Casualty statistics out today confirmed what everyone working in road safety feared: a rise in road deaths and serious injuries for the first time in 17 years, a dramatic reversal in the significant downward trend we have been seeing. It means last year 51 more lives were lost too soon, needlessly and violently, on British roads compared to the year before, while 464 more suffered the horror of a serious injury. For each of these casualties, many more friends and loved ones will be enduring trauma, anguish and upheaval.
The biggest increases were deaths and serious injuries among the most vulnerable road users – those we should be working hard to protect – pedestrians and cyclists.
This terrible, shameful news comes just over a year after the government published its strategic framework for road safety: a document intended to set the direction and priorities for national and local work to make our roads safer. At the time, Brake criticised this document for its abject lack of ambition and decisive action on key road safety issues. The framework includes no targets for road casualty reduction, abandoning a policy that has been internationally shown to help drive progress in road safety. The ‘vision’ at its heart is about maintaining the status quo: retaining Britain’s position as a world leader in road safety. The measures it contains to improve road safety are few in number and, with perhaps one exception (relating to tackling drug driving), relatively minor in scale and scope. Several fundamental road safety issues receive little or no mention.
We are now in the appalling position of seeing road casualties rise again after decades of progress. It should not require heart-breaking statistics like this to spur the government into action – since every death and injury on our roads is preventable, and one too many – but we sincerely hope this is the effect they will have. Road casualties are devastating to the families and communities affected, but they are also a serious economic burden, amounting to an estimated £33billion annually, so investment in road safety is just that. Effective road safety measures pay for themselves, often many times over. They can also benefit public health and the environment, especially when it comes to making it safer for people to walk and cycle in their own communities. But despite the many social benefits that progress in road safety can deliver, it appears to have been sidelined politically.
The statistics published today must surely serve as a wake up call to government: that complacency around road safety is unacceptable because it comes at a horrendous price. That we need progressive, decisive action on key issues like young driver safety, drink driving, and protecting pedestrians and cyclists. And that to not act amounts to an abhorrent betrayal of all those who will suffer the carnage of road crashes.