Road Safety - Transport Committee Contents

2  Leadership

Government's vision for road safety

7.  The Government describes its vision for road safety as follows;

Our long-term vision is to ensure that Britain remains a world leader on road safety. There have been impressive improvements over previous decades and in recent years. We are committed to ensuring this trend is maintained. Alongside this our aim is to reduce the relatively high risk of some groups more quickly, in particular for cyclists and children from deprived areas.[17]

It sets out plans to achieve this vision through an action plan and an outcomes framework, which uses a set of indicators "designed to help Government, local organisations and citizens to monitor the progress towards improving road safety".[18] The Government expects that this will "be used against the figures for individual local authorities so that their progress can be compared against the national picture."[19]

Leadership on road safety

8.  The outcomes framework has replaced the targets which were a central feature of the previous government's strategy for road safety.[20] The only countries in the EU that do not have targets as part of their road safety strategies are the UK, Luxembourg and Malta.[21] The Government justified their absence as follows:

While we believe that previous road safety targets have been useful we do not consider that over-arching national targets are still necessary for road safety in Great Britain. This is because we do not believe that further persuasion is needed on the importance of road safety. We expect central and local government to continue to prioritise road safety and continue to seek improvements. Instead we need to move to more sophisticated ways to monitor progress which is why we have developed the Road Safety Outcomes Framework.[22]

9.  Most of our witnesses were in favour of using road safety targets.[23] For example, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) told us that:

Internationally, the evidence is clear that those countries over the last 20 years that have had a target for casualty reduction have achieved higher levels of reduction in fatalities than those countries without. The average over the period is 4%, but that varies between 4% and probably about 17%. You can see that having a target has provided leadership from Government, which has meant that those other institutions, whether they are local government, the private sector or the public sector, have all had a common goal at which to aim.[24]

Such support mostly arose from the consensus that targets help focus efforts and resources on road safety initiatives. For example, we heard that a target-driven approach "helps concentrate the mind"[25] and would "encourage best practice and accountability"[26], particularly at a local level to "explain to local politicians" why road safety should be a priority. [27] In particular, targets were useful for helping prioritise road safety resources for stakeholders such as the police.[28] The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) told us that:

The reality is that there is a whole range of pressures on policing as there is for other public agencies about what the specific priority is there and then. [...] Home Affairs issues the strategic policing requirement, but it does not include road safety and KSIs as part of it. When chief constables are looking at how they manage their resources and deliver in terms of safety, they will not necessarily look at roads policing because there are no national targets.[29]

10.   Mike Penning MP, the road safety minister, agreed that targets "have helped to focus minds" but went on to argue that "if you have simplistic targets, then you will get simplistic answers."[30] He contended it would remain best practice for local authorities to maintain road safety efforts regardless of the presence of targets.[31] He also pointed to the potential issues associated with targets:

There is no doubt that the targets did help the drive down, but-and it is a very big but-if you set targets, it is always the easier options that people will look at. People will do the things that are simpler and easier, but the more difficult things will not get done.[32]

A number of local authority witnesses told us that they used targets as part of their local road safety strategies.[33] We will be interested to see if this approach is reflected in the forthcoming guidance for local authorities.

11.  Some witnesses argued that the absence of defined goals pointed to a broader sidelining of road safety in the DfT. For example, PACTS argued that the absence of targets itself might not be an issue, were it not for a context of:

ending the war on the motorist, axing grant for road safety partnerships, cutting capital for speed cameras, however popular or unpopular they were, moves to raise the motorway speed limit to 80 mph, suggesting that a target does not matter, and also moving toward a four-year MOT.[34]


12.  Despite the absence of targets, the strategy does set out expected progress on road casualty reductions and states that "we could see fatalities falling by around 37% to 1,770 by 2020". However, it emphasises that "this is neither a target nor a hard forecast".[35] We questioned Mr Penning on what it was therefore intended to be. He said "it is not a target",[36] but went on to argue that this "does not mean there is no target within the strategy, because there is a long term strategy and a long-term target for it."[37] He continued:

In terms of road safety the coalition agreement does not say, "This is the target for the next 10 years," but there is a set of targets and achievements that we would like to get through.[38]

13.   It is unclear to us what the 37% casualty reduction figure in the Government's strategy stands for or how progress towards or away from this figure should be viewed. The Department should provide a clearer explanation of the role of casualty forecasts in its road safety strategy. We recommend that it set out in its annual report whether road safety is improving each year in line with its forecasts, or, if not, explain what is going wrong. The Government should also state what action it will take if its road safety forecasts turn out to be inaccurate.

17   Strategic Framework p 20  Back

18   Strategic Framework p 72  Back

19   Ibid Back

20   Ev w22 para 1 Back

21   Q 295 Back

22   Ev 86 para 6 Back

23   Ev 102 para 1.1, Ev 108 para 5, Ev 112 para 3.2, Ev 116 para 1.2, Ev 129, Ev 136 para 4,2, Ev w18 para 2.3, Ev w24 para 12Ev w51, para 4, Ev w58 para 1.15 Back

24   Q 87 Back

25   Q 2 Back

26   Q 5 Back

27   Q 152 Nick Clennett Back

28   Ev 148 Back

29   Q 250 Back

30   Q 335 Back

31   Q 333 Back

32   Q 331 Back

33   Q 88, Q 153, Q 181 Back

34   Q 93 Back

35   Strategic Framework p11-12 Back

36   Q 366 Back

37   Q 335 Back

38   Q 331 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 18 July 2012