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RAC Foundation says more focused spending on roads could prevent thousands of deaths

Road safety charity commissions research that shows how money - and lives - could be saved

Road safety charity the RAC Foundation claims that up to 6,000 lives on Britain’s roads and billions of pounds could be saved over the next decade if just some of the money used on road maintenance were spent more wisely. That’s the conclusion of research conducted on the organisation’s behalf by the Road Safety Foundation, published in a report called Saving Lives, Saving Money: The costs and benefits of achieving safe roads.

The report finds that most of the £30 billion annual cost of road traffic accidents, equivalent to 2.3 per cent of GDP, relates to incidents on motorways and other major roads. However, it adds that by eliminating what it terms “1-star and 2-star roads,” savings of between £25 billion and £35 billion can be made over the next ten years.

According to the report, “a 5-star rating represents the safest road infrastructure design for the prevailing speed environment and a 1-star rating the poorest;” some 62 per cent of single-carriageway trunk roads are rated 2-star.

It adds that while “the total cost of crashes is well estimated by the Department for Transport but the way costs fall on families, business, carers, NHS, emergency services and the insurance industry is poorly understood.”

The report calls for a 10-year road safety programme, estimated to cost less than 10 per cent of existing road budgets, to deal with shortcomings in safety such as missing fencing and poor road layouts at junctions.

It also calls for a number of other steps to be taken to address road safety issues, such as:

  • “The government‟s upcoming Strategic Framework for Road Safety to make the Highways Agency – Britain’s single largest crash cost centre – the model of best practice from which UK authorities can learn;
  • “New good practice guidance for authority leaders and professionals on generating and evaluating safety schemes so 1- and 2-star roads are eliminated and dual carriageways and motorways are brought up to high safety standards
  • “Parliament and the Treasury to examine the value for money that can be provided by programmes to reduce death and injury and investigate how institutional barriers to rational investment and priority setting can be overcome;
  • “Technical improvements to the evaluation of crash costs and recording of serious crashes by police and hospitals, with more focus on long-term care and the true financial costs of road crashes to healthcare and emergency services; and
  • “The insurance industry to study the initiatives in other countries where the cost of damage and injury claims has been driven down successfully through improved safety.”

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, commented: “Given that Britons are more likely to die on the roads than in any other daily activity, this report should make us first angry, and then determined to act to see more lives saved – at little or no extra cost.

“We will never prevent all road accidents but we can do a considerable amount to reduce their effects simply by improving the road environment and making it as forgiving as possible. We understand road risks well enough to know how to cut this grim toll of death and injury, yet we fail to implement cheap and effective measures to combat them.

“Why do we continue to tolerate unsafe roads when the cost of bringing the network up to minimum standards is within what we already spend on our roads? It beggars belief that we are not redirecting resources to where they are most beneficial.”

According to Lord Dubs, chairman of the Road Safety Foundation: “Engineering improvements are typically low cost and last decades. Without using a simple measurement of infrastructure safety like star rating, road engineers will remain tongue-tied in trying to explain what can be achieved through proven measures. Without normal methods of cost-benefit analysis, high return safety programmes will continue to be ignored in favour of programmes which are well evaluated.”

Dr Joanne Hill, director of the Road Safety Foundation and a co-author of the report, added: “Most authorities evaluate safety schemes using first year rates of return which ignore the fact that engineering countermeasures deliver savings for decades. This stops life saving projects being compared with other lower return projects and prevents viable projects being generated on the scale justified and now being applied in other countries such as Australia, Netherlands and Sweden.”

She continued: “This year sees the launch of the UN’s Decade of Action for Road Safety. Saving Lives, Saving Money shows that we can significantly cut the cost of crashes between now and 2020, with substantial savings for the health services, long-term care, emergency services, businesses and families.”

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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pward | 12 years ago

I suspect that most of our roads are inherently "safe". It is how the road user (including cyclists) choose to use them that is our societal blind spot. I'll own up. I know I've had a few "moments" on my bike over the years when on reflection, I've made a "poor choice" and exposed myself to greater risk. The interesting aspect is that this happens either because I was thrill seeking / enjoying a really fast section, or was "spitting feathers" at some inappropriate manoeuvre by a driver and felt the need to remonstrate with them if I could catch them. Rightly or wrongly, like all humans, I make bad decisions some of the time. One obvious problem is that my bike and I weigh considerably less than 100kg wet through, whereas your average European car scales well over ten times that amount, easily. The outcomes are obvious, when I get it wrong, I'm almost certainly going to be the loser, whereas the driver's errors will very likely affect others as well.
Societally, in the UK I fear we have lost much respect for our fellow man, pay lip service to those we encounter but really, deep down, feel the need to "look after number 1" or else be trampled underfoot in the scramble for "survival" which is nuts isn't it? We enjoy a really high standard of living in UK when measured globally. In a nutshell, we just don't like or respect each other very much any more.
A final observation I'd like to make is from a trip I made to Paris just this last week. Here, it was really clear to me that cycle helmet usage is minimal, say less than 5% but probably below that even. Now, I labour under the stereotype that Parisien drivers are pretty full-on in the intolerance stakes. This appeared to be born out too, where other drivers were at fault, there was little quarter given. However, the French cyclist appears blessed with a bubble of respect that rendered them untouchable. Equally, they didn't appear to be abusing that position by running red lights or pavement riding. Are we in the UK therefore ultra risk averse (over 50% helmet usage and climbing further in London apparently) or are our car-driving habits so appalling that this is the reaction, one of "self preservation" that to me (a helmet wearer) now suddenly seems to be just a step in an arms race. Where will it end? Full downhill body armour & crash hats? I return to the fact that I believe most of our roads are safe, it's how we us them that is the problem.

cat1commuter | 12 years ago

I don't think that the star rating has anything to do with how safe the roads are for cyclists.

mr_colostomy | 12 years ago

"The report calls for a 10-year road safety programme, estimated to cost less than 10 per cent of existing road budgets, to deal with shortcomings in safety such as missing fencing and poor road layouts at junctions."

Surely not the same fencing which is used by HGV drivers to shred cyclists? Also, wouldn't roads which are percieved as "safer" be subject to risk compensation behaviour in the form of behaviour like speeding, braking late and taking corners at speed?

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