Executive Director’s Report
This report covers the period November 2009 to March 2010. This is always a pretty busy period for PACTS. This year has been no exception.
Parliamentary and Government
I would guess that for most of us the major disappointment of the last few months was the decision not to publish the new road safety strategy before Christmas. Although some work is still being undertaken – notably on revisions to the DfT advice on setting speed limits - the lack of a clear numerical target for the period beyond 2010 and of an overall direction of travel is of some concern. Early indications from DfT suggest that the new target will be more stretching than that proposed in “A Safer Way” and that the new document will focus on safer road users as well as roads. However, the final document is unlikely to be published until after the General Election.
At the same time, the appointment of Sir Peter North to review drink and drug driving is, I think, a positive move. My interpretation of this appointment is that Ministers felt that it was important to have a very clear statement about drink and drug driving in the published strategy since these are areas of considerable concern to all road users. Hence the decision to ask Sir Peter to recommend policy options for these issues.
PACTS was invited to meet him and his review team on January 27. The meeting lasted an hour and a half and it was clear from the outset that he is taking his responsibility very seriously. On drink driving, the discussion focused on the option of lowering the limit to 20mg for all drivers and the possibility of greater consistency across the modes with a limit of 20mg for all involved in public transport or carriage of goods. We also spent some time discussing the question of penalties for those caught at a new lower limit. At an operational level, this poses challenges: should the current penalty regime be lowered to the new limit or should we introduce a variable penalty regime for those caught between 50 and 80? The views of PACTS’ members would be welcome on this.
On illegal drugs and driving, it is clear that we should be looking at ways of making the current enforcement regime more efficient. PACTS’ view is that we must focus on impairment: does the presence of a drug – illegal or legal – compromise the driver’s ability to drive? The role of the police officer is to establish impairment which should then be confirmed by a medical test at the station conducted by a nurse. I look forward to Sir Peter’s conclusions which are currently scheduled to be given to Ministers before the end of March.
Turning to our other modes, PACTS has continued to take an active interest in the Law Commissions’ review of level crossing legislation. This is clearly of interest both to rail operators and to highway authorities. As appropriate, we will look at arranging a joint meeting of road and rail members to discuss the proposals coming out of the review in due course.
The fortnight before Christmas saw a sudden burst of media interest in road safety in which PACTS played a significant part. First, figures for hands-held mobile phone use while driving in London suggested a doubling over the last two years. This was highlighted by the BBC and led to me appearing on news bulletins throughout the day. My apologies if this ruined anyone’s digestion!
The following week, the BBC also decided to devote a day to covering road safety issues on the News Channel. This included the creation of maps showing fatal road crashes over the last decade. The intention behind these was to highlight the locations of crashes, the people involved and the times of day. It was a complicated story to try to tell but well worth attempting.
In December, Fred Wegman gave the 20th Westminster Lecture, emphasising the importance of a systems-based approach to road safety. In the lecture, copies of which will be sent to those who attended shortly, he set out the key principles of the Dutch approach to road safety, creating a network that was legible, consistent and comprehensible to all road users. He also emphasised the importance of understanding human behaviours and tolerances in developing policies and identifying interventions. Given the timing of the lecture, and the delay in publishing the new strategy, I am sure that the content offered plenty of thought for those concerned with casualty reduction beyond 2010.
On March 10, we will be holding our spring conference on technology and vulnerable road users in Birmingham. If you have yet to book your place, please register now as places are limited. The choice of Birmingham is a reflection of responses from members to our questionnaire last year. Many commented that it would be good to see PACTS organising events outside London. Birmingham seemed like an obvious choice given good public transport links and its own transport history. The conference topic also allows us a chance to debate a key issue for the coming period: technological change both inside and outside the vehicle will be substantial – to what extent will it help us to reduce casualties among vulnerable groups?
The project on “Shared Space” undertaken by Ellie is nearing completion with publication scheduled for June. Shared space is a topic that encourages strong debate with as many definitions of what it actually is as trials on the ground. Our report is an attempt to show how the topic has been somewhat lost in translation and how what really matters is the process of developing shared space rather than any specific outcomes. Watch for news of its publication date.
I was honoured to be presented, on PACTS’ behalf, with the Linda Chalker Award for Road Safety at the RoadSafety GB conference in November. The award itself sits prominently on the mantelpiece in the office. May I thank all of you for the work that you to make our transport system safer. The role of PACTS is to publicise, lobby and argue for improvements. You are the people who actually make it happen.