Vive la difference – road safety policy after Brexit?

Blog post posted on 28/01/20 |

I have recently returned from Brussels where I attend three meetings per year of the FIA Region 1 Transport and Mobility Working Party. 

The FIA maintains a large office in Brussels to lobby the European Parliament and EU Commission on their numerous proposals.  How relevant this will all be after 31 January is of course up for debate, but I was struck once again by the commonality of issues facing motoring clubs across Europe.

Top concerns include low emission zones with different levels of car ban, electric charging points, air quality, distraction in new cars, the transition to autonomy and protection of personal data. It seems that no matter where you drive or ride in Europe the basic issues are the same – lack of progress in reducing deaths and injuries, over taxation and poor infrastructure.

Perhaps more fundamentally a mistrust of governments that they will adopt policies that will make that much difference.

In my long career in road safety this is the first time I can recall such a long period of stagnation in road casualty figures. Even those countries normally seen as pathfinders in road safety - Sweden, Norway and Holland, for example - have seen little progress or even increases in numbers killed or seriously injured on our roads.

The longest (in every way) session at my recent meeting was a discussion on the ‘internalisation of external costs’ – great if you were an economist abut a little dry for the rest of us! However, this could lead to governments using the ‘costs’ of congestion, air pollution and accidents on our roads to increase charges and taxes.

The FIA is organising a strong response based around the fact that congestion is a cost borne mainly by those delayed and many accident costs are already covered by insurance. Worryingly many of the figures in the EU proposals appear to very inaccurate and out of date.

We in the UK will be able to watch from the sidelines as this debate progresses, but if we are to remain aligned with the EU in order to get a trade deal it may come back to bite us.

In vehicle design, alignment with the EU will be important for our car industry but the United Nations (UN) is also a key player through their standards committees in Geneva and the UK is showing renewed interest in their activities.

The good news is that I am being told that the UK government is making ‘internationalisation’ a big theme in the coming months for all its departments including transport. We may be leaving Europe but we are still open to the world.

The most immediate outcome of this is that a delegation, including Ministers, will be going to the UN Road Safety Summit in Stockholm next month. The UN Decade of Action on Road Safety is up for review and as one of the safest countries in the world we have a lot to share with others.

The Stockholm Resolution is still to be finalised, but it will promote the Safe System, road safety targets and a focus on vulnerable road users. All topics that IAM RoadSmart believe we can contribute to. So, my international travels may not be quite over yet and the opportunities to promote the message of advanced driving around the world may only just be opening up!

By Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart director of policy and research