Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)

Strategic Framework for Road Safety

1.1 The Institution of Engineering and Technology is one of the world’s leading professional bodies for the engineering and technology community. The IET has over 150,000 members in 127 countries and has offices in Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific. The Institution provides a global knowledge network to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and to promote the positive role of science, engineering and technology in the world.

1.2 This evidence has been prepared on behalf of the IET Trustees by the Transport Policy Panel. The IET would be pleased to provide further technical assistance and evidence as part of this inquiry.


1.3 Road safety targets help to create partnerships, concentrate on results and provide a catalyst for innovation. In an attempt to do away with the micromanagement of local government, the new approach of “outcomes” is at risk of creating a fragmented success rate across the country. The evidence shows countries with road safety targets perform better in this area.

1.4 While a decentralised approach is welcome the reduction in funding which went along with this will have a profound impact on the strength of road safety departments. Already, local authorities have reorganised their departments with many experienced staff leaving, this has had an impact on established road safety partnerships.

1.5 Technology can do much to help improve road safety and these already exist waiting to be deployed. Greater engagement is also needed with the European Union to create a safe European road system, including the sharing of common data and road safety innovations.

Whether the Government is right not to set road safety targets and whether its outcomes framework is appropriate

1.6 In 2009, the Department for Transport issued a consultation Making Britain’s Roads the safest in the world. At the time the IET submitted a response1 making it clear that there was a need to define a long term strategy, but that this strategy should be reviewed regularly to respond to technological developments and safety enhancements.

1.7 The 10 year casualty reduction targets, starting in 2000, were good at focussing attention on long term goals, with multiple organisations having to work together in a partnership. The targets which were set were ambitious but achievable and resulted in widespread support and recognition from those tasked to achieve them. The target seeking process contributed to ensuring the partnerships which were developed to achieve them grew in strength due to their clear purpose and aims.

1.8 Current government policy, which shifts this to an outcomes framework, overlooks the difference between targets which micromanage and targets which set long term goals. In our view it is essential to have targets to provide a focus for innovation.

1.9 Target setting has been a positive feature in the UK over the last two decades. An analysis by the OECD clearly shows that targets are a beneficial intervention internationally:

1.9.1“Countries with targets performed better over the time period 1981–99 with the percentage reduction in fatalities ranging from 4.5% in Norway to 21.9% in the Netherlands. …Overall, countries with targets had 17% fewer fatalities than those countries without targets.”2

1.10 In Tomorrow’s Roads—safer for everyone (2000), three targets were proposed:

1.10.1To cut death and serious injury (KSI) by 40% by 2010.

1.10.2To cut child KSI by 50% by 2010.

1.10.3To reduce slight injuries by 10% expressed as the number of people slightly injured per 100 million vehicle kilometres.

1.11 The 2000 targets were not arbitrary but were based on a rigorous analysis of casualty trends, policy options and potential changes in traffic mix.3 The 2010 casualty figures show, deaths fell by 48% over the decade 2000–10 and KSI by 49%.4

1.12 Some local authorities have taken the Strategic Framework’s performance indicators as the new target, yet this non-binding approach is likely to create patches of success across the country. Strong local authorities will set ambitious targets and steps to meet these and other, usually smaller, local authorities may be unable to maintain road safety targets.

1.13 In particular, the Strategic Framework grants new powers of local decision making but the DfT does not address the skills gap which exists in local authority teams such as in driver education and training, where focused long term programmes are needed to help reduce repeat offences. This has been a long run concern of the IET as highlighted by recently submitted evidence to the Transport Select Committee.

1.14 By shifting to an outcomes framework, there is a risk of reduction in strategic leadership currently provided by the Department for Transport. While the government’s approach to localism is welcome, the sudden shift from national strategic direction to local authorities setting their own priorities, is an area which needs to be closely monitored. A gradual retreat would have been more favourable than an instant one. This would have allowed new practices to gradually be introduced, tested and embedded.

How the decentralisation to local authorities of funding and the setting of priorities will work in practice and contribute towards fulfilling the Government’s vision

1.15 Local accountability is a good approach to take. Each local authority will have a diversity of demographics, road profiles and other factors. Local road safety partnerships are therefore best placed to prioritise areas based on their evidence. However, this does not negate the need to set some national target and have local partnerships report on what steps they will take to meet these.

1.16 By adapting such an approach the DfT will be able to assess local areas which may require extra support to fulfil objectives. This is important in light of the funding choices local authorities are currently making, where funding may be directed to fulfilling national targets retained in other areas.

1.17 The reductions in local authority funding has led to significant reorganisations in structures and personnel, with many seeing experienced staff accepting voluntary redundancies and early retirement packages, which has also had an effect on established partnership group relationships. The evidence available so far, does not show that these reorganisations have achieved a reduction in the local authority silo mentality.

1.18 Such relationships are important, a recent report highlighted the benefits of partnerships in delivering on road safety targets including on education, engineering and enforcement. These partnerships bring together local authority, police, fire and rescue, health, the Highways Agency and third sector organisations:

1.18.1“Local authority level Road Safety Partnerships have been effective at bringing the 3Es together, providing an opportunity to utilise the strengths of each partner, create a better ‘final product’ and gain efficiencies through collaborative working.”5

1.19 In addition, road users traverse local authority boundaries and the coordination between different authorities needs to be supplemented by nationally lead campaigns (eg the “Think!” campaign which was seen as highly successful).

Whether the Government is right to argue that, for the most part, the right legislative framework for road safety is in place, and, in particular, whether the Road Safety Act 2006 has fulfilled its objectives (see Post-Legislative Assessment of the Road Safety Act 2006, Cm 8141, published by the DfT, July 2011)

1.20 We support the current legislative framework, and the post-legislative assessment Cm 8141 as a fair reflection of the performance of the 2006 Road Safety Act, which offers a proportionate legal response to road traffic offences. There is however a danger that too much emphasis is placed on dealing with offences and not education and training. For example, minor traffic transgressions could be followed up with targeted training to reduce road causalities in the long run.

1.21 Looking beyond local roads, for the UK to achieve the ambition of having the safest roads in the world, more action will be needed. Sweden’s “Vision Zero” initiative sets the goal that no one will be killed or seriously injured in vehicle accidents.

1.22 Under such an approach, accidents may still happen however the aim of the strategy is to minimize the effects by slowing traffic where altercations could occur, redesigning intersections, putting up guard rails and removing rigid roadside objects. The Stockholm Environment Institute published a report for the DfT on how the UK could move toward a Vision Zero approach.6 The DfT could look again at this to assess the rollout of a UK Vision Zero approach.

1.23 Technology can do much to improve safety by reducing the scope for human error and should be further highlighted and its introduction enhanced. The DfT should work toward producing a technology roadmap of new safety systems, to allow local authorities to plan ahead when making investment and infrastructure decisions.

Whether the measures set out in the action plan are workable and sufficient

1.24 The measures set out in the action plan can be seen as workable but not completely sufficient. We do not believe that the level of reduction in centralised coordination of activities and target setting will be helpful in meeting future road safety challenges. We cannot think of a case elsewhere, where a similar move has worked in the way it was intended to.

1.25 The action plan should be commended for including a focused effort on particular groups of road users and groups in society who are currently overrepresented in casualty statistics. Such an approach does rely on local factors which call for some autonomy in how groups are targeted. However, as mentioned before without an overarching national target this can create a very disparate outcome. Coupled with this, many of the action plan interventions relating to enforcement will require additional police resource at a time of cuts in funding.

1.26 The actions included as part of the plan are relatively short term, unambitious and are unlikely to lead to the UK having the “safest roads in the world.” More action is needed on road engineering, vehicle technology and engagement with the European Union.

1.27 There are specific technologies which are available and should be supported such as driver information and warning systems, alcohol ignition locks, intelligent speed limiters, collision warning and avoidance, lane support and eCall automatic post-crash assistance.

1.28 Such technology will need to be deployed alongside a programme to reduce the scope of driver error occurring. This would include measures mentioned earlier such as targeted driver education and training to tackle as early as possible road user behaviour which can create future accidents.

The relationship between the Government’s strategy and EU road safety initiatives

1.29 There needs to be more emphasis on the sharing of common data and monitoring and evaluation process and methodology. Global initiatives include a focus on comprehensive programmes for improving road user behaviour. Pillar 4 of the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011–2020 sets out detailed activity to address this, whereas the Strategic Framework does not.

1.30 In July 2010 the EC proposed a further reduction of 50% in deaths on European roads to be achieved by 2020. In both the Commission proposals and the report on road safety adopted by the European Parliament, there is strong support for both a target and a long-term commitment to Vision Zero. The UK should engage with and adopt this target and vision and deliver it through a combination of measures but with a strong focus on technology.

November 2011


2 Towards Zero: Ambitious Road Safety Targets and the Safe System Approach, OECD/ITF, 2008.

3 The Numerical Context for Setting National Casualty Reduction Targets, Transport Research Laboratory, 2000.

4 Reported Road Casualties in Great Britain: 2010 Annual Report, DfT, September 2011.

5 Road Safety Research Report No. 124: Delivery of Local Road Safety, DfT, September 2011.

6 Vision Zero: Adopting a Target of Zero for Road Traffic Fatalities and Serious Injuries, Stockholm Environment Institute, 2006.

Prepared 18th July 2012