Executive Director’s Report 2008/09
Parliament and government
Recent years have seen significant pieces of legislation covering aspects of transport safety. The Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 established the Rail Accident Investigation Branch and appropriate alcohol limits for safety critical staff in aviation. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 gave police the power to seize unlicensed and uninsured vehicles and established the provision of roadside evidential breath testing devices. The Road Safety Act 2006 put a new offence of causing death by careless driving on the statute book and enabled the creation of a sliding scale for penalties for traffic offences dealt with by fixed penalty. It is, therefore, not surprising that the last year has seen little activity on the primary legislation front in transport safety. What we need to do now is to ensure that the existing structure is effective before adding more to it.
That said, the Transport Committee of the House of Commons has continued to undertake important work in scrutinising government policy. In October it published its report into road casualty policy beyond 2010 entitled “Ending the Scandal of Complacency”, on which I acted as special adviser. The report was an important contribution to the debate in this area. Rightly, it highlighted the good work undertaken to cut road deaths. However, it also pointed to the disparities between police and hospital data in terms of serious injuries, concluding that there was a real need to ensure that both sets of figures were checked rigorously – a recommendation accepted by the Government. Although not all the Committee’s recommendations were accepted – notably in the area of graduated licensing for young and novice drivers – the focus in the report on the adoption of a systems approach to casualty reduction has been endorsed by the government. The challenge now will be for Parliament to monitor more closely developments over the next few years.
In association with the Air Safety Group, PACTS was invited to give evidence to the Committee in its inquiry into airspace capacity. This took place in January. Our joint written submission focused on the need to increase capacity without compromising safety – a difficult balance to strike if, as seemed likely at the time, air travel was to continue to grow at its previous rate. In the light of the current economic circumstances, that growth seems less likely to continue.
Outside the confines of Parliament, PACTS was involved in the London Assembly inquiry into 20mph speed limits. In December, we gave evidence to the committee looking at this issue, highlighting the effectiveness of 20mph zones in cutting casualties and increasing walking and cycling. The Assembly’s report was published in April 2009.
PACTS also took part in the National Audit Office inquiry into the work of the Department for Transport. This report focusing on improving the safety of pedestrians and cyclists was published in May. It welcomes the commitment of the Department to cutting casualties in this area but identifies that more needs to be done to support local authorities in the evaluation of projects and to build a comprehensive national database of interventions.
PACTS’ position at the centre of policy, research and practice means that we are invited to take part in a number of organisations and events. During the last year, for example, I have been a member of the Ministerial Road Safety Advisory Panel, the Rail Safety and Standards Board Safety Advisory Committee, the Pan London Road Safety Forum and the National Drivers Offenders Retraining Steering Group. I have also been asked to join the board of the Motorists’ Forum and to chair the Thames Valley Police Road Safety Foundation and the Driving for Better Business Stakeholder Forum.
PACTS is also regularly invited to speak at events, seminars and conferences. To give a flavour of some of these, during the last year, our voice has been heard at the TISPOL Annual Roads Policing Conference, ROSPA Congress, Fleet News Risk in Fleet Seminar, Transport Times Beyond 2010 conference and the annual Cheshire Safer Roads Partnership conference. Some – but not all – of these have taken place outside London. This reflects our commitment to being involved in events throughout Great Britain. Transport Safety is not a London-centric issue.
Finally, it is important that PACTS continues to maintain its involvement in external research projects. During the course of this year, we were invited to join the Advisory Group for the DfT funded project looking at cycle safety. In addition, I attended three DfT seminars on using research to inform advertising campaigns on seatbelt wearing, speed and motorcycling. I am also a member of the stakeholder group for the DfT project on shared space and shared surfaces due to report later this year.
In January 2009, PACTS published its report into behavioural change and road safety: “Behave Yourself”, copies of which can be downloaded from the website. I am grateful to Rebecca Gwilliam for the significant amount of work that she put in to complete this important report.
The report began from an apparently simple question: why do we appear to have won the argument on drinking and driving but not on speeding? However, a simple question led to a more complicated set of further questions. How long does it take to achieve behavioural change? What are the best methodologies for achieving behavioural change? Is there anything that road safety can learn from other aspects of social policy such as the ban on smoking in public places and changes in recycling habits?
It is unfair to summarise a complex argument into a few sentences. However, some key conclusions in the report are these. First, it takes a long time to achieve behavioural change and that effort must be maintained and supported as the years go on. Secondly, you need a strong evidence base on which to build policy. That exists in the context of alcohol and crash risk and of smoking and public health. It is less clear-cut with reference to speeding. Thirdly, in achieving behavioural change, people often need help at a personal and individual level. Such help can be expensive as the sustainable travel towns demonstrated.
Finally, I would like to add my thanks to the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund and GEM Road Safety Charity for their financial support during the preparation and publication of the report.
In March 2009, on the appointment of Eleanor Besley, we began work on our next report into shared space and its relevance for road safety. This report is intended for completion by October 2010 and it is therefore a little early to give an indication of its contents and recommendations. However, it is intended to follow on from “Beyond 2010” and “Behave Yourself” and look at emerging issues and policy areas within road safety. Shared space has achieved considerable media coverage in the last few years and is a term widely used by planners and designers. Yet it seems to have received little analysis in terms of its applicability to casualty reduction. In this report, we will be attempting to apply that scrutiny, not with the intention of denying its usefulness but of assessing how relevant it is to cutting casualties on our roads.
I have already referred to Rebecca Gwilliam who worked as Policy and Campaigns Officer from September 2007 to January 2009. Becky was a strong contributor to PACTS during her time with us. Her appointment at Westminster City Council was well-deserved and will take her into new fields in public policy. It also reflects the fact that a period at PACTS is a significant step in any career journey.
In March, Becky was replaced by Eleanor Besley. It is never easy to start in a small but complicated environment such as PACTS, especially when there can be days when the Executive Director can be mysteriously absent doing important business outside the office. However, she has already made her mark with the work on the new project and with the round of technical working parties and events.
I have also been strongly supported during the year by Gillian Reeves, who has responsibility for our membership, communications and events work. Gill has continued her commitment to ensuring that our communication with members has improved during the year, notably through enhancements to our database and to our website. I would like to thank Gill, Becky and Ellie for the support that they have given me during the last year.
Challenges for the coming year
At this point, it is always useful to stand back and look forward as well as back. In the current economic climate it is difficult to know where we will be financially during the next year. As the Treasurer comments in his report, income from conferences was down this year, a reflection in part of our conference topics and of the lack of money to attend events. It is also more difficult to recruit new members and is unlikely to become any easier.
However, transport continues to be central to the economic and social wellbeing of the country. Transport safety is also crucial since crashes and incidents continue to be a significant economic burden. The DfT itself has acknowledged the importance of cutting casualties in its recent consultation document “A Safer Way”.
I therefore believe that there continues to be a role for PACTS in the coming years arguing for research-based solutions to transport safety issues, especially in the context of a new government elected during the course of the coming year. While all the political parties are committed to improving transport, it is important that the voice of safety is heard in discussions about changes in transport policy such as the development of the high speed rail network and responses to climate change. Although overall safety continues to improve, there remains much for us to do.