Commons Gate

Update on road safety road casualty statistics (HC 1086-I)

Transport Committee 4 Nov 2009

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Evidence given by: UK Statistics Authority Richard Alldritt, Head of Assessment and Board member of the UK Statistics Authority

Q7 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): First, there is no doubt that the figures with regard to the number of road deaths is accurate - is that the case?

Mr Alldritt: That is my understanding.

Q8 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): What concerns me is that, once you start changing statistics, there is always the argument that the Government has fiddled the figures, or whatever, but you start coming from a different basis. What is really important is the trend of statistics. Starting to have new definitions will perhaps destroy the issue of whether we know if the number of serious accidents is going down or going up. What is your view on that?

Mr Alldritt: I think that is a very important point. When we commented on the need to introduce plans to improve the reporting of data, we did say at the same time that it was very important to look at the implications for continuity over time. The police statistics clearly have their limitations but if we did not have them we would certainly want them, and we would want them maintained on as consistent a basis as possible. It is possible, however, that further investigation may show that there is room to make some significant improvement in them, and there are ways that data could be presented showing what they would have been without changes and what they are with changes. You cannot just not improve the statistics in perpetuity, if there is something wrong. It is not clear to us whether there is something wrong but further work in this area may reveal a need to change the police recording system slightly.

Q9 Chairman: But you do say there is something wrong. Your report calls on the department to change their approach to this; so you are suggesting that there is something wrong here.

Mr Alldritt: We are saying that we think there is a need to improve the police reporting, to capture as many as possible of the serious road accidents that are occurring. It is not clear what extent of improvement is possible. That is why we have said that the department should publish its plans in this regard. We do not know how much scope there is. There is some suggestion in the evidence that there may not be complete consistency in the way in which the police are making the distinction between serious injury and less serious injury and there may not be consistency over time. Again, we would want that investigated.

Q10 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): That brings me on to this point. Obviously if someone is killed, it is fairly definite; but there is a vagueness, is there not, about what is serious? Is there also a vagueness about what is a road accident? If a pedestrian falls on the pavement and seriously injures themselves, is that classed as a road accident? Once we get from the narrow part of fatalities, there is always going to be a vagueness and there is always going to be misreporting. Is that not the case?

Mr Alldritt: I would say again that I am not a specialist in this field, but it is clear that there is, as it were, a pyramid of seriousness, with a relatively small number of fatal injuries and it expands out very fast into a large number of less serious injuries. A lot of the serious injuries will be at the borderline between serious and less serious. That is in the nature of statistics. Therefore, a lot of the decisions that the police are making as to whether to classify something as a serious injury will be at that borderline between serious and less serious. This is a sort of structural weakness in having this classification. Your other question was about what is an accident.

Q11 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): What is a road accident?

Mr Alldritt: What is a road accident? My understanding on this, and I will be corrected on this if I am wrong, is that a bicycle accident counts as a road accident. So a child coming off a bicycle, with no other vehicle involved, is a road accident for the purpose of these statistics. It is therefore a very broad definition that is being used here.

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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On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB