RAC calls for road safety targets

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New casualty reduction targets need to be introduced if the recent increase in people being hurt on the roads is not to be repeated, according to the RAC Foundation.

On Thursday (24 September) the government will release detailed casualty figures for 2014. The Foundation says these will show that last year in Great Britain 1,775 people died on the roads (a four per cent increase on the year before), with 22,807 more seriously injured (a five per cent annual increase).

The Foundation adds that, while today’s casualty figures are still significantly below those seen when the coalition government came to power, much of the reduction came in 2010, the general election year, and the 2014 rise is the second in the last four years, and come against a backdrop of reduced spending on road safety at local level and it says “a concern that the lack of a national target has led to a lack of focus and loss of impetus particularly in England”.

The Foundation surveyed 34 English local authorities found that when it came to road safety:

  • 85 per cent thought the changes in resources and capacity since 2010 had had a negative impact
  • 76 per cent thought the changes in national leadership and strategy were detrimental
  • 60 per cent rated progress in road safety overall as poor.

The figures are detailed in the report Road Safety Since 2010, published by the RAC Foundation and PACTS, and compiled by PACTS and Road Safety Analysis.

It says that, while car occupant safety has improved markedly, the situation amongst vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists) has been “less good”.  Although deaths in this group have declined, they are now a larger proportion of all road deaths, rising from 46 per cent in 2005-9 to 50 per cent in 2014.  The absolute number of cyclists seriously injured has risen by 42 per cent.  This might partially be explained by the rise in the numbers cycling.

Road casualty trends are not just influenced by policy decisions: external factors such as traffic volumes and travel trends also play a part. For example, fewer car miles were driven (and at lower speeds) during the recession, while the number of cyclists has risen.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Because of a lack of central focus, and faced with swingeing budget cuts, English councils have not prioritised road safety and have seen a lot of experienced staff leave.

“We also need to see more systematic sharing of best practice. Why has Scotland managed to achieve a decline of nearly a third in those killed or seriously hurt on the roads over the past five years while Wales has only managed a fifth of that?

“Cars have become much safer, but this has predominantly benefitted car occupants and today half of fatalities are amongst vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians.

“We should be proud of our long-term road safety record, but new impetus is needed to protect it. It was a Conservative transport minister who set a challenging casualty reduction target in 1987. We hope today’s Conservative government will be persuaded to follow the same successful path.”

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