Road safety heads back to basics

Local authorities that want to reduce road deaths should concentrate on simple safety measures such as signs, markings and barriers rather than expensive high-tech solutions, transport industry bodies have said.

According to the Campaign for Safe Road Design, launched today at the House of Lords, a third of the 375,000 deaths and injuries on Britain’s roads over the past ten years could have been prevented by low-cost but carefully targeted improvements in infrastructure.

The campaign is backed by a consortium of UK organisations including the AA, the Institution of Highways and Transportation and local authorities. It is calling for investment to focus on the stretches of out of town A road where the majority of accidents occur.

Over the last five years, EuroRAP, the European Road Assessment Programme, has analysed transport networks to highlight and rate levels of risk. The Road Safety Foundation, which carries out the mapping in the UK, believes it has identified roads where greatest gains have been made and those where there is still room for improvement.

EuroRAP technical director Dr Steve Wilson says countries like Sweden and the Netherlands have demonstrated that investment in basic infrastructure can maintain the reduction in road deaths seen in recent decades as a result of major government and industry initiatives.

While the government has been tightening traffic law in areas like speed limits, the typical NCAP safety rating of a new vehicle has risen from two starts to four since the system was introduced in the 1990s.

“The thing that’s of concern is that the big step changes which we have seen over the past 30 years have been brought about by major pieces of law such as drink drive and seatbelt laws, and by improvements in car design,” said Wilson. “This drive for spending on infrastructure could bring about the same large-scale change we saw from measures which specifically targeted either behaviour or car design.”

According to the campaign’s chairman, John Dawson, the cost of handling road crashes is £18bn per year. So if the initiative achieves its objective of reducing deaths and serious injuries by a third, it would save the economy £6bn.

“A safe road system means road users who obey traffic law, manufacturers who provide safe vehicles and authorities who provide safe roads,” he said. “While any road design programme must be delivered by local authorities, we need a commitment from the government to make safe road infrastructure programmes central to its road safety strategy beyond 2010.”

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