Road Safety (HC 460-ii)
Transport Committee 30 April 2008
Evidence given by
2.45 County Surveyors' Society Rob Salmon, Assistant Head of Highways & Transport, West Sussex County Council Technical Advisers Group Chris Lines, Head of London Road Safety Unit, TfLIntelligent Transport Society UK Neal Skelton, Head of Professional Services Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Paul Everitt, Chief Executive
3.45 Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents Kevin Clinton, Head of Road Safety West Yorkshire Road Safety Strategy Group Steve Thornton, Chairman, Principal Engineer - Traffic and Highways Bradford South Association of Chief Police Officers Chief Constable Steve Green, Head of Roads Policing Chief Fire Officers' Association Stuart Smith, Deputy Chief Fire Officer, Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Services Police Federation of England and Wales Jan Berry, Chairman.
In the absence of the Chairman, Mr David Clelland was called to the Chair.
Mr. David Clelland: Good afternoon, everyone, welcome to the Transport Select Committee. This is the first meeting of the Committee since the sudden and tragic death of our Chairman, Gwyneth Dunwoody. Gwyneth, as we all know, was a consummate politician. She was very well respected on all sides of the House of Commons, not least by this Committee, its members and its staff. She will be sadly missed. She was also, of course, an expert at transport issues and well-respected in the general transport world outside. I hope you will join me and stand for a minute's silence in memory of Gwyneth Dunwoody.
There followed a minute's silence.
Q106 Mr. David Clelland: David Clelland, a member of Unite. I am not the permanent Chairman of the Committee; I am only here temporarily while the Committee sorts itself out and elects a new chairman in due course after the funeral of Mrs Dunwoody takes place. The witnesses should introduce themselves for the record, please, from my left.
Q107 Mr. David Clelland: Welcome, thank you for coming to this first session of our inquiry into road safety. Can I just ask initially what, in your view, is the main role of government in relation to road safety?
Mr Salmon: I would say primarily to set direction, to look at the overall strategy, certainly to set targets but also to be aware of what joining up is needed to tackle the combination of efforts needed for road safety and to carry out research in that direction to give us an evidence-based steer across the whole area of road safety work.
Mr Lines: I would like to add funding, government has a major role to play in the solid funding of road safety, and to say leadership as well. It is leadership which is really important. Road safety, in my view, cannot be delivered without the public and support from society and leadership from government has a big role to play in affecting public opinions.
Q108 Mr. David Clelland: What role does road safety have in relation to wider transport policy and other social, environmental and economic policy objectives?
Mr Everitt: If I could touch on a bit of both of those questions, from a vehicle manufacturer's perspective clearly government is central in creating the regulatory and legislative environment in which we put our products onto the marketplace. Clearly there are a number of sometimes conflicting requirements that society places on us in terms of what it requires in terms of safety but also in terms of environmental performance and what we look for from government is to provide us with the right kind of lead and guidance on balancing those sometimes conflicting requirements and ensuring that we have a clear direction so that we are not in a position on one level where this Committee will be scrutinising the industry rightly on its performance on road safety and elsewhere we will be scrutinised on CO2 emissions or other hazardous exhaust emissions. Clearly, sometimes there are issues that need to be understood across those various performance criteria so that we can provide satisfactory products into the marketplace.
Mr Salmon: There is a very strong link to health and I think the cost to society of road safety obviously has a strong link to health in today's joined-up policy thinking, and with road safety being part of transport/mobility there is the point about accessibility to services too, but health must be the single most important one.
Q109 Mr. David Clelland: What about other government departments in terms of reducing casualties, apart from the Department for Transport; what role do other government departments have?
Mr Lines: One that springs to mind is the Home Office in terms of roads policing, that is critical to a holistic road safety policy and I agree with colleagues that there is a lot more we can do with the health links as well.
Mr Skelton: I would like to support colleagues and their comments; it does transcend across only one government department. The Home Office has a distinct responsibility within the roads policing area and it is the joining-up of the two that has tended to ensure a coherent strategy that actually helps to minimise casualties. On the estimation that each road death costs approximately £1.5 million together with the associated congestion it is this point, as my colleague said before, of balancing the priorities of environment, transportation and congestion as well as safety.
Q110 Mr. David Clelland: Are there sufficient funds allocated to road safety? Are the funds which are available being used effectively enough?
Mr Salmon: On the first point we would all say not enough. The point that is made about the link between the Home Office and the police and the combination of a strategic priority and funding have to go hand in hand, and we feel that there is not enough funding for active road policing as yet. We tend to appear to move away from that priority from the Home Office perspective and, whilst the police are making efforts with the resources they do have, there clearly is a public perception that all that policing is about is speed enforcement, which of course it is not. We feel that education is a very strong role for the police, as it is for other agencies. Funding, right through from basic road maintenance - for which, looking into the future, we need at least a 30% increase in our basic level of road maintenance support to maintain the integrity of the network and also to make improvements in capacity and protection too. That is the sort of minimum figure I would say.
Mr Lines: You asked about effective use and we are pretty good at that. We have a good data collection process with Stats 19 and therefore we do have a good understanding of the casualty problems, it gives us a very good foundation for having interventions which are cost-effective. Compared to other European countries we are certainly quite strong on that so there is less of a worry about using the resources effectively than there is about getting more resources and obviously more resources mean safer roads.
Mr Salmon: I agree with Chris but I would put a rider there about the value of education and training in road safety which is widely perceived by everyone involved and the public at large as a good thing, but there is very little evidence to support that, so deciding that it is actually effective is quite difficult, that is a point we want to emphasise.
Q114 Mr. David Clelland: If we dualled the A1 from Newcastle to Edinburgh, what effect would that have?
Mr Lines: You would get twice as much traffic.
Mr Skelton: As a resident who lives alongside that road I am aware of the issues in relationship to the dual carriageway of the A1 in particular, but the point is that you have got three strands. You have the Highways Agency technology strategy which has been released fairly recently and reference was made before to the Stats 19 and the evidence that comes as a consequence of the deliberations of the evidence and answers there, but also the location of the accident black spots are quite often attributed to the siting of road safety cameras, for which there are specific criteria which place them in those locations. I know from the submissions that I submitted that road safety cameras are a very emotive issue which provide a considerable amount of angst amongst motorists, but they are there for a very sound and specific reason. The other issue as well is that you can engineer a considerable amount of work and, given unlimited funding, the exponential effort to reduce the collisions becomes that much harder. I am not saying that that should not be done but there is a recognition that the fatalities we are talking about are within a band of young male drivers who are causing particular concern; in other areas the safety environments that have been built by my colleagues have created an excellent environment but we have this small area which is attributing far greater casualties than we can actually sustain.
Mr Salmon: Just on technology there is a developing area of technology which is very exciting with regard to in-vehicle capability and that is the ability to monitor the behaviour of the driver whilst the vehicle is being driven and use that to feed back that behaviour. I am not an expert in this area directly and have been somewhat divorced from that development for some time, but certainly the ability to analyse how the driver is responding to the road environment and is being driven is something we do not understand very well, so if we are looking to improve driver behaviour and ability to cope with the changing circumstances along the route, different levels of traffic and so on the technology that can actually help us monitor this and evaluate it would be very positive.
Q129 Mr. David Clelland: That sounds very much like spy-in-the-cab technology.
Mr Salmon: That could be the problem, but it is being trialled and tested.
Q144 Mr. David Clelland: We had better get a move on, if we can perhaps brief answers, because we are running out of time and there are a number of areas we have not covered yet. Should there be an extension of 20 mph zones, is that something you would recommend?
Mr Lines: Yes, certainly for urban areas and for the right sort of residential areas in urban areas they have proved to be very successful and we know that casualties are less than half killed and seriously injured so they do work and the methods are well-known. Having said that, we have largely delivered 20 mph zones in the past through using engineering measures - road humps and cushions - which are not always very popular and which do have a down side for emergency vehicles and buses and a lot of authorities are very keen to move away from engineering measures in the 20 mph zones to technology in terms of time/distance cameras so that we can use those to enforce speeds, which not only mean there is no engineering and no maintenance but also it encourages a smooth driving style which, again, is good for emissions. With that sort of future scenario it is very positive and I know a lot of urban areas are very keen to try out these camera systems.
Q145 Mr. David Clelland: How do you explain the much higher reduction in serious injuries compared with fatalities over the last ten years?
Mr Lines: It touches on some of the things we have talked about but it is a very complicated question and I do not have the answer so do not think that I do. My own personal belief is that one of the issues is that if you look at fatals they tend to be specific. We talked about young men, we talked about motorcyclists and these are outside the norm, the average - average drivers doing average things, we are getting good at reducing their collisions and mitigating those, but for the extreme groups - and that includes illegality as well - a lot of illegal drivers who are not really interested in laws or measures will just drive illegally regardless. Because they are a large proportion of the fatals, that sort of driver, they are very much more difficult to treat.
Q146 Mr. David Clelland: Why are we not making such an impact on young drivers which are still the highest fatalities and injuries?
Mr Salmon: It is a lack of awareness of risk, it is the impact of their attitude to life and they feel immune I think. One of the factors, without wishing to make this sound particularly negative, is that modern vehicles are very comfortable and young drivers do not actually appreciate in many cases the speed they are actually doing, they tend to be distracted because of lack of experience, texting on mobile phones whilst driving is not just the young but they are suffering quite badly from it and we have got examples of fatalities that come through that sort of event. I think, therefore, they are just more prone to the combination of lack of awareness, lack of experience and generally being distracted.
Q147 Mr. David Clelland: Does it make sense to apply national road safety targets at a local level rather than doing it at different levels with different targets at the local level to the national norm?
Mr Salmon: The setting of national targets has to be reflected locally otherwise how do you relate to it in terms of joined-up action. What we need though is to be very clear about what those targets are and very clear about the user group concept of targeting rather than simply talking about overall numbers. Overall numbers are very important because they give us the bigger picture, but we have to agree on what are the target groups that we work on together to tackle where the highest risks are and where the numbers are.
Mr Lines: Obviously it does cause problems. National targets, I agree, are absolutely vital and we all need something to aspire to but they do get very difficult to apply when you get right down to the lower levels and small authorities with a lot of variability in collision data. The benefits outweigh the disbenefits of having national targets.
Q148 Mr. David Clelland: Is there a shortage of road safety professionals?
Mr Salmon: There is an increasing lack of resource in the industry, not just for road safety but in engineering generally. There is a lot of pressure on the industry, a lot going on in the UK, both in terms of local authority and consultancy activity for road safety work. Road safety is one of those very specialist areas which tends to be regarded as a small community within the broader highways and transport industry, so to get people into road safety they have to want to be interested in becoming a specialist, the training is a bit patchy and I think it is an area we need to encourage and provide more positive encouragement and training for.
Q149 Mr. David Clelland: What sort of skills are we short of?
Mr Salmon: It is both in term of experienced design, there are specialist safety auditors who will look at schemes but in fact even those are relatively few and far between. It is those having a long experience of design for safety, working with safety schemes, understanding what is going on on the ground as well as what is happening in the minds of the motorist.
Mr Lines: The skills are engineering, civil engineering mainly, and associated skills. As Rob says, there is a general shortage of those (a) coming out of the universities - and there seems to be a decline as far as I can see in people doing engineering - and (b) in the opportunities in other areas so it is very difficult to find new people coming in with those sorts of skills. Can I just say one other thing about road safety? It is really important that there is a continuity because I think road safety suffers from a lack of continuity sometimes, there are a lot of programmes which are stop/start and that makes life very difficult for authorities if they do not know there is continuous funding for the next five or six years to set up teams and to build teams that are really effective.
Mr Skelton: I would just support the engineering aspects within the terms of transportation. We have a huge range of extremely innovative technologies and trying to attract students to it or arrange university courses to direct students in those directions is difficult because it is trying to attract a number of students from a limited budget.
Q150 Mr. David Clelland: Could I just ask you a question about mobility scooters? The advent of mobility scooters has given a lot of mobility to a lot of people up and down the country and they are very useful little vehicles, but of course there is no regulation, there is no test needed, there is no road sense even needed by many of the people who use these mobility scooters. Should there be more regulation in this area, what can be done to avoid accidents happening with mobility scooters?
Mr Salmon: It is a difficult question in the sense that it is a very sensitive area, but certainly the use on the carriageway of the road with other traffic is clearly very high risk so I think there has to be some form of legislation to identify where they should or should not be used. That is going to be quite a difficult thing to do and I do not think I have a definitive answer for you.
Mr Skelton: There are several classifications of mobility scooters but I think the issue is that they are restricted to eight miles an hour and below, but as soon as you introduce a vehicle of that nature onto the highway - and the highway includes the pavement - then you are into road traffic legislation of a variety which would actually encompass those, and I am sure the police will actually give you far greater detail of it. Suffice to say that there is legislation to cover it, but the difficulty is that we are an increasingly aging population, with more and more people who recognise the benefits of using these particular scooters, so it is trying to balance the need against managing expectations and managing control because, once again, the majority of people who are tending to use these are aged and whose control of modern devices is starting to collapse. I know my ability to manage a DVD is reducing virtually daily so it is an issue, as I said before, which is very difficult and complex. There is good legislation in place already but it would require more registration to have greater control of who is actually in control of these vehicles at the relevant time and that, currently, is very difficult.
Mr. David Clelland: Gentlemen, thank you very much for your evidence and advice, it is very much appreciated.
Q152 Mr. David Clelland: Could you, in your view, tell me what the role of government is in relation to road safety?
Mr Clinton: I would say that the role of government really is about leadership, setting the agenda for road safety and certainly about setting strategies and targets, co-ordination and funding is obviously very important. I would also say that it is the role of government to act as an exemplar in road safety. It is a major employer, it uses lots of vehicles on the road itself and therefore there is a role for government in setting a good example in the way its civil servants and its politicians and ministers use the road themselves.
Mr Thornton: I would agree with Kevin on that but there are real issues around consistency from government which have not helped the way we have delivered road safety in the past. There also needs to be recognition of the different conditions in different areas of the country.
Ms Berry: I would not actually disagree with either of the previous comments but where responsibility lies between different government departments there is a responsibility for those government departments to work together and there can be an element of fragmentation in the way in which targets are set, how they complement each other or, rather, how sometimes they compete with each other.
Mr Green: I just wanted to say the same as Jan Berry has said, I think that responsibility for the different departments, particularly the Home Office and the Department for Transport, is one of the key conditions that they can set. It is better than it was, in fairness, and I know that there is a much better link-up at ministerial level between the relevant ministers, but I still think that it can be very difficult to get the two departments to work together.
Q153 Mr. David Clelland: Are there other government departments, apart from the Department for Transport, which should be concerned with road safety and taking a greater role?
Mr Smith: The fire and rescue service have come onto the road safety scene, as it were, quite recently following changes in the legislation for the fire and rescue service, so we now have a responsibility for road traffic accidents that did not exist before 2005. Certainly in terms of being the relative new kids on the block as it were in terms of road safety, there has been some scepticism about our involvement and there has been a reluctance from government departments to encourage our involvement in that respect, so it has very much been a service-led approach.
Mr Green: I have here today's statistics issued around motoring offences and better statistics issued by the Ministry of Justice, so there is another department involved as well. If I may say as well, Chairman, that feeds through, as well as joining the departments together, into joining the inspectorates together as well because different parent bodies have different inspectorates, and therefore there are different inspectorate regimes for different agencies that are actually working on the ground.
Q154 Mr. David Clelland: There is room for improvement in the way that the departments work with each other.
Mr Green: It is joining it up.
Mr Clinton: Particularly with the inspectorates the HSE has a very important role in road safety and one of RoSPA's concerns is that it is not really proactive enough in terms of ensuring that employers are dealing with their road safety risks and managing those in the same way as they should do with any other health and safety risk. Education has been mentioned a lot so the Department for Children, Schools and Families is clearly a crucial department as far as road safety is concerned.
Mr Thornton: I would certainly second that; we are also working with the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department of Health as well as through education, so there is a great deal of work that we are doing with other agencies.
Q164 Mr. David Clelland: Has the partnership you set up, Mr Thornton, been particularly successful and more successful than others?
Mr Thornton: We have not had the opposition from the press that other Safety Camera Partnerships have had. That is just part of the Safer Roads Partnership. We have been very open and gone to the media to make stories, to give them information, and we sell their papers for them and they are very keen on the information that we put out, but we try and strike a balance.
Q165 Mr. David Clelland: Have you had fewer casualties than other areas?
Mr Thornton: We met the 2010 target for killed and serious injuries to children two years ago but we do need to keep it there. Reducing casualties is not just linked to the media, of course.
Q166 Mr. David Clelland: Why have other areas not set up these partnerships? Does anyone have a view on that?
Mr Smith: I think there are a lot more partnerships than maybe you are aware of. The partnership element of road safety is spreading throughout the UK. The majority of Fire and Rescue Service, for example, is involved in partnership working. It is a recognition that there is a whole range of agencies which have got something to contribute towards road safety. One of the changes that were recently made to the rules around Safety Camera Partnerships and the use of funding, which was extremely popular, was the fact that some of that funding that was seen to be basically revenue-making can be directed towards education now and that has been a really positive move which means that people can see that some of these funds are being redirected into education to help keep people safe.
Q173 Mr. David Clelland: Mr Green, you have been briefed?
Mr Green: Yes. Where "slight" is concerned, it is anything that is not "serious", there is no specific definition. There certainly is discussion taking place between the Home Office, DfT and ourselves about further classifying "serious" to try and look at the different grades of it. I can see how that will paint a more accurate picture but, as Jan, I am sure, would say, poor old cop at the roadside has then got to try and work out exactly which box to tick, as it were. The more sophisticated you make it, the more difficult it is to collect unless someone does go to hospital and you have got a more robust medical definition.
Q186 Mr. David Clelland: Has there been a reduction in roads policing?
Ms Berry: There has certainly been a reduction in officers who are specialist road policing officers and we would not support that in any way. The link that you make between general patrol, road traffic law and criminality is absolutely right. None of these people operate in a vacuum away from everything else and if you look at a really significant arrest for major crime in years gone by, inevitably it is a road traffic officer who has actually undertaken that because there is no beginning and no end to that particular function, and you covered that very well. It is false. In the prioritisation of policing now, unless there is a target, unless it is part of the Performance Framework, then, sadly, it is not done as effectively and with as many numbers.
Mr Green: The simple answer to the question is yes. Having said that, I want to give some context to that. Whilst I would not sit here and argue against the fact that the Police Service has had more resources in the last few years, what I would say is what you have also seen is the mission of the Police Service has crept wider and wider and the Service is being stretched thinner and thinner across that mission. We did not have the resources committed to counter-terrorism a few years ago that we have now. We did not have the resources committed to organised crime that we have now. We did not have people whose sole task is managing high risk offenders, as we have now. The list could go on. If you like, whilst the point that is being made is a correct one, and I do not think Jan and I are at any variance about it, you cannot just look at roads policing and say, "Chief Constables should put more resources into roads policing and less into something else", because what is that something else that they should put less into. This is symptomatic of that bigger issue about the widening mission of the Police Service and getting clarity about what does Government, Parliament, people, want out of the Police Service and let us try and do those things and have the resources to do them.
Ms Berry: I agree with that, but we need to go back in time a little bit. About ten or 15 years ago, police officers started to be removed from the street because some chief officers indicated that you could patrol a paving slab for seven years and never prevent or detect a crime. I think we now have had to reintroduce neighbourhood and community policing in order to recover the damage that has been caused in that time. We run the risk of doing exactly the same with roads policing if we remove police officers from the roads. You cannot compartmentalise policing by dealing with counter-terrorism, fraud, policing is about an overall function and having a very visible deterrent and enforcer on the streets and on the roads. If we try and compartmentalise it or put it into silos then the integration we complained of right at the beginning of this session where maybe governments do not talk to each other, different parts of the Police Service or different agencies will not talk to each other either and safety on the roads and in our communities will suffer as a result.
Q187 Mr. David Clelland: Are the Emergency Services now dealing with more road traffic accidents or less since 2000?
Mr Smith: I can give you some figures for my local area. For the past five years the number of incidents we have attended are 945, 960, 976, 969 and 977. They are hovering just under the 1,000 mark. We have seen no decrease in the number of incidents that we attend.
Ms Berry: I think casualties are reducing, but I do not think we are able to give a true statistic on whether the numbers of accidents are going up or down because we are not attending as many incidents as we would have done previously.
Mr Thornton: Crashes have come down considerably in West Yorkshire over the last two years, but we are seeing an increase in extreme behaviour and we are seeing a levelling off in deaths and serious injuries. The total number of crashes has come down quite dramatically.
Q188 Mr. David Clelland: Would a stronger emphasis on tackling uninsured or untaxed drivers lead to fewer road casualties?
Mr Clinton: Yes, it certainly would. The research is fairly clear that drivers who are illegal drivers because they are not licensed, insured or taxed are more likely to be involved in road crashes and more likely to be involved in serious road crashes. We were talking earlier about which are the high risk groups and certainly illegal drivers are one of the key groups. Things like ANPR, automatic number plate recognition, that sort of technology, is a very important tool for dealing with those drivers.
Mr Thornton: This goes back to what I was saying about local conditions. In some areas of West Yorkshire the Motor Insurers' Bureau estimates 60% of the resident vehicles are being driven uninsured and these are huge social problems for us and do lead to dangers on the streets.
Q193 Mr. David Clelland: The question is do people who are uninsured or untaxed tend to have more accidents than others?
Mr Thornton: Yes. PACTS have proved that in the past. That is the information that we use.
Q194 Mr. David Clelland: What percentage of children currently get formal pedestrian and/or cycle training?
Mr Clinton: I cannot give you a figure. It is certainly true that pedestrian training has grown very significantly over recent years and the Department has very recently published research which shows that it is effective in improving children's skills as pedestrians. In terms of cycle training, traditionally we would say that around 200,000 to 250,000 children in the capital in the nine to ten year age group would get some form of cycle training. Cycle training is going through a revolution now, there have been new national standards developed and the Government has earmarked a tremendous amount of money and set itself targets for basically trying to make practical cycle training available to virtually every child in that age range. We are seeing a massive increase in both pedestrian and cyclist training.
Q195 Mr. David Clelland: The Government's money which has been provided for bikeability training, that will improve the situation, will it?
Mr Clinton: Yes. What has been very important about that is there is a new form of cycle training that has been developed very much involving going out on the road, which research shows is where you need to do the training both in pedestrian terms and cyclist training because it is of limited use to do it in the playground. There has been a lot of progress in that area and it is certainly very welcome.
Q196 Mr. David Clelland: On a similar vein, on the Tyne & Wear Metro recently we had two accidents with people on motability scooters mounting the Metro and because they have got to speed up to get over the gap, they went straight across, hit the doors into the side which opened and out onto the track on the other side, which is very, very dangerous. Fortunately, there have not been any fatalities yet but it does raise the whole question of the increasing use of motability scooters which are totally unregulated, there is no test involved, no protective clothing. Do we need to do more about regulating the use of motability scooters?
Mr Clinton: We certainly need to look at it. At RoSPA we do get calls from people who are concerned about nearly being knocked down by somebody on a motability scooter. The data is very sparse. There have been some fatalities and the Department for Transport did a consultation in 2005 about Class 2 and Class 3 vehicles which was asking a lot of questions about should there be a training regime, and certainly there should be. When people are getting a motability scooter they get very little advice on what is suitable for them and very little training in its use. There certainly is a need for more action here, but in terms of the number of casualties the data is not there and it would be difficult to make a very strong cost-benefit case in terms of casualties, but that is not the only issue of course.
Mr. David Clelland: Thank you very much for coming along, it has been very useful and will help us a lot in our inquiry. Thank you very much.
This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.
The full transcript may be read here.
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