Will road safety be a priority for the new government?
In the aftermath of the General Election, Brake's campaigns manager Gary Rae takes a look at the prospects for meaningful road safety policy change in the new parliament.
The odds were stacked against them, 4,000 hopefuls chasing just 650 jobs. These were the parliamentary candidates campaigning in the general election for the privilege of having the letters 'MP' after their name and to sit on the green benches in the House of Commons.
As the election begins to fade from memory, the issues facing the new government will continue to dominate the political agenda. Membership of the European Union aside, the NHS and the economy will continue to demand the attention of the prime minister. What's perhaps less well understood is that good road safety policies can have a positive and direct impact on those two big issues. As well as inflicting horrendous suffering, road casualties in Britain cost an estimated £34.8billion in 2011, due to the burden on health and emergency services, criminal justice costs, insurance pay outs, and human costs. Fewer casualties mean less strain on the NHS and emergency services and less emotional and financial devastation to families.
You would have been hard pressed to find significant references to road safety in any of the main parties' manifestos. There were vague commitments to encourage more cycling, but only the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party committed to investing at least £10 per head to encourage the take up of cycling. Neither party is in a strong position to influence the government. Not discussed much; the health benefits of seeking alternative forms of transport, especially walking and cycling. That's one of the issues that our theme for Road Safety Week Drive less, live more will focus on.
So what was discussed when that would-be MP knocked on the door of an unsuspecting voter, how did the conversation go? As an ex-candidate in local elections, I can confirm that those conversations were seldom about the gross domestic product or our defence capabilities. People's concerns could essentially be grouped under two headings: safety and quality. Quality, defined as receiving taxpayer-funded services, be that health or education, that meets their needs. Safety, in terms of crime prevention and other measures that make where we live and work more enjoyable, or at least, tolerable. Stories are told on the doorstep. Hopes and fears are shared. There's often a tale about speeding cars on local streets, the cyclist knocked off their bike, the senior citizen, fearful to cross the busy road, the toddler, killed. At Brake, people who we speak to, have a sense that making our roads safer, simply isn't a priority at a local or national level. That's why we do what we do: campaigning to stop the five needless deaths and 61 serious injuries that happen on roads every day.
In the run up to the election, we wanted to ensure that candidates were able to offer more than just sympathy when they have that doorstep conversation. We highlighted three issues which, in our experience, resonate well with the public.
- Preventing young drivers being killed or seriously injured
- Introducing lower speed limits
- Zero tolerance of drink and drug driving
We sent parliamentary candidates an electronic flyer detailing those three major campaigns. It was well received, with several hundred of them contacting us via social media and email, offering their support.
We need more road safety advocates in Westminster and the other UK parliaments. For those who have won the privilege of using the letters 'MP' after their name, and who have backed our cause, we'll be reminding them of that commitment over the next five years.
My feeling (I live in Kent) is that after five years in which the government has taken its foot off the pedal on road safety issues, the chickens are coming home to roost. The narrow statistical measure of road safety relies on KSI statistics that don't tell the full story of cyclists who are put off cycling, pensioners who don't feel it's safe to cross the road, and children who can't walk to school. But even these KSI stats are getting worse, or flatlining, despite improvements in vehicle construction and NHS casualty treatment. The rhetoric about 'ending the war on the motorist' has had a devastating effect on curbing speeding; enforcement of the 30 mph limit is no longer a priority, there is less money for cameras and fewer police working on traffic. I can't see much changing after the election in national policy though we will see some local improvements in cities with 20 mph limits. Outside these cities, road safety will continue to mark time or go backwards. It will be interesting to see the 2014 statistics for England and Wales when they come out later this summer.
I despair. It seems that nothing changes. There appears to be a huge bias against the most vulnerable road users with existing regulations not being enforced. It seems to me that the disregard and contempt shown by a significant number of drivers for the safety of others is seldom challenged by law enforcement or the judicial system.
I live in London and I enjoy walking around the capital with family and friends. It is really dangerous because of the high number of aggressive drivers that give no regard to cyclists and pedestrians. These drivers do not understand the regard they must give to such vulnerable people. It is articulated in the highway code, but not very prominently. My son recently had driving lessons, but the requirements for treating pedestrians and cyclists with respect were not explained. I also cycle in London and was given free cycle training by the local authority where I worked. Few cyclists know that this help is available. We need a better system which operates pro-actively to protect people along with an improved system of driver training and testing. 20 mph is good but driver attitudes MUST also be changed.