Council’s decision poses threat to Manchester’s population: Road Safety GB

09.14 | 23 February 2012 | | 17 comments

Road Safety GB has expressed its concern for the safety of people living and travelling in Manchester following the local council’s decision to disband the city’s road safety team.

The Manchester Evening News (MEN) broke the news that Manchester City Council’s team of seven road safety officers has been disbanded to save £132,000 from the council’s highways budget.

There is apparently no option for any other partnership or organisation to take up the work of the road safety team. Instead, it appears that the council intends to ask teachers to educate school pupils about road safety.

Road Safety GB understands that the city’s school crossing patrol service will be retained, though cut back, but it is unclear who will manage the service.

Honor Byford, vice chair of Road Safety GB, said: “The implications of this decision, for the whole population of Manchester, are far reaching.

“The city has significant areas of deprivation where we know the risk of injury and death from road collisions is significantly higher than in other areas.

“There is also a significant proportion of the population for whom English is not their first language, and delivering road safety messages in a multi-cultural community needs special expertise.

“We have a growing population of elderly drivers who need support from road safety professionals to stay safe on the road and then there is the wider public health remit to consider – this duty is soon to return to local authorities. A major cause of injury and premature death amongst all ages is as a result of road collisions, yet the council is disbanding this small team of experienced staff on the eve of assuming responsibility for public health for Manchester.

“Naturally we are concerned for our colleagues in the road safety team, whose careers will be seriously affected by this decision.

“But I am sure that they, like us, will be more concerned at the prospect of people being killed and injured on Manchester’s roads because of this decision to effectively cease their preventative work.”

Alan Kennedy, chair of Road Safety GB, who is currently in Poland speaking at an international road safety conference, added: “Manchester City Council clearly does not understand that by investing in its road safety team it could bring in significant income, and the very good work of the team could become largely self sustaining.

“The cost of just one fatality is currently around £1.8m. A simple calculation of Manchester’s annual casualty toll will tell us what road casualties are costing the local Manchester community each year.

“It is a simple equation; invest modestly in excellent road safety services and see a massive return in reduced casualty costs.

“Road Safety GB will be communicating with Manchester City Council to express its grave concerns, and to encourage the council to reverse its decision.”


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    Thank you Stuart, I thought it was just me on my own!

    Dave Finney – Slough
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    I would like to extend my best wishes to all those in Manchester that are adversely affected. That includes those that will remain to train the teachers. It is a real shame and scary to think how much expertise has been lost over the past two years in Greater Manchester alone. A lot of Road Safety Managers had gone in Greater Manchester prior to this decision and with less officers delivering services I can’t see how teachers are a suitable alternative. I wish you all luck in the future, whatever that may bring.

    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Dave (Finney) is totally right. There has to be sound evidence that an intervention works. I also find it hard to get this message across.

    Stuart Geddes, Stirling
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    This issue appears to have touched a nerve with Road Safety GB, for obvious reasons, but is it worth taking a step back to consider the wider picture?

    These cuts have been made necessary by the recession, but the recession has also brought with it the best road safety improvements of all time. In fact, prior to the recession, we had had the worst road safety improvements since the 50s and, without the recession, the 2010 targets would almost certainly not have been met.

    I am agreeing that we would rather not lose the RSOs, but arrangements have been made to do the work they would have done and the reason for the losses has been very good in road safety terms.

    Dave Finney – Slough
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    In response to Susan’s concern about fatality trends: Engineers know that theories devoid of numbers are at best a waste of time and at worst lead to expensive mistakes. For that reason their first question when offered a theory is always “What are the numbers?” That is why a large part of the thousands of unpaid hours I have spent understanding road casualties has been on understanding accident and casualty numbers as provided by Stats19 and the DfT.

    I have just completed updating my main graphs for 2010 (the most recent comprehensive data available until late June) and they are available at They provide a far better at-a-glance understanding of trends than do the DfT’s annual tables, especially because some are also shown relative to traffic volume – a vitally important factor too often ignored abd some in logarithmic form. One for example shows how fatalities per 10bn vehicle klm – by far the best indicator of risk – fell at an almost clinically precise 7% pa compound from 1950 (when vehicle km records started) until the early 1990s, when the trend suddenly changed to less than 3% pa compound.

    At you will find that from 1993 to 2007 excess deaths over and above the prior benign trends, very closely matched the number of speed camera fines imposed – speed and speed cameras of course having become the main emphasis of road safety policies at that time.

    Reverting to a linear graph you will find at that fatalities suddenly started falling steeply in 2007 – the numbers from 2002 being 3,431, 3,508, 3,221, 3,201, 3,172, 2,946, 2,538, 2,222 and in 2010 1,850 – by far the best fatality trend at least since the late 1980s. Open-minded reader might notice that it was in 2007 that the speed camera blitz peaked and numbers both of cameras and of fines started to fall – few would fail to notice that 2007 was when the current economic crisis started to happen!

    Just as in 1931 at the start of the Depression, the steeply rising road fatality trend suddenly fell and then levelled off for the whole of the 1930s until WW2 (see the 2007 to date recession undoubtedly played a significant part in the steep falls in fatalities until 2010. Indeed an independent Canadian resercher has established a close relationship between recessions and road fatalities around the developed world over many decades.

    The modest rise that occurred in 2011 might well have arisen from two factors – first, as being all too likely after steep falls in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 (akin to regression-to-the-mean) and also by the cautious, careful and concerned drivers’ attitudes that reduce risk during recessions starting to ease off as they began to hope that perhaps Armageddon is not, after all, just around the corner. I will try to put a more information on this new but compelling relationship on my web site in due course.

    As anyone who has studied the numbers knows, one year is far too short a period for even national fatality changes to be of statistical significance – which is why the 3 year rolling average is so often used to iron out volatility. That graph – not shown – was still falling in 2010 because the small increase in 2011 could not overcome the substantial falls in 2009 and 2010.

    I close with an aide-memoir for road safety students:

    1/ Never forget the Law of Unintended Consequences, it always bites. Example – recorded suicides of drivers fearing for their licenses and jobs after being flashed, others killed by being distracted by cameras.

    2/ Speed cameras cannot reduce road accidents by a larger proportion than involve speeding in the first place.

    3/ Speed cameras have close to 40 known adverse effects which (as TRL and the Highways Agency admit) can and do cause accidents (see above)

    4/ All lives and limbs are equally valuable – there can be no justification for spending £50,000 a year for one camera for one site when the same money could pay for vehicle activated signs at 50m sites.

    5/ One or even two years’ data cannot constitute a significant trend, given the many other factors such as weather/temperature, the economy and pure chance will always have their way.

    6/ When accidents fall – or for that matter rise – at any particular spot where a policy option has been implemented, it is not necessarily the case that the change was due to the policy implemented.

    7/ What matters is not effectiveness but cost-effectiveness.

    8/ In a rational world spending would be concentrated on the most cost effective methods regardless of Departmental budgets.

    9/ In response to Honor Byford of RSGB and her comment, and in the context of 6 above: It is perfectly understandable that individuals involved in any particular activity will seek to justify that activity and to protect it from cuts imposed from above. However is is equally understandable that those above – in this case Manchester Council – have to make their own informed judgement of how best to spend a now more limited budget – on road safety specialists, schools’n’hospitals, education, education, education or anything else.
    I have no idea of course of the basis and the alternatives taken into consideration by the Council, but would like to think they have made the best decision in the circumstances with the best of motives, and in no way under-valuing the efforts of those who lose out. This is after all a zero-sum game, one organisation’s loss is another’s gain.

    Idris Francis Petersfield
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    In reply to David Carlin – I agree of course that much of this debate is necessarily subjective. Indeed that was inherent in my comment on the sheer difficulty of relating accident data to road safety policies. Note that I am not saying that policies do not work, only that it is not practically possible to quantify their effects because of so many other factors.

    Having been unable to walk for 3 months in 1986 – which almost cost me my business – due the agony caused by whiplash when my car (coincidentally the Alvis TE21 driven recently by Stephen Fry in “Kingdom”) was rammed from behind I am fully aware of the pain and suffering of road accidents. However I suffered similar but worse in 1970 from food poisoning! The important question is therefore not whether one is worse than the other, but how to maximise the benefit when spending whatever cash is available.

    I appreciate too that of necessity Goverment spending is channelled through Departments of This, That and the Other, so that funds allocated to road safety cannot easily be switched to hospital mops. My point is however that on the basis of (a) 30 times as many preventable hospital deaths as road deaths, (b) the relative ease or difficulties of saving lives in the two enviromenments and (c) the cost comparison of on one hand a mop, a bucket and a bottle of disinfectant and on the other hand a speed camera, it is to me inconceivable that it could ever make economic sense to spend money on any camera rather than hospital hygiene.

    All too often being too close to the trees makes it impossible to see the wood.

    Idris Francis Petersfield
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    The benefits of a good general education for life and work is an accepted principle with additional, specialist education for specific and more complex subjects e.g.mathematics, engineering, medicine,plumbing, construction etc etc.

    Every person in this country uses the roads and highways throughout their lives in one way or another. Do we think this should be accomplished without any education input until they reach the age of 16 or 17 and then only if they choose to learn to ride/drive? And that, having done so, they then have nothing more to learn for the rest of their lives, regardless of how their use of the roads and the road environment itself changes? And what about visiting tourists and drivers from other countries?

    The evidence from road collisions and casualties demonstrates that, being human, everyone does not get it right all the time and that there are specific issues that people more frequently get wrong, misjudge or even wilfully ignore. There is, therefore, a role for road safety education, training and publicity to work along with engineering and enforcement activities and the law requires that each local highways authority provide that service because it is recognised as being necessary as well as desirable.

    This debate is about the decision of a major city to reduce its service provision to one person, possible part time, supporting a number of general teaching staff to deliver some elements of road user education to school age pupils and, it appears, no-one else. This is the basis of our concern.

    Of course ETP interventions should be focussed, effective and appropriate and in large part throughout the country they are – most particularly those provided by local authority road safety staff who are the only profession who are specifically trained and experienced in so doing. This is true both of planned programmes, and also having the ability to respond to events and emerging trends – for which there has to be someone in place to first identify the trend or problem and then to work out how to address it. How will Manchester achieve this if they reduce their capacity as reported to one or less than one person helped by a few teachers in addition to their existing day job?

    Honor Byford, Vice Chair, RSGB
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    In Sheffield, the City Council have also abolished the Road Safety Engineering Team, despite the fact that since 1986, the team has led the reduction in road casualties to their lowest ever totals. Thst’s gratitude for you!

    John Wright, Engineer (Statistician), Sheffield City Council
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    I would just like to point out to Idris Francis, that the issue here is not just finance and cost analysis (I actually think both the DfT and Idris`s figures are flawed but that is subjective). For me this issue is about saving lives and preventing injuries. Having seen at first hand on a number of occasions the devastating effect on families and friends of the victims, my concern is for loss of life and ongoing suffering of human beings as much as the cost. What price a life unlived? I know it is easy to say, and cost needs must come into the equation, but the skills we teach in cycling are also the basic skills used in later life when we drive, awareness of traffic, signalling, looking, judging distances, decision making and even courtesy. Any of these points can be argued and challenged, I am aware, but for me, by removing professional road safety and cycle training we put ourselves in a position of abrogating our “duty of care” to teaching staff who have an onerous enough job as it is. We could argue this back and forward forever but this is my own personal view.

    Daniel Carlin
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    If Manchester City Council think education is too expensive try ignorance (apologies to Bok). For the last 30 years I have heard regularly popping up the question of whether we should put road safety into the national curriculum. Perhaps today it starts.

    What worries me is that the national curriculum is according to the media and politicians failing our children as teachers are being asked or told to be jacks of all trades and masters of none.

    If as according to the newspaper report this is a team visiting schools does Manchester City Council assume that road safety education only takes place in schools and not across the whole age spectrum. Have they considered the costs involved in training the pool of teachers to the knowledge, skill set and experience of existing RSOs and the so called extra resources? Teachers will be given a copy of the Highway Code for children and expected to be one page ahead of the pupils. The only benefit I see is that some adults may learn something.

    Who will be trained to deliver road safety education to those who have completed their formal education? With less police traffic officers and no RSOs will campaigns about speeding, seatbelt wearing and drinking behind the wheel no longer take place? Will there be no discourse with ADIs, fleet managers and health professionals? Probably not.

    I hope that the councillors say prayers before their meetings because Manchester will need them.

    Peter Wilson, London
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    Any loss of public service is a bitter pill, where that service was is in place to protect individuals. However big and good that moral service was. The fact remains that we live in a cash dependent world. Where that world is shrinking and unhappily moral duties with it. We have had economy crisis before – this one I cant help feeling is a bit more serious, as we manufacture practically nothing now, and all is imported from outside the UK which means our pockets are being emptied. If something cant be done by means of a Government initiative to put cash back into our national pockets. Unhappily the outlook is gloomy. The accesision of China in the capitalist world is causing our balloon to shrink – all too quickly. The British economic growth was 3% p.a. at the hight of our Victorian success and power. That is nothing compared the China’s 13% ! Our 3% at that time caused our financial domination of the World! I hate to think that we could be on the verge of becoming the new 2nd world after all that effort. I am sorry the Manchester team may lose their jobs and the local responsibility for Road Safety education. we have to be on our guard against hardships and our reliance on the Government to control matters is not looking to good. As a supplier of services and goods to the Road Safety Teams up and down the country – including the invention and development of new products which have a road safety functionality such as the hi visibility shopping bags etc. Losing one team is one less potential client! Under the circumstances I would recommend that a proposal is put forward to the Government by the RSGB Chairman. Where the content of that proposal is to share the Manchester cost of the £132K amongst the other RSGB departments. This would be a tiny sum of money if spreading the Manchester cost – shared nationally. Of course if that were possible would mean a slightly less department spendable budget in each of the departments. However, the outcome would mean the preservation of the Manchester office and its good work in that area. If other L.A’s spot what the Manchester has done I fear others may follow suit!

    Edward Dorset
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    Without intending any offence, there is always great difficulty in relating what happens to accident numbers to the undoubtedly well-intentioned efforts of road safety officers and others because of so many other interacting, unpredictable and unquantifiable factors involved. For these reasons I very much doubt that it will be possible to identify or quantify any consequences of this decision.

    There is however an elephant in the room – the difference between effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. In the simplest possible terms, a road safety measure which is half as effective as another but four times cheaper (properly assessed over some years, not the DfT’s “First year cost recovery” measure) would provide twice the benefit for the same expenditure.

    One extreme example of this is that (compared on a like for like basis) a vehicle activated sign costing less than £1,000 a year over ten years is broadly as effective as a speed camera costing £50,000 a year over the same period. Any commercial organisation would bite the hand off a supplier offering a cost effectiveness improvement of 10%, those who fail to do so do not survive.

    Another example albeit one for which I have no comparative figures (but which might well be even more extreme) is the comparison in cost-effectiveness terms of any road safety measure (including cameras, signs or road safety professionals) with other methods in other spheres including in particular, hospitals. It is well established that something like 200 people a day (60,000+ a year, 30 times as many as on the roads) die needlessly in our hospitals through a variety of causes including medical and surgical errors, misdiagnosis, inadequate care (including lack of water and food) and perhaps most of all, a variety of hospital-acquired infections – see my website.

    There is an old saying “Pick the low-lying fruit first”. Few if any road safety interventions could remotely approach the cost-effectiveness of such basic (and instantly available) measures as more mops, buckets and disinfectant in hospitals – especially if responsibility for cleaning reverted to hospital staff instead of contractors.

    This leads me to your Mr. Archer’s related statement ““The cost of just one fatality is currently around £1.8m”. Sorry, no it isn’t – the COST is about £20,000. The two serious flaws in the DfT’s figure (now under review perhaps in part because of my recent intervention) are these:

    About £1.2m of the £1.8m is not real money or “cost” at all, but an entirely subjective and theoretical figure assigned on a “willingness to pay” basis to the value of a human life, intended for assessing the value or cost effectiveness of different measures. As the National Audit Office has confirmed, it is one thing to say “Saving a life has a VALUE of £1.2m” – but it is not acceptable then to claim that saving that life represents a saving in COST of £1.2m. That figure does not exist in any known accounting ledger this side of the Pearly Gates and it is wrong to give the impression as Mr. Archer and others do that failing to save that life takes £1.2m out of the public purse. It does not because no such sum exists.

    The second error – the supposed £600,000 “loss of output” – betrays a lack of understanding of even basic economics and the entirely logical and inevitable rule that output equals demand (not day by day of course, but over months and excluding butter mountains and wine lakes). While it is of course true that when someone dies in a road accident (or anywhere else for that matter) his contribution to GDP comes to an end, it is also true that his consumption of that GDP also ends, cancelling out the first and leaving GDP per head (which is of course what matters) unchanged.

    2,000 deaths across the country every day (adjusted for working age and employment status) do not cost the Treasury £1.2m each (say £500bn pa, 1/3 of our GDP) and there is no reason other than special pleading why road deaths should be seen differently.

    Much the same applies to non-fatal casualties, the significant difference being that the demand/consumption of casualties does not disappear and so cancel out their loss of output. But because output must always equal demand, what does then cancel out the loss of output is that someone else steps forward to take their place (especially now with 2.6m unemployed). I ran my own manufacturing and exporting company for 30 years and I can assure you I have never known anyone who, on being told that an employee would away for some time or permanently, would for one moment respond by saying “Oh bother! That’s X% of my output gone for good!” Of course not! He immediately hires a replacement, boosts overtime or efficiency to continue to meet demand – or if he fails, his competitors take the work.

    One of the most bizarre sentences I have ever read was in an emailed reply from an academic who has published learned papers on the supposed lost output of road casualties. He wrote “It is true to say that my estimates do not take account of the extent to which others step forward to do the work”. But that surely is the whole point, that they always do!

    I hope that whatever other points RSGB makes when it asks Manchester to review its decision, it will remove these cost figures.

    I would be interested to see if anyone disagrees with these cost issues.

    Idris Francis Petersfield
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    I think it is disappointing that valuable local input to save lives is side lined in this way. With a figure of more than £15bn spent on road fatalities in one year, surely £132,000 is hardly a saving, but a potential raise in cost long term?

    Anne Green, Northants
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    What a sad day for the City of Manchester.

    As a former member of one of the pioneering road safety units in the Country it is hard to believe that elected members can be so short sighted or have they been misled?

    Colin Pettener MBE Shropshire
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    Getting the public to value the work requires trust and that starts with honesty.

    I have been trying to start that process by encouraging road safety professionals to consider running scientific trials so that the effect of interventions can actually be demonstrated, but have come up against stiff opposition.

    Dave Finney – Slough
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    Hard decision. It is so important to evidence our successes and get the public to value the work.

    Anne James Hemel Hempstead
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    Is it me or do we think a disproportionate amount of OUR money is now going on rail than roads?..(£32bn for HS2 which incidentally won’t get to Manchester before 2032?)..any decision to disband the road safety team in Manchester is a massive blow to the dedicated professionals involved and it will lead to a loss of road safety expertise and capability that takes many years to establish and maintain! Road Casualties GB is already showing a worrying increasing in fatalities for 2011/12 – could it be that if you take the road safety eye off the ball lives are put a risk?….. Ministers and Government officials must surely have to sleep nights?….or do they?

    Susan, Northamptonshire
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