Response to Department for Transport Consultation on Road Safety Compliance

February 2009

Drink driving
Drug driving
Careless driving
Driver retraining and re-assessment
Annex A: Suffolk Coroner's verdict concerning a fatal accident in November 1996
Annex B: A statistician's comments on TRL Project Report PR58 "Speed, Speed Limits and Accidents" (1994)
Annex C: A statistician's brief comments on TRL Report TRL511 "The relationship between speed and accidents on rural single-carriageway roads" (2002)
Annex D: Letter from Jim Fitzpatrick MP to the ABD concerning Road Accidents: Prevent or punish?
The Association of British Drivers (ABD) welcomes the opportunity to comment on the proposals in the road safety compliance consultation. It is concerned, however, that the Government is still unwilling to accept that its road safety policies could possibly be flawed. The Government continues to claim that serious injuries have fallen significantly, despite concerns expressed by the Transport Committee and others about the reliability of official police statistics. The Government's insistence that casualty reduction targets are being met, despite strong evidence to the contrary, is a refusal to acknowledge its fallibility.
While there are some positive proposals in the consultation, there are others that appear to be motivated by a desire to issue as many penalties as easily as possible, with little regard for justice or the true safety implications of the offences concerned. This amounts to a further extension of the 'punishment culture' that has been promoted by the Government in all aspects of life, and is to be deplored.
On speed, the ABD cannot support the Government's proposals to tackle 'extreme speeders' when so many speed limits have been reduced to unreasonably low levels. The Government clearly does not understand the proper use of speed limits, or that those set too low create danger by increasing non-compliance, the spread of speeds and driver frustration. Speed limit setting must return to the 85th percentile principle and most local speed limits on rural roads should be removed. Even properly set speed limits are only a guide to what may be a safe speed under a particular set of conditions, and drivers must retain responsibility for adjusting their speed as those conditions change. The emphasis on speed limit enforcement is sending the wrong message that safety is about religiously observing speed limits, so drivers no longer have to think for themselves.
Camera enforcement of speed limits is mainly penalising responsible drivers at locations where exceeding the limit is frequently safe, while being ineffective against those who have not registered their cars with the DVLA. The latter are also more likely to drive while uninsured or unlicensed and should be the main targets of enforcement. Vehicle-activated signs are a much cheaper and effective alternative to cameras for alerting drivers to hazards ahead, and do not penalise them unnecessarily.
Driving at an inappropriate speed for the conditions is a symptom of an underlying failure to recognise a hazard ahead or respond to it by slowing down. This can only be tackled by education, and retraining courses should be offered instead of penalties to those who demonstrate a lack of skill in this area. Such drivers can only be detected by trained police officers, so there needs to be a much greater presence of traffic patrols. It is vital that the police are able to exercise discretion in this area, according to the level of risk involved, and they must not be constrained by targets.
Since the Government now recognises the low risk associated with speeding on motorways and dual carriageways, it is high time the motorway speed limit was raised, to at least 80mph. A higher limit would also be appropriate on those dual carriageways built to modern standards and with full grade separation.
On drink driving, the ABD supports the advice that drivers should not drink at all if they are planning to drive. Nevertheless, it would not support a reduction in the legal blood-alcohol level because of the likely increase in morning-after convictions, when drivers might be over the limit but show little sign of impairment.
The ABD would not object in principle to withdrawal of the right to a blood or urine test, provided there were adequate safeguards against wrongful convictions on the basis of a breath test alone. This would probably mean a requirement for two independent breath tests to be conducted, at least 20 minutes apart.
The ABD recognises the difficulty of tackling drug driving, when there are so many substances involved and it may be hard to establish levels at which a driver becomes unfit to drive. Nevertheless, fair enforcement has to be based on impairment and the ABD would not support the creation of an absolute offence of driving with any trace of an illegal drug in the body, regardless of whether it affected a driver's ability. It is right to discourage the use of illegal drugs, but driving penalties should not be used as a punishment for such use if no impairment can be established.
The ABD supports the actions proposed to improve drug screening and impairment testing, and to streamline procedures for taking samples from drivers. These measures represent a better and fairer way of tackling the problem of drug driving than creating a new, absolute offence. On careless driving, the proposal to make this a fixed-penalty offence is one of the most worrying in the consultation paper. Careless driving covers a wide range of behaviours, from one-off errors to prolonged driving of a poor standard. It is largely subjective, therefore, and not suitable for a fixed-penalty approach, which can only apply to absolute offences.
All drivers make mistakes occasionally, so the threat of legal sanctions cannot make them into perfect human beings. Where a case of careless driving is sufficiently serious to warrant legal action, it should always be heard in court so that the correct penalty or remedial training can be prescribed. The Government's desire to apply fixed penalties to careless driving shows it is more interested in punishing drivers than preventing accidents. It would simply result in large numbers of drivers being penalised with no reduction in casualties, in the same way that the ten-fold increase in speeding fines has had no measurable effect.
With the current target-driven culture, some police officers might routinely issue a fixed penalty for careless driving after an accident, regardless of cause, knowing that most drivers would not be able to afford to challenge the allegation in court. This would cause serious further damage to police-public relations. More police traffic patrols, not driven by targets, would be able to detect more careless driving behaviour before accidents occur. Drivers who make minor errors are more likely to respond positively to a word of advice than a fixed penalty. On driver retraining, the ABD agrees that it is better to offer remedial training to drivers penalised under the New Drivers Act than disqualify them, with the risk that they will continue to drive unlicensed. The high accident involvement of new, young drivers is related to the belief that learning to drive only begins after passing the test. This belief can be overcome with the right training in mental skills, managing risk, and how to learn from experience. The ABD is convinced that the right kind of driver training has enormous potential to reduce road casualties. Safe driving is about evaluating many different factors, the risks involved and how to respond to them. This complex process cannot be replaced by insisting on blind obedience to simplistic rules. Internalising a safety culture within a driver's mind is much more effective than trying to impose it externally. Top
The ABD was formed in 1992 to campaign for a better deal for Britain's motorists. In particular, its founder members were very concerned that the increasing use of technology to enforce driving laws would undermine the traditional 'Three Es' approach to road safety (Education, Engineering and Enforcement) that gave Britain the safest roads in the world. Those fears have been more than realised.
The ABD is a voluntary organisation funded by subscriptions and donations from its members and supporters. It receives no funds from public bodies or private-sector businesses, so is truly independent. The ABD is a member of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and the National Council of Voluntary Organisations.
The ABD's national committee of twenty members has agreed the response to this consultation. The response is in line with the policies outlined on the ABD's website. Individuals who join the ABD are assumed to support its policies in general, so it is not necessary (nor would it be practicable) to seek the views of the entire membership in preparing responses to consultations of this type.
The remainder of this document will address the questions listed in Annex B to the consultation paper. Before dealing with those questions, there is a claim made within the consultation paper that cannot be allowed to go uncorrected. In paragraph 2 of the Executive Summary and paragraph 1.3 of the Introduction, it is stated that the Government is on course to meet its target reduction in killed and seriously injured casualties by 2010. This statement is based on the claim that, by 2007, serious injuries had fallen by 36 per cent compared with the 1994-98 baseline.
As the Department for Transport is aware, the House of Commons Transport Committee, in its report entitled Ending the Scandal of Complacency: Road Safety Beyond 2010, was very concerned about the reliability of official figures for serious injuries derived from STATS19 forms. There is substantial evidence that not only do those official figures underestimate the numbers of serious injuries, but that the problem has been worsening over time. Hospital data suggests there has been little or no reduction in serious injuries compared with the baseline, so the claim that the Government is on course to meet its target reduction is not justified.
The Transport Committee's report was published in October 2008, so its findings were known to the Government before the consultation paper was published in November. It is disingenuous, therefore, for the Government to continue making a claim that is demonstrably false. Its attempt in January 2009 to describe hospital data as inconsistent and unreliable is a risible effort to justify its reliance on flawed figures to support its casualty reduction claims.
In its evidence to the Transport Committee, the ABD explained why casualties have reduced more slowly since the mid 1990s due to the adverse effects of the road safety policies pursued by the Government. The continuing refusal to acknowledge that casualties are not reducing as claimed is clearly an attempt to avoid an embarrassing admission that the Government's policies have failed. This is unacceptable and the claim that casualty reduction targets are being met must be withdrawn.
In answering the questions raised in the consultation paper, the ABD will explain why the Government's road safety policies are not working.


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