Road death news attracts little attention

Maybe it was because we were all watching the World Cup, but the reduction in road deaths to 2,222 last year, released by the DfT a week ago, is truly remarkable and yet received little attention. It’s not so long ago that it was double that and the target set by the previous government has already been reached.

The problem is that we do not know quite why. For people in cars, where there was a 16 per cent reduction, it may well be airbags, greater use of safety belts, and better design, but pedestrian deaths also fell by a significant 13 per cent which suggests that people are driving better or more slowly. Explaining the cycling statistics is difficult, as there was a decrease in deaths of 10 per cent but an increase in serious injuries of 6 per cent.

One of the early measures of the new transport secretary, Philip Hammond, was to announce that no new speed cameras would be installed. Yet, clearly, these yellow boxes have had an effect, as have road humps and other speed control measures in town. I, personaly, have noticed that people drive better in London these days – there will always be the odd hothead – but it was noticeable that outside the capital, on various cycle trips, the behaviour of motorists is far more antagonistic to cyclists than in the capital.

There is great scope for further reductions. A report issued a couple of days ago on the most dangerous roads in Britain shows that by taking the right measures, it is possible to reduce their risk. None of this is rocket science, but it requires money and if Hammond thinks it is clever not to install speed cameras, he probably will be reluctant to spend it on these mitigation measures.

This will be my last ‘policy’ blog for a while – I am off cycling to Italy through France but will try to post regular updates on my progress.

  • Richard Vote

    I chair the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Safety and Reliability Group which of course includes the Automobile and Railway Industry Divisions. We also embrace Medical Engineering. It may be the increased safety performance of cars, not just for occupants but pedestrians and also the improved capabilty of dealing with traumas by the medical profession, enabled by better equipment. This isn’t just a “plug” for Mechanical Engineering!! It would be interesting to determine how many serious injuries which hitherto would not have been recoverable and that the incidence of accidents has not moved, despite safety features because the greatest influence is the human. Until behaviour is sorted engineering can only follow.

  • Dan

    “Maybe it was because we were all watching the World Cup, but the reduction in road deaths to 2,222 last year”

    Ah – you mean ‘a good day to bury good news’ then? After all – we wouldn’t want anyone to conclude that the (non existent) “war on the motorist” that the Minister was fighting (on rebel lines presumably according to him) – might have actually worked?

    Although more seriously, Richard’s comment is food for thought.

    Have a good cycling holiday Christian – look forward to reading your comments on various aspects of provision (for cyclists and other transport users) as you progress through to Italy

  • Michael Willis

    +50,000 road deaths
    +250,000 injuries
    +250,000,000 Automobiles
    +200,000 Petrol stations.
    +1,000,000 Drive-Thru junk food depots-Eat-In-Your-Car/Get-Obese.
    +4,000,000 Miles of dirt, asphalt and concrete paved local/county/state/federal interstate roads and ‘free-lunch-speedways’.
    +A few hundred AMTRAK trains
    +25,000 Miles of passenger railway, that’s what existed in 1856. 250,000 Miles of iron roads and +50,000 railway stops/depots/stations/terminals operated until the US railways/public transport liquidation period of the 1950’s-1970’s.
    A strange parallel can be drawn between the film ‘Farenheit 451’, a story that transports you to a future society that has banned the written word and books in all forms—to a present society in the western hemisphere that has chosen to forbid all forms of public transport except for gazzoline slurping motorcars & aeroplanes…

  • Malcolm Bulpitt


    As you know I have spent the last 40 years working in the field of Highway Safety Engineering. When we first started doing in depth investigation of road crashes (they are not accidents – those are events without apparent cause) in the early 1970s it was apparent that we could make serious reductions by engineering-out design flaws and correcting poor road layouts. We moved that on in the 80s to develop Road Safety Audit here in the UK (we were first at Kent CC) and this is now EU policy and the technique has been adopted world wide – except in the USA for fear of being sued. Dispit a general lack of interest by politicians, who still generally relate Road Safety to Tufty Clubs, we have persevered and the results have come through over time. But where to now? Engineering needs funding, but Hammond has removed the £35m RS Remedial Measures budget apparently to fund Overseas Aid. Another £150m has gone from the Small Schemes budget, most of which would go to related traffic safety projects, again to fund Overseas Aid. Yes Cameras reduce speeds (30% of fatals are directly speed related) but they will go as local politicians respond to Daily Mail reading Mondeo Man and cut funding. Another unreported cut was to the funding for the ongoing crash investigation work that was being carried-out at Loughborough University.Is that money also going to fund a corruption ridden project in some third world dictatorship? Am I the only person to question why a country, supposedly on the verge of bankruptcy, is cancelling life saving projects at home to protect its Aid budget? Christian please look into this as the Aid Industry appears to have muzzled all th other journalists.

  • Dan

    Some good points Malcolm – however it is simply not fair (or may be not sensible) to say words to the effect of “if overseas aid was cut the money would go to road accident reduction” – politics is not like that. After all – the NHS suposedly also has a protected budget – but why not cut that – spend it on road safety so you don’t have to spend it on the NHS AFTER someone has been injured in a road accident?

    It’s not either aid OR road safety – it’s about a philosophy of spending decisions based on cutting expenditure where you can get away with it – reducing public services, switching costs to the private sector (ie ‘privatising’ things), individual rather than collective decisions? The coalition has nailed its colours to the mast on this one – it’s not about rational decisions to spend on what works – it’s about ideology.

    You made a good argument – but since it is implausible that every aid project is “corruption ridden in a dictatorship” I fear your line of argument panders to the “Daily Mail reading Mondeo Man”…..and I say this coming from a perspective of not being that bothered about Overseas Aid one way or the other myself!

  • RapidAssistant

    It would be interesting to see the distribution of that total though. The fact that the 13pc reduction in pedestrian deaths is interesting – a combination of traffic calming measures in urban areas, and better, pedestrian friendly design of cars. However, I’d be interested to know what percentage share of this was on country roads, which are the biggest killer of the lot – where you tend to get a lot more aggressive driving (more powerful cars, and increased safety features have contributed to a lot of the arrogance that ‘I can get away with anything’ among many drivers), and a much more dangerous mix of slow and fast moving traffic. It is also the area where there is perversely the least amount of policing – unlike the motorways and major trunk routes. The policy has been to use mobile speed camera vans on these secondary A- and B-routes, but as Malcolm said above – these will be the type of things that will be under threat from cutbacks.

  • Malcolm Bulpitt


    I accept that perhaps I should have added “probably” before the “…corruption ridden..” line above, but if you were to ask many people in the consultancy/engineering professions (and even those in the Aid Industry) about working in the third world you would perhaps get a better understanding as to the issues that have to be overcome to get things done. Six months on and how much of the millions donated post-earthquake to Haiti have yet to get on the ground? The logistics are not the only difficulty!

    I obviously know that all the RS cut backs will not simply fund the Overseas Aid budget, but that is the headline-grabbing way that the Aid Industry, for example, would chose to publicise their annoyance/indignation at loosing funds. The point is that the Transport Industry also needs to adopt similar tacticts if it is to fight unthoughtout short-term political actions and highlight the potential consequences. It is mot just in the third-world that the jungle exists. Final thought. At a Conference a year-or-so ago a leading, and well respected, figure in the area of traffic safety was asked what he considered to be the biggest single block to improving road safety in the UK. His reply? “The Daily Mail”. Hundreds of transport professionals burst into applause. Enough said.

    Rapid Assistant.

    Rural roads do have higher KSI (Killed and Seriously Injured rates) not just for the valid reasons you mention, but for other funding and socio-economic reasons as well. With the closure of smaller Hospitals and the location of A & E services in fewer key locations it is harder to get badly injured victims to specialist care in what is known as the Golden Hour. Ambulances services and Para Medics do their best but they too have been “rationalised” in many areas of the country whilst the poorer rural road network also limits their reaction times. Air Ambulances do help – but why are they generally charity funded? Even here in the SE the NHS is trying to close the A & E at our local hospital (in a town of 80,000) and send casualties on an extra 15 mile trek along a congested “A” road to another facility. Again lack of joined-up-thinking may serve to increase the severity (and cost) of treatments the NHS may have to perform. In rural areas job/retail/educational/leisure opportunities are becoming more concentrated in fewer locations so rural dwellers have to make longer trips to do things and consequently spend more time potentially exposed to the dangers of road traffic. Wages/incomes are generally lower so rural residents tend to drive older, and potentially less safe, cars (and over longer distances). Public transport, which is a quantum leap safer than private transport, is less good or even non existant so more car trips per person are made and rural cars also tend to have more people in them. It is a complex equation that is simply not linked to the condition of the road infrastructure. Unfortunately it is an equation that is beyond the understanding of most politicians, and of the financial gurus at the Treasury who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

  • Dan

    Malcolm – good to read your further comments (in the context of your earlier post) – I think the broader issue is that many people in transport professions don’t behave as if what they do is related to politics – well it should not be, but it is – and you clearly accept this point by your remarks further on – yes, I’d be very happy for the transport industry to act as you say the Aid people would – to fight their corner. The problem in transport is the way the private interest sector (roads / air etc) set themselves up against the public transport sector in this politicisation process – which is crazy and very shortsighted. We will now see the RAC et al fight with the bus / train operators about DfT spending – depressing. They should both be fighting together for trasnport investment as a route out of economic stagnation and as a cheap time to invest whilst construction costs are low(er).

    But this is, as I said before, about the necessity of understanding how politicians think and what motivates them (essentially what motivates voters…)

  • All the most recent evidence suggests that road safety policy such as traffic calming, lower speed limits with speed cameras and cycle lanes have not reduced road casualties as claimed by the government and police. In actual fact the police have been massively under reporting serious injuries in an attempt to justify their current policy, they claimed 26,000 when the NHS figures prove that the true figure is 40,000. Admittedly road deaths have come down, but perhaps this is due to better paramedic ambulance treatment and things like the air ambulance. The injury figures have come down more recently by 2%, but perhaps the reduction in deaths and 2% injuries is due to the introduction of free bus passes for the elderly taking many potentially less competent old drivers off our roads.

  • Malcolm Bulpitt


    Sorry – but you are wrong. I do not know where you have sourced your figures/information but it sounds as though it was from the popular media not from professional/industry sources. All the things you mention in your first lines have cut crashes and casualties – only the Daily Mail and similar publications appear to deny this, along with the lunatic fringe of the Association of British Drivers and similar organisations. Yes, the Police and NHS figures are out of sync but we have known this for years and make allowances. If you research the difference between the Government rules on reporting and recording Road Traffic “Accidents” you will see one reason for the differences. I really do not think that ACPO are part of a conspiracy to massage the figures. Speed management works (not just in the UK but worldwide) it is as simple as that.