Department for Transport policy meeting, 9 January 2008

Cathy Keeler, Brake’s Head of Campaigns met Road Safety Minister Jim Fitzpatrick MP on 9 January 2008.

20mph limits and safety zones

The first issue discussed was the need for a default 20mph limit in built-up areas, with 20mph safety zones outside schools and in residential areas where children are likely to be out on foot and bicycles. These are key demands of Brake’s Watch Out, There’s A Kid About! campaign.

Cathy outlined the difficulties facing many communities struggling to get lower limits and other essential measures put in place to protect kids outside their schools and homes. Brake’s mascot, Zak the zebra, is working with some of these communities to highlight dangers on local roads and lobby for lower limits. Finding funding for safety measures such as 20mph limits and traffic-calming measures is a regular problem, but a few councils have also cited Government guidelines as a barrier to reducing limits in some locations where speeds are not already low.

Cathy pointed out that the Government does not monitor implementation of its guidelines on setting speed limits and there is no information collected centrally on how many 20mph limits and safety zones are in place. Similarly, there is no central information collected on whether local authorities have implemented Department for Transport (DfT) guidance on child road safety audits. These issues were highlighted by recent Department for Transport answers to Parliamentary Questions asked by MPs Mark Hunter and John Leech in October 2007 and January 2008. This means that the Government cannot analyse to what extent its guidance is being followed by local authorities or whether it is effectively improving safety.

Jim said that DfT had identified the gap in knowledge highlighted by the Parliamentary Questions and was at the early stages of planning research on the number of 20mph speed limits and safety zones in England and Wales. He invited Brake to contribute ideas for other local authority-led road safety measures that could be analysed as part of the same research and Cathy suggested: identifying how many schools have 20mph limits outside them; how many sites in England and Wales have variable 20mph limits (as have already been implemented outside the majority of schools in Scotland); and child road safety audits.

Young drivers

Cathy urged Jim to ensure that the long-promised consultation paper on the learning to drive process included the option of introducing a system of graduated driver licensing, with a minimum learning to drive period and restrictions on driving in particularly risky situations for novice drivers, as recommended by Parliament’s Transport Select Committee.

Jim said that DfT was open to all suggestions on this issue. It was still finalising the consultation paper and he hoped it would be published in February or March.

Reporting of at-work road crashes

Cathy raised concerns about under-reporting of at-work crashes, in particular when they involve cars or vans rather than commercial vehicles. Mike Fawcett, DfT’s head of road user safety policy said DfT was aware of the concern, but did not envisage changing the form used by police before the next scheduled review date. Cathy suggested further guidance for police officers using the forms could help improve the quality of data recorded.

Driver impairment

Mobile phones - Cathy flagged up research published by the University of Utah, showing that hands-free kits slow reaction and braking times. She urged Jim to review the evidence for banning hands-free mobile phones while driving.

Drink-driving - Cathy asked when the promised consultation on drink-driving would be published and whether it would be encouraging views on the current drink-drive limit. Jim responded that there was as yet no date for publication. He did not rule out the possibility of introducing a lower drink-drive limit, but said that DfT was of the view that the biggest potential road safety gains could come from improved enforcement of the limit.

Post-2010 strategy and targets

Cathy said Brake had been pleased to hear Jim stating in speeches that even one death on the road is one too many. She encouraged DfT to adopt an overarching ‘vision’ along these lines, similar to the Vision Zero approach adopted in Sweden. Jim said that DfT would be seeking the views of Brake and other stakeholders on developing a post-2010 road safety strategy and casualty reduction targets during 2008.

Tags: 20mph Department for Transport speed young drivers scottish government impairment