Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 200-219)


14 MAY 2008

  Q200  Graham Stringer: I am slightly surprised that nobody has mentioned the relationship between the Department for Transport and the Home Office. Do you think that the Home Office plays as full a role in preventing casualties as it could do? Are its policies as well co-ordinated with the Department for Transport as they could be?

  Professor Goodwin: When I was in another institute some decades ago now, we did a piece of research for the Police Foundation, a research body looking at policing. The results of that research and their perceptions certainly were that traffic policing is not a high-profile career track for high fliers within the police force. It is something that clearly they all understand is necessary but there are concerns about how important it is, and especially concerns that, by too stringent policing, the police might put themselves into conflict with what they see to be the upstanding, middle groups of the community, which therefore might conflict with the public support that is necessary for other and, as they see it, more important policing objectives. It is a complicated issue but there does seem to be some truth in that: that there can be a go-softly approach to traffic policing, "Ah, well, it's the sort of thing we all do, isn't it?"—as compared with any other activity likely to cause such grievous damage to life, limb and property. Whether that is due to the Home Office or to cultures within the police force I think is a moot point, and I am not sure about that. However, I do think that there is a need to raise the profile and importance; and that actions likely to cause serious damage while you are driving are absolutely as important as potential crimes, as any other activity that people undertake.

  Professor Whitelegg: Perhaps I may add to that. As part of an exercise I did in 2004-05 on a Department for Transport-funded project on the Swedish Vision Zero road safety policy, we had the much-maligned focus groups and we talked to about 230 citizens across the whole of England about road safety, targets, objectives, and what people were concerned about. There was an overwhelmingly strong view, almost without any exception, on the part of the citizens we talked to that speeding was a problem, and that was equalled by lack of police enforcement. They were very unhappy about the lack of police enforcement. Interestingly, however, they said, "But we see the point of view that we think the police are operating from. They have large numbers of demands on their time and we can see how it would be possible for a police force maybe to prioritise crime against the person, burglary, terrorism, or whatever." They were well aware of the competing demands on time, but nevertheless the strong view expressed was that there is a mismatch between what members of the public are concerned about—they want safer streets and much-reduced possibilities of being injured or killed in a road traffic accident—and the lack of police enforcement of speed limits, and the fact that the police actually operated, in their words, as a "blocking mechanism". If there was a proposal to impose a heavy goods vehicle ban on a street or have a 20 mph speed limit outside a school or a whole number of things, the police would say, "Do it if you like, but we won't enforce it because we don't have the resources". That led to a deep sense of grievance. I do not know in detail about the way the Home Office works, but in terms of the interaction between road safety issues, policing, justice, law enforcement issues, I think that there is another strong lack of joined-up thinking.

  Q201  Clive Efford: In your focus groups, when people were talking about their concerns about their local communities, did they give any indication of where they ranked the issue of speeding against other issues that concerned them in their communities? Was it very high on their list of priorities?

  Professor Whitelegg: In a sense, we had prejudged the situation by asking people to come and see us to talk about road safety; so they were motivated to raise issues about road safety. I think that it would therefore be unfair to try and pretend that we had a scientifically rigorous, representative sample across a range of things. In random discussion, they wanted to talk about street crime, mugging, and a whole number of other things that they thought were problematic and stopped them using the streets as much as they would like to. Speeding traffic and lack of enforcement was as high as anything that they mentioned, but it would be wrong for me to say that I have some kind of rigorous statistical sample to back that up.

  Q202  Clive Efford: Did they give any indication about the use of technology, perhaps to replace police enforcement?

  Professor Whitelegg: Yes. It was something that we had not raised in our briefing of the people taking part in the focus groups but that they raised spontaneously. They were very keen, for example, on whether or not speed cameras—which generally speaking they did not like—could be used as a way of controlling speed automatically, in the sense that a speed limit could be set and there would be two cameras. There is the technology around, though I am not a technology expert. Basically, there are experiments underway in London on what I think they call "averaging speed cameras", which is what they were talking about. They were very keen on technology being used, because they were very keen on not putting a high burden on police resources; so they wanted technology to substitute for police persons, because that would serve the same objective of minimising speed and controlling speed.

  Professor Goodwin: There is some other survey evidence as well to add to that—the more conventional types of opinion surveys—and it is quite interesting that the idea of 20 mph speed limits, especially in residential areas or what people perceive as being residential areas, which means "where I live", has an extraordinarily high level of public support: very much higher than you would sense by looking at the statements of organised opinion of stakeholders in the transport/safety argument. It does seem to be one of the most popular potential policies that can be implemented. I think that it is also well established that potentially it is one of the biggest remaining hits that one could make on the accident rate.

  Q203  Graham Stringer: How does our institutional approach to road safety compare with other European countries, both at the national level and at the regional level, as Mr Wegman suggested is important?

  Mr Wegman: Perhaps I may come back to this police question. One of the best things a government can do in showing its serious interest in road safety is to bring police to the roads and streets. There are not that many other activities a government can show to the public. However, in all countries I am aware of people are complaining in the road safety sector about a lack of capacity and that they do not send a lot of police officers to the streets. They are always other priorities. We have to live with that. The only way out, in my opinion, is to add two things to police activities. First of all, public information campaigns in order to create an understanding of the police activity and an acceptance of that being done. That is the first thing they have to do. The second thing is to bring in technology. You can make simple estimates about what the police officer has to do in order to bring a specific deterrence to the road user—and that is very limited. That said, you have to do something additional to bringing officers on to the streets. In my opinion, that is future technology. Both parts are very important. Acceptance of that technology, acceptance of the police, and then to bring the message across that it is really serious when it comes to speed enforcement, or drinking and driving enforcement.

  Professor Goodwin: It is an interesting question, is it not—the difference between the way in which the safety argument is conducted in different countries? The Committee, I know, has been very interested in the Swedish Vision Zero idea, and there are variants of that in other countries. I think it is the case that the biggest difference we see in those cases is in the rhetoric, for want of a better word, with which safety policies are argued at national level. I do not mean that in an insulting way. It is the way in which politicians convince themselves that this is the right thing to do. However, they only have any meaning when you get down to specific, concrete acts of policy implemented on the streets. A target, simply as a declaration, has not quite zero effect but fairly close to it. When you look at the specific acts—for example, speed humps, speed limits or enforcement levels, the 20 mph idea, the access of vehicles to specific residential areas, the conditions of law which influence who is to blame when there is a collision—all those sorts of things are specific, concrete acts and there is a large but limited repertoire, toolbox, of things one can do; and all countries choose more or less a similar pattern, though perhaps giving a slightly different emphasis. I think that is much more important than whether these policies are justified in terms of an overall vision. In terms of your own discussions, I think that I am one of the pragmatists rather than the visionaries on that.

  Q204  Mr Martlew: On the priority that the various countries give to road safety—for example, if we look at the audience today it is quite sparse but when we were looking at the fiasco in Terminal 5 we were packed out and the cameras were there, although nobody was killed—do the public and the media take a more enlightened view with regard to road safety, say, in Sweden and in the Netherlands? Is it more important than it is to us?

  Professor Whitelegg: I was a German civil servant for three years—which I have still not recovered from!

  Q205  Mr Martlew: Neither have they, I daresay!

  Professor Whitelegg: No, they have not! It was the Ministry of Transport in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, in Du­sseldorf, a state of 16 million people. I have worked in Denmark and in other European countries, and there is an enormous difference between Britain and these other countries. It is simply one of boldness versus nervousness. Britain is a very, very nervous country—incredibly nervous. We have the best transport analysis and policy, in terms of documents and research, of any European country I know—and I defer to the Dutch, whose work is excellent—but we do not translate it into policy, namely to things that happen on the ground. What I mean by that is that is this. At the time I worked in Du­sseldorf, we had a street party to celebrate our 10,000th Home Zone. Ten thousand in one state of Germany. Britain now has 600 Home Zones. In 1991 we had 10,000 in one state in Germany. Graz in Austria made the whole city 20 mph in 1992. There is Freiburg in southern Germany—and the list goes on and on. The debate that we have constantly is, "Oh, dear, what shall we do? We know about speed; we know about the probability of crashes and injuries" and so on. We go round and round, and we have lots of interesting investigations and reports; then we say, "That was nice, wasn't it? But we won't do it". We are not bold. That sort of national governmental culture, wherever it comes from—I do not have an explanation of where it comes from—I think gets translated into a degree of frustration and almost disengagement on the part of the public, which goes back to your point. There is not so much interest in Britain because, again in our focus groups, the thing that came through repeatedly was, "There's no point in saying anything because nothing useful ever happens". Nothing will happen. We do not get the 20 mph; we still do not get the Home Zones; we do not get the speed enforcement. We just do not get it. The big difference between us and other countries, therefore, is simply one of boldness. The Swedish Vision Zero, as Phil said, is not unique. The Danes do not have a Vision Zero, but they have a policy that says, "One death is one death too many". Norway has a similar policy, and so it goes on. They implement it and have clear, budgeted, targeted interventions that deliver that result. We do not. We are very nervous, very complacent, and we behave more like rabbits in the headlights of an oncoming car. We go round in circles, back to where we started, and we do not do the job—that is the problem.

  Mr Wegman: Until 2000 we were always looking to the United Kingdom when it came to road safety. You were the inventors of many good activities and policies. All of a sudden, somewhere in 2000, you stopped doing things and we continued with our efforts. A simple figure to illustrate that is that, compared to 2000, in 2006 you had 7% fewer fatalities in this country. We have one-third fewer. That was the pace of improvement that you also showed in the past. I do not have an explanation for that, but the real question is why you have not continued with your efforts. As to this item, it is right that we are doing things. Is the public waiting for it and asking for it? In a way, they are. For example, we have quite a lot of public support for the implementation of 30 kph zones—20 mph zones. Potentially, we have 50,000 km of street lengths in which to implement it. In the last 10 years, we have managed to implement 30 kph zones in 60% of those streets. Not because it was a wish on the part of the government but because the citizens asked for it. It is very important indeed that you market a solution to the public and that the public is asking for those sorts of solutions. Instead of bringing the good measures to them, they ask for it. We are now running out of budget and we are looking for additional budget to continue with these efforts. Nevertheless, it is an example of the implementation of these different measures. That is not new or unknown to you. You know everything. I fully agree that you have the best experts in this country. The question is why you do not do it. I do not have an explanation for that. The road safety problems are rather similar. We are facing a new area, where we cannot simply apply the same recipes as we did in the past. We have to develop new recipes. We need the public on our side. It is not their top priority and never has been; nevertheless, you can make progress step by step. The big question for you is "Where can we find our opportunities here?"

  Q206  Clive Efford: Just to follow that up, could you elaborate for us, Mr Wegman? You said that we fail to follow through and implement changes that you have implemented. What specifically do you mean?

  Mr Wegman: The first example I gave is traffic-calming, but I can give you another example.

  Q207  Clive Efford: Can I just ask you what you mean by traffic-calming?

  Mr Wegman: By traffic-calming we mean that we do not want to have people using residential streets as a through-traffic street, first of all, so we would like to get rid of that through-traffic in residential areas.

  Q208  Clive Efford: We are talking about physical barriers, one-way systems, to stop people doing what we call "rat-running"?

  Mr Wegman: Let us call it making it less attractive. The second thing is that we try to slow the traffic down to 30 kph. Again, if you accept that the only people in these areas are those who live there and have their destination there, you want to see some kind of interaction between the residents who live there, saying, "Please slow down". That is just an example. I can give you another example.

  Q209  Clive Efford: Is it a request just to slow down or is it physical barriers like speed humps?

  Mr Wegman: Two things are very elementary in this. First of all, that you are aware that you are entering such an area; so there is a kind of gate there to show that is a different area to the one you have been in before. The second thing is that, regularly, you have those physical means. There is always the question that people do not like it and they do not have the most positive feelings about it. Then it is a question of negotiations with the citizens: "What do you wish to see there? What kind of physical barriers would you like to have here?" Again, if people do not accept it and are against it, my recommendation will always be "Don't do it. Wait until there is a certain request and a willingness to accept such measures".

  Q210  Clive Efford: How willing are people to be inconvenienced in the areas where they live? My experience of localised traffic-calming measures, where you introduce, say, one-way systems, is that it creates a very circuitous route for people sometimes to go a short distance to get to their home in one of these new zones. Therefore, a lot of opposition is generated by any proposals, because the people do not want to be inconvenienced. How much of that did you come across?

  Mr Wegman: That is well known and, again, it is a matter of the smart design of those schemes. Again, do it together with the people living there, instead of "I bring you the good message. Please buy it from me".

  Professor Goodwin: I think that we have tended in the past to rely on too narrow a repertoire of instruments of traffic-calming. Essentially, it is one-way streets or cul-de-sacs and speed bumps. When you look at the textbooks now, the international textbooks on traffic-calming, there are 100 different measures, including the road surface you use, the curvature, the use of lines of sight. You have very much more effective engineering methods than the simple speed hump with a bumpy profile, with speed tables. You can use the texture of the road surface to give signals to people that this space is allowed to vehicles but is the pedestrians' property. People do actually behave in accordance with those signals. If you do all these things together and you do it with good design standards, and not too cheaply, then the experience seems to be that this is not resented by residents as something which is inconvenient; this is perceived as an improvement to the quality of their local street environment, in the same way that trees or a local park would be. It is actually a very positive thing.

  Q211  Clive Efford: Could you give us an example of where a textured road surface, where pedestrians are given priority rather than cars but they come into—not contact with one another—but I am thinking of somewhere like Covent Garden. Do you have any examples?

  Professor Goodwin: You want actual locations?

  Q212  Clive Efford: Yes.

  Professor Goodwin: We can provide you with a good list of places to look at.

  Q213  Clive Efford: And the sorts of measures that are being implemented.

  Professor Goodwin: Yes. To give a very simple example, speed tables, which are much broader than speed humps, with a pedestrian crossing on top of them, are a very effective, simple method of changing the perception of the driver so that they do not think, "This is a road. What are the pedestrians doing here?" They think, "Ah, this is a pedestrian space. I'd better go a bit carefully".

  Q214  Clive Efford: It is remarkable that you made that last comment, because my next question was do we corral pedestrians too much?

  Professor Goodwin: We do.

  Q215  Clive Efford: Do we generate too much an attitude that every pedestrian that steps off the kerb into the road is a trespasser?

  Professor Goodwin: I had a very interesting experience recently in an international conference, talking about pedestrian refuges. A German colleague at the conference said, "Refuge? What's `refuge'?" We explained, "This is an island". "You mean pedestrians are refugees?" He could not get the concept of these railings which are a barrier in the way of pedestrians. We send pedestrians underneath roads, in nasty, smelly underpasses, while the vehicles get the priority of the surface. It is a crazy process of priorities.

  Professor Whitelegg: This is again a matter of boldness, in that one of the issues that the discussion of Home Zones and traffic-calming raises is that a traffic engineer, or a local authority, indeed the Department for Transport, would see these as fundamentally causing problems in terms of traffic flow and congestion. There is almost a hierarchy of policy objectives, and one of the problems in Britain is that that hierarchy is often described in a benevolent way, saying, "We put pedestrians first", and then cyclists, and so on. However, every time I have looked in detail—and I have worked with dozens of local authorities—the hierarchy is the other way round. The car comes first. I even know of local authorities that are trying to remove pedestrian crossings as a way of improving traffic flow and of reducing congestion. There are the kinds of policies which would have the direct effect that I have seen in German, Austrian and Swiss cities, for example. We can close streets. If there is rat-running on a street, close it; put bollards at both ends which are up most of the time and all the residents have a smart-card, they swipe it, and then they go down. In fact, York City Council has done this. It is the only one I know of in Britain, but there may be others. The street has been converted from an extremely unpleasant place to a place where children are playing on the streets and the whole street has taken on a new life, because a residential street had become a major traffic thoroughfare. Now it is there for everyone to see, with the rising bollards that go up and down. However, that kind of discussion which we need to have is very difficult in Britain, because of this inherent or intrinsic conflict in what we really, really want. What I think we really, really want in Britain—we could have a big discussion, but you do not have time and neither have I, about what we mean by "we"—is to have lots of cars running round, because it looks good for the economy; it is freedom of choice; it reduces congestion; and we do not really want to create highly healthy, attractive, pleasant living environments. We have to change that priority.

  Q216  Clive Efford: Could I ask you to go back to the issue of lack of boldness and 20 mph zones? My experience of trying to introduce them is that there is this perverse impact now of technology. That is, because there are not speed cameras that are calibrated for 20 mph zones, police say, "If you put a 20 mph zone in, it must be self-policing". Therefore you have to spend a lot of money on speed humps and things like that, if you are to have a 20 mph zone, which seems to me to be a barrier in the way of actually introducing 20 mph zones in what we would call residential areas.

  Professor Whitelegg: You have identified a crucial problem or barrier generally to making progress in terms of urban design and making places really attractive for the elderly, for children, for people with disabilities—making places nice places to live. First of all, the 20 mph calibration thing is a completely false point—that they cannot be calibrated. There is no problem technically in having a piece of equipment and technology that can identify whether a vehicle is going at 19, 20 or 21 mph. It can be done; it is being done. It is being done in York, where there are 20 mph speed limits outside schools, which are enforced. That one has therefore been resolved. The thing about self-enforcing is very much a circular kind of argument. The current position in England is that Home Zones, traffic-calming, have to be self-enforcing, which means that there have to be humps, bumps, chicanes, build-outs, and so on, and you cannot have them otherwise. However, the international experience—and German cities have moved massively in this direction—is that you do not need the humps, bumps, chicanes and build-outs. You put up big signs. You say—in the case of Germany "Tempo-30"—"This is a 30 kph area". It is effectively policed, and every country has a different way of policing to minimise demands on police time. People get the message, and it works. The problem in England is that a Home Zone—that is, an area-wide treatment with new surfaces, humps, bumps, chicanes and build-outs—on average costs about half a million pounds. We had one in my local authority area that covered 150 dwellings, which cost three-quarters of a million pounds. There is no chance whatsoever that we will get enough Home Zones in England, at those costs, to solve the problem. We therefore have to move in the direction of a different kind of psychology and a different kind of engineering, and that removes the barrier—but there is resistance.

  Q217  Clive Efford: I know that we have been on this point for a very long time, but I have just one last quick question to follow that up. Your experience is, though, that in other countries where they have introduced Home Zones, 20 mph zones, without the build-outs and the humps and bumps, they have worked?

  Professor Whitelegg: Yes, they do work. The whole city of Graz in Austria is one Home Zone and it works, and it is not all humped and bumped. It was in the early days but they have now got rid of them, and they have moved on to this kind of open-space approach—and they work.

  Mr Wegman: I know the German example. In Germany they claim that it works like that. In my country it does not work like that. We need engineering measures but we also need public support, and I am not very much in favour of sending police officers to residential zones for their enforcement activities. It is simply not very cost-effective. It is far better to send your police officers to roads where you have volumes and where you have a massive neglect of the speed limits. I am not in favour, therefore, of sending police officers to residential areas. That is why I am more for self-enforcing activities; not because it is only humps and bumps or whatever, but because people in the residential areas do accept that as a starting point and then you add, for example, those gates that I have talked about. I am also very much in favour of raised intersections. It makes it very clear that there is an intersection; it indicates that you have to slow down; there is other traffic to the intersection. That is a starting point, and sometimes you need additional, in-between, physical engineering measures.

  Q218  Mr Martlew: I think it was said earlier that it is becoming more and more difficult to reduce the number of casualties. The easy bit has been done. To listen to the professor, you would think that we were one of the worst countries in the world. In fact, we are still one of the best countries in the world. Would it not be easier, if we wished to make progress fairly quickly, to have two pieces of legislation? One would be—and personally I am ambiguous about this—to reduce the alcohol limit at which people could drive; secondly, to change the novice driver system, so that people can start to learn to drive at 17 but cannot pass until 18. That would very quickly have a fairly dramatic effect, would it not, on the number of fatalities and would not cost a lot of money?

  Mr Wegman: Coming to drinking and driving, in many parts of Europe—I do not exactly know the situation in your country—the public no longer accept drinking and driving. There is only 1% of all motorised transport in my country where there is drinking and driving. It means that the overwhelming majority of the population are no longer drinking and driving. However, we need to send police officers to make it clear to the public that we do not accept that. Our major problem now is that this 1% represents perhaps 20 or 25% of our fatalities. The big problem these days is how to find those who are not obeying the law.

  Q219  Mr Martlew: We have a higher blood level, but we are talking about reducing it.

  Mr Wegman: When we talk about making it more comprehensive, broader, my opinion is that we have to treat that as a problem of alcoholism that is manifesting itself in road traffic. Then you have a far broader perspective than just sending more police officers and bringing more police pressure on these people. The problem is that you simply do not find them. You can post a police officer on the roadside; he will wait and wait, and will see no one. Police officers do not like that. That is the reason why we have to do something different in the future than we have done in the past, in order to bring the overwhelming majority below the legal level. In your case, and the point about the legal limit, I do not believe there is a good reason to have it at that level; there is a good reason to lower it. There is one problem that you will have to face, however. Assuming that you are lowering the legal limit and at the same time you have more people above the legal limit, it means that you have to send more police officers for more people above the legal limit. That is a major problem. If you are going to change the law, you have to pay a lot of attention to the pressure by the police on those who are above the legal limit. That is not an easy problem to solve at all, assuming that there are not a lot of additional police officers to be sent onto the streets.

  Professor Goodwin: Although I would add one point to that. There are cases when it can actually be easier to enforce a zero legal limit than an 80 mg legal limit. The problem with our current situation is the uncertainty. People think, "Well, I'm allowed to drink a bit", and nobody knows exactly how much that bit is or what it really means in terms of their own body physiology, or even what it means in terms of the size of the measures that are offered in homes or in pubs. The advantage of an effectively zero limit is that there is no doubt any more. People know. It is a simple decision, "I'm going to drive; therefore I won't drink". That is a question of public acceptability but, once it is gained—and I think that it is possible to gain it—you have a smaller enforcement problem with the amount of policing you need, not a larger one. I do think that it is one of the biggest examples of success, when you think that, when I was young, "one for the road" was a statement of hospitality. Now, "one for the road" is an incitement to get into trouble. It is a phrase that has simply disappeared from civilised discourse now. You do not hear people saying, "I really must have one for the road" and it was a completely normal expression of everyday life. In one generation, that is a very big effect on social norms, which I think would translate itself with a clearer decision, that drinking and driving are two things which simply do not match together, and if you are doing one you do not do the other.

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