Road safety is about much more than simply preventing casualties on the highway, essential though that is. Responsible road use also involves protecting people and the planet from the impacts of climate change. Part of the solution lies in our personal lifestyle choices, explains Jon Herbert.

This week is Road Safety Week with a difference across the UK. The 2015 campaign has a new and far-reaching focus on sustainability – it’s going green and healthy.

Under the theme of “drive less, live more”, organisers of the 17th Brake annual campaign for more careful and aware road use are asking motorists to think about the many different cumulative impacts of driving locally, nationally and globally. When these sink home, Brake wants drivers to leave their cars behind whenever and wherever possible. Dirty fossil fuels are out, it says. Healthy muscle power is in.

For the first time in its history, Road Safety Week is embracing a much wider vision of wellbeing for Britain’s highways and byways. The figures speak for themselves.

Every day, on average, 5 people die and 60 are seriously injured on UK roads — figures have been falling over recent decades but in the past 12 months they rose suddenly by 4%.

At the same time, an estimated 12,000 preventable deaths are caused annually through links to traffic pollution; some 24,000 fatalities are attributed to poor air quality in general.

And in parallel, it is calculated that a quarter of English adults are obese, costing the NHS circa £4.2 billion a year in medical care. Walking is good for you!

The final part of Brake’s logic is that motor transport is a major contributor to global warming, making it a dangerous threat to humanity.

As Brake’s deputy chief executive, Julie Townsend, explains, “If we make roads safer, we can help and enable people to be active and greener in their everyday lives. The converse is true: if people drive a bit less and use healthy, sustainable modes of travel, we make our streets and communities safer.

“Making these links of course can help those of us working in road safety to persuade people on this oft-overlooked subject’s importance, by relating people’s day to day actions on roads to the wellbeing of their community and the planet.”

Time to do things differently

Continuing the long-term message that the safest mile is the mile not driven, Road Safety Week this year is calling for a change of heart, mind and habits.

Driving safely and legally, and using the Green Cross Code, is important. However, so is making streets not only safe but also pleasant for everyone to use freely. The aim is to help protect people and the global environment.

The campaign message is that by “driving less, as little as possible, or not at all if you can”, motorists can make “a huge difference to road safety and your health, wallet, community and the planet”.

Approximately two-thirds (63%) of journeys are now made by car. This includes 4 out of 10 trips that are less than 2 miles long. It is also estimated that walking is falling out of favour — the average time we each spend walking has fallen by 27% since 1995.

Meanwhile, up to 50% of households in England could be struggling with car ownership costs; the average family can save £642 a year if walking or cycling become the norm for travelling to school, rather than the hydrocarbons-fuelled school car run.

Another alarming statistic is that some 27% of UK greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to road transport; the UK is committed through the Climate Change Act 2008 to reducing emissions by at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050 as Britain’s contribution to the global warming target of keeping average atmospheric temperature rises down to as little as possible above 2°C.

Current trends also suggest that by 2035 the number of cars on British roads is likely to rise by 43%. This will lead to an estimated 50% increase in traffic delays and time-wasting congestion when engines idle but still release exhaust gases.

Count the miles — and the calories

Road Safety Week offers practical advice. “Work out how much money you’ll save, calories you’ll burn and pollution you won’t create and build it into your routine,” it recommends. It also suggests slow, smooth driving.

There is a great deal that aware employers can do too. Brake urges companies to think about setting up schemes encouraging active and sustainable commuting; in parallel businesses could organise “car free” days for staff.

An alternative is a sponsored run or bike ride. An interesting side project can be activities that show how many calories are burned off by walking or cycling. It is also informative to analyse “at work” mileage to see whether the number, length or frequency of journeys can be reduced, or planned more efficiently to use less fuel or avoid congested periods.

The campaign is particularly well geared to support local authorities, road safety practitioners, volunteers and community leaders. Ideas include running free car days for nearby towns and communities, involving local companies and schools and organising district surveys to identify any potential barriers to sustainable travel.

Brake also recommends dedicated a part of corporate websites to the wider aims of road safety, and/or sending out bulletins to local contacts promoting active green travel options, plus the benefits and cost savings.

Schools and colleges are covered too, with guidance on how students can carry out travel surveys to build up useful profiles of pupil and student movements through the day or week. The resulting data can be used in identifying safe neighbourhood travel routes. These can then be promoted through physical displays or via webpages.

One aim can be to make local authorities aware of the need for special transport improvements. A further suggestion is that lessons or school assemblies are organised to explain the benefits of sustainable and physically active travel. Brake provides a teaching guide.

UN involvement

Road safety is not an exclusive UK issue. Some 186,300 children under the age of 18 die in road accidents every year around the world. Death rates are three times higher in developing countries than developed. The Third UN Global Safety Week held earlier in 2015 turned the spotlight on to the perilous position of children on many of the world’s less regulated roads. The aim was to improve basic road safety in areas where rules either scarcely exist or are implemented poorly.

As a result, hundreds of governments, NGOs, community organisations and private companies hosted events highlighting WHO’s package of 10 key strategies for keeping young people safe.

One important outcome was delivering the “Child Declaration for Road Safety” to top policy-makers in many countries.

In the UK, the Department for Transport and its agencies are also committed to great road safety and point out that Britain has one of the best road safety records in the world. However, they jointly pose the question, “Can we do more to prevent deaths and serious injuries?” They add, “We’re working to improve driver skills, knowledge and attitudes through campaigns such as Think! We’re ensuring that drivers and vehicles are licensed and safe, and bringing in laws to make roads safer.”

Research by the Road Safety Foundation in 2014 found that the majority of British road deaths are concentrated on just 10% of the nation’s road network. This includes motorways and A roads outside major urban areas. The foundation’s report measured and mapped risks of death and serious injury facing road users across the network; these can vary by as much as a factor of 20 between different locations.

The report tracked which roads had improved, and those with persistent and unacceptable high risks. It also highlighted roads where authorities have taken effective action. It found that on 15 stretches of roads, low-cost action had reduced serious accidents by 80%, with an estimated £0.4 billion benefit to the economy.

The Foundation showed major differences not only between individual roads but also between whole regions. For example, the overall risks faced by users on major East Midlands roads are two thirds higher than in the neighbouring West Midlands — a greater disparity than between many European countries.

Road risks depend on driving habits, vehicles driven and the roads we drive on. However, even with similar vehicles and drivers, the in-built safety of West Midlands roads is said to be the reason for the region’s better performance — more travel on safer roads. In fact, motorways and single carriageways in the West Midlands have been found to have the greatest in-built safety of any UK region.

Raising infrastructure safety needn’t be difficult or expensive, and brings high economic returns. However, the systematic measurement of risk is essential. The in-built safety of road infrastructure, like cars, is now measured worldwide.

As the Foundation points out, “We should not be driving 5-star cars on major roads which have only a 1 and 2-star safety rating.”

It adds that Britain must set an explicit minimum 3-star rating for infrastructure safety on its major roads. Nowhere is this more urgent than on the nation’s strategic roads, where the Government has passed safety responsibilities on to a new Corporation.

Published by Croner-i on 24 November 2015



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