December 7 2012

In-depth: Road safety in the UK

More needs to be done by the government in order to improve road safety in the UK.
That is the opinion of Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive of road safety charity Brake, who has called on the authorities to step up its efforts to lower the number of road traffic accidents taking place across the country.

Official figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) revealed that such incidents rose for the first time in 17 years in 2011 and Ms Townsend has urged the Conservative-Liberal Democrat alliance to take action to reverse this trend sooner rather than later.

Earlier this year, the Transport Select Committee (TSC) produced a report in which it stated the administration should take the lead with regard to road safety.
However, Ms Townsend has labelled the coalition’s response to this study unsatisfactory.

What did the report say about road safety?

Within its report, one of the main assertions put forward by the TSC was that the government should adopt all points of The Times’ Cities fit for Cycling campaign.

The newspaper launched this initiative after Mary Bowers, one of its reporters, was left comatose when she was run over by a truck on her way to work in November 2012.

The scheme includes eight main points that have been designed to improve road safety for cyclists, such as making it compulsory for lorries driving in inner-city areas to be fitted with equipment such as sensors and additional mirrors.

Furthermore, it calls on the government to identify the 500 most dangerous road junctions across the country and set about enhancing safety at these blackspots, while also providing £100 million annually for the development of a “world-class cycling infrastructure”.

At present, the proposed road safety reforms put forward by the media organisation have attracted the written support of 36,000 members of the public and are also backed by all three of the main political parties in the UK. This has also been supported by personal injury solicitors who see the effect of insufficient road safety reforms.

How has the government responded?

The DfT has attracted widespread criticism for its response to the calls of the TSC, with many campaign groups indicating its plans are insufficient.

For instance, in its reaction to the report, the government indicated it will not make it compulsory for trucks to have sensors fitted in order to protect cyclists and pedestrians.
In addition, it also rejected The Times’ recommendation that the current driver training criteria is in need of an overhaul.

Following the release of the administration’s response, Louise Ellman MP, chair of the TSC, said this was a “particular disappointment”, as statistics clearly show that younger drivers are most at risk when it comes to being injured or killed in road traffic accidents.
“Generalised talk about everyone playing their part to bring road casualties down should not be allowed to hide central government’s responsibilities to keep local authorities, the police, other agencies and the public fully focused on delivering significant and sustained improvements in road safety,” she added.

What is wrong with the government’s attitude towards road safety?

Echoing the comments made by Ms Ellman, Brake’s Ms Townsend has intimated that the government is not taking the issue of road safety seriously enough.

She noted that more families are “suffering horrendously and needlessly” as the number of road traffic accidents edges upwards and said the coalition’s assessment of the rise in serious casualties is “disappointing” as it fails to acknowledge the “suffering they inflict, the costly burden on society and their preventability”.

Ms Townsend went on to say that both her organisation and the TSC have called on the government to “treat these horrifying statistics as a wake-up call” to spur a period of “determined and bold action”.

“However, the government’s response shows a lack of willingness to take responsibility and a lack of ambition in bringing these devastating casualties down,” she stated.
“We urge ministers to acknowledge how much could be achieved, to the benefit of communities and the public purse, through more decisive and progressive road safety policies.”

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