Road Safety — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 16th October 2018.

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Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South 2:30 pm, 16th October 2018

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered road safety.

It is a pleasure to serve under you as Chair, Mrs Moon. I am grateful to have secured this important debate. Road safety is an issue that affects every constituency, and I am delighted to see colleagues here from both sides of the House. No doubt they will want to draw my hon. Friend the Minister’s attention to particular roads or even particular accidents, but I will endeavour to keep my remarks as encompassing as possible and to explore how we can best measure and improve road safety as a general rule. I hope that we can have a dispassionate debate about an emotive subject, while always recognising how traumatic failures of road safety can have life-changing implications.

In Great Britain last year, 1,793 people were killed in road crashes—that is 1,793 too many. In addition, the Government estimate that road traffic collisions cost the UK economy more than £16.3 billion a year. In Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire alone, all accidents involving speed cost the economy an average of £32.5 million annually. Those costs could be reduced if we made our roads safer.

Last month, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety released a new report, entitled “Developing safe system road safety indicators for the UK”. That timely and interesting report from PACTS will form the basis of my remarks. It was done in association with Ageas, which is one of our largest motor insurers; it employs more than 400 people in my constituency. They are all too aware of the devastation that poor road safety can cause to those injured or bereaved. I am grateful to them for sending me briefing materials and also grateful for input from the Association of British Insurers, the Road Safety Foundation, the Royal National Institute of Blind People, the Institute of Alcohol Studies, Living Streets and Highways England.

The economy has grown every year since 2010, and the population and the volume of road traffic have grown with it. Despite that, the number of road deaths has not grown over the same period, and we can be thankful for that. However, we could be doing better and getting the number of deaths and serious injuries down. More worryingly, the number of pedestrian fatalities accounts for more than one quarter; it is up 5% on the previous year and up 11% on the 2010 to 2014 average.

We have some of the safest roads in the world, but we need to ensure that the general downward trend in road deaths over the past 45 years continues. That was achieved through improved safety measures, technological advances and public awareness campaigns, modifying behaviours and militating against elements of previously fatal scenarios. And we are far from exhausting the potential for technological advances, particularly in the field of autonomous cars and smart roads. It is at this time of great technological change that a more comprehensive approach to road safety is needed—something against which both current and new forms of transport can be tested, and something that is responsive to new technology. The Government are of course aware of that, and it is strongly to their credit that the UK is leading the way in embracing the advances that driverless technology promises to bring.

The Government issued a British road safety statement in 2015. That was followed by the road safety management review commissioned last year and published in June of this year. It is clear that the Government favour a partnership approach, fully respecting devolution and local authority competences. That is all very welcome, and it is welcome that the report by PACTS and Ageas has come forward. In this spirit of encouragement, I ask the Minister to respond to the points raised by the report. In particular, I ask how the Department is progressing towards a safe system approach.

Traditionally, road safety measures have always been far too reactive. Areas with a history of more serious collisions have received far more focus and, often, locations where there is the greatest danger of collisions and a history of near misses do not get the attention that they need. Also, campaigns have focused on getting drivers and vulnerable road users to stop certain behaviours, instead of such behaviours being proactively designed out.

Systemic measures are needed; that is what a safe system is all about. It is an evidence-based approach focused on preventing death and serious injury, rather than preventing all crashes in the face of human error. Because people do make mistakes and collisions do and will take place, a systemic approach recognises that minimising the physical impact of collisions is a shared responsibility for those who design, build, manage and use roads and vehicles. To put it bluntly, if we crash into someone or something, the vehicle and not the people should take the impact and any damage. That means that, as well as expecting road users to comply with the laws on seatbelts, speed limits, not using phones and so on, we should expect, first, vehicle makers to design safer cars, vans, lorries and buses and, secondly, highways agencies to design and maintain legible and forgiving road infrastructure. Thirdly, medical and emergency services should be prepared, trained and equipped to provide an efficient and effective post-crash response.

A key aspect of a safe system approach is the ability to monitor, target and track progress through specific performance indicators. As Dr Suzy Charman of the Road Safety Foundation has said,

“You cannot manage what you do not measure. There is a need for road safety performance indicators in order to drive effort and investment in the right direction.”

I would be interested to hear from the Minister what consideration has been given to devising any indicators beyond those EuroRAPEuropean Road Assessment Programme—indicators that are already in use for the strategic road network. I would be especially keen to hear his early responses to the eight indicators proposed in the PACTS report. I will briefly run through the indicators set out in the report.