Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from RoadPeace

Introduction

The national charity for road crash victims, RoadPeace, provides emotional and practical support and advocacy for victims, as well as campaigning for an improved post crash response, especially by the justice sector and road danger reduction. Founded on the principle of road danger reduction, we believe there is even more reason, almost 20 years later, for a transport safety programme that gives more consideration to the consequences of motor vehicle use on the environment and public health.

The Transport Select committee’s enquiry has asked about the following:

Lack of road safety targets and appropriateness of outcomes framework.

How decentralisation to local authorities and priority setting will work in practice.

Adequacy of current legislative framework and effectiveness of Road Safety Act 2006.

If action plan’s measures are workable and sufficient.

Relationship between Govt’s strategy and EU road safety initiatives.

Lack of Road Safety Targets and Appropriateness of Outcomes Framework

We believe there is strong evidence for road safety casualty targets and they have worked well in Britain, including in London where they were achieved early and then extended. We also welcome the perception of safety being monitored, as has been done for many years in other European countries.

How Decentralisation to Local Authorities and Priority Setting will Work in Practice

Whilst we are aware and support the growing success of the 20s plenty movement, we are concerned that, due to lack of information, local politicians, police and communities will not be properly informed of the real risks and the evidence base of countermeasures. A recent DfT survey showed that the public thought that drink driving was the biggest road safety problem, yet this contributes to a fraction of the casualties caused by speed. And, even more importantly, speed reduction will play a larger role in preventing crashes, including those involving drink driving.

Local road safety plans rarely include the police, despite the importance of traffic law enforcement. We do not think it is fair to judge the police solely on the death and seriously injured casualty statistics as is the current case. We are calling for an annual report by local police forces on what they have done to make the roads safer. This would result in greater transparency around the legal outcome of collisions as it is not easy to find out which result in prosecutions and which result in ‘no further actions’ decisions.

Adequacy of Current Legislative Framework and Effectiveness of Road Safety Act 2006

Criminal justice

As seen by the recent announcement of the new Causing Serious Injury by Dangerous Driving charge, the Coalition Government agrees that there is room for improvement with our legislative framework. Whilst we welcome the move to acknowledge serious injuries caused by dangerous driving, this should be extended to all motoring offences.

At present there is no monitoring of the number of deaths or injuries caused by law breaking drivers. We now know how many drivers are prosecuted and convicted of causing a death, but not how many people were killed by law breaking drivers which would include multiple deaths, crashes where the driver died but would have been prosecuted if they had survived, and crashes where the offending driver was never caught.

There is reason to believe the new charge of Causing Death by Careless Driving has not had the desired effect but has contributed to downgrading of charges. There as a sharp fall in in Causing Death by Dangerous Driving (39% drop) and a jump in Causing Death by Careless Driving (172% increase) in the past year.

As long as we have a two tier charging standard (dangerous and careless), RoadPeace believes these should be based on the standards used by the DVLA in driving exams with grievous offences qualifying as dangerous and minor ones as careless. Drivers should be expected to drive with the same care and caution as they did during their driving exam.

We also have concerns about the police being both investigator, judge and jury as they have the authority to decide ‘no further action’ without consulting the CPS, even in cases involving a death.

Civil justice

In terms of civil compensation regulatory framework, we believe there are serious problems with the government’s proposals in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, as:

(a)They do not address the key issues raised by our members: bereavement damages, interim claims, and stricter liability (reversing the burden of proof in collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists). There is no proposal to extend and increase bereavement damages despite this being recommended by the Law Commission in 1999. Bereaved families are shocked and outraged at the lack of financial penalty associated with the taking of a life.

(b)They will make it harder for road crash victims to claim compensation as well as reduce the potential amount they could be awarded. Abolishing “no win no fee” will mean victims, especially those with limited financial means, will think twice about trying to claim compensation as it will now include potential financial losses. They will also have more difficulty in getting a solicitor as without success fees, solicitors will not be able to afford to undertake investigation into proving liability.

RoadPeace and other charities supporting victims, including Brake, Spinal Injuries Association, Headway have all criticised the proposals. Pedestrians and cyclists, ie those without the backing of an insurance company, will be particularly badly hit by the proposals.

If Action Plan’s Measures are Workable and Sufficient

With less than 10% of the actions of the previous road safety strategy, we do not think the new action plan is sufficient. We also worry that the actions are not evidence based. There is much evidence for speed cameras yet the government ceased central funding for them. Instead it adopts an approach heavily reliant on education despite the lack of evidence for this as an effective approach. It is also depressing that the government can even consider increasing the motorway speed limit at a time it is supposed to be committed to reducing road traffic casualties and carbon emissions.

The action plan does not include any actions pertaining to support for road crash victims. The previous Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses, Louise Casey, called for the casework service currently available to families bereaved by homicide (£2.5 million this year for some 650 families), to be extended to families bereaved by culpable road death as soon as funding was available. But funding is available. For decades, we have paid into the Motor Insurers Bureau (MIB) to compensate victims of unidentified and uninsured drivers. This is typically estimated at £30 per motor insurance premium. With three times as many families bereaved by road death as homicide, it would cost £7.5 million pounds to have the same support service. This is the equivalent of £0.25 per motor insurance premium, or less than 1% of that currently paid to the MIB. As motor vehicle users account for some two thirds of all those killed in crashes, it could be argued that this should have already been covered by motor insurance premium. The revenue raised by the Victim Surcharge from driving offences should also go to help support victims of crashes.

Relationship between Government’s Strategy and EU Road Safety Initiatives

We believe the government is lagging behind the EU in many areas, including its commitment to 20mph/30kph limits on streets, designing out HGV blindspots, and speed enforcement and reduction. We also regret the government’s lack of interest in reversing the burden of proof in collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists, as is found in most European countries.

October 2011

Prepared 18th July 2012