An influential House of Commons committee has urged the Coalition Government to “provide stronger leadership” on road safety, saying that an increase in road casualties since it came to power “should be a wake-up call” for ministers. The call to action, made in a report published today by the Transport Select Committee, has received the backing of Sustrans and CTC and also urges the Department for Transport (DfT) to formally outline how it is responding to the eight key points of The Times newspaper’s Cities fit for Cycling campaign, which Prime Minister David Cameron has said he supports.
The committee said that it agreed with the Government about the need to improve the safety of cyclists, but says “there does not appear to be a defined action plan to reduce cycle casualties.
“This perhaps highlights a tension between the Government’s aims and its localism agenda,” the report goes on. “Whilst the Government may wish to prioritise cycle safety, the measures to achieve that, particularly in the provision of infrastructure, appear to fall largely outside the DfT’s remit.”
It added that there needs to be greater co-operation between departments particularly with regard to the provision of cycle infrastructure, and in its conclusions highlighted a comment made by the broadcaster Jon Snow, President of CTC, when he gave evidence to the enquiry, that the Government lacked “joined-up thinking” on the issue.
CTC was united alongside other cycle campaigners in condemning the decision of the Government in abolishing Cycling England as part of the October 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review shortly after it came to power, which many feared would lead to cycling lacking a united and influential voice in its dealings with central government.
With cycle safety rising up the political agenda partly as a result of the focus on the issue in London in the months ahead of May’s mayoral election which resulted in the re-election of Boris Johnson, as well as The high-profile Cities Fit For Cycling campaign from The Times whose editor, James Harding, joined Mr Snow in giving evidence to the committee, the issue is at least being discussed regularly at Westminster now. The government is now being urged to take action.
CTC Campaigns Director Roger Geffen said: “With cycle casualties now increasing faster than cycle use and with worsening safety for other road users too, it is clear that the Government needs to show far stronger leadership on reducing danger on our roads. It is all very well asking local authorities to consider more 20mph limits, and providing the occasional spurt of funding for a few cycle-friendly junction improvements.
“What is really needed is a concerted, properly funded action plan to get councils, police forces and the freight industry pulling together to reduce traffic speeds, ensure cycle-friendly design for all roads and junctions and reduce the threats from lorries. Police forces must give the safety of pedestrians and cyclists the priority it deserves.”
Malcolm Shepherd, chief executive of the sustainable transport charity, Sustrans, echoed that call, saying: ““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 30 to 20 miles per hour, which will make our communities safer for everyone.”
The committee's chair, Louise Ellman, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, said: "We are very concerned that 2011 saw the first increase in road fatalities since 2003, with 1901 people killed on the roads. It is shocking that road accidents are the main cause of death amongst 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.
She continued: "27% of young men aged 17-19 are involved in a road collision within the first year of passing their test. 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. We welcome the attention cycling has received but there is much more to do.
“The evidence we gathered suggests the principal factor in improving road safety is robust political leadership," Ms Ellman added. "The Government’s strategy sets out to devolve decision making on road safety to local authorities but many authorities face a shortage of funding and the loss of many skilled road safety personnel. We welcome innovative working between local authorities and, for example, health authorities. The Minister should also do more to flag up and disseminate best practice.“
The Transport Select Committee’s report outlines the findings of the inquiry it announced last September into the government’s Strategic Framework for Road Safety, itself published in May 2011. The report’s conclusion begins by stating that Mike Penning, the Minister for Road Safety, had told the committee “that success of his strategy could be judged by seeing a reduction in road casualties. From the latest figures, it would appear there is a risk that the strategy is insufficient,” it adds.
Among specific criticisms aimed at the government was the issue of putting more of an onus on local authorities to take the initiative on road safety, with the report stating that “there are a number of challenges currently faced by local authorities which may undermine their ability to deliver road safety outcomes,” and in particular cuts in budget which impede them from developing road safety initiatives and financing the staff needed to run them.
It also said that the government had “failed to grasp the nettle” when it came to addressing road fatalities among people aged 16 to 24, which it pointed out was the leading cause of death among people of that age.
Accusing the government of providing “mixed messages on road safety,” the committee said that it understood Mr Penning’s assertion that targets alone were no guarantee for improving road safety, but said that if the government was not going to set targets, then “it should be making more effort to provide leadership in other ways.”
It added: “Unfortunately, this has not happened.”
The detailed conclusions and recommendations of the report are as follows, with paragraph numbers referring to the main body of the report:
1. The Department should provide a clearer explanation of the role of casualty forecasts in its road safety strategy. We recommend that it set out in its annual report whether road safety is improving each year in line with its forecasts, or, if not, explain what is going wrong. The Government should also state what action it will take if its road safety forecasts turn out to be inaccurate. (Paragraph 13)
2. As part of its evaluation of the Strategic Framework for Road Safety, the Government should publish an analysis of the resources used for road safety at a local level to highlight best practice by local authorities, in particular noting innovative practices and multi-agency approaches to achieving road safety goals. (Paragraph 17)
3. The Government should explain how it intends to measure which are the worst performing local authorities and how it expects “naming and shaming” them will improve their performance. (Paragraph 18)
4. We recommend that the Department provides an update of the initial findings of the Learning to Drive programme with its response to this report. (Paragraph 24)
5. We recommend that the Government initiate an independent review of driver training to assess thoroughly the various options put forward to reduce the casualty rate for young drivers and make recommendations about which are likely to be most effective. We recommend this review be completed before the end of this Parliament. (Paragraph 29)
6. The Government should consider how to encourage greater adoption of these measures. (Paragraph 32)
7. We agree that joint working between departments will be necessary to achieve road safety outcomes. We recommend that the Government shows how its efforts to work in partnership with departments such as DCLG and local authorities have been effective in encouraging the provision of cycle infrastructure and outlines which problems in securing this joint-working have yet to be overcome. (Paragraph 37)
8. Given the Prime Minister’s support for The Times cycle campaign, we recommend that the department issue a formal response to each of its eight points showing how they are being addressed and, if a point is not being acted on, what alternative action is being taken to address the matter. (Paragraph 38)
9. Prior to The Times campaign on cycle safety it was difficult to see how the Government was showing leadership in cycle safety. There is now evidence of commitment, but, as Jon Snow said, leadership requires joining up Government. We are not convinced that this is happening and therefore there is much work still to be done. (Paragraph 40)
10. We recommend that the DfT should, in its reply to this report, explain what lessons it has learnt from [the delay to revising the motorcycle test] and how it will go about implementing future European directives on the subject of driver or rider training without undue delay. (Paragraph 42)
11. We recommend that the department write to us on a quarterly basis to explain progress in this area. (Paragraph 43)
12. The Government should encourage the development of inter-agency partnerships and include examples of best practice in securing joint working in its forthcoming guidance for local authorities. (Paragraph 46)
13. We recommend that as part of its consultation the Government calculates the costs associated with stricter enforcement of an 80 mph limit and creating more variable speed limits on sections of the motorway network deemed inappropriate to see an increase to 80 mph. (Paragraph 47)
14. The possibility of increasing the motorway speed limit has been discussed since September 2011, it is now time for the DfT to publish its consultation document or to explain the reason for delay. (Paragraph 47)
15. The Government should ensure that any decision to increase the speed limit should follow a debate in the House on a votable motion. (Paragraph 48)
Technology and engineering
16. We recommend that the Government includes engineering measures in its outcomes framework, for example by providing EuroRAP assessments of road safety.
17. We recommend that the Government provides an update on progress in those areas which it committed to developing at an EU level in the last road safety strategy and sets out forthcoming areas for prioritisation. (Paragraph 51)
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.