Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320-338)



  320. I thought British roads were the safest in Europe?
  (Mr Mathew) Not for pedestrians and cyclists. David Begg will be very good on this when he comes to see you, he makes that point specifically in his written report.
  (Ms Mitchell) Our safety statistics are based on vulnerable road users excluding themselves from our roads.

  321. You have made the point that you do not think it will be possible to deliver the growth in cycle traffic unless you reduce speeds, however at the same time you just said it will not be possible to reduce motoring unless you generated the growth in cycle traffic, is there not a circle here that never ends?
  (Mr Mathew) I do not think so. We did speak very briefly about the new National Cycle Strategy, its new Board and chair and its reaffirmation, which is in the Ten Year Plan, of trying to treble cycle traffic by 2010. I would refer the Committee to work by the AA in particular that shows that a lot of cycling is a life-style choice, a life-style and a health choice. There is an enormous possibility of substitution of short car journeys if we make the conditions safe and if we make the conditions safe in the way that Paige has outlined.

Mrs Ellman

  322. You are very critical about the media in projecting speeds as something glamorous, how is that going to be changed?
  (Mr Mathew) With the assistance of this Committee and of a continued public discussion of the role of the media and road safety. People have already commented on what the general public already thinks and the term "silent majority" has already been used. Just for the record I would like to read in one more, this comes from the Office of National Statistic, Focus on Personal Traffic published in December last year. Firstly, "Speed limits of 20 mph were favoured by nearly 80 per cent of people with only nine per cent against". Secondly, "Two-thirds of people said that pedestrians and cyclists should be given priority in towns and cities, even if this makes thing difficult for other road users, only one in seven disagree". It is quite clear that there is this disparity at local level between, presumably, your constituents and a small London-based, usually male, vociferous number of motoring correspondents of whom, we have to say, some government ministers and their advisers appear, quite wrongly, terrified and think they actually represent the public, they do not, and they do the public a great disservice.

  323. How can this be changed?
  (Mr Mathew) We will continue to make these points with double vigour to ministers, particularly to those in the Home Office and Home Office advisers and we would like this Committee to be able to also look at TV adverts and the general role of the media. On the question of adverts, the whole question of culture and attitudes is a complex one. I am sorry, Chairman, that Mrs Dunwoody is not here today because I was going to ask her about how she felt about an advert for a car which was described as "testosterone-fuelled". I think I can probably find it in last week's Autocar for 30th January, "It is the genetically modified testosterone-fuelled MGZs". If you go into any book shop you will see a large number of these magazines and it goes into the wider elements of successful messages within society about appropriate behaviour which, of course, is part of politics.

  324. What experience have you had with the Advertising Standards Authority or the Press Complaints Commission on issues of this sort?
  (Mr Mathew) Individual members of the Initiative have in the past made complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority and we do say in our evidence that the ASA changed its guidelines, it had a specific section on motoring four or five years ago. My subjective impression, certainly in the main press, is that ads are not as bad as they used to be. However, I did notice this other one, and I would like to quote from the Daily Telegraph of 8 February, this is the MG, this is the ZR, which talks about, "the chilli-chewing, pumped up, spine-tingling MG ZR". I feel it is this constant drip, drip, drip of the wrong messages in the media that we need to address.


  325. Do you not think the TV adverts subsidise the fact that we can get cheap television programmes?
  (Mr Mathew) As are you aware, Chairman, there is a lot of discussion about subsidy in all areas of life, an extent to which it is welcome or not, and this is one subsidy I could do without.

  326. Do you think if we took all of the car advertising away from television it would still be viable?
  (Mr Mathew) This is a very subjective one, I was about to say even if they had more football I would not really mind. We have no problem with information, price, performance, the environmental benefit. It is when it gets on to the slightly macho, thrill-seeking and careless element we start to get worried.

Mrs Ellman

  327. How significant do you think the fact is that most of the advertising in motoring magazines comes from car manufacturers? Do you think that is as big or a bigger factor than the London domination of this group of males you were talking about before?
  (Mr Mathew) Speaking from memory I think there is £460 of advertising behind each car in the United Kingdom, but it is a significant element. Again, I draw attention to the fact that there is a responsible and an irresponsible approach. I note that you also cite motorcyclists behaviour. I was very dismayed to see that BBC's Top Gear magazine shows a high powered motorcyclist doing a wheelie, which is the not responsible approach to motorised travel that any of us would welcome.

Mr O'Brien

  328. The Slower Speeds Initiative does not appear to be supporting the targeting of accident black spots. In view of the fact that local authorities have limited resources do you not consider that to target the areas of black spots, reduce fatal accidents and serious injuries is the best way of going about it?
  (Ms Mitchell) We are not against targeting black spots but we are against restricting safety treatments and speed reductions to areas where there has been a casualty. I have to say the communities that we have contacting us are looking at what they call "human sacrifice" because they are told that somebody has to die before their authority will intervene to reduce speed limits and control them or before the local police force will. We have said that traffic calming and speed reducing measures have extremely high rates of return, we have seen this with camera enforcement and we have seen it with standard traffic calming, it is a matter of priorities in the transport system. What we think is needed is a much better understanding of the extent to which road safety has to be a priority for an integrated transport system—it should be top of the list of expenditure for transport. We are talking about improving the way the network works now for all road users, including those who are more sustainable and managing it the best we can before we start spending money else where. I think that in the transport budget itself if there was much stronger guidance from government to get the safety element right we would have a lot more spent on road safety and we would not need to be restricted to areas where we have already sacrificed members of our community.

  329. You say you are not opposed to this but you do not support it?
  (Ms Mitchell) We think it is wrong to restrict safety expenditure to areas where people have lost their lives or been seriously injured.
  (Mr Mathew) Prevention is better than cure.
  (Ms Mitchell) Exactly.

  330. Where there are limited resources, which they are, and therefore the issue that is, perhaps, facing the local authorities is the best way forward? Your philosophy of enforcement, where the people who are involved in local authorities are trying to target the speeders to reduce their speed to make sure they are aware of the problems, do you not think that is a better approach to enforcing road safety where there are limited resources?
  (Mr Mathew) First of all I am not certain that resources are limited, we have been talking about the Ten Year Plan and the £180 billion of expenditure. This government, to its credit, has made more resources available for transport and for local transport and we would argue that areas, particularly of major highway widening, could be moved into local transport and increase those resources. Secondly, it does get back to the whole question of the framework. I was struck by the Chief Constable of North Wales saying speed is not just a casualty issue, it is a quality of life issue, it is social issue, it is a children's issue, it is a neighbourhood issue and it gets back to that sort of assessment framework, almost a health and safety approach, designed to identify problems and iron out problems before they occur, before someone is killed or disabled for a lifetime.

  331. Can I just draw attention to your briefing note, briefing number two, when you comment that resources are available. It states here that speed cameras are not being used to their full potential because of the cost of operating them. If the funding programme can be overcome more cameras should be used to cut collisions. If there is no problem with funding why do you put it in your briefing?
  (Ms Mitchell) That is a briefing that came out in response to the Speed Policy Review and in advance of the hypothecation pilot.

  332. There is still a restriction in funding?
  (Ms Mitchell) No, the briefing has been rendered out-of-date in that respect, the hypothecation pilot, the netting-off pilot has actually solved the problem of under funding of speed cameras, within very strict parameters I have to say. We do not think there is a serious funding problem, we think the problem is integrating policies and prioritising expenditure.
  (Mr Mathew) There was a problem with funding cameras at the time that was written.

Miss McIntosh

  333. If I can just remind the Committee of my interest in the RAC, which I declared previously. We have taken evidence on the difference between excessive speeds and inappropriate speeds. Just in regard to what you have shared with the Committee this morning do you think it is appropriate to almost focus entirely on the reduction of speeds to 20 mph in residential areas, which I appreciate can bring benefits, and we have seen that in the Vale of York. There are other roads, and perhaps the experiment you have conducted might help with this, that show, for example, where you have what appears to be a deeply rural road between two villages, where there is excessive or inappropriate speeds because of the nature of the road and severe bends on that road and also the fact that you have shared use between agricultural vehicles, children walking, old people walking and cyclists as well, is it not better to look at reducing speeds on all roads?
  (Dr Davis) I think the issue of reducing speeds on all roads is a valid one, certainly as mentioned by a previous submission of evidence this morning, the example of Suffolk, where Suffolk County Council after pressure over a number of years decided to allow villages to have 30 mph speed limits. That did show effects in terms of the reduction in casualties and speed coming into the villages, especially reducing substantially the level of high speeds entering the villages. It is not absolutely a blanket everywhere but 20 mph in urban areas we see as very important. On that point I would like to highlight that back in 1992 a former transport minister, Christopher Chope did say that, "I estimate that eight out of every ten urban roads would potentially be eligible to be part of a 20 mph zone". That was made by a government minister, so we already have that on the record. I do take your point that in other areas we may be looking to lower speeds from 40 mph or 50 mph, as in the case of Suffolk, to give people 30 mph speed limits where they want them.

  334. Do you not receive representations from people also saying that speed humps are a blessed nuisance, they create a lot of noise, you have the sound of engines running up and then immediately braking? Do you not think that speed limits would be best left to the local authorities rather than to national government?
  (Ms Mitchell) I would like to supplement what Adrian was saying, we do have a policy that speed limits on every class of road should be lower and better enforced. This is why we are advocating the use of the Speed Assessment Framework, what we want is to have the tools to explain the nature of speed, the impacts of speed and why lower speeds are better. We do think speed should come down on country roads and we think they should be as low as 20—

  335. We have heard that, could you comment on the humps?
  (Ms Mitchell) We do not get complaints about humps, all we get is people who want more humps. The discomfort that some cause is largely due to the way that the driver negotiated the hump.


  336. It is very difficult for somebody driving an ambulance without giving some impact to the people in the back of the ambulance?
  (Ms Mitchell) Authorities like Hull and others who have had a lot of experience of humps know about negotiating with the ambulance services and with the emergency services in order to install humps that can accommodate their vehicles. They have done the same with public transport and they have had a trade-off where they have put humps in some areas and bus priorities else where to allow the buses to make up for time loss, so it can be done. We need drivers to understand how to negotiate humps.

Miss McIntosh

  337. Would you agree that local authorities should set the limit?
  (Mr Mathew) Local authorities in consultation with other key players and the community.

  Miss McIntosh: If there were three things you would wish the government to do to improve speed what would they be?


  338. Fairly briefly, please?
  (Mr Mathew) One, press the Home Office to revise the whole question of traffic law and penalties, which has been delayed. Secondly, to have this programme of major trials that we have called for. Thirdly, to have a much more rigorous annual announcement of speed management policy through the LTP process, the pluses and minuses and best practice gained.

  Chairman: On that note can I thank you very much indeed for your evidence.

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 19 March 2002