DfT Road Safety Statement: Some good, more bad

The Department for Transport’s (DfT) new 2019 Road Safety Statement contains a two year action plan with 74 actions. Launched less than a week before the publication of the 2018 reported road casualty statistics, RoadPeace suspects DfT may be preparing its defence for yet another year where efforts to reduce the toll of road deaths and serious injuries have failed.

To start with the positive, there were two areas welcomed by RoadPeace. These included the actions around roads policing and collision investigation, both which we have campaigned on for years, as highlighted below.

Roads policing

It is great that DfT is collaborating with the Home Office, National Police Chiefs Council and Highways England on roads policing. This chapter addressed drink and drug driving, mobile phone and even seat belts, but not speeding. Operation Snap, West Midlands’ much welcomed initiative which prosecutes speeding drivers on tougher charges, was mentioned later.

DfT says they will develop a baseline of current roads policing activity. RoadPeace urges them to look at our recent baseline review of traffic law enforcement in London, produced by our London Traffic Justice project. This compared the frequency of sanctions given by borough locations and also included a comparison with prosecutions with other police services.

Collision investigation

It was very good to hear that £690,000 had been allocated to forensic collision investigation. Our 2017 report Road Death Investigation: Overlooked and Underfunded highlighted the dire state of fatal collision investigation. We called for DfT to invest in police investigations as its previous approach of funding independent research programmes did not involve the police nor improve police investigations.

Too many gaps and backward steps

But there were more gaps than strengths, and worryingly, a return to old-school focus on education, ranging from young road users to the elderly. Likewise DfT’s four priority road user groups (young road users, rural road users, motorcyclists, and older vulnerable road users) fails to tackle danger at source and address common problems of speed. Safer Systems got one token reference with this plan centred on behavioural change.

DfT stated “Keeping the most vulnerable road users safe is important” but then it went on to discuss cycling offences, despite these accounting for a tiny fraction of the harm posed to pedestrians.

There were many omissions, including no mention of key commitments in DfT’s Walking and Cycling Safety Review, such as

  • Joint research with the Ministry of Justice on presumed liability, and
  • Updating the Highway Code

The plan also failed to address the widespread calls for road traffic offences reform. These have been made not only by RoadPeace and other road danger reduction campaign groups, but also by Transport for London, whose London Vision Zero Action plan included lobbying central government for reform, including with definition of careless/dangerous driving and introducing a charge of Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving.

Speed denial

As mentioned above, way too little was said about the need to tackle speeding and reduce speed.

DfT stated “ We know that the majority of drivers and other road users are careful, considerate and use common sense.” But DfT could have also said that they know the majority of drivers choose to exceed the 20mph and 30mph speed limit when given the chance, as their own surveys show.

Learning from London

With TfL commemorating its first year anniversary of its Vision Zero action plan, DfT could have learned from London where much more is being done to reduce speed and protect the vulnerable. London’s plan also included actions to support those crash victims that they had failed to prevent. Victim support was another key omission from this plan. As many support services are restricted to victims involving criminal prosecutions, transport authorities must help close the gap. Good practice can also be seen in the North West where Merseyside Road Safety Partnership funded RoadPeace to support families bereaved by road crashes.

Integrated approach

DfT states it intends to move to an integrated approach and will do more on post collision response in the future. The integrated approach should include the impact of road transport on the environment and public health. It should not take two years and over 3500 road deaths before this happens.