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

Memorandum by the West Yorkshire Transport and Health Group (RTS 20)


  This memorandum is submitted on behalf of the West Yorkshire Transport and Health Group. This is an informal group consisting of representatives from the five Local Authorities and four Health Authorities in West Yorkshire, together with the Institute of Transport Studies at the University of Leeds and the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive.

  Traffic speed is a public health issue. Excessive speed is a major cause of death and disability, and contributes to inequalities in health. However the adverse effects of traffic speed extend beyond injuries.


  In West Yorkshire there over 100 deaths per year due to trauma caused by road traffic (West Yorkshire Transport and Health Group, 2000). As elsewhere in the country, trauma is the commonest cause of death in children. Over 50 per cent of all trauma related deaths in people aged between five and 34 in West Yorkshire are caused by road traffic (ibid). The risk of road traffic collisions and associated trauma increases exponentially with speed (McCarthy, 1999). For each 1 per cent increase in speed there is a 5 per cent increase in mortality. Almost two-thirds of deaths plus serious injuries in children occur in pedestrians (MacGibbon 1999). The death rate from a road traffic collision in children who walk or cycle in Britain is approximately twice the European average (Jarvis et al, 2001).

  There are substantial inequalities between the social classes in the death rate from road traffic injury, and these are widening. Although the death rate has fallen in all social groups in recent decades, the decline in social classes I and II has been substantially greater than in social classes IV and V (in whom it was minimal). There is now a four-fold gradient in mortality between social classes I and V for all road traffic deaths (McCarthy, 1999), and a five-fold gradient for pedestrian deaths (MacGibbon 1999, Roberts et al 1998). This is explained by a number of factors:

    —  Greater exposure in children in low income families as they have less access to other modes of transport.

    —  Speeding is more common in less affluent areas (MacGibbon 1999).

    —  Children from low income families cross more roads (Davis 1999).

    —  Children from low income families are more likely to be unaccompanied (MacGibbon 1999).

    —  Children from low income families may have less understanding of road safety (ibid).


  Road traffic has adverse impacts on health which extend well beyond the direct effects of trauma in road traffic collisions. Most of these are exacerbated by traffic speed. Probably the greatest number of deaths associated with motorised road traffic are due to the associated physical inactivity. Physical inactivity is a risk factor for coronary heart disease which the British Heart Foundation now consider to be even more important than smoking. Our estimate is that in West Yorkshire approximately 2,500 deaths from coronary heart disease can be attributed to physical inactivity (West Yorkshire Transport and Health Group, 2000). One of the major reasons for reduced physical activity levels is the decline of walking and cycling which is associated with perception of danger from fast traffic (Smith and Gurney, 1992).


  Fast traffic on urban roads impairs quality of life in other ways. Access by pedestrians and cyclists, and in particular those with impaired mobility, may be adversely affected by fast traffic. Community severance as a result of urban traffic has been well documented, in relation to both the volume and speed of traffic (Appleyard and Lintel, 1972). People in higher socio-economic groups are able to leave areas with heavy or fast moving traffic, leaving behind those from the lower socio-economic groups. This further exacerbates the inequality in health. Excess speed also increases local air pollution and noise levels with adverse affects on cardiac, respiratory and mental health.


  Any steps taken to reduce the impact of trauma associated with road traffic collisions must not be allowed to exacerbate the other health damaging effects of urban road traffic. In past years the physical separation of motorised traffic from cyclists and pedestrians has in many cases resulted in the exclusion of pedestrians and cyclists from many urban roads. This has discouraged walking and cycling as a means of transport, and increased community severance and its associated problems. Our view is that this approach addresses only one aspect of the deleterious effects of road traffic speed and volume. We believe that a more comprehensive approach to urban traffic management is required which would substantially demote the status of the private car as a means of transport. This will require a combination of infrastructure measures, public education, and stricter enforcement of speed limits, particularly in towns and cities. Some of the opposition to the introduction of safety cameras could be reduced if the links between the speeding traffic and the health and well-being of communities were made more explicit.

  It is essential that DTLR take all the health aspects of transport and traffic management into account in their strategic planning and not just casualty reduction. Joint working with the Department of Health could facilitate this.


  Appleyard D, Lintell M. The environmental quality of city streets: the residents' viewpoint. American Institute of Planners Journal, 1972; 38: 84-101.

  Davis A. Inequalities in health; road transport and pollution. In: Gordon D, Shaw M, Dorling D, Davy-Smith D (eds) Inequalities in health: the evidence. Bristol, Policy Press, 1999, pp170-84.

  Jarvis S, Clarke M, Cryer C, Davidson L, Evans S, Shefiff C, Stone D, Ward H, Yates D. Injury prevention. London, British Medical Association, 2001.

  MacGibbon B. Inequalities in health related to transport. In: Gordon D, Shaw M, Dorling D, Davy-Smith G (eds) Inequalities in health: the evidence. Bristol Policy Press, 1999, pp185-95.

  McCarthy M. Transport and Health. In: Marmot M and Wilkinson RG (eds) Social determinants of health. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999, pp132-54

  Roberts I, Diguiseppi C, Ward H. Childhood injuries: extent of the problem, epidemiological trends, and costs. Injury prevention, 1998; 4: S10-16.

  Smith JD, Gurney A. Community effects of traffic congestion: a review of the London Assessment Study Data. Crowthorne, Berks.: Transport Research Laboratory, 1992.

  West Yorkshire Transport and Health Group. Health impacts of Transport in West Yorkshire 2000.

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