Who should be responsible for road safety? 

Posted on July 22nd, 2015 by James Luckhurst

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 08.12.11More than 130 years after the first cars took to the UK’s roads there is still no single independent body that has responsibility for investigating and learning from the collisions that take place on the public highway. Since 1926 – when casualty figures were first recorded – almost half a million people have died on the UK’s roads. 1,769 were killed in 2013 alone, compared with just 30 people in the air and four train passengers.

Accidents in aviation and on the railways are exhaustively studied by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch and Rail Accident Investigation Branch respectively. But while individual police forces collect statistics about road collisions and look for fault there is no independent organisation that looks beyond apportioning blame to analyse the underlying cause and make recommendations on systemic changes to prevent similar events reoccurring.

The current situation was highlighted earlier this year in a report – UK Transport Safety: who is responsible? – by the Transport Safety Commission. The Commission was established in Autumn 2013 following a recommendation by the Transport Select Committee. This report is the result of the Commission’s first inquiry which was co-chaired by Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, and Sir Peter Bottomley MP.

Amongst the report’s recommendations concerning road safety are:

  • improved arrangements for accident investigation so that learning is separated from the prosecution
  • creation of an advisory body for road safety independent of government
  • restore resources for road safety to recent historical levels in order to fund additional measures which would provide good value for money ·         stronger leadership from Central government and more coordinated action across government departments
  • the setting of ambitious road casualty reduction targets by the government
  • recognition by the Health and Safety Executive and employers that work-related road casualties are their responsibility
  • adoption of a systems approach to casualty reduction
  • better treatment for the victims of road traffic crimes
  • improving actual safety and the perception of risk of active travel (walking and cycling)

The report notes that after several years of steady decline there was a rise in road casualties in 2014 which shows casualty reduction cannot be taken for granted. Professor Glaister said: “It seems perverse that we effectively have double standards when it comes to investigating deaths amongst the travelling public.

“No expense is spared when it comes to establishing the cause of harm on public transport and there is a well proven system for recommending improvement as a result of findings. Compare that with what happens on the roads. Perhaps there is a feeling that road users are in charge of their own destiny and hence their lives are not as important. Yet many casualties are innocent parties and we should be protecting them as carefully as anyone who pays a rail or air fare.

Around 30% of road deaths occur during the course of employment and greatly exceed those occurring in the workplace, yet the Health and Safety Executive’s priorities do not include work-related road safety. That all our recommendations refer to road rather than aviation and rail safety is a sad indictment of a continued collective failure to tackle an appalling situation that somehow is seen as acceptable by those in authority.”