Peer challenges Government on road safety record

12.00 | 29 June 2017 | | 2 comments

A member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Transport Safety has delivered a wide-ranging speech, touching on a number of road safety-related issues, in the House of Lords debate on the Queen’s Speech on 27 June.

Viscount Simon’s speech – described by PACTS as ‘very important and hard-hitting’ – covered a range of topics including the importance of roads policing and the declining number of roads policing officers, the delay in publishing 2016 road casualty stats, and the growing calls for a road collision investigation branch.

Viscount Simon, who joined the House of Lords in 1994, has a long association with the road safety sector. He served as a trustee of the Road Safety Trust and is currently a patron of the Road Victims’ Trust, a trustee of GEM Road Safety Charity and president of the Driving Instructors Association (DIA). He is also a vice chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Transport Safety.

In the speech, Viscount Simon described the declining levels of roads policing as a ‘fine merry-go-round’, for which no one – including the DfT, Home Office, police and crime commissioners and chief constables – takes responsibility.

He added that there are now ‘insufficient police officers to take appropriate action regarding many offences’.

Viscount Simon also called for an explanation as to why the 2016 road casualty figures, due to be published this month (June), have been delayed until September.

He said if the reason for the delay turns out to be operational difficulties within police forces, the Home Office should reaffirm the instruction that the STATS19 data is collected in a ‘timely and conscientious manner’.

He stressed this is ‘no mere quibble about statistics’ because ‘the trend is in the wrong direction and we badly need good information on which to base policy’.

Calling for a ‘much faster and more proactive approach from the Government’, he cited the example of evidential roadside breath testing equipment which was permitted by law more than 10 years ago – but as yet the Home Office ‘has still not provided type approval for any such equipment’. As such, police officers still have to take suspected offenders to a police station for an evidential sample.

Viscount Simon also threw his support behind the creation of a specialist road collision investigation unit, saying that this would complement, not replace, the work of the police.

While acknowledging there are ‘lots of excellent specialist collision investigation units within the police’, he then added, ‘but they do not look for wider causation factors, such as pressure from an employer to complete a delivery, or how the design of the car or road contributed to the collision’.

He concluded: “We have separate investigation branches for rail, air and maritime accidents, so why not for people who die on the roads? At the moment roads policing operations tend to be swept under the carpet whenever possible and it is not generally acknowledged that many more people die on our roads than are murdered.”

David Davies, executive director of PACTS, said: “Viscount Simon raises important points.

“We really need a mature cross-government discussion about the roles and levels of roads policing, and the ways in which technology and other resources can be used most effectively to improve safety and security. For too long this has been fallen somewhere between the DfT and Home Office.

“We know the police are stretched but that doesn’t make roads policing any less important. For the first time, DfT has been unable publish the national casualty stats – because the Met police have been unable to provide them. The system is creaking and needs an overhaul.”

Click here to read the full transcript of Viscount Simon’s speech.




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    Viscount Simon seems not to be aware that local authorities have the duty to study road accidents, etc. (RTA 1988 s.39) and that all should have accident investigation units (AIUs) staffed by trained road safety engineers. He doesn’t appear to have heard of the On the Spot investigations or RAIDS:

    The police do not have responsibility for studying road accidents; their contribution is to control situations arising from traffic accidents, to assign legal blame, and to collect data.

    Sadly, his Lordship’s speech did not address the problems which beset AIUs, at least where they still exist. He might, for instance, have reminded listeners of the need to ensure that roads (sorry, traffic) authorities are of sufficient size to attract and maintain staff of sufficiently high calibre and generate sufficient other resources to address roads and their problems (to paraphrase O’Flaherty).

    Unfortunately, he did not …

    Andrew Fraser
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    Before Gatso Cameras were installed all the prosecutions of speeding offenders came from Road Traffic Officers taken from the normal run of the mill duties and engaged in catching speeding offenders by use of a hand held camera or camera van. Then with the use of Gatsos there were fewer officers required to catch speeders and fewer tickets issued and many more speeders were prosecuted automatically by evidence from said cameras. It therefore followed that fewer officers would be required in that department. Further to that one can reduce the department by a few more as road safety in schools changed hands to the LA and that also left to the traffic department becoming top heavy. The general use of police motorcyclists on motorways was stopped due to safety concerns and their ability to be used in a number of other activities such as high speed pursuit vehicles curtailed and that also led to fewer officers being needed.

    So add to that the general decline in the number of front line officers. Over the last decade some 20,000 have not been replaced then we have a problem when it comes to law enforcement and the prosecution of offenders.

    Bob Craven Lancs
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