Julie Townsend, Deputy Chief Executive of Brake and Ellen Booth, Campaigns Officer of Brake, met Mike Penning MP, the newly appointed Road Safety Minister.
Issues discussed included:
Minister’s background and commitment to road safety
The Minister explained that he used to be a paramedic in the army as well as a fire fighter before he went into politics. He used to be involved in road safety education for young people through his work as a fire fighter and be believes that education plays an important part in promoting road safety. He explained that he had a strong commitment to road safety that stems from cutting too many people from car wreckages. The Minister is a motorcycle rider and is concerned that the number of motorcycle deaths hasn’t reduced as much as for other road users. He is also especially concerned about young male drivers.
Brake acknowledged the Minister’s statement of commitment to road safety. As a charity that works directly with people affected by death and serious injury on the roads, we share his understanding of the devastation that results from road crashes. We hope that his first hand experience of the carnage on our roads will impel him to provide strong leadership on road safety and push for tough legislation to protect the British public.
Funding for road safety
The Minister doesn’t agree that road safety will necessarily be cut at local level in line with the 40% cuts made by central Government to the road safety grant provided to local authorities. He disagrees that these cuts send a strong message to local authorities that road safety isn’t a priority. He argued that local authorities must decide on their priorities themselves rather than look to central Government to make those decisions. Althought the road safety grant has been cut by 40% effective in this year, local authorities have the choice to fund road safety from other sources of funding that aren’t ring fenced. He believes that local authorities must make their own decisions about what to fund. He pointed out that he has also halted all major roads projects so road safety is not the only target of the cuts.
Brake asserted that cutting the road safety grant so drastically sends a message to local authorities that road safety can be sacrificed through this period of austerity. If more isn’t done to ensure road safety is adequately funded now and provided with certainty for the future then we face a bleak prospect of more deaths on our roads, which could cost society far more than is beign saved through these cuts.
A vision for road safety to 2020.
The Minister wants to create a future where road safety becomes integrated into transport policy at a more intrinsic level. This means that when new roads are built he wants to ensure road safety is prioritised at the design level. For example, we need to provide sufficient rest areas on motorways.
When asked if and when he would be setting a road safety strategy and road casualty reduction targets for 2010-2020 he said he was unable to confirm this at the moment.
He is not an advocate of targets because he feels they can be misleading and create false incentives that are counterproductive. He stated that he does not yet have a timetable for when he will set out a strategy to 2020. He did state that he thinks it is important that central Government provides leadership to local authorities through outlining priorities in a strategy. However, he is not convinced that setting an ambitious vision for road safety such as Sweden’s ‘Vision Zero’ is realistic.
Brake argued that setting ambitious targets on the reduction in the number of people killed on our roads would help to drive down deaths and casualties, and pointed to evidence target setting leading to accelerated casualty reductions. In July 2009, Brake responded to the Government’s ‘a safer way’ consultation on the setting of a new strategy for road safety over the coming decade arguing that we need challenging targets, separate targets for deaths and serious injuries, and a clear and ambitious vision for road safety. Brake believes that this vision should encompass the concept that road deaths are preventable and therefore unacceptable – with the long-term goal of reducing deaths to zero (similar to visions already in place in Sweden and Scotland). Brake pressed the Minister that setting a direction and targets for road safety must be an urgent priority.
The Minister believes speed cameras should be used as one tool among many but more recently they have become the main focus of road safety measures. Instead he wants action to be taken to educate people rather than entirely focusing on enforcement. The Minister believes that speed enforcement through cameras is not fully evidenced.
With regards to his recent announcements that central Government would not be funding any more fixed speed cameras he stated that he hasn’t directed local authorities not to put up any more fixed speed cameras. He asserted that he is committed to localism and that it is up to local authorities to decide how to spend their money, including whether they want to put up more fixed speed cameras. He insisted that his announcement was solely that central Government won’t provide money for fixed speed cameras but local authorities can continue to purchase them. He stated that average speed cameras seem to be a better way of reducing speed and he will promote their use, especially on motorways.
Brake has spoken out on the Minister’s comments on speed cameras, pointing to evidence on their effectiveness, and surveys showing that the majority of drivers accept their use as a safety measure. The Department for Transport’s own research shows that speed cameras are proven to reduce speed and casualties. Brake agrees that a whole host of road safety measures should be encouraged, but this should include cameras as they are a cost-effective, popular and an extremely efficient way of improving road safety in the short term. Brake also agrees that a greater number of average speed cameras should be rolled out across the country, both on major routes and in built up areas.
Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA)
The Minister does not believe in mandatory ISA. He would prefer a system of voluntary ISA. He is looking into producing a national map of speed limits that could be used by individuals and fleets who wish to use ISA in their vehicles.
In the long term, Brake would like to see the introduction of mandatory intelligent speed adaptation to ensure that all drivers can stick to speed limits. Research has shown that mandatory ISA would reduce fatal crashes by 50% - that is more than 1,000 lives saved in Great Britain alone every year. Brake is urging the Government to fund production of a speed limit map, which would pave the way for ISA, and enable fleet operators to start using it, while costing relatively little.
The Minister has had the appropriate meetings to get the ball rolling on introducing drugalysers, including with manufacturers. He has been investigating the different types of drugalysers available. A drugalyser which could be used in a non-evidential capacity at the roadside is now in the hands of the Home Office, which needs to give type approval for a device. Once drugalysers are type approved they will be piloted and then rolled out nationally.
The Minister believes that we urgently need this new technology to tackle the serious problem of drug driving and is committed to acting quickly once they have received type approval from the Home Office.
The Minister added that he agrees that we need to find a way to remove the need for police to prove impairment from drugs to prosecute for drug driving. It should be possible to prosecute drug drivers simply for having illegal drugs (or a certain level of illegal drugs) present in their body.
Brake welcomes the Minister’s swift action on drugalyser technology and promise to deliver implementation quickly once type approval was given by the Home Office. Brake also pressed the Minister to act to change the requirement on ‘impairment’ for drug driving as a matter of urgency and set a timetable for achieving this. Brake also emphasised the need for sufficient resources and powers for police to carry out adequate levels of drug testing at the roadside.
Drink drive limit
The Minister was not able to divulge how he will respond to Sir Peter North’s recommendation on lowering the drink drive limit.
He did state that he hopes to remove the need for police to consult a doctor to verify drink driving which would make the enforcement of the drink drive limit easier.
He also stated that he was concerned that the North Report made no recommendations on how to target people who are over the limit by large amounts. He is concerned that this is a big problem on rural roads. He hopes to identify what he can do about this particular problem.
He believes that education on drink driving should play a major part in tackling the problem.
Brake argues that the drink drive limit must be lowered to 20mg/100ml blood or less, an effective zero tolerance approach, to reflect research which shows that even small amounts of alcohol impair driving ability. Brake believes that leaving the drink drive limit at 80mg alcohol or even reducing it to 50mg leaves the public confused over how much they can drink safely and even how much will put them over the legal limit. The only way for drivers to know that they are safe, as well as legal, is to not drink any alcohol before getting behind the wheel.
The Minister is very concerned about the safety of young male drivers. He believes that education must play a role in making them safer on the roads.
The Minister believes that learning to drive shouldn’t be about learning to pass a test. It should be about learning to enjoy driving and driving safely. He wants to move towards this understanding of learning to drive and believes that the changes he has already announced on improving the motorcycle test is the first step in this direction. He said that more will follow.
Brake urged the Minister to consider introducing Graduated Driver Licensing to help reduce crashes involving young drivers.
The Minister believes that the police do not need greater powers to enforce traffic offences. Instead he believes that a lack of resources is to blame for the low levels of enforcement for offences on our roads.
Brake argued that enforcement of the law must be radically improved by increasing the number of specialist traffic officers on our roads and giving the police the powers to use up to date technology.
 ISA-UK: Intelligent speed adaptation, Professor Oliver Carston et al., The University of Leeds and MIRA Ltd, 2008