In the last few weeks, two events have sparked my interest more than usual. The first was the Chancellors Autumn statement and the second was the annual launch of the EuroRAP risk rating for UK roads.
The Chancellor’s statement was unusually friendly towards the motorised road user with the freeze on fuel duty extended, major new spending announced on new roads and even a little bit more for the pothole fund. We won’t mention insurance premium tax in the positive spirit of Christmas! Not much new there you might say but within the billions promised for major new roads was a smaller but nonetheless important dedicated Road Safety Fund.
This fund will invest £175 million of new money for local roads and will be used to upgrade some of England’s most dangerous roads, where the risks of fatal and serious collisions are highest. This brings in the launch of the risk ratings as they will now be used to ensure the money goes to those roads with the worst accident records. The government is initially going to target the top 50 highest risk roads and ask the responsible local authority to submit proposals. You can see the top 50 here.
Britain’s most persistent high risk A road is already set for an upgrade with help from the fund – the A285 between Petworth and Chichester in the West Sussex County Council area will be looking at solutions for the many run off and motorcycle crashes along its winding route though the South Downs.
Highways England are already setting the pace on targeting safer roads by promising that most of their roads will be three star or better by 2020. A brave promise and one that needs to be matched on our far more numerous local roads. However the problem is as always money. Highways England have been the recipients of much new government largesse, whilst local councils are still dealing with the aftermath of years of cuts. The new Road Safety Fund will help but a new study is going to look into how local councils can start to match the three star promise on their own routes. It will take time but taken together all this work should deliver some real crash number savings.
But where does IAM RoadSmart fit into this you may ask? After all most of the crashes still contain a large element of human error. The vast majority of drivers and riders safely negotiate even the highest risk roads but some fail to make the grade. Improving the engineering of a road can help reduce crash numbers and severity but improving the quality of driving and riding on them is the real long term solution. If funding can be targeted at the highest risk rural roads then surely so can advanced training? Its early days yet but watch this space in 2017 as we announce our solution to improving rural road safety on Britain’s worst roads – it will be worth the wait.
Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart director of policy and research