Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence

Further memorandum from Department for Transport (RS 01A)


  The Department welcomes the Committee's continuing interest in road safety, since this remains a vital matter of public interest and concern. This inquiry is particularly timely. The current strategy, Tomorrow's Roads: Safer for Everyone, covers the period 2000 to 2010 and the Department has begun working with a wide range of stakeholders to develop a successor strategy.

  This memorandum follows the structure of the Committee's seven questions.

1.   To what extent have targets for casualty reduction been a useful tool for focusing professional activity?

  1.1  The current road safety strategy, Tomorrow's Roads: Safer for Everyone set three casualty reduction targets for 2010 against a baseline of the average for 1994-98:

    —  a 40% reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured ("KSI") in road accidents;

    —  a 50% reduction in the number of children KSI; and

    —  a 10% reduction in the slight casualty rate, expressed as the number of people slightly injured per 100 million vehicle km.

  1.2  The Department believes that the road casualty reduction targets for the period to 2010 have been effective. The 2006 data shows:

    —  a 33% reduction in the number of KSIs in road accidents;

    —  a 52% reduction in the number of child KSIs; and

    —  a 28% reduction in the slight casualty rate per 100 million vehicle km.

  1.3  Although the existence of the targets has not been the only factor in driving this improvement in performance, we believe that they have provided a clear and consistent framework within which progress has been delivered. The strengths of the current road safety targets are that they: (a) simply express the outcome which the Department and its partners wish to see—a reduction in death and injury; (b) can be applied at local as well as at national level, galvanising effort on the ground as well as by policy makers; (c) are firmly grounded in research evidence refined by extensive consultation with stakeholders; and (d) benefit from a longstanding and consistent source of base performance data (the "STATS 19" returns). This view of the targets appears to be endorsed by stakeholders, including in the recent PACTS report.[6]

  1.4  The financial incentives which reward road casualty reduction under the Local Transport Plan regime have helped ensure that national aspirations are delivered locally. Local authorities will continue to report on road casualties under Local Area Agreements, whose delivery will be central to Audit Commission assessments and associated with financial incentives. The Department also works directly with struggling local authorities to reduce casualties and has now set up a Road Safety Delivery Board, made up of those agencies with key responsibilities for road safety, to spread good practice and overcome obstacles.

  1.5  In addition, two areas of particular focus have seen their targets achieved. The first was that for reducing deaths and serious injuries amongst children to a greater degree than the target for the wider population—50% rather than 40%. This reflected the concern at the time of publication of Tomorrow's Roads that child casualties were high in Britain when compared to international peers. The fact that this target has already been achieved is further evidence, in the Department's view, that there is "buy-in" to the targets contained in Tomorrow's Roads. Secondly, a target was added in 2002 to secure by 2005 a greater percentage reduction in road casualties in the 88 most deprived English districts than for England as a whole. This was achieved in 2005.

  1.6  These targets appear to have been effective for the 2000-10 period. However, whilst the numbers of KSIs have been reduced in line with the targets, a breakdown of the numbers shows that a disproportionate part of that reduction has been in serious injuries rather than deaths. This is, of course, a matter of great concern to the Department. We consider this issue further in relation to the Committee's last two questions on our future strategy.

  1.7  The post-2010 strategy will also need to take account of a very different context to that of 2000. We will be taking a fresh look at the structure and focus of targets to make sure that they reflect the new national priorities and are likely to be effective in driving high quality performance.

2.   What further measures need to be adopted to reduce deaths and injuries arising from drinking and driving?

  2.1  Alcohol abuse in Great Britain is a recurring factor in anti-social and criminal behaviour of various types. And young adults who drink to excess feature disproportionately in crime and disorder.[7] The Department recognises the need to work effectively across Whitehall to combat these wider societal problems.

  2.2  The number of deaths and serious injuries in road accidents involving illegal alcohol levels fell 30% from 1996 to 2006.[8] While this fall is very welcome, it still leaves 540 deaths and 1,960 serious injuries resulting from such accidents—an unacceptable position.

  2.3  We made clear in the second review of the current road safety strategy that tackling drink-driving is a high priority and that our first objective is improved enforcement. This reflects the evidence that most drink drivers involved in fatal accidents have alcohol levels which are well above the legal limit, so enforcement measures might be expected to have a greater impact than a change in the alcohol limit.

  2.4  We were therefore encouraged by the police's Christmas 2007 crackdown on drink driving, which saw a 6.4% increase in the number of breath tests.[9] Given the high level of breath test failures—still over 100,000 a year—it is similarly encouraging that drink-drive enforcement is part of the new police performance framework upon which the Home Office is currently consulting.[10]

  2.5  The Department will monitor the impact of this enhanced enforcement in terms of deaths and injuries in accidents involving excess alcohol. We will also consult on means of supporting the police in their enforcement role and will continue to work with them in co-ordinating our Think! drink-drive publicity campaigns, on which we currently spend some £3.25 million per annum, with their enforcement effort.

3.   How does Great Britain compare with other EU countries in its approach to reducing deaths and injuries?

  3.1  A comparison of road deaths rates per 100,000 population shows that the UK continues to perform well by both EU and wider international standards (see graph below). The approach taken in our 2000 strategy, combining engineering, enforcement and education has been widely regarded as a success story and many of our approaches replicated across Europe. However, there have been notable improvements in performance of some of our EU peers, even those who like the UK are already strong performers.

  3.2  As part of our review process, we will be considering how high performing countries have succeeded in achieving continuing improvement—for example in Sweden and the Netherlands.

  3.3  Sweden's Vision Zero starts from an ethical perspective—that nobody should die or be seriously injured for life in road traffic. In practice, there is an acceptance that the inherent risks of the road mean that accidents will occur, but Vision Zero seeks to ensure, as far as possible, that such accidents do not lead to deaths or crippling injuries. Vision Zero does appear to have changed the practices, policies and standards of Swedish road safety professionals.

  3.4  The Dutch Sustainable Safety vision is not entirely dissimilar. It is based on the idea that human error is inevitable and that the road and vehicle environment therefore needs to be constructed so as to compensate.

  3.5  In developing the post-2010 strategy, the Department will consider our longer term vision or goal for road safety in Great Britain. We will then reflect on whether that can be translated into an approach to road safety which brings about consistent, reinforcing action in all elements of the road safety system—engineering, education and enforcement.

4.   How do approaches in reductions in risk on the roads compare to those adopted in other modes of transport?

  4.1  Deaths on roads per distance travelled continue to dwarf those for other modes (see graph below). The Department recently reaffirmed its commitment[11] to reduce "the risk of death, injury or illness arising from transport". In the context of both that commitment and Sir Rod Eddington's advice to the Department[12] to be more "modally agnostic" in its thinking, we are considering how we might improve safety policy-making across the modes.

  4.2  A new Departmental Transport Safety Group, which brings together transport safety experts from each mode, will seek to identify the key future safety challenges and will consider issues such as:

    —  public perceptions and attitudes to risk for the different modes;

    —  how risk is assessed and how that drives policy making; and

    —  the role of human factors in transport safety.

  4.3  Attached at Annex A is a brief summary of the approaches to safety for the different modes.

5.   Are there specific blockages caused by shortages of appropriately trained and skilled staff?

  5.1  There is growing concern about the shortage of skilled resources amongst transport professionals. This was one of the reasons why we have supported a national resources study "Project Brunel" led by TfL, to investigate the current and future state of engineering and transport planning professional resource in the road and rail sector. Previously commissioned reports[13] conclude that there is a skills gap in areas of the transport industry. We believe that lack of know-how is hampering casualty reduction, at least in some areas of the country. Project Brunel covers road safety engineering expertise and should provide more detailed evidence than previous reports about the many different disciplines within the industry. The study is due to be completed later in 2008 and also aims to identify actions, which could be taken to address identified skills shortages.

6.   What further policies, not already widely used, might be considered for adoption and what evidence there is for their success?

7.   What should be the priorities for government in considering further targets for casualty reduction beyond 2010?

  6.1  Our 2000 strategy and targets have been highly effective mechanisms for improving safety performance at both national and local level. Given the success we have already achieved, making a further step change from 2010 will be a much more challenging task. Our thinking on the post-2010 strategy is at an early stage, but it is clear that we shall need both to focus on reinforcing those measures from the 2000 strategy which are proving consistently effective, and to develop new approaches which learn from the best practice across government in effective regulation and the achievement of behavioural change.

  6.2  Our February 2007 review of the current strategy has already highlighted some areas where performance has been weaker, and some behaviours which are persistently causing death and injury. In terms of our performance, perhaps the strongest message from our performance data is that we are being less effective in reducing deaths than in reducing KSIs overall. Deaths in 2006 were only 11% below the 1994-98 baseline.

  6.3  It is already clear that a key challenge for our new strategy will be to improve this record of performance on the most serious crashes. This will mean identifying and tackling those behaviours and groups of behaviours which are most likely to lead to fatalities. We shall want particularly to focus on deaths associated with drink-driving, which have shown an increase since 1998; on fatalities associated with not wearing seatbelts; on inappropriate and excessive speed; and on how we generally encourage improved driving standards whilst dealing effectively with those whose behaviour is unacceptable. We are also keen to probe the extent to which dangerous driving traits and unlicensed and uninsured driving are associated with the same individuals or groups. In addition, moving away from issues of poor behaviour, we will need to continue to consider how to tackle the disproportionate rate of death and injury among motorcyclists.

  6.4  We have also identified a number of key themes which we will be addressing in the consultation and the strategy review.

  6.5  First, we want to ensure that we are not only tackling the most dangerous behaviours, but tackling them in a way which is likely to be effective and to secure broad public support. Our road safety strategy will need to be part of a balanced deal with the motorist, which not only includes effective penalties for those who endanger others, but supports strong road skills and responsible decision making. A key issue for our review is how we can strengthen motorists' incentives to drive in a safe and responsible way, building on the success of the THINK! campaign.

  6.6  Second, we need to consider how we can move beyond programmes of discrete measures aimed at tackling unsafe behaviours individually to develop an approach to road safety which considers how all parts of the system—engineering, education and enforcement—can work together to reduce casualties. This means ensuring that there is a balanced package of measures in place to avoid and mitigate the impact of road accidents.

  6.7  Third, as set out in section 4 above, we will be keen to learn lessons from the experience of other modes of transport in planning for and regulating safety, including looking at the arrangements for investigating accidents and promulgating advice and recommendations at national level.

  6.8  Finally, the Department will be keen to put road safety into the wider policy context, looking at influencing factors from outside the road safety world. These include the need to reduce carbon emissions and raise levels of physical activity and the changing national demographics, with a higher proportion of older drivers. We shall consider both the short- to medium-term measures and the issues on the horizon with stakeholders in developing our strategy.

  We intend, with the Scottish Executive and Welsh Assembly Government, to consult extensively on a road safety strategy for the period from 2010 and will be keen to hear the views of the committee and other interests as part of that process.

February 2008

Annex A


  A1 For roads, the Secretary of State for Transport has overall statutory responsibility for road safety, with local highway authorities, the police and many others all playing important roles. Safety standards for vehicles are set at European level and European requirements also underpin, to varying extents, a range of areas of road safety law (for instance driver licensing and driver training and testing requirements, seat belt wearing requirements and the drivers' hours regime for many commercial vehicles). The Department's approach to road safety policy and schemes is through cost-benefit analysis (CBA)—a standard means of weighing up costs and benefits. Non-financial costs and benefits are given financial values wherever possible. Safety benefits are based on the number of occurrences of incidents that a measure can be expected to prevent, and the statistical value of fatalities and injuries avoided. There is always some uncertainty and, like all appraisal techniques, CBA informs decisions. Decision-takers need to understand the limitations of the appraisal's robustness and to know what additional, non-monetised, costs and benefits should be taken into account. In light of the very large numbers of deaths and injuries on the roads, all the authorities involved have to prioritise their actions and concentrate on those issues and problems where action can deliver the largest reductions in casualties, taking account of the resources available.

  A2 The Secretary of State for Transport is accountable to Parliament for safety on the railways. She is responsible for making rail safety legislation, acting on the advice of the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), which is the independent safety regulator and enforcement body. The principle that risk should be reduced "so far as is reasonably practicable" (known as SFAIRP) is central to the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and is the basis for rail safety regulation. In Great Britain, rail operators, infrastructure managers and renewal companies manage rail safety through the implementation of Safety Management Systems (SMS), as required by EC Railway Safety Directive 2004/49/EC, under which they are required to use risk assessment to establish what the key risks are and to introduce control measures to remove them or to ensure that they are adequately controlled.

  A3 For aviation, the Civil Aviation Act 1982 places complementary duties on the Secretary of State and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in relation to aviation safety. The Secretary of State is responsible for encouraging measures for promoting safety in the use of civil aircraft; ensuring that international obligations are fulfilled; issuing permits to foreign-registered aircraft; and appointing inspectors to carry out air accident investigations. Harmonised standards for aviation safety are increasingly being set at the European level. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) was established in September 2003 and determines the rules and standards for airworthiness and flight operations. In due course, EASA is expected to take on responsibility for setting the standards for aerodrome and air traffic management safety as well. The CAA implements the European regulations as well as the standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. The CAA adopts a risk-based approach to its enforcement and regulatory oversight, using incident and occurrence report data, accident analyses and its oversight of organisations to identify the key risks.

  A4 Shipping safety is overseen by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), an agency of the Department. The MCA is responsible throughout the UK for implementing the Government's maritime safety and marine environmental protection policy, which is underpinned by requirements of European and international law—in particular the International Maritime Organisation's Conventions on Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and Maritime Pollution (MARPOL). The Secretary of State for Transport is responsible for the framework in which the Agency operates. Maritime accidents can result in injury to people, environmental damage, and economic losses to ships equipment and cargo. The IMO Formal Safety Assessment system is the international method by which regulation is considered, and its application is broadly consistent with UK principles (including ALARP) and UK values. The maritime safety regime deals with very significant risks, especially where significant numbers of passengers and large volumes of pollutants are involved. Accordingly, regulation, inspection, and enforcement are, to a large extent, risk based.

Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety, Beyond 2010-a holistic approach to road safety in Great BritainBack

7   Safe.Sensible.Social. The next steps in the national alcohol strategy, Dept of Health, June 2007. Back

8   Road Casualties Great Britain, The Stationery Office, 2006. Back

9   ACPO Press Release, 17 January 2007. Back

10   Home Office, Assessments of Policing and Community Safety consultation, December 2007 Back

11   Towards a Sustainable Transport System, DfT, October 2007. Back

12   Eddington Transport Study, DfT, December 2006. Back

13   Engineering & Technology Board, Engineering UK, December 2006 and Institution of Civil Engineers' State of the Nation Report, December 2007. Back

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