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Department for Transport: Improving road safety for pedestrians and cyclists in Great Britain

A report today by the National Audit Office highlights the fall in the number of deaths among both pedestrians and cyclists since the mid-1990s though more remains to be done to improve their safety. The number of deaths among pedestrians has fallen by 36 per cent but Great Britain is some way behind some of the better performing nations, particularly for child pedestrians. The number of cyclists killed or seriously injured fell from 2000 to 2004, but rose again by 11 per cent from 2004 to 2007, despite the amount of cycling staying broadly constant.

The Department for Transport’s budget for its own road safety activities in 2008-9 was £36 million. This funding is not however directed at specific road users and many other bodies contribute to road safety, making it difficult to determine the effectiveness of the Department’s specific contribution.

The DfT has, however, taken a number of relevant measures to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries amongst pedestrians and cyclists, including a general strategy for road safety which has provided a focus for other organisations working in this field. It has also developed media campaigns under the Think! Campaign to change the beliefs and attitudes of road users.

The Department is on track to meet the targets in its Road Safety Strategy for 2010. Today’s report points out that the underlying picture is complex. There is a slower rate of decline in fatalities (18 per cent) than serious injuries (37 per cent) compared with the average between 1994 and 1998. To increase transparency, the Department should set separate targets for those killed and seriously injured and for different road user groups.

To meet its road safety objectives, the DfT needs to work with a number of different organisations. Generally it has a good working relationship with them, but its approach up to now has been informal relying on personal contacts built up by staff over time, and it needs to develop a strategy for managing these relationships.

“Making roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists is a key element in encouraging people to walk and cycle more. While their safety has improved generally, some are more vulnerable, such as child pedestrians from deprived areas. The Department for Transport needs to draw on its research programme and the lessons learned from the projects that it funds to find ways of improving safety, especially for groups most at risk.”

Tim Burr, head of the National Audit Office, 8 May 2009

Notes for Editors

  1. In 2007 over 30,000 pedestrians and over 16,000 cyclists were injured with 646 pedestrians and 136 cyclists killed. The NAO estimate that casualties for these two groups cost the economy over £3.4 billion in addition to the inevitable distress and health problems for the victims and their families.
  2. While Great Britain was fifth overall internationally for the least number of road deaths per head of population, it is only eleventh highest out of 24 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development nations (for which data was available in 2006) for pedestrian deaths. For child pedestrian deaths it ranks seventeenth, some way behind the best. The UK was fourth highest out of 14 European nations in 2006 for the least number of cyclist deaths per head of population.

  3. In addition to its general strategy and Think! Campaign, the Department through its research programme has developed a good understanding of those groups of pedestrians and cyclists which are most at risk;  and it has funded innovative road safety projects, helping to generate useful lessons for local highway authorities.
  4. The Department for Transport published its paper “A safer way: Consultation on Making Britain’s Roads the safest in the world” on 21 April 2009.

  5. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at  Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  6. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Tim Burr, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 850 staff.  He and the NAO are totally independent of Government.  He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.

PN: 29/09