Making road safety pay

I am delighted to be joining you today (3 November 2014) for the launch of Making road safety pay - and the 2014 EuroRAP results. It’s a great privilege – but also a big responsibility – being Road Safety Minister. Because although Britain has some of the safest roads in the world. We have to keep raising the bar and we have to keep getting better. If we want casualty figures to keep on decreasing. I know that all of you gathered in this room today share in this mission with me. National road safety wouldn’t be where it is today without all of your hard work and support. I would like to personally thank you all for your continued commitment to making Britain a safer place to travel. And I’m sure that today’s publication – ‘Making road safety pay’ - will make an important contribution to the cause. You’ll understand I need more time to digest the full content of the report before I can respond in detail. I would, however, like to take this opportunity to talk about some of the ways in which we are developing and improving our road safety strategy. As already indicated, we start from a position of strength. A position that almost every other country in the world would give their eye-teeth to share with us. The number of deaths in 2013 was the lowest since records began in 1926 – down nearly 40% on the average for 2005 to 2009. That is an extraordinary achievement. And one you should be proud of. But it’s only momentary. Out there, on the network, the chances are that someone else has lost their life today. The family and friends of that person aren’t interested in road safety statistics from last year. They want even safer roads – today. And here’s something they’ll be concerned about. The provisional figures for the first quarter of 2014 suggest an increase in road deaths. We don’t yet fully understand why, and will need to study the data for the whole year to determine whether it’s a one-off (due to the weather, for example) - or the start of a longer-term trend. But the key point is that one death is one too many. So we will continue to do all we can to make our roads safer, day by day. One of the most powerful weapons we can deploy to meet this objective is our award winning THINK! programme. For example, one area we are concerned about has been rural road safety. So I recently launched a new THINK! Country road campaign. It alerts drivers to the particular characteristics of rural roads and urges them to adapt their driving accordingly. People were surprised to hear you are 11 times more likely to die on a local road than a motorway. The educational approach we are taking is raising awareness among drivers who are generally sensible, but need reminding of their responsibilities. But a different strategy must be used to tackle the reckless minority who wilfully take to the wheel while unfit to do so - or who deliberately drive in a dangerous manner. Clearly these people are putting themselves and other road users at risk. That is where robust regulation and effective enforcement are so important. New legislation will impose a zero-tolerance approach to those that drive under the influence of illegal drugs. From March next year it will be an offence to drive a motor vehicle if you have certain controlled drugs in your body in excess of the official limits. I regard the new drug drive laws as a significant development in the evolution of road safety in this country. 50 years on from the breathalyser the ‘drugalyser’, as it will no doubt be known, will be a step change in making roads safer. Tackling drink driving continues to be a priority for government - and we’re taking steps to boost enforcement. We have included in the Deregulation Bill a measure which would remove the right that drivers currently have to demand a blood or urine test if they fail a breathalyser test. The removal of the so called ‘statutory option’ is a common sense measure which reflects major improvements in breathalyser technology since the drink driving offence was first introduced. This bill is currently on its way through Parliament, so it’s too early to give you any definitive information about implementation. Judging from my post bag, the biggest road safety concern at the moment is drivers using mobile phones at the wheel. And ensuring that penalties are set at the right level. It is encouraging that the public generally agrees with government that the practice of holding a mobile phone whilst driving is completely unacceptable. That’s why we increased the fixed penalty for this offence to £100 last year. But, before we make any decisions about whether any further interventions are necessary or justified, we need to understand the nature of the problem. We have therefore commissioned research into the prevalence of illegal mobile phone use while driving. This will demonstrate exactly who is responsible for this dangerous habit – and whether they are talking or texting. Looking further into the future, we are about to commission research into how telematics affect the safety of novice drivers. This is a subject that I am particularly interested in, given the increased risks that inexperienced drivers face. I recognise the positive impact star rating systems have had on the safety of vehicles and roads around the world. I am therefore keen to work with the Highways Agency and local authorities to consider the merits of adopting a similar star rating for UK roads. Such a system could help simplify future road safety policy. So while it’s far too early to say if we’ll adopt star ratings here, I have asked my officials to look into their benefits and strengths, particularly EUROrap and i RAP. All of these research findings should provide vital evidence for shaping future road safety policy. Improving safety for vulnerable road users remains a priority for the department. And, of course, keeping children safe will always be a key part of what we do. That’s why we are funding local projects to promote sustainable travel to school and we’ve taken action to make the school run safer. We’ve made it easier for councils to put 20 miles per hour limits in place by relaxing the requirements to provide signing and traffic calming features. We’re also helping encourage local authorities to provide more modern, safer crossings. Under regulatory changes due in March next year, Pelican crossings will no longer be an option for new crossings. This doesn’t mean the familiar far-side red and green men will disappear as there will still be a crossing that uses these. Sadly, this one doesn’t have an bird-related name beginning with P as our other crossings do, but is sometimes called a pedex, or a ‘pedestrian operated traffic signal’ – POTS for short. It can use detectors, or countdown, to provide more benefits for pedestrians than pelicans can. And safer vehicles have played a significant role in reducing the casualty toll. As we look to the future we can see that very advanced vehicles will be on the roads very soon. And the level of technology will continue to grow and in a few years will be commonplace feature of new vehicles. But I have to ask what is the role of government? It has been suggested that government should incentivise advanced emergency braking systems. But this looks to me as something the vehicle manufacturers and insurers can incentivise without government intervention. The technology is available, manufacturers can fit it to most new cars for a relatively modest cost; and I see no reason why insurers could not rebate this cost through the annual premiums. In this way motorists will get a safer car but won’t have to pay a huge cost and they can do this now. They don’t need to wait for the government. We are always mindful of the need to improve the safety of cyclists; the funding we provide on cycling helps to make junctions and roads safer. And is delivering traffic free cycle links, and cycle training in schools. Motorcyclists continue to be at disproportionate risk of having a life changing accident, although those killed or seriously injured fell in both 2012 and 2013. We want to see these casualties continue to fall. The SHARP helmet rating system was introduced in 2008. This advises motorcyclists about how well a helmet will protect them from head injuries. Unique to the UK, the system now provides ratings for well over 300 helmets - and has recently won a Prince Michael International Road Safety award. So although we are doing so much to tackle road safety, there are always new challenges to be met. The increase in accidents in the first quarter of 2014 – whatever the cause - was a sharp reminder that we can never be complacent when it comes to saving lives. Whatever the next set of road safety statistics show, one thing is certain. This is an area of policy that requires our continued shared efforts if we want to make our roads safer. Among the thought-provoking contributions in this new report is the recommendation that Britain should develop an older driver strategy. My department has taken a close interest in this recommendation and has seen the wide support from many organisations during the consultation on it. We are living, we are working and we are driving much longer. We need to plan for healthier, longer lives which must include driving into what used to be thought of as old age. So I welcome the kind offer from Ageas to fund a Task Force to develop an older driver strategy. It needs the wide representation from central and local government, charities, roads, motor and insurance industries proposed – as well as the older drivers themselves. The department will participate in this work. We must ensure that our thinking and our data is aligned with what is happening now not how things were a generation ago. We need better understanding of what best practice is and the potential for fast advancing technology to assist and protect. Thank you again, to Lord Whitty and the Road Safety Foundation - and thanks to all of you for listening.
back to top