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.