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.