Road Safety - Transport Committee Contents

9  Conclusion

52.  The period since the Coalition Government took office has seen the first increase in road fatalities since 2003, despite there having been no overall increase in road traffic. This is a worrying development and raises questions about the Government's road safety strategy. These casualty figures should be a wake-up call for the Government to step up and provide stronger leadership in the road safety field. The Minister, Mike Penning MP, told us that success of his strategy could be judged by seeing a reduction in road casualties. From the latest figures, it would appear there is a risk that the strategy is insufficient. In the response to this report, we recommend that the Government outlines why it thinks road deaths increased in 2011.

53.  The Government's vision is for the UK to remain a world leader in road safety. It hopes to achieve this by "giving local authorities the tools they need to tackle problems on their networks, rather than dictating specific solutions to them".[150] Road safety targets have played an important role in driving the UK's positive road safety record, a point which Mr Penning himself acknowledged. However, we understand Mr Penning's position that continual improvements in road safety can be driven without a specific target. Indeed, the variability in local authority performance over the period for which road safety targets have been in operation highlights that there are factors beyond targets which help drive improvements in road safety. Our evidence suggests that the principal factor is political leadership. If there is a strong message from central government that road safety is a priority and this is high on the agenda at a local level, then safer roads are more achievable. For some, those messages are clearest when it is in the form of targets. If the Government is not going to adopt this approach, then it should be making more effort to provide leadership in other ways. Unfortunately, this has not happened. There have been a number of mixed messages on road safety from the Government. It is telling that Mr Penning himself struggled to clarify some of the goals of his strategy to us. The public and the road safety sector must surely be similarly confused.

54.  Localism is a key part of the Government's road safety strategy. The Government believes local authorities have a better understanding of the needs of their local communities and should be more responsive to those needs. The strategy therefore gives "local authorities more freedom to assess and act on their own priorities".[151] However, there are a number of challenges currently faced by local authorities which may undermine their ability to deliver road safety outcomes. In particular, reductions in funding are putting pressure on the availability of money for road safety initiatives and of staff with the expertise to enact them. To encourage local authorities to improve road safety at a local level, the Government intends to produce guidance and facilitate the sharing of best practice by creating an online portal for road safety professionals. The effectiveness of this initiative may be limited by the loss of local authority road safety officers and their expertise. Mr Penning also told us of plans to name and shame the worst performing local authorities, though we have not yet seen this plan progressed. Since the Government's broader localism agenda seeks to encourage local decision making, we are unclear as to exactly what influence the Department for Transport can exert on the process by which local authorities decide to allocate resources. In addition, though a localist approach can be appropriate for responding to local needs, there are other areas in which the DfT should play a more active role in securing cross-Government action, for example in pushing forward technological developments or providing appropriate infrastructure.

55.  Road accidents are the leading cause of death for young people aged 16-24. The Government has failed to grasp the nettle in this area. Despite having told that us action to improve young driver road safety would be given significant importance, the strategy does not deliver this. The Government should be taking more radical action to address this situation.

56.  The Government's strategy highlights cyclists as a group in need of particular action to improve their road safety. On this, we agree. However, there does not appear to be a defined action plan to reduce cycle casualties. This perhaps highlights a tension between the Government's aims and its localism agenda. Whilst the Government may wish to prioritise cycle safety, the measures to achieve that, particularly in the provision of infrastructure, appear to fall largely outside the DfT's remit.

57.  The Strategic Framework sets out a role of central Government in providing information for the public.[152] Information campaigns have been successful in the past and the THINK! brand has become well-recognised. Such campaigns are expected to continue as part of the Government's road safety strategy.[153] Mr Penning told us that consideration was being given to the possibility of THINK! campaigns for young drivers and cyclists.[154] The Government should update us regarding the development of new advertising campaigns for road safety, particularly on how it intends to engage with social media to help improve public awareness.

58.  The DfT must make greater efforts to encourage the cross-Government working that is necessary to establish the importance of road safety and secure the necessary outcomes. Whilst the Government has made several announcements regarding the provision of funding for cycle safety, there has been little detail provided as to the schemes which will benefit from this funding, the timescale for implementation, or the desired results.

59.  A year has now passed since the publication of the Strategic Framework for Road Safety. The next version is due in September 2012.[155] This provides an opportunity to include a number of areas insufficiently addressed in the original strategy - including engineering measures to improve road design and technological research. It is also an opportune time for the Government to publish an update of its progress against the action plan and outcomes framework, to clarify its vision, highlight areas of local authority innovation or best practice, and reassess the strategy in light of recent worrying casualty numbers.

150   Ev 86 para 3 Back

151   Ev 86 para 10 Back

152   Strategic Framework p38 Back

153   Strategic Framework p55 Back

154   Q 447 Back

155   Ev 88 DfT Back

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Prepared 18 July 2012