Committee of Public Accounts


Publication of the Committee's 49th Report, Session 2008-09

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

"The death rate of child pedestrians in Great Britain is worse than that in many other countries. In recent years we have been behind such countries as France, the Netherlands, Japan, Austria, Australia and Belgium in terms of the number of child pedestrians killed as a proportion of the population.

"We welcome the Department for Transport's commitment to improving performance; but there is nothing worse than a child's death and the department's approach towards child deaths must be one of zero tolerance. It should also give priority to promoting child pedestrian road safety schemes in deprived areas, which suffer disproportionately from such casualties.

"The chances of survival of pedestrians and cyclists who are hit by vehicles diminish rapidly as speeds increase over 20mph. The department should promote speed reducing measures and encourage local authorities to adopt them.

"The under-reporting of road traffic accident injuries has been a problem for some time. The department has carried out work to determine the mismatch between the police data on road traffic accident injuries it uses to measure its performance on road safety and the often very different data provided by hospitals. The department has now identified the scale of the mismatch: some 230,000 casualties were reported to the police in 2008 against an estimated true figure of around 800,000.

"It is extremely important that the department now devise a formula for adjusting the police data so that we get a more accurate picture each year of the department's progress against its targets."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 49th Report of this Session which examines pedestrian and cyclist safety in Great Britain, the Department for Transport's strategy and activities, its work with other organisations and data on road casualties.

Great Britain is one of the safest countries in the world in terms of road deaths and the Department for Transport (the Department) is on track to achieve its overall road safety targets for 2010. It is unacceptable though that when compared internationally, Great Britain's record on pedestrian and particularly child pedestrian deaths per head of population is some way behind the best. There is nothing worse than a child's death and we welcome the Department's commitment to making it a priority to improve performance, but its approach must be one of zero tolerance for child deaths.

More generally, pedestrians and pedal cyclists (cyclists) are among the most vulnerable road users. They have little or no physical protection and have a higher rate of fatality per distance travelled than for any other mode of transport except for motorcyclists. In 2007, over 30,000 pedestrians and 16,000 cyclists were injured, with 646 pedestrians and 136 cyclists killed.

The Department leads the promotion of road safety with a budget of £36 million in 2008-09, although most of the measures to improve road safety are carried out by local highway authorities with whom it must work closely.

There is a perception that the anti-social behaviour of some cyclists increases their risks and makes other road users feel unsafe. There appears to be some misunderstanding among the public and some police as to the laws which apply to cyclists, for example, on cycling on the pavement. Deaths and serious injuries among cyclists have fallen overall since the mid 1990s, but they have risen by 11% since 2004 despite little change in the amount of cycling.

The Department uses data collected by the police to measure its performance on road safety but research suggests that serious injuries are under-recorded. To clarify this, the Department is taking steps to match hospital data with the police data.

The Department knows about the success of its own projects, but there are others it does not fund, for example in Scotland, which might also provide valuable lessons on the importance of speed cameras, signs and road humps. Other organisations can have a strong influence on road safety issues but this may not be their prime role or priority. The Department does not have an explicit strategy for working with them. It needs to improve the way in which it disseminates information to local highway authorities and other interested groups.