Transport Committee Call For 'Leadership' As Road Deaths Increase

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The Government needs "stronger leadership and a clearer vision" on road safety, a report by MPs said today. | Getty Images

The Government needs "stronger leadership and a clearer vision" on road safety, a report by MPs said today.

Ministers should provide an explanation for the increase in road deaths recorded last year, the report from the House of Commons Transport Committee said.

This was the first annual increase since 2003 and the Government should give reassurances "that this does not mark the beginning of a worrying trend in road deaths", the report added.

The committee said road accidents were the leading cause of death among young people aged 16-24.

But the MPs said that despite assurances that the issue of young driver road safety was a priority, "we are not convinced that this is reflected in the road safety strategy (published by the Government in May last year)".

The report went on: "Stronger leadership and a clearer vision are required from Government to communicate the importance of road safety to local decision-makers."

The committee added: "We would like to see the inclusion of plans, outlined to us by the Department for Transport, to name and shame local authorities that are under-performing on road safety."

Launching the report today, the committee's chairman Louise Ellman MP said: "We are very concerned that 2011 saw the first increase in road fatalities since 2003, with 1,901 people killed on the roads.

"It is shocking that road accidents are the main cause of death among young adults aged 16-24 and that so many cyclists continue to be killed or injured. In 2010 there were 283 fatalities amongst car occupants aged 16-25, while 27% of young men aged 17-19 are involved in a road collision within the first year of passing their test."

She went on: "If the Government is not willing to set targets, it should show more leadership.

"Action is required to improve road safety for young drivers, including an independent review of driver training."

Robert Gifford, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, said: "Rightly, the Government has set itself the challenge to be a world leader in road safety. The question is whether the policies being followed help to achieve that aspiration.

"The current Government seems more committed to reducing the deficit than it does to cutting deaths and injuries. Yet, as roads minister Mike Penning has said, the success of his time as road safety minister will be demonstrated in further reductions in deaths and injuries.

"The figures for 2011 show that there is no room for complacency with regard to road safety policy and activity. As we review the framework, we also need to develop a British version of Vision Zero, developing both an appropriate philosophy for improving safety and the means to achieve it."

AA president Edmund King said: "The report highlights the need for leadership yet quotes the Association of Chief Police Officers as saying that road safety is not part of their strategic policing requirements and hence chief constables 'will not necessarily look at roads policing because there are no national targets'.

"We believe that more emphasis in road safety needs to be put on enforcement and that a reduction in cops in cars will do nothing to deter the drunk, drugged, distracted, dangerous drivers.

"We also need to see evaluation of training and best practice from local authorities so we know what measures work. When resources are scarce, guidance in what does and doesn't work is crucial.

"We also support the outline measures to reduce casualties amongst cyclists."

Road safety minister Mike Penning said: "Road safety is a top priority and it remains a fact that Britain's roads are some of the safest in the world.

"Naturally I am disappointed that there has been even a small increase in the number of people killed or seriously injured in 2011, however deaths and serious injuries last year were still 7% below 2009 and the number killed was also the second lowest since the 1930s."

He went on: "We continue to take urgent action to crack down on the most dangerous drivers and improve training to make our roads safer.

"I would like to thank the committee for the time and thought they have given to putting the report together. We will compile a thorough response to the issues raised."

RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister said: "We see a need for targets. Having a definite goal rather than a mere aspiration focuses the mind and means that in the increasingly bitter battle for resources road safety is treated as a priority.

"We regard improving infrastructure as central to achieving any target. We know where the most dangerous stretches of road are and work done for us by the Road Safety Foundation shows that a 10-year rolling improvement programme could result in 6,000 fewer deaths over that period.

"For as long as humans drive cars there will be accidents. Therefore, if we can't prevent every crash we should make a major effort to mitigate their effects."

Malcolm Shepherd, chief executive of charity Sustrans, said: "The statistics on road safety released just a few weeks ago have shown an alarming rise in serious injuries among the most vulnerable people on our roads.

"If the Government is serious about making our roads safer it must show clear leadership. A great start would be to reduce our default residential speed limit from 30mph to 20mph, which will make our communities safer for everyone."

Mrs Ellman later said the figures should be a "wake-up call" to ministers.

"It is more important than ever that the Government maintains a message of road safety being a priority," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"The Government has decided to change the way in which they address road safety: they don't want to have national targets any more, they want to have what they call 'indicators'.

"This should be a wake-up call. They need to reassess what they are doing to support local authorities in their initiatives, to highlight good practice in local authorities and encourage 20mph zones."