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Road Deaths and Injuries

Volume 554: debated on Thursday 29 November 2012

8. If he will make it his policy to reinstate national targets to reduce deaths and serious injuries on the roads. (130589)

13. If he will make it his policy to reinstate national targets to reduce deaths and serious injuries on the roads. (130595)

The Government have no plans to reinstate national targets. The strategic framework for road safety sets out measures that we intend to take to continue to reduce casualties. Those include making forecasts of the casualty numbers that we might expect to see through to 2030 if our measures, and the actions of local authorities, are successful.

With the numbers killed and seriously injured on Britain’s roads increasing for the first time in 17 years, will the Secretary of State think again about the decision to axe national targets on reducing deaths and serious injuries, which helped to focus efforts across Government, local government and the agencies?

I will never take safety lightly; it must always be uppermost in the mind of the Secretary of State for Transport. The United Kingdom has a very good record. In 1979, the number of people killed on the roads was 6,352. In 2011, the number was 1,901. That is still far too many, but the country has been heading in the right direction.

Campaigners will meet in my constituency this weekend to discuss how we can improve local road safety. There is growing support for 20 mph speed limits in residential areas. Why does the Department advise that safety has to be balanced against economic considerations and traffic flow, when there is no evidence of longer journey times in 20 mph areas?

I am always willing to look at the hon. Lady’s representations. It is important that we take a range of measures to improve safety. We have taken a range of measures, as have the companies that produce cars. There is no doubt that cars are much more responsive in their braking power than they were 30 years ago. We have made movements in the right direction. In some areas, 20 mph speed limits are right.

At a time of budget constraints, agencies understandably concentrate scarce resources on the performance targets against which they are measured. That is clearly having an impact on road safety budgets. I urge the Secretary of State to reconsider this decision because quite apart from the personal tragedy that is involved in all fatalities, it is a false economy, because every fatality costs a lot of money.

Indeed. The hon. Gentleman is right: a fatality not only causes huge damage and a dramatic situation for the family involved in that tragedy, but there is also cost to the health service and other services. There has been no diminution in the desire of the Department for Transport to improve road safety, and there will not be while I am Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State may be aware that road traffic deaths in the east midlands are double those in the north east per capita. As I learned from the Transport Committee inquiry into road safety, national targets allow underperforming local authorities to shelter behind the excellent performance of other local authorities, Blackpool included. Does the Secretary of State agree that national targets actually lead to more traffic deaths in some parts of the country because we are not targeting underperformance?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; he makes an interesting point. Whenever serious or fatal accidents take place I want a proper investigation to be conducted, the results of which can be carried across to provide experience to other local authorities throughout the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State’s decision will be bitterly regretted by campaign groups across the country. Targets introduced by the Thatcher Administration 30 years ago had cross-party support and have successfully brought down casualty rates across the country. His use of the word “forecasts” indicates that he is trying to claw something back from his predecessor’s bad decision to abolish targets. Will the Secretary of State think again? Targets are not the whole solution but a component; they are part of the way to reduce serious injuries and deaths on British roads.

I know the hon. Gentleman takes this issue incredibly seriously, and although he talks about deaths I think we should look at the seriously injured as well. In the year ending June 2012, there were 1,790 deaths on British roads—a 6% drop on the year before.

The Secretary of State is well aware that those most at risk on our roads are young drivers. I was pleased to see his recent positive comments about placing restrictions on young drivers—for example, on the number of passengers they may carry or the times of day they may drive. Will he indicate to the House how those proposals might be taken forward?

A number of representations on young drivers have been made to the Department for Transport and, as I said in that interview, they are all worth considering and investigating properly to see whether we can reduce the terrible toll that is sometimes caused by young drivers. However, that is not so of all young drivers. We read about the horrendous cases, but not about the many cases where young drivers behave and act responsibly on the road, as do other road users.