Residential Road Safety

– in the Scottish Parliament on 28th September 2016.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-01541, in the name of Mark Ruskell, on action on residential road safety. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the efforts of communities across Scotland, including in Mid-Scotland and Fife, who are working to improve safety on residential roads through schemes such as 20’s Plenty; understands that there has been a welcome and significant drop in casualties on the country’s roads over the last decade but recognises that every death or serious injury is a tragedy, and supports further action to make roads safer for all, especially people who are considered the most vulnerable.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

I thank the members who signed my motion to bring about the debate tonight, and I also thank in advance those who will contribute, including the minister.

I pay tribute to the many people across Scotland who campaign for road safety improvements, from toucan crossings to yellow lines, increased space for walking and cycling, and importantly, the reduction in the speed limit from the default 30mph to 20mph. We have also seen strong national campaigning around the issue of parking on pavements and double parking, and I welcome the decisive contribution that Sandra White’s member’s bill made to that debate and the resulting commitment from the Scottish Government.

Community councils, parent councils and informal neighbourhood action groups are working hard across Scotland and being supported by the work of local authorities and organisations such as Living Streets and Sustrans in helping to understand the problems and design the right interventions to encourage safer and more liveable neighbourhoods for all. I have been particularly impressed by the work of schools such as Bridge of Allan primary school, whose junior road safety officers have run, with the police, an active stop and interview programme with speeding drivers at the roadside. That is an empowering step up from the Tufty club of the 1970s, when children were advised to hold mother’s hand—rather than a speed gun—when stepping out of the house.

Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party

I thank Mr Ruskell for taking my intervention and I look forward to taking part in the debate. However, he might have to explain what the Tufty club is, because I suspect that the minister might be a little bit young for that.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

I would be happy to do that and there is a whole range of interesting YouTube videos that feature the Tufty club. I have been showing them to my children and they cannot really believe it.

All those groups recognise that the reduction of speed where people live is the foundation of reducing casualty numbers and building confidence for all to walk, push, cycle and scoot. When we consider the most vulnerable in our society—children, those who have physical disabilities and those who have dementia—we are creating safer neighbourhoods and fairer places to live by reducing speed. By reducing speed we are also reducing social isolation by encouraging people to get out and about, to play, to visit, to meet up and to shop. I hope that members across all parties will now recognise the large body of evidence that links speed with the fatality rate, which at 30mph is 20 per cent while at 20mph it is only 3 per cent.

Scotland is on track to meet its 2020 targets for a 40 per cent reduction in road fatalities from the 2004 baseline. I welcome that, but there is no room for complacency, especially when we consider that, in the United Kingdom, pedestrian, cyclist and motorcyclist deaths make up 50 per cent of road fatalities overall, which contrasts with only two fifths of such deaths in Sweden. It is clear that a particular focus on vulnerable road users is needed in our approach.

It is crystal clear that 20mph limits work. They result in a reduction in average speed across the road network of 1mph to 2mph; that might seem unimpressive, but when we consider that for every 1mph reduction in speed, there is a concurrent 5 to 6 per cent reduction in casualties, I hope that we can all agree that 20mph limits have a real impact on real people.

Since the 30mph speed limit was introduced as the urban default in 1934—after a campaign by Living Streets, which at the time was called the Pedestrian Association—the evidence on and understanding of road safety has moved on, with Living Streets today being among the growing number of bodies from 20’s plenty to the British Heart Foundation and Brake that are calling for us to move into the 21st century by dropping the limit to 20mph in residential areas.

That reflects a growing recognition that the benefits of reducing speed limits to 20mph are multifaceted and extend beyond safety to wider health and environmental benefits. With physical inactivity costing health budgets in the UK nearly £11 billion every year, we need a step change. That is why, for example, it was a director of public health and not of roads who made the investment in a 20mph roll-out across Manchester.

We also face air quality problems, particularly from nitrous oxide emissions, which studies show are reduced, particularly from diesel cars, when speed drops. Although data on direct carbon emissions is inconclusive, the impact of even a slight modal shift to walking and cycling for short journeys makes a valuable contribution to our stumbling progress in reducing transport emissions in Scotland.

Where councils—such as Fife Council—have made significant progress in building a network of popular 20mph zones, they have seen cycle trips increase by 20 per cent, while Edinburgh has seen both cycle trips increase and permissions for children to play outside double.

The progression from the initial advisory 20’s plenty zones in the early noughties to the roll-out of mandatory 20mph zones has been welcome even if, at times, it has been a postcode lottery in Scotland. Where such zones have been introduced, public support is high, with one survey showing 68 per cent support post introduction. However, the piecemeal roll-out has come with challenges, complexities and costs, which could be addressed by the introduction of a 20mph default limit in residential areas.

Let us consider the traffic regulation order process. It is a time-consuming and costly approach for councils to establish a patchwork of small, discrete 20mph zones. The transition from 30mph to 20mph in residential areas requires signage and speed bumps, which are unpopular with drivers. It costs seven and a half times more per mile to regulate with speed bumps than it does with a neighbourhood-wide 20mph limit, and it is harder for the police to enforce a patchwork of 20mph and 30mph zones, where drivers can claim confusion surrounding the point at which they left one zone and entered another.

I visited Bridge of Allan primary school, which, like most schools, is in a residential area with its own 20mph zone, but the school zones typically extend only a few hundred metres beyond the gates, ignoring the fact that, on average, children travel nearly 2km to school. If we are convinced of the benefits of a 20mph limit at the school gate, why not extend those benefits to the whole route of the average school journey through a neighbourhood?

It is no wonder that a more universal approach to establishing 20mph as the default residential limit was unanimously welcomed by council representatives at a recent Scottish conference that discussed the best way forward to secure progress. Edinburgh has begun its city-wide roll-out, but it has faced some early challenges in rolling out a coherent scheme that is easily understood by road users. It has been hampered by the piecemeal TRO approach. A far simpler and more elegant approach for councils throughout Scotland would be to flip 30mph with 20mph as the default limit in residential areas. That would allow councils to then exempt key roads through settlements that genuinely require a higher speed limit of 30mph.

This Parliament has taken bold steps in the past, such as the ban on smoking in public places. If we are convinced of the benefits of a 20mph speed limit in residential areas for the safety of our people and the wellbeing of our places, let us take a similar step and use the Parliament’s powers to make it a default limit for Scotland.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to the open debate. I ask for speeches of four minutes.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I congratulate Mark Ruskell on bringing this debate to the chamber. I will offer what I hope he will understand is my conditional support.

It is clear that changes that have taken place, particularly the introduction of the 20’s plenty zones, have had a significant effect in improving road safety. As we have moved forward in considering and applying 20mph zones, we have found ourselves in a position where there is growing pressure for increased areas to be covered by such zones.

I have no objection to the use of 20mph zones in built-up areas, and of course they have a particular value outside schools and other public buildings, especially where children may be close to the road and, at times, perhaps not entirely under the control of their parents, in the case of the younger ones.

It is nonetheless important that we take a clear view on how best to progress this matter. It worries me that we find ourselves moving forward occasionally into a situation where an assumption is made that, if it is a good thing to reduce speed, reducing it further and extending these speed-limit zones must of course be better. I am not entirely convinced that that is the case, so I will take this opportunity to raise one or two of my concerns in that regard.

As I pointed out, what I have to say is not necessarily in direct opposition to Mark Ruskell’s proposals for discussion tonight but, nevertheless, I think that we need to talk about some of the potential negatives of what he proposes in order to understand better how we can progress. Among the key issues that concern me is that, when drivers approach areas of danger, they should be considering their speed. It worries me that the extension of lower speed limits into much larger zones will mean that drivers will not lower their speed as they approach a particular area, such as a school or another public building. For that reason, I believe that variable speed limits have a value in continually reminding drivers that they should be travelling at a speed that is appropriate for the area that they are in.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Perhaps towards the end of my speech, but I have a number of points to make.

Large 20mph zones are less likely to provoke the response from drivers that I described in key areas.

It is also important that we deal with the issues of observance and enforcement if we bring in lower limits. By observance, I mean that drivers need to buy into the measures that we are bringing forward. A speed limit that is ignored is arguably even more dangerous than having no speed limit at all. If drivers are already exceeding the speed limit in a given area, reducing the speed limit is perhaps a naive response.

It is my view that appropriate enforcement of speed limits is vital. It must take place in areas of danger, not in areas where the limit is most likely to be exceeded or broken. For example, we all know that, in rural villages, we are much more likely to catch somebody breaking the speed limit 20 yards before the end-of-speed-limit sign than we are outside the local school. It is therefore important that, when enforcement measures are taken, they are applied in the areas of danger, not in the areas where the greatest number of offences might be committed.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I am afraid that you are in your last minute because it is a four-minute speech—there is the clock.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I look forward to having the opportunity to discuss this matter at greater length with Mark Ruskell. I congratulate him on bringing the matter forward. I think that it is worthy of discussion, but it is also one that I have to express concerns about.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I am sure that Mr Ruskell looks forward to that.

Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party

I apologise if I have to leave before 6 o’clock this evening and the debate has not finished by then.

I, too, congratulate Mark Ruskell on bringing this debate to the Parliament today. As the convener of the cross-party group on accident prevention and safety awareness, I am well aware of a number of the research areas that Mark Ruskell referred to when discussing the appropriateness of 20mph safety zones. We have a lot of tools in the bag that we could be drawing on to improve road safety. For example, there are parking aspects, which have already been mentioned; graduated licences; and smart-box technology, which feeds advice back to young drivers on their driving and to commercial drivers on the appropriateness of their driving over the course of their working day, with the aim of developing less aggressive driving techniques.

In response to Mr Johnstone’s speech, I say that, in my view, the issue is not so much drivers who go over the speed limit, although that is of course a huge issue. It is more the fact that research shows the differences in the risk of significant injury to pedestrians and of damage to cars from accidents at different speeds. The most recent statistics from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents show that the fatality risk for pedestrians struck by a car is 1.5 per cent if the car is moving at 20mph but 8 per cent if it is moving at 30mph. It is a staggering statistic that it is so much more dangerous for a pedestrian to be struck by a vehicle moving at 30mph than by one moving at 20mph.

I come from North Lanarkshire, and I know that North Lanarkshire Council was among the first councils in the country to introduce 20mph speed limits on residential roads and around our primary schools. The statistics from that council alone show the great impact that that reduction had on the number of fatalities.

In 2001, the Scottish Executive issued the circular that allowed guidance on mandatory and advisory 20mph routes in areas. Since then, there have been improvements in road safety. I believe that my colleague Bruce Crawford received an award for his efforts to get Stirling Council to introduce the 20’s plenty road advice in its residential streets. Therefore, we have come a long way.

The problem is not, of course, unique to Scotland. I draw members’ attention to project EDWARD—or European day without a road death—which was introduced across the European Union to challenge driver behaviour and get people to look at the consequences of their behaviour and how it might needlessly cause a devastating accident.

About eight years ago, I lost my niece, a teenager, when she was crossing the road. When we talk about the statistics, we have to get to the very bottom of the issue. It is about real-life tragedy for families.

Lennon Toland was a five-year-old boy who lost his life on 11 September walking home from school in an area in which there were parked cars and there was access across a pavement to a car park. The circumstances of that will, of course, become clear in time, but every one of these incidents is a tragedy for a family. Although it is inconvenient for drivers, the safety of pedestrians, particularly our children, has to be paramount as we consider these issues.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

I commend Mark Ruskell for bringing this important debate to Parliament.

I want to speak on behalf of my constituents, a group of whom have been campaigning for a 20mph limit on a street in the city of Dundee. The Minister for Transport and the Islands will be aware of the case, as I have written to him about it and he has replied.

I want to talk through a few of the issues. The nub of the matter is to seek clarity from the Government on the strength and implementation of the guidance. I know from the minister’s letter that he is very keen on balancing the 20mph policy with the discretion of local authorities, but the case in my constituency is unique. I am very familiar with the street that I am talking about, because I used to access it as a pupil when I went to St John's high school. Johnston Avenue provided access to my high school, and it now also provides access to Kingspark primary school and Kingspark secondary school. I might be wrong about this, but I wonder whether it is the only solely residential street in Scotland that provides access for pupils to a primary school and two secondary schools. Dundee City Council has continually told residents that the street cannot have a 20mph limit, as it is a road of strategic importance.

I welcome Dundee City Council’s consultation. It has done a thorough consultation on the 20mph limit across the city and has identified areas—particularly residential areas—where it wants to move to using the 20mph limit. That is particularly welcome in communities such as Ardler, where a girl was thrown in the air by a car as she was getting ice cream from a van on a Saturday evening earlier this summer.

I ask whether the Government is serious about this policy. In his letter, the minister said that the guide

“aims to ensure greater consistency on setting 20mph speed restrictions throughout Scotland, and encourages local authorities to introduce them near schools, in residential zones”.

The street that I am talking about is a purely residential zone and it is unique in having access to two secondary schools and one primary school. I have invited the minister to come to Dundee. He said he would meet with the residents of Johnston Avenue if his diary permits, and I extend that invitation again. The evidence about Johnston Avenue is breathtaking. There is often speeding over 40mph, as it is used as a through-road for council vehicles and buses. For the residents of that road, something should be done.

I will make one further observation.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Please make it briefly.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

I will.

My next point may be purely observational on my part, but I wonder whether the minister has any evidence on it. In my experience of driving around Scotland, I have noticed that 20mph areas seem to be in more affluent parts of our communities. I wonder whether residents in those communities are more successful at making their voices heard and imposing stricter speed limits. I am interested in any evidence that the Scottish Government might have on that.

Photo of Gordon Lindhurst Gordon Lindhurst Conservative

I thank our colleague Mark Ruskell for bringing the important issue of residential road safety to the Parliament. Elements of the debate have been hotly contested, as I am sure everyone is aware, and nowhere more so than in Edinburgh over the past couple of years.

I acknowledge the positive and welcome trend highlighted by Mark Ruskell’s motion. The motion recognises the significant drop in the number of casualties on Scotland’s roads over the past decade. The numbers continue to improve, showing that there has been a steady drop in the number of fatalities and casualties particularly among children, which is welcome news. However, as long as deaths and injuries continue to happen on Scottish roads, we cannot be satisfied with the way things are. Every death is a tragedy.

The community campaign groups that Mark Ruskell highlights in his motion should be commended for their hard work promoting safety on Scotland’s roads. He points, in particular, to 20mph zones and to campaign groups such as 20’s plenty.

In Edinburgh, we are live to the debate. The roll-out plan currently being implemented across the city is intended, eventually, to result in 80 per cent of Edinburgh’s roads adopting the 20mph limit by the end of January 2018. Phase 1 started over the summer period and, as well as covering roads directly outside this building, it extends well beyond the city centre towards more rural communities such as Currie, Balerno and Ratho.

As has been pointed out by my colleague Alex Johnstone, however, simply lowering speed limits is not enough. Concerns have been raised at a local level about the enforcement of the new 20mph limit in the apparent absence of adherence to higher speed limits on arterial routes. The one should not go without the other.

All options should be considered when it comes to possible actions that may improve road safety, but I am not certain that a blanket 20mph policy in Scotland’s urban city areas should be accepted without question. In addition to the concern about lack of adherence to higher speed limits and the questions about enforcement, there is the question of the effect of a blanket urban 20mph policy on driver concentration, for example. Clearly, there are areas within residential and urban zones where 20mph is the appropriate speed limit. Indeed, we have had those zones around schools—in many cases for many years—and few would argue against them.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The member is in his last minute.

Photo of Gordon Lindhurst Gordon Lindhurst Conservative

The desired effects are reached by concentrating both the driver’s attention and police resources in specific areas, which can eliminate significant risks to certain groups of people. A blanket roll-out may have the effect of diverting the attention of the driver away from the significance of adopting slower speeds in areas such as around schools.

In Edinburgh we also risk grinding to a halt the traffic of the capital city of Scotland, with resultant twin effects of increased congestion and increased pollution. That is not good for business, the economy or the environment.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That is a good place to stop. That is a recommendation.

Photo of Gordon Lindhurst Gordon Lindhurst Conservative

I will do so in deference to the Presiding Officer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you. I call Alison Johnstone, the last speaker in the open debate before the minister.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

I begin by congratulating my Green colleague Mark Ruskell on bringing this issue to the chamber. I will admit at once that I, too, remember the Tufty club, which made me think also about the green cross code man—perhaps the minister can consult YouTube after the debate and learn more.

One important thing to consider while we are discussing this issue is who our cities are for and who our streets are for. Very often we consider the motorist, which is quite right, but we have to think about streets as a shared space, and a space alongside which we all live. This is a real opportunity to address how we use streets and how to make them more accessible to more people.

We all know streets where currently the speed limit is 30mph and, for that reason, parents are very cautious about letting their children out to play. There is every chance that a car will come belting round the corner at 30mph and will catch out someone who is not quite ready for that speed on an otherwise very quiet residential road. There is a real opportunity here to ensure that more people in Scotland have more access to streets.

While we are speaking about the progress in Edinburgh, which is very welcome and has been led in part by Green councillor colleagues just up the road, I would also like to highlight the play out initiative, in which certain streets in the capital have been closed to cars on certain days. I attended one such event on Abbotsford Crescent, which is a through road near Bruntsfield. The day was called “play out” and both ends of the street were cordoned off with a couple of barriers. The police were involved and residents had been consulted. The impact of that one street being closed to cars on that day was quite remarkable. Neighbours were out, and it was not just children. As the residents commented, it was everyone from two-year-olds to 80-year-olds. The atmosphere changed. I was speaking to one of those people today, and they want to see that initiative rolled out. They want it to become a more frequent occurrence, because, let’s face it, a lot of our streets are quite quiet on a Sunday.

We should welcome this move to a slower, more considered traffic speed. We are asking that the Government roll out on-road cycle training for all. That is fine when your child is out with a professional trainer and they are getting the input and the experience that they need, but many parents simply will not allow their children to cycle unattended on the road in current circumstances.

We owe thanks to many groups for pushing this agenda forward: living streets, Sustrans and 20’s plenty, as well as cycling organisations such as Spokes. We know that in this very city, on workday mornings, 20 per cent of vehicles coming down our main arterial routes are bicycles. I think that that figure could be increased massively.

Professor David Newby, at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, has been doing fabulous work highlighting the links between air pollution and heart disease. You are highly likely to have been sitting in busy traffic in the hours before you have a major heart incident. Clare Adamson has expertise in this area. She has pointed out that reducing speed reduces casualties. We have to take such things very seriously indeed.

There are so many opportunities and benefits of focusing on this agenda. The benefits are indisputable, I would argue, if we flip 30 to 20. I ask the Government to use all the powers that it has and, working with our local authority partners across Scotland, to pursue this agenda. Thank you.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Lowering speed is a crucial component in reducing risk on our roads, so I very much congratulate Mark Ruskell on securing this members’ business debate. I thank the members from across the chamber for their speeches. They have made some nuanced points; they have also presented challenges to the Government, which I will reflect on as the Minister for Transport and the Islands.

Members spoke passionately and consistently about the correlation between speed and casualties. That is well established; it is almost indisputable, because of the weight of evidence that exists.

In addition, a few members mentioned a reduction in CO2 emissions. As was discussed last week by the United Kingdom Committee on Climate Change, vehicle speeds impact directly on emissions and community health and lower speeds can help to promote active travel.

I take this opportunity to highlight some of the Scottish Government’s activity to ensure that speeds are lowered on our roads. I confess that I have never heard of the Tufty club, but I will google it after the debate. It is a shame, really—I had thought that, with the introduction of Ross Greer and Kate Forbes into the Parliament, I would be considered to be an elder statesman, but that is clearly not the case.

The Government has produced Scotland’s road safety framework to 2020, which a number of members referred to. It sets out a vision of a future where there are no fatalities on Scotland’s roads. Although that remains an ambitious target, I want to live in a Scotland where that ambition is realised.

Underpinning the vision are challenging casualty reduction targets. Some members have referred to them, but I will point out some specifics. Fatalities have reduced by 44 per cent from the 2004 to 2008 baseline. However, given that 162 people were killed on our roads in 2015, there is no room for complacency. I reiterate that, as members said, one person killed on our roads is one person too many.

I thought that Clare Adamson was very brave. I appreciate her sharing of her personal story about the loss of her niece eight years ago. That was an important reminder to us that behind the statistics are human lives and that behind those human lives are families who are absolutely devastated by the impact of those fatalities.

The framework outlines 96 commitments that include measures to highlight the benefits of driving at lower speeds in relation to road safety, health impacts, fuel efficiency, creating a space that is more equally shared, as Alison Johnstone just mentioned, and encouraging more active travel choices. I will not go through all 96 commitments, but I recommend that members here, as well as members of the public who have an interest, read—or perhaps flick—their way through that important document.

The framework contains a clear commitment to encourage local authorities to introduce 20mph zones or limits in residential areas. That is perhaps the crux of Mark Ruskell’s conversation and intention in bringing the debate to the Parliament. Jenny Marra referred to that issue when she gave the example of Johnston Avenue. Should we go for a blanket approach? The Government is not—at the moment—convinced of that, because the consultations that we have had with local authorities show that they prefer to have discretion about where to roll out 20mph zones. The uptake of that has been fairly good, as has been mentioned.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

Does the minister acknowledge that the traffic regulation order process is complex and burdensome on local authorities? It might be simpler just to say to local authorities that they should decide where they want the main 30mph arterial routes to be and exempt them from a default 20mph limit, rather than try to create endless networks for 20mph zones that are costly and time consuming to put in place.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I am happy take the member’s point further and to speak to City of Edinburgh Council officials about it, but the Edinburgh example is a good one, as the process does not seem to have been as cumbersome as the member suggests. I will reflect on the TRO scheme and look at where we could make the system easier and less cumbersome. However, local authorities’ feedback is that they want to have discretion. I am not saying that they have always got it right or that they will always get it right, in the same way as I am sure that we all appreciate that the Government does not always get things right.

I consider that having the decision in the hands of local authorities, which should know their communities better, is a better approach. I think that that is working. The City of Edinburgh Council is taking the lead, but it is not the only local authority that is driving forward—perhaps I should say moving forward—the agenda. Glasgow City Council introduced a city centre 20mph zone from 21 March, Dundee City Council’s consultation has been mentioned by Jenny Marra and great advances are being made by Fife Council, where Jenny Marra has an interest as well.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

Does the minister think that all roads that provide access to a school should have a speed limit of 20mph?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

It is for local authorities to make that decision, but we are encouraging them to set such a limit on roads that are in residential zones or that are near schools—of course, we think that it is sensible for them to have a 20mph speed limit. However, that must be at local authorities’ discretion.

I return to Johnston Avenue, which Ms Marra wrote to me about and on which I replied to her. As time and my diary allow, I will visit that street and meet its residents. However, I do not know the ins and outs of the matter, and I assume that the local authority knows the area better than anybody else and would, in consultation with the residents, take the appropriate measures. On the back of the more detailed description of that street that Jenny Marra gave, in my next conversation with Dundee City Council I will find out what is going on and what the thinking is. I am happy to report back to her on that.

I am at the end of my allotted time. It is safe to say that the Scottish Government is proud of the progress that has been made on 20mph zones. I thank Mark Ruskell for bringing the debate to the chamber and I am more than happy to have a further conversation with him about some of the complexities in the current system that he spoke about. I am also happy to take any other suggestions. At the heart of the debate is the safety of the people—in particular, the children—of Scotland. I am open minded about any plans that can help us to make our roads safer.

Meeting closed at 17:42.