Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from John Morrison, Sevenoaks Cycle Forum

I’m glad your committee is zeroing in on cycle safety with the two ministers responsible. However neither the recent Times campaign, nor the Westminster Hall debate, nor the bulk of your committee’s evidence sessions have done much to challenge the current orthodoxy on road safety, which is far too concentrated on accident statistics as the sole indicator of whether roads are safe.

As a local cycling campaigner, I feel that road safety needs a complete rethink at the centre to give more weight to the interests of vulnerable road users including cyclists, pedestrians, children and those with limited mobility. It is no good the government simply letting local authorities do their own thing. I live in Kent where motoring interests rule the roost and there is no fresh thinking at county council level. Time and again requests by residents for traffic calming, speed limit enforcement, pedestrian crossings and lower speed limits are rejected on the grounds that the KSI records and crash statistics do not justify action.

Of course reducing the number of crashes is important. But the narrow focus on “crash remedial measures” and the quantifiable cost of serious accidents is highly misleading. There are many roads where I live where no cyclists dare venture because they are simply too dangerous. So the A25 across Kent is statistically “safe” but only because cyclists have to avoid it. I live in a residential street which becomes a rat-run twice a day for commuters; parents cannot allow their children to go to school unaccompanied, elderly people stay at home because they can’t cross the road safely, and mothers with pushchairs prefer to put their children in the car rather than walking. None of these road safety problems even register as problems under the current crash-centred measurement system.

In deprived areas there is a higher level of child road casualties, and both the government and your committee rightly want to reduce this. But the absence of child casualties in more prosperous areas does not mean there isn’t a road safety problem; it simply means parents counter the risks of speeding traffic by keeping their children indoors.

Your committee should be leading the way towards a more holistic view of road safety and taking a much more sceptical view of what the “experts” from the motor lobby have to say. Please ask the ministers why the DfT can’t introduce an equivalent to the Home Office’s annual British Crime Survey for road safety. This would supplement the inadequate record of accident statistics by measuring perceptions. Just as police crime statistics don’t give the full picture, neither do police road safety statistics. Obviously it is good when KSI figures fall, but let’s not forget that much of the improvement comes from better vehicle safety and from the work of the NHS in saving more lives.

Out there on the roads, vehicles are getting faster and more powerful every year, and police enforcement of speed limits where I live seems to have collapsed. We need a vigorous push for 20 mph limits in residential streets.

Sorry but I don’t use Twitter—which frankly is not the right way for your committee to conduct its business on a serious policy matter.

April 2012

Prepared 18th July 2012