Day one: the story so far

07.19 | 17 November 2010 | | 2 comments

Day one of the national Road Safety GB conference (Chesford Grange, 16-17 November) certainly lived up to expectations.

Replacing Mike Penning, road safety minister (who was unable to attend at the last moment), Robert Gifford delivered an insightful presentation entitled ‘2010 – where are we?’. He referred to the recently published Structural Reform Plan which includes a committment by the government to publish a strategic framework for road safety in April 2011, describing this committment as the first signs of ‘green shoots’.

However, he also expressed concern at the government’s apparent reluctance to develop road safety targets, despite evidence that the combination of a road safety vision, strategy and targets typically delivers a 4% increase in casualty reduction.

The DfT slot on the agenda comprised a joint presentation by Fiona Seymour, who heads up the THINK! campaign team, and Ian Yarnold who outlined the SHARP motorcycle helmet rating scheme. The Herculean size of the task the THINK! team faces was clear as Fiona outlined the impact that budget cuts have had on the campaign. Taking a positive approach, she said the cuts mean her team will have to find new ways of working, acknowledging that in the past the THINK! campaign has been a ‘top down’ initiative. She expressed a desire for her team to become ‘more nimble’ and work on a more local level.

Alan Kennedy, chair of Road Safety GB, urged road safety professionals to ‘stay positive, optimistic and focussed’ in the face of the challenges ahead. He reiterated his belief that ‘people are the profession’s greatest resource’, while also stressing that interventions  must be data led and should focus on changing road user attitudes and behaviours. He once again reinforced his belief that multi-agency working should increase, and specifically mentioned working more closely with the health service. Going forward, he said, the health service and road safety profession will be ‘inextricably linked’.

The second part of the afternoon – a series of brief presentations but representatives from different road user groups, followed by ‘Question Time’ – was a great success. The session was expertly chaired by Tim Philpot and all advocates contributed fully.

Highlights included an extremely competent presentation by university student Allen Ross, who articulated the benefits of the Under 17s Car Club by contrasting the way he learnt to drive from the age of 12 onwards with that of most of his peers. 80-year-old Cassim Virani clearly explained the issues faced by many older drivers as their reactions slow down, while driving remans central to their way of life.

The ensuing debate was lively, with Idris Francis, the well-known independent campaigner, locking horns with Chris Peck (CTC) and Richard Smith (Living Streets) over the issue of default 20mph limits in residential areas. Mr Francis relied on statistics as the basis of his argument that 20mph limits don’t reduce casualties, while Chis Peck patiently reiterated the point that communities ‘feel safer’ with these limits in place.

Perhaps the most encouraging outcome emerged when Robert Gifford asked the panellists what they would take away from the session. To a man, they agreed that they had developed a better understanding of the issues each group faces, and the importance of each group considering the needs of other road users.

‘Share the roads’ – not a new concept, but perhaps one that could be meaningfully explored as the road safety profession seeks to challenge, and ultimately improve, road user attitudes and behaviours.


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    As I said at the Conference I would be happy to copy 400mb of data, analysis and criticism, accumulated over thousands of hours over 10 years to anyone who wants it – send a blank CD or DVD and SAE to Sunny Bank, Church Lane West Meon, Petersfield Hants GU32 1LD.

    The CD will contain my detailed analysis of the serious misrepresentation of Portsmouth’s 20mph results, in the form of a formal complaint to the UK Statistics Authority and the DfT, including all correspondence warning the Council since January that they had no basis for their claims. However they continued to ignore the falls in traffic volume – displacment – and to compare casualties with 2 to 5 years before, instead of to much better results nationally at the same time.

    It also contains all relevant and available national and police area casualty, traffic and other data, reports, claims etc and a damning indictment of speed cameras – with an admission I forced out of Ladyman that the DfT figures comparing cost effectiveness of cameras and vehicle activated signs were wrong by a factor of 10. (in reality by a factor of 60+ but 10 was all I could get before he lost his job, and Dunwoody evaded further criticism even from me) The detailed correspondence and admission is on including an independent accountant’s report confirming that signs are massively more cost effective than cameras.

    If any group in the South wants to see the real evidence I have presentation and projector and my time is largely my own.

    I once had the misfortune to sit through a 45 minute speech by Ian Blair before he got the top job (and later got fired) not on reducing crime but on reducing perception of crime – in other words “spin”. I thought the job of the police was to prevent crime and catch criminals, not psychobabble to pretend it isn’t happening. Much the same seems to apply to Portsmouth – make people feel better even if serious injuries increase – as they did. I show an Excel sheet of all possible comparisons, the substantial majority are worse than elsewhere. For £572,000 and despite official DfT policy telling them that nothing would be achieved.

    One problem with making pedestrians and cyclists think that the roads are safer because the limit is 20mph not 30mph – but in reality speeds are down on some roads and up on others – is that they become less careful than they were, leading to more accidents.

    I thought it astonishing that the cyclist’s spokesman should say that it is residents’ perception of risk that is important – “quality of life” – and called out “real risk is what matters”. Important question – how many extra serious injuries are acceptable in the interest of residents feeling safer?

    He also said that residents were in favour – read the report, average of about 12 questions is 25% in favour.

    Idris Francis, Petersfield
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    As we are to be data led (as Alan Kennedy states) does this mean that Idris Francis and his stats (if they’re accurate) make a better case than Chris Peck and Richard Smith? Is doing something that makes people ‘feel safe’ worth the money if it has no real impact on casualties? Where is the line between value for money and the value of improving our human environment?

    Dave, Leeds
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

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