Each year an incredible 1.3 million people are killed and 50 million are injured on the world’s roads. Politicians often use words like incredible, but when I saw those figures I asked someone to check them. They are correct and they are mind-numbing figures. Equally chilling is the fact that, on current trends, road fatalities could become the world’s fifth biggest killer by 2030. These facts and figures demonstrate that road safety is a truly global issue. They also remind us of the motivation for the UN ‘decade of action’ - a decade in which, with the right focus, action and policies, countless lives will be saved in the years ahead.
Britain is rightly proud of its road safety record. Our highways are among the safest roads in the world and we have seen significant decreases in our casualty figures. But, in spite of all we have achieved, we still lose 6 or 7 people to road accidents in this country every day of the week. Every road death is a grim statistic - but it is also a personal tragedy. And, as well as the terrible human cost, there is a heavy economic price to pay. Again, I had to have these figures checked - in Britain, the economic welfare costs are estimated at around £16 billion a year, while insurance payouts for motoring claims alone are now over £12 billion a year.
So there is no room for complacency - and that’s why today the government has launched its new strategic framework for road safety. The core principle underpinning our new strategy is that, with limited resources available, we need to target the most dangerous behaviours: focusing police and court time on those who deliberately engage in anti-social and dangerous driving behaviour, while supporting the generally law-abiding motorist to address poor driving skills or lapses of behaviour that could put him or her and other road users at risk.
The strategy will be delivered both nationally and locally. The new framework sets out those measures that we intend to take nationally, together with the areas where policy and delivery will reflect local priorities and circumstances. The national measures focus on 2 key strands - education and enforcement. Let me take each of them in turn. As I’ve said, we want to support basically law-abiding road users to address poor driving skills - to nudge their behaviour in the right direction. That means more educational options for drivers who make genuine mistakes, display poor skills or commit occasional low level offences - to improve their driving, support to develop safer skills and appropriate attitudes to driving. In appropriate cases, low level offenders will be offered a place on a police-approved education course (at their cost) instead of a fixed penalty charges and licence points. We know from experience that properly designed education courses can have a positive impact on driving behaviour. But our education initiative will go further: we will reform the regime for rehabiliting disqualified drivers - so that the most serious offenders who are disqualified from driving have to complete re-training and a mandatory new test before they regain their licence.
We will also continue to build on the recent improvements we’ve made to our driving and motorcycle tests. And we’ll develop a new post-driving test vocational qualification - designed to help newly qualified drivers gain the necessary skills and experience to be safe and responsible road users - and to demonstrate that they have gained those skills to would-be insurers. The better the education and the better the training, the more we can enhance the safety of all road users, whether they are pedestrians or cyclists, drivers or motorcyclists. I also want to correct what I believe has been an overly narrow emphasis on automatically-detected speed-related offences, at the expense of tackling other equally or more risky behaviours such as tailgating, under-taking and weaving.
Since 1985 the number of prosecutions for careless driving has plummeted by three-quarters as time-consuming prosecution through the courts has been deemed a lower priority by police. So we will introduce a new fixed penalty notice for careless driving to help the police to tackle risky behaviour, such as tailgating, that currently tends to go unenforced, in an efficient and effective manner. Freeing up police and court resources to focus on the most dangerous drivers. This will also enable careless driving offenders to be diverted to the new educational courses offered where appropriate to those receiving fixed penalty notices. At the same time, we will increase the level of fixed penalty notices for many road traffic offences from £60 to £80 to £100 plus penalty points. The current levels have fallen behind other fixed penalties offences and the lower levels for traffic offences risk trivialising the offences.
Sadly, it isn’t just about educating the well-intentioned. Alongside those who make genuine mistakes or have poor skills, but who want to do the right thing, there are also a minority hard-core of dangerous road users who commit serious, deliberate and repeated offences. Not because of poor skills, but because of bad attitude - and a reckless disregard of risk. These people are a danger to themselves and to others and, in order to tackle their negligence and target their recklessness, we will enhance the enforcement and sanctions regime. An effective deterrent requires credible sanctions. So, in addition to using innovative ways to recover unpaid fines, we will also work to make full use of existing powers for the courts to seize and crush an offender’s vehicle.
I’m also determined to increase the effectiveness of drink and drug drive enforcement and cut reoffending, as set out in our response to the North report on drink and drug driving in March. 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 - and largely in consequence, the number of people killed in drink driving accidents has fallen by more than 75% since 1979. But sadly, people are still losing their lives because of drink driving - in 2009, 380 people were killed in drink driving collisions - about 17% of all of the fatalities on the road for that year. So we need to take tough action against the small minority of drivers who don’t give a second thought to the law and who put their lives in danger by drink driving and also the lives of others. They have ignored the shift in social attitudes; they ignore the risks they are taking and they ignore the drink driving limit. Shockingly, 40% of those who fail the alcohol breath test are more than 2 and a half times the permitted limit. A lower limit would not make this reckless minority change their behaviour. Their behaviour is entrenched- and so we have concluded that improving enforcement will have more impact on these dangerous people than lowering the limit.
So we are toughening up the enforcement regimes. We are revoking the right for drivers who are over the limit on a breath test to request a blood or urine test - eliminating the opportunity for delay that over the years has allowed countless drink drivers to get away with their offence. We will also be launching a more robust drink-drive rehabilitation scheme, providing high quality education courses, and requiring drink-drivers who were substantially over the limit to take remedial training and a linked driving assessment - as well as a medical examination - before recovering their licence.
Drink driving kills. But it is just as dangerous for people to drive impaired by drugs, and it is quite wrong that it is easier at present to get away with one than the other. So there needs to be a clear message that drug-drivers are as likely to be caught and punished as drink-drivers. We are working to approve drug testing devices and we will change the law to speed up the testing process, ensuring the police can bring drug drivers to justice. We are also exploring the introduction of a new offence - alongside the existing offence - which would relieve the need for the police to prove impairment case-by-case where a specified drug at a specified level has been detected in the blood stream. We are determined, over time, to make drug-driving as socially unacceptable as drink-driving has become.
There is also a significant correlation between uninsured driving and other road traffic offending. While we believe we will now make progress against uninsured drivers - with the introduction of continuous insurance enforcement - we are clear that this is an area that requires further work to arrive at a fully effective package of measures. The rising cost of insurance will surely tempt more and more to take the risk. So we will consider introducing proportionate penalties for uninsured driving, to ensure that the cost of offending is better matched to the cost of insurance, while continuing to work with the insurance industry on measures that help to reduce the cost of motor insurance to make it more affordable over time.
Our new strategy we are publishing today makes it clear that, while targets sometimes have their place, we do not consider over-arching national targets to be the most appropriate means of improving road safety in Britain. None-the-less, government at the national level has a crucial part to play in improving road safety - from delivering better driving standards and testing, to enhancing enforcement and education, right through to the way it manages the country’s strategic road infrastructure. So yes, we recognise the positive difference that central government can make. But we also believe in the potential and possibilities offered by localism. And that’s why our strategic framework acknowledges that local communities also have a vital role in making roads as safe as they can be. Local service deliverers do not need civil servants in Whitehall to tell them how important road safety is. Nor do they need central diktats that constrain their local ambitions and priorities.
Instead of more suffocating bureaucracy and top down government, we will devolve decision making and empower people at the local level. Enabling the creation of local solutions tailored to meet local challenges - recognising that the road safety challenges we face are different in different parts of the country - whether it is setting local speed limits, or choosing the most appropriate traffic management schemes. By giving local authorities more freedom to assess and act on their own priorities, we will see better targeted, more effective local action. We will provide an economic toolkit to assist local authorities in assessing the full costs and benefits when considering speed limits - helping them to ensure that their decisions on speed limits are consistent and transparent to the communities they serve. And we will move to a more sophisticated method of monitoring progress through a road safety outcomes framework, which will help local authorities assess and prioritise their action as well as showing the impact of central government measures.
We also want citizens to play a more active role in championing the cause of road safety in their areas. So we will ensure that more information is made available to help them to hold their local authorities and service providers to account and to enable them to compare the performance of their area against other similar areas. And that ability to compare is critical, the gap between the best and worst performing authorities is very significant. If the bottom half of highway authorities upped their game to the mid point authority, the number of killed and seriously injured casualties could decrease by 14%… that’s 3,500 fewer deaths or seriously injured every year. Our localism agenda is a radical transfer of power and information from Whitehall to the town hall and from Downing Street to the local high street. It helps to build capacity, increase transparency and strengthen accountability. And it will enable local people to come together, to work together and build the types of neighbourhoods and communities that they want to live in.
Road safety is everybody’s business - we all have a stake in making our highways as safe as they can be. And in spreading our best practice in the UK to the many parts of the world with road safety records that are very far behind. That’s why the UN ‘decade of action’ is so important. It’s also why road safety is a first order issue for me and for this government. Britain has made great progress down the years in making our roads safer. We want that progress to continue and the strategic framework we are publishing today will take that agenda forward. My very clear message today is that we will work with the grain of human nature: encouraging and assisting drivers who occasionally lapse or who suffer from poor skills - the basically law-abiding majority - to become a safe and responsible motorists. We are not against them, we are with them and we will work to help them. But on those who wilfully and recklessly put themselves and others at risk, we will focus the resources of law-enforcement with a new determination.