crossing Over’ was well received by the young people (89 per cent rated it good or very good). In addition, 74 per cent felt that they ‘might’ or ‘definitely will’ act safer on the roads as a consequence of seeing the drama.
City of York Council
City of York Council joined forces with the IAM in 2012 to offer young drivers a free assessment to improve their confidence and awareness on the roads.
The scheme was aimed at up to 300 drivers aged between 17-26, living or working in York, and is set to run until 2014. The course, entitled ‘Momentum’ and provided by the IAM, usually costs £40 per person, but has been funded through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund via York Council.
The IAM’s Momentum assessment is specially designed for 17-26 year-olds who have passed their basic driving test, and incorporates two modules: an interactive online assessment, followed by an on-road session with an IAM examiner.
Momentum does not involve an exam and there is no risk of failure; it is designed to provide an option for young drivers wishing to improve their confidence, awareness and safety.
Trish Hirst, City of York Council road safety officer, said: “None of us quite expected the reaction the scheme has received. It has been a fantastic first few days, with the team sending out more than a 100 application forms. Young drivers in York seem extremely keen to take up this opportunity and we are delighted by the response to the scheme.”
Simon Best, IAM chief executive, said: “This initiative is a good example of the way councils can work in partnership with voluntary organisations to provide services that are increasingly more difficult to provide amidst budget cuts. York council recognises the importance of safe driving and the safety of young drivers.”
City of York Council and the IAM continue to work in collaboration on this project. They are currently exploring different channels to approach young drivers. Each initiative is seen as a partnership, and with a shared objective they strive to get the most out of each project and share the programme with other local authorities as this develops.