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DfT launches new road safety comparison website - but how useful is it?

First glance suggests new site limited when looking at cycling casualties; research portal also launched today

The Department for Transport (DfT) has today launched a website that enables people to compare their local highway authority’s road safety performance with other parts of England, with data broken down by class of user, including cyclists. It has also launched a new research portal called the Road Safety Observatory.

The new comparison website, which is at – the use of the word ‘collisions’ rather than ‘accidents,’ still used in official figures, is worth noting -  has data covering seven years from 2005 to 2011 relating to collision and casualty figures segmented by population, traffic levels, road length and authority spending.

At first glance, running a couple of queries on cycling casualties, there do seem to be some limitations as to how useful the data would be in practice. Given the larger numbers involved, it may prove more insightful in looking at all casualties, or at least those involving occupants of motor vehicles.

It’s certainly no substitute for the STATS19 database that the DfT’s Reported Road Casualties for Great Britain reports are based on, and which indeed underpins the website launched today. Again, though, it’s a website aimed at ordinary members of the public, rather than people carrying out detailed research who are familiar with databases and spreadsheets.

Looking at Killed & Serious Injuries (KSIs) by road user type (select ‘Cyclist) from the drop-down menu here, you get an alphabetical list of all local highway authorities in England, and the number of KSIs there for each year from 2005 to 2011 (the decimal point and two zeroes afterwards are redundant).

What that means, though is that London boroughs, for example, are spread haphazardly through the list, so there’s no way of seeing what the picture is at London-wide level, likewise for some other areas; in some places, the local highways authority sits at council level, in others it doesn’t.

That also makes comparisons with neighbouring highway authorities difficult, if not impossible, and moreover there doesn’t seem to be a way of splitting out just fatalities at local level from that menu, although you can do elsewhere.

The mapping tool could be improved, too. Here’s a map that looks at fatal and serious casualties of cyclists in Southwark in 2011. Zooming in enables you to see the severity of each incident, but there’s no way to look at multiple years, you have to select one year at a time. Others have mapped the same data and shown more detailed data more clearly.

According to the DfT, “As well as putting casualty figures in to context the site provides a mapping facility so that people can see how many cyclists or children have been involved in collisions on a particular road.

“This is part of wider government moves to improve transparency and accountability by providing people with easy-to-access information on how services are being delivered.”

The research portal, meanwhile, is aimed at road safety professionals, and contains research on a variety of relevant topics.

Road Safety Minister Stephen Hammond said: “This new comparison website will give local residents a more accurate picture of their council’s performance in reducing road casualties and will allow councils to make more meaningful assessments of the work they are doing to improve road safety.

“If a council is performing particularly well then I want to see them sharing best practice with others so that they can improve and people across the country can benefit.

“In addition, the Road Safety Observatory will be a valuable resource for all those with an interest in road safety by providing a one-stop-shop for road safety research.”

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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