Parliament and government
In many respects, the last year in transport safety has been overshadowed by two external issues. The first was the run-up to the General Election. The second was the continuing uncertainty of the economic situation. Both of these have led to a lowering of political interest in transport safety. That said, as Andrew Evans has rightly observed in the past, it only takes one incident on the rail network for concerns about safety to resurface on the front page of every newspaper.
The final year of a government is rarely one in which radical and long-term decisions are made. This is especially the case in the last year during which progress on a new road safety strategy beyond 2010 seemed to falter the nearer we came to a General Election. I certainly hope that the new government will give greater priority to the preparation and publication of a response to “A Safer Way” and an indication of its thinking on further targets for casualty reduction beyond 2010.
On a more positive note, the decision to invite Sir Peter North to review drink and drug driving was a potentially good move for road safety. PACTS was invited to give evidence to Sir Peter and his Review Team in January and it was clear from the outset of the discussion that he was taking his role very seriously. His questions focused on the need for consistency across the transport modes, on the levels of enforcement and on possible administrative changes that could help the police to be more efficient in dealing with drivers suspected of drug-driving. It will be interesting to read his final report and to see how the new government responds to it.
As soon as the new Secretary of State was appointed, PACTS wrote to Philip Hammond identifying key challenges for the new government. These included responding to the North Review, the need for a new road safety strategy, the issues of fatigue and flight time limitations, and the capacity of the rail industry to undertake both routine improvement of the network and the development of a new high speed rail line. I look forward to working with the new team in the coming years to maintain our progress in making the transport system safer for all users.
During the year, we also gave oral evidence to the Transport Select Committee in its inquiry into changes to the motorcycle test. Our evidence focused on the extent to which the United Kingdom could be criticised for “gold-plating” the new test to meet EU requirements. I recognise that many motorcyclists were genuinely concerned about having to ride further to take the practical test at an off-road test centre. At the same time, there was only limited evidence to suggest that the test had been made harder in the UK than elsewhere in Europe.
Research and publications
This year has resulted in the publication of two reports that have contributed substantially to knowledge in road safety. In March, to mark the tenth anniversary of the publication of “Tomorrow’s Roads: safer for everyone”, PACTS published “Taking Stock and Moving Forward”, an analysis of progress towards casualty reduction across different local authority types. This report confirmed that, although general progress towards the 2010 target was encouraging, there were differences across local authority and road user types. It was therefore important that both national and local government understood this variation in performance and developed appropriate strategies to limit any further disparities. A more sophisticated approach to casualty reduction and to monitoring performance would be needed in the future, building on data available through, for example, the MAST initiative.
In June, we published “Kerb Your Enthusiasm”, a report looking at the implications of “shared space” for road safety. This report, part-funded by the Institution of Civil Engineers Research and Innovation Fund and the RAC Foundation, began as an attempt to analyse the concept of “shared space”, sometimes referred to in the same sentence as “decluttering” or the redesigned Kensington High Street. The linking of these three together, however, does not do adequate justice to the term.
The report concludes that it is important to recognise the need to balance the demands of civility and mobility. Over the last decade, there have been a number of attempts to develop responses to traffic including Home Zones, Urban Mixed Priority Routes and the do-it-yourself street. One underlying message from all of these is the need to involve the community in any re-design in order to reflect local aspirations in the final outcome. Copies of the report have been circulated to members and are available via the website: www.pacts.org.uk. The report will also be the subject of a conference in October.
In the years ahead it will be important that road users are given clear and unambiguous signals about the appropriate behaviour for the circumstances in which they are moving. The report includes examples of the mixed and conflicting messages that are conveyed to motorised road users. If we are to develop a more civilised urban environment, we will need to take note of these confusions.
PACTS’ position at the centre of policy, research and practice means that we are regularly invited to work with organisations during the year. Sometimes that involvement is on a one-off basis; at others, the link may be of a more long-term nature. During the last year, I have continued to act as a member of the Rail Safety and Standards Board Safety Advisory Committee, the Rail Industry Advisory Committee, the Motorists’ Forum, the National Driver Offenders Retraining Group and the Pan London Road Safety Forum. I have also continued to chair the Driving for Better Business Stakeholder Forum and a group set up by the Driving Standards Agency to look at the accreditation of Key Stage Four educational interventions.
During the year, I was also asked to take part in the independent review of CHIRP, the confidential human factors reporting scheme operating in the aviation sector. This review is undertaken every five years and looks at the effectiveness and continuing need to a reporting system of this type. CHIRP offers a unique opportunity in the aviation sector for flight crew, engineers and controllers to raise issues of concern. Both the rail and maritime sectors have established similar bodies based on the aviation model. The review concluded that there was still a continued need for the group and that it represented good value for money.
As part of our role as independent analyst of government policy, PACTS was also invited by the London Borough of Richmond to contribute to a review of road safety policy. This review was undertaken by the Scrutiny Committee of the Council. PACTS gave evidence to the Committee and joined in the evaluation of the policies being pursued by the Council. It was certainly encouraging to see these being looked at in such detail by elected members of the authority.
As is always the case, PACTS has also been asked to speak at a number of events during the year. To give a flavour of these, they have included the TISPOL policing across Europe conference, the Scottish Road Safety Strategy Conference, RoadSafety GB’s annual conference and a conference on school transport organised by Local Transport Today. I have also spoken at three events arranged for older road users by the Merseyside Safety Camera Partnership, good events at which to speak to a key group of at-risk road users.
Finally, at RoadSafety GB’s conference in Cambridge, I was honoured to receive the Lynda Chalker Award for road safety. It was good to see the work of PACTS honoured in this way even if the award maws rather heavy to carry back to the office!
PACTS remains a lean and mean organisation, relying on three full-time staff to achieve its objectives. I am grateful to both Gillian Reeves (Communications and Conference Manager) and Eleanor Besley (Policy and Research Officer) for all their efforts during the last year to keep the organisation focused and functioning.
Ellie joined us in March 2009 and has adapted very speedily to the wide variety of subjects that PACTS is expected to cover. Her work on the research project on shared space reflects her commitment to PACTS and to encouraging us to think about our work in a different context.
During the year, Gill has also developed our communications capability, extending PACTS’ presence on the social media network of Twitter and Facebook. These new media will become increasingly important as a way of communicating about safety in the modern world. She has also helped to develop a more structured approach to communicating with the newly elected House of Commons, especially important since the number of first-time MPs at this election is very significant.
Having looked back over the last year, I ought also to take the opportunity to think about the challenges that may lie ahead of us. These seem to me to be three-fold.
The first is financial. The current government is strongly committed to reducing the budget deficit. It is difficult to see quite how this will affect transport in the coming years. However, it will be important to continue to argue the case for investment in safety to reduce the costs of death and injury to society in general and individual families in particular.
Secondly, we need to retain our focus on the publication of a new road safety strategy and accompanying targets for casualty reduction. The most successful countries are those with both these in place. That was a key conclusion from the OECD report on Vision Zero. Great Britain must not be allowed to fall behind in progress towards safer roads and road users.
Thirdly, better co-ordination and sharing of resources will be vital in the next few years. Many councils, police forces and partnerships are already trying to do this. The challenge for all of us will be to provide the best level of service for the lowest cost without compromising levels of safety. There clearly remains much for us to do.