Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence




Targets, Indicators and Road Safety Strategy

  Traditionally used statistics are not a good indicator of whether roads are safe, and may even be perverse indicators of safety. Of course, even if we get very high quality indicators, this does not necessarily mean that local or central government will feel the need to pursue attempts to secure change leading to such indicators painting a better picture: the strategy pursued, rather than concern with statistics, is what really counts.

  Nevertheless, we will always be hampered by a culture which says things are better than they actually are by using traditional methods of analysis. RDRF came into being largely to oppose this method of evaluating safety on the roads, and continues to do so. We continually emphasise that retrospective analyses of aggregated casualty statistics are a poor or even contradictory performance indicator for assessing safety for road users. Our other main point of emphasis is that the road safety strategy should be an integral part of the new sustainable integrated transport strategy, and that unless this is fully understood, serious errors—however unintentional—will be made.


What's Wrong With the Current Target(s)

  1. Current figures are aggregates of different kinds of phenomenon. There is no distinction between innocent people killed/hurt by others and people killing/hurting themselves. Even where benign road users are legally at fault, one can argue that being killed/hurt is different from hurting/killing others. (The "who kills whom" question).

  2. Figures—particularly for less serious injuries—are unreliable, because of unknown amounts of under-reporting and mis-reporting.

  3. In terms of personal experience the figures tell us little, even if we talk about figures for a particular group of road users. This is partly because of the morality of issues involved (see 1 above), but also because there is no indicator of exposure. Exposure means looking at casualty rates (casualties of one type or another per distance, time taken, or journeys travelled).

  4. In fact, even casualty rates as depicted fall far short of an accurate representation of our individual problems. Rates have to be split down not just to road user groups, but by age and more specifically by location. Sometimes there will be different stories for different kinds of rate: fatality rates are higher for cyclists in rural as opposed to urban areas, but less serious casualties have lower rates.

  5. In fact, even very accurate casualty rate measurements are hampered by being retrospective analyses of what has happened: they do not relate directly to the danger posed to road users. Hence the interest in indicators of levels of danger.


A. Casualty rates, where rate is referring to the journey made

  This could be casualties per average trip, or casualties per kilometre, for each road user group.

B. Insurance claims

  There is a set of published figures from the Association of British Insurers (ABI) in RAGB. This almost doubled in the 1980's alone, and could be said to be an indication of danger as it relates to the much larger number of vehicle crashes rather than the casualties which occur in only 5 per cent-20 per cent of them.

C. Likelihood of killing others indicator

  It is possible to get a picture of the chances of being involved in a crash where someone else dies, and translating this into a likelihood of killing others indictor, with a comparison between different kinds of road user, rather than the more usual comparison in terms of being killed or hurt. This would not, however, be a useful target type of statistic, merely an indication of comparative danger to others.

D. Percentages of children (at different ages) allowed to walk or cycle to school

E. Modal split or traffic reduction target

  There are a number of targets which are indicative of the aims of a sustainable transport policy, such as proportions of journeys by more benign modes, reduction in motor vehicle traffic overall etc.

F. Speed Targets

  We should consider proportions of motorists breaking speed limits if we have a specific speed target, which is published already.

G. Total or average motorist "blunder numbers"

  This was best described in the Autoglass survey, where self-report (Note: motorists tend to under-report their mistakes or bad driving) studies by motorists indicated an average of 50 "blunders" per week. These "blunders" are types of behaviour designated as "accident-causing" by TRL criteria. A target would be trying to get 50-100 billion blunders a year down by a few billion blunders a year down by a few billion.

H. General attitudes

  Questionnaires or quicker repertory grid techniques can be used to assess residents attitudes to particular schemes, and amplify issues like allowing children independent mobility.

  Note: Severity of casualties. Apart from the fact that these are affected by levels of medical care and methods of data collection (i.e., under new STATS 19 rules whiplash alone counts as "Slight Injury"), Slight Injuries have increased by about 50 per cent since the early 50's and contradict the picture painted by DETR figures.

Finally, RDRF has consistently emphasised two points:

  1. The moral issue which highlights the difference—if not conflict—between looking after yourself and endangering other people (community rather than just personal safety), and

  2. The importance of the overall strategy, rather than specific targets.

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Prepared 28 April 1999