Speech

Institute of Advanced Motorists

A broad overview of some of the government’s key road safety priority areas.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Stephen Hammond

Opening remarks

Thank-you for that introduction.

And thank-you also for asking me along - it’s an absolute pleasure to be here today.

Not complacent

When I took up my post I inherited a road safety record second to none.

This country is a genuine world leader.

But that doesn’t mean for a single minute that it’s job done or mission accomplished.

So yes, the provisional figures for the year ending June 2012 show a reduction in fatalities compared to the previous year.

And yes, it is very welcome news that, for all road users, the numbers killed and seriously injured are down 17% compared with the 2005 to 2009 average.

I think it’s also worth remembering that, while the 2011 figures were slightly up on 2010, the 2010 figures were exceptionally low, and that 2011 was still lower than 2009.

But, in spite of all we have achieved, we should never forget that road deaths are not statistics.

They are someone’s mother or father, brother or sister, son or daughter.

They are real lives cut short.

And, as Simon (Simon Best – Institute of Advanced Motorists) reminded us, road accidents also hit the economy.

The numbers and the graphs may change from year to year, but one thing stays constant - accidents carry a heavy human cost and a huge economic price.

That’s why this government is not complacent on this issue.

And that’s why we will continue to do all we can to make our roads safer in our ambition to be the safest we can be.

Now, in the short time I have today I don’t want to talk you through every last dot and comma of the government’s road safety agenda.

But what I would like to do is give you an insight into my thinking around some of the key priority areas as I see them - a brief but broad overview if you will.

Localism

First let me touch on an issue Simon mentioned in his speech - the important road safety role of local authorities, especially in terms of investment.

These are testing economic times.

So I recognise that local government, just like central government, faces tough spending choices.

But I also know that it is local communities, rather than Whitehall bureaucrats, who are best placed to design local road safety solutions to meet local road safety challenges

And that includes deciding where to focus their resources

That’s what localism is all about - the power to choose for yourself, backed by the funding to deliver.

We are giving more than £1 billion to local councils enabling them to improve the transport infrastructure – including the design of better and safer roads.

We’re investing £600 million in local transport through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) – which again gives authorities greater power to deliver their own transport projects.

For example, Transport for Manchester secured £32.5 million from the Fund for their ‘Let’s get to work project’ - a project designed to give people the kind of viable travel options that allow them to make their journey to work in way that is healthier and safer, cleaner and greener, whether it’s walking, cycling or hopping on the local bus.

The vast majority of the LSTF projects contain a cycling element – not just providing better routes, but also making roads safer for cyclists.

I take the issue of cycle safety very seriously.

It is crucial at a time when thousands of people are taking up bike riding - inspired by the heroics of our Tour de France, Olympic and Paralympic cyclists.

So the department has recently launched a THINK! cycle safety campaign.

We’ve made £30 million available to tackle dangerous junctions for cyclists across the country

And we have made it simpler for councils to put in place 20mph zones - and install Trixi mirrors to improve the visibility of cyclists at junctions.

Cycle safety is about embracing technology and changing behaviour. So we will continue to develop new ideas and initiatives to build on the progress we’ve already made.

Drug driving

I’d argue that one of the great successes of road safety over the last 40 years has been the extent to which drink driving has become socially unacceptable.

In fact, the number of drink drive deaths has fallen by more than 75% since 1979. The culture has completely changed from social necessity to social pariah, such is the view of today’s drink drivers.

But sadly, people are still losing their lives because of drink drive collisions.

280 were killed last year.

So, through our award winning THINK! Campaign, we continue to push home the message that people who drive while over the limit risk losing their licence, being fined or even going to prison.

But more importantly, they have to be aware that they could injure, or worse kill someone – including someone they love.

So we’ve also just launched a drink-drive consultation which includes proposals to close down the legal loopholes where some drivers try to avoid prosecution by demanding to replace their breath test with blood or urine tests.

Drink driving kills. Fact.

But, in my view, it is just as socially unacceptable and dangerous to drive while impaired by drugs.

If we tackled drink driving in the 1980s, now in the 2010s, it’s time to defeat drug driving.

So I believe we have to make sure that drug drivers face the full force of the law, just like drink drivers.

And the government is taking three major steps to do just that:

  • type approval will shortly be given to drug testing devices for police stations
  • we expect to introduce road-side drug screeners during 2014
  • and the new law to prosecute drug-drivers will also come into come into effect by the summer of 2014

This government is on the side of the motoring majority who abide by the law.

So to the reckless minority of drivers who think they can take drugs, jump behind the wheel and get away with it, my message is clear and it’s simple - you will be caught and you will be punished.

The hard core few and the law abiding many

Let me now say a few words about the hard core few and the law abiding many.

We’re targeting enforcement efforts against the dangerous behaviour of the hardcore few.

The drivers who commit serious, deliberate and repeated offences - the ones with a poor attitude rather than poor skills.

I told you about cracking down on drink drivers. But there’s no hiding place for the uninsured either.

That’s why, for example, we’re making full use of existing powers to seize an offender’s vehicle.

The police seized around 140,000 vehicles for this offence last year, and the level of uninsured driving has decreased from around 2 million drivers in 2005 to 1.2 million drivers in 2011.

We’ve also introduced the continuous insurance enforcement scheme.

The insurance industry estimate that, with the introduction of this scheme - assuming that police enforcement continues at its current rate - the level of uninsured driving could be reduced by up to 40% in the next 5 years

For the law abiding many that’s good news, both for road safety and, I hope, for future insurance premiums.

And I believe it’s absolutely vital to support the law abiding many.

The motorists who want to do the right thing and who just need a nudge in the right direction.

For example, that means offering more educational options to drivers who make genuine mistakes, display poor skills or commit occasional low level offences.

It also means improving training and testing.

That’s the reason we’ve made changes to the practical portion of the driving test so that, instead of being taught how to pass a test, people will actually learn how to drive safely on their own.

And it’s why we want to tackle careless driving with proportionate sanctions.

On 14 June, the government consulted on proposals to make careless driving a fixed penalty offence.

Motorists who commit less severe examples of the offence - such as driving too close to another vehicle - would be offered training to help them improve their safety skills.

Of course, if anyone knows the benefits of driver education and training, then it’s this Institution.

You understand the positive impact it can have on road safety by preventing collisions and crashes from taking place in the first place.

Older drivers

You also recognise the impact of changing demographics on motoring.

And so do I.

As Simon pointed out, with an ageing population the number of older drivers on our roads is set to increase over the coming years.

And so the report you’ve just launched about older drivers is a welcome contribution to the on-going debate about what this might mean for road safety and road users.

I believe the overall aim must be to maintain a balance between freedom of movement for older drivers and road safety for everyone.

So the DfT is not considering compulsory testing for older drivers.

As far as I’m concerned the crucial factor for road safety is not age.

What matters is skills and experience.

What matters is the physical and mental fitness of the driver to drive competently and safely.

And that applies to young drivers as well as older drivers.

I recognise that we have to do everything we can to make sure young motorists are as safe as they can be on our highways, whether they are driving on the motorway, through town or along country lanes.

Improving the safety and ability of young drivers is a key priority for the government which is why we have adapted the driving test to reflect real conditions on the road.

As part of ongoing measures to reduce the risks of accidents, the department is working with young people, the insurance industry, and other partners to identify what more can be done - and we are considering several options to ensure that newly qualified drivers are properly prepared and able to drive safely .

Take the use of telematics.

In-car technology like this means insurers now have a real time data feed which allows them to see an individual’s driving behaviour.

Some evidence suggests that young drivers could see their annual premiums fall by 20% more with a black box installed.

But research so far also shows that telematics can significantly reduce crash rates and levels of risky driving behaviours.

We welcome the increasing number of insurers who are making use of this technology.

We are supportive of any measures that make driving safer and also want to see improvements in young driver safety reflected in their insurance premiums.

Closing remarks

Okay, I was always taught that there isn’t much point in silent gratitude.

So, as well as thanking everyone here for your hospitality today, I’d also like to say a big thank-you to the Institute itself.

Because you don’t just campaign for safer roads - you actively do something to make them a reality.

For more than half a century you have raised driving and riding standards and improved the skills of road users, both on 2 wheels and 4 wheels.

Down the years you have helped to prevent accidents, save lives and make Britain’s highways some of the safest on the planet.

So, as the Road Safety Minister, I want to pay tribute to everyone at the Institute - your hard work and your expertise makes a real and lasting difference.

Thank you.

Published 29 November 2012