Posted: under General.
Tags: Recession, road deaths, Road safety
Robert Gifford, Executive Director of PACTS
Figures published by the International Transport Forum towards the end of July (http://www.internationaltransportforum.org/Press/PDFs/2009-07-22IRTAD.pdf) drew two conclusions from the OECD countries. First road deaths in 2008 showed a large reduction compared to 2007, as already shown in Great Britain’s figures published in June. Secondly, the economic recession could have played a part in this fall.
It is interesting to consider the extent that the recession may affect transport. Recently, there have been signs of reductions in vehicular traffic. In 2008, this fell by 0.8%. In the first quarter of 2009, provisional figures suggest that car traffic was down by 3% compared to the same period in 2008. However, the snowfall in February accounted for 1% of the reduction so there does not seem to be a huge recession impact to date. And even if there is, the fall in casualties is far greater so we cannot conclude that lives saved are due to the impact of the recession.
The DfT figures also show interesting variations between road types. Motorway traffic decreased by 5% in the first quarter, rural traffic by 4% and urban by 2%. If the recession results in less traffic on what are already the safest roads, then I would suggest that we will see little impact on casualties overall.
If these are the short-term impacts of the economic climate, it may also be interesting to think about the potential longer-term changes. Here you also have to think about the government focus on low carbon transport.
We have already seen falls in the numbers of people flying as reflected in Ryanair’s reduction of flights from Stansted airport. As others have commented, the age of the low-cost weekend flight may now be over. Its demise, however, probably has little relevance for safety overall.
What may be more interesting is the decision by the government to encourage long-term electrification of the rail network. Again, the direct safety benefits are minimal since rail already has a good safety record. The question is whether electrification and even the development of a dedicated high speed rail network will encourage those currently using their cars to leave them at home and “let the train take the strain”. In the long-term, Great Britain plc might benefit in safety terms across the transport system.
Finally, it is worth thinking about the impact of the recession on the vehicle fleet. The removal of 10 year old cars from the vehicle fleet through the scrappage scheme may well reduce the number of these vehicles driven by younger drivers – thereby improving their safety. The focus on encouraging low carbon vehicles may also lead to a changed mix within the car parc although all of these will clearly be manufactured to existing safety standards. The only unknown in this area lies in the need for the emergency services to have up to date knowledge of the materials used and the nature of the fuel source when they are visiting the scene of an incident.
All of this suggests that, even if the welcome fall in casualties leads us to ask whether we are now as safe as we can be, the known unknowns of the current economic climate will still lead us to conclude that we have plenty of work to do.
Posted: under General.
Tags: driving test, law, media, PACTS, road deaths
Peter Bottomley, a Co-Chair of PACTS, has been MP for Worthing West since 1997, having previously been MP for the Eltham constituency. In 1986 he was Minister of Roads and Traffic at the Department of Transport and has previously served on the Select Committee for Transport. He is a member of the Drapers’ Livery Company and a member of the Transport and General Workers’ Union.
The task is to cut the causes and the consequences of the crashes that result in death and serious injury.
Events involving trains and planes are rare enough to attract world wide attention. Yet the number of lives lost compared to road is low.
Somehow we must get society to care about the total of the ones and twos, the steady accumulation of road deaths that can be reduced by clear analysis followed by action that works.
When I was told that widespread restrictions or requirements would be justified if just one life would be saved, my reaction was that the alternative was less effort to bring greater benefits.
Sometimes requirements are brought in that do not appear to have a research basis or a way to test their effect. Examples where I have not seen supporting evidence include the ban on coaches from the third lane of motorways and the theory test.
If there has to be a preliminary test, I should perhaps have chosen a short list with the single choice answer against each question. Example: “When I am most likely to collide with a pedal biker?” “When I turn left at a roundabout, no matter whose fault.” Another: “When am I most likely to collide with a motor biker?” “When I turn right or pull out or at a roundabout.” And: “How do I help reduce serious drink driving?” “By providing alcohol free drink within reach at pub, club, party or home: by picking an alcohol free driver for myself; by deciding in advance, not half way through a party, whether I am drinking or driving.”
Most knowledge we hold comes from mainstream media. It would help if local news adopted the habit of reporting routinely when known whether vehicle casualties were wearing a seatbelt, whether a night time pedestrian casualty had been walking towards oncoming traffic, where a drinking driver had been, with whom and whether companions must have known about the prospect of drink driving.
It strikes me as odd that mainstream television can help us learn the common and the arcane features of cooking, cars, antiques, house renovation and family histories. I watch in vain for the interesting important information presented well on the common ways to reduce the risk of a crash, of the simple ways to reduce the injuries when things go wrong together with the language, the way of speaking, that might get people we care about to do what we know we should also be doing ourselves.
PACTS’ members’ skill and experience can help develop the road environments and the vehicles. There is a role for law, legal requirements and sensible regulation. Overlaying all that is doing what works whether everyone understands the reasoning or not. That includes the proper use of restraints (maybe I should only tip taxi drivers who wear their belt too) or volunteering more often to be on the wagon before driving it or by leaving in front of me a gap long enough to allow for my mistake or the mistake of another road user.
Memorial flowers by the roadside tell us there is more to do and that it is worth doing.