UK roads could be as safe as rail and air travel ‘within a generation’

12.00 | 14 November 2016 | | 8 comments

The UK’s road system could be made as safe to use as travelling by rail and air ‘within a generation’, according to the Road Safety Foundation.

The Road Safety Foundation makes the claim following the publication of its annual ‘tracking report (14 Nov), titled ‘Making Road Travel as Safe as Rail and Air’, which concludes that the ‘same systematic approach to measuring and managing risks’ needs to be applied to roads as that taken in the aviation and rail sectors.

The press release announcing the report says that road deaths are now ‘10 times greater than all deaths in all workplaces added together’. It also says: “Not a single rail passenger or worker has been killed over the last nine consecutive years, while commercial airline travel is even safer than rail.”

The Road Safety Foundation also says that on highways, there is ‘greater discipline protecting road workers from risks than the general public using them’

The report analyses crashes on the British network of motorways and A roads outside urban areas, using data produced by TRL which looks at the assignment of crashes and traffic data to individual routes and classification of crash types.

The data shows that the largest single cause of death is running off the road (29%), while the largest cause of serious injury occurs at junctions (33%).

The report also shows that, for the first time, the South East is the area with highest rate of death and serious injury on the network; more than 80% higher than the risk in the West Midlands, the English region with the lowest rate of death and serious injury.

The most improved roads are the A227 between Tonbridge and the A25 near Borough Green, where Kent County Council has introduced a routine maintenance regime. In addition to a signing and lining package, there are yellow backed signs in hazardous locations, good use of double white lines, speed limit roundels and road safety education packages.

England’s ‘most persistent high risk road’ is the A285 between Chichester and Petworth in West Sussex. It is a rural, winding road popular with motorcyclists who account for 39% of crashes causing death or serious injury. Half of the crashes causing death or serious injury occur from running off the road.

England’s most improved strategic road is a 13km section of the A1 near Newcastle.

The report calls for government to boost the economy by investing in proven measures to deliver safer infrastructure and tackle unacceptably high risk roads.

Lord Whitty, chairman of the Road Safety Foundation, says: “This report identifies the authorities with high costs from road crashes, and shows how risks can be reduced and lives saved with economic returns that are higher, quicker and more certain than from most projects competing for funds.

“We can now identify roads where risk is 20-times higher on some roads than others; and regions where the risk of death and serious injury on the main roads might be twice that of another.

“All the persistent high risk roads identified in this report have rates of death and serious injury that are unacceptable. Some have been on the list for years. For the government’s new safety strategy to succeed, it must help remove the cultural and institutional obstacles that permit this chronic loss of life to continue.”

The report has been welcomed by the Road Markings Association, who says six of Britain’s 10 most improved roads feature better road markings.

George Lee, association chief executive, said: “Major engineering solutions such as converting to a dual carriageway or adding a central crash barrier may cut head-on collisions, but the cost of such measures can be beyond the reach of squeezed budgets.

“But there are visual alternatives, in the form of road markings – such as central hatching, road studs and rumble strips – that are a fraction of the cost. Junction crashes can be reduced by turn lanes, and again, rumble strips can help prevent run-off collisions.”



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    The other significant difference between rail and air travel (and shipping for that matter) and road travel is that the rail, air and maritime travel systems are closed systems in which passenger and freight carriage is entirely undertaken by employed, trained and managed professional drivers/pilots who undertake re-training and for whom monitoring and failsafe systems in place.

    Whilst no system is entirely fool proof – witness the recent tram crash in Croydon – most road vehicle drivers are not subject to anything like these levels of control and I cannot see how they could be. Therefore the road system has inherent challenges on an altogether different scale to rail and air.

    That isn’t to say we shouldn’t try – I believe we can make a real difference starting by bringing road collisions involving people at work under the Health & Safety Executive remit.

    Honor Byford, North Yorkshire
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    Air and rail are both tightly controlled by different forms of signalling systems specifically aimed at always keeping vehicles apart. Accidents usually only occur when these systems fail to keep the vehicles apart. There are exceptions to this such as mechanical failure. One example of this was a flying horsebox that crashed at Heathrow in the early 1970s. It had hydraulic problems in the falps on landing, cartwheeled into parked aircraft outside terminal one, took the tails off two BEA Tridents, wrecked the horsebox (Airspeed Ambassador) and killed the horses.

    Robert Bolt Saint Albans
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    It’s important to realise that rail and air travel are very different animals from road transport, and carry far fewer passengers than roads. Out of 787 billion passenger km (2014), air accounts for 8 bpkm and rail 75 bpkm. Roads account for the rest. Also rail, roads and air are interdependent – so air travel will inevitably involve a journey by road or rail.

    Paul Biggs, Staffordshire
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    I suspect that on the Tram no one was wearing seat belts and many passengers may have been standing and thereby thrown about more easily.

    Robert Bolt
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    My point was that the press release was after the 7 fatalities, not the report. Yes the report could not be changed. At least acknowledge in the press release what had happened and not ignore it.

    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    I think road travel already is safe, provided the individuals who use it make it so.
    I might feel slightly more nervous on a plane, train and bus (or tram) than I would be if I was driving myself, simply because my safety is in the hands of someone else and there’s not much I can do about it. That doesn’t mean those involved road safety should give up on trying to make the individual road users take more responsibility.

    Hugh Jones,C
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    I believe that one may assume that this paper was investigated and finalised before being made public and as such would not include such up to date information. I did find the information extremely useful.

    Bob Craven Lancs
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    A shame some people don’t keep up with the news before they post.

    Were not 7 killed last week in Croydon.

    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

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