National Accident Trends and Bus Accidents in London

Fatal accidents on Britain’s roads rose 4% to 1,792 last year. That’s the highest level since 2011 and is clear evidence that fatal accidents are not falling despite all the chest beating of politicians about excessive speeds, and millions of pounds spent on speed cameras, speed awareness courses and traffic calming.

The DfT say the change in fatalities are not statistically significant, but even more alarming is the KSI figure which was up 8% in 2016 over the previous year and which is more statistically significant. The slight injuries were only up 4% but that may have been particularly affected by a change in the reporting system and are notoriously senstive to “under-reporting”.

Explanations from the DfT are the impact of the weather, the fact that accidents tend to rise when the economy is bouyant, plus lots of other factors. Note that the growth in traffic is only a very minor possible factor, and more traffic congestion can actually reduce accidents.

So in summary, the UK road safety industry and its experts have been an abject failure since about 2011 when the accident figures started to flatline.

An example of political posturing that is irrelevant to tackling the real road safety problems is the ambition of the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, in his Mayor’s Transport Strategy to reduce injuries from bus collisions in London to zero. In reality data from TfL show the number of collisions have been rising – up from 22,676 in 2013 to 28,035 in 2016. The number of injuries also rose to 1,231 in 2016.

What might be the reasons for these increases? Possibly more cyclists on the roads, more pedestrians who cross the road without looking, many using their phones at the time, and lots of other factors. So the response of the Mayor is to look at speed limiting technology for buses and anti-collision sensors. Will they solve the problem? Nobody knows because there is no road accident investigation branch similar to those used for rail and aviation, as the ABD has repeatedly called for.

In my view, only when Government politicians, the Mayor and TfL stop looking for quick answers to complex problems will we get some sense back into the road safety debate. In the meantime, it’s just a disgrace that nobody in power seems to be facing up to the reality that the UK is going backwards in road safety.

Roger Lawson

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Making Bribery of the Police Legal

As followers of the AMPOW campaign against police waivers and speed-awareness courses will know, we have been considering a legal challenge to the abuses that this system has created. But the Government have launched a Bill in Parliament that could make it very difficult to challenge.

The Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill is currently passing through Parliament and is due for a second reading on the 6th March. In Part 4 Section 23 of this Bill the offer of courses as an alternative to prosecution for Road Traffic offences is covered. That effectively would regulate, and make legal, the use of police waivers and the offer of speed-awareness courses.

For the first time in British history this Bill would introduce into English law the concept that it is legal to pay bribes to the police to avoid prosecution for offences.

The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) has shown how these arrangements have been abused. Such practices have enabled the police to generate cash to fund their operations and that includes equipment and services that have nothing to do with road safety. In addition it has financed the acquisition and use of more speed cameras. In effect the police have been using the funds so obtained to maintain their establishments and the consequence is that there are clear incentives to the police to raise money in this way. This is a distortion of the justice system.

The evidence on how these arrangements are currently being abused by the police are present on this web site maintained by the ABD:

http://www.speed-awareness.org/index.html

Although the ABD has called for proper legal regulation of this system, the proposals in the Bill actually make matters worse. There is a provision that any excess over costs must be used for promoting road safety but there is also a provision that “promoting road safety” includes the prevention, detection or enforcement of offences relating to vehicles. So this fixes into law the ability of the police to finance more speed cameras and their operation so as to generate more cash, and so this dubious industry will be expanded as a result. This has nothing to do with road safety and everything to do with empire building by the police.

Indeed the evidence obtained by the ABD shows that the police are diverting the funds raised in this way to other activities and are misreporting the profits generated. This is a natural consequence of the perverse financial incentives that are being created.

Please write to your Member of Parliament (via post or email) opposing this Bill or asking for amendments to be made to it. A suggested template letter you can use is present here (a pdf document):

http://www.speed-awareness.org/Letter-to-MP-2.pdf

(Include your name and full postal address even in an email to ensure your M.P. will respond)

How do you write to your M.P.? You can obtain their contact details from this web page: http://parliament.uk  (enter your post code at the bottom left). This will take you to a page giving their name, postal address and email address – an email will do fine.

DO WRITE TO YOUR M.P. NOW – THIS IS URGENT

You can read the draft Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill and follow it’s progress through Parliament here:

http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/vehicletechnologyandaviation.html

If you agree with us, and wish to stop the financing of speed cameras by this dubious practice which has nothing to do with improving road safety, please register your interest by signing our petition and joining the campaign here if you have not already done so:

http://www.speed-awareness.org/join.html

Roger Lawson

Community Roadwatch and Speed Awareness Courses

The “Community Roadwatch” scheme has been promoted by a number of police forces in the last few years. This is where the police train local residents to use speed guns who then report malefactors to the police who send the drivers a “warning” (one might even say “threatening”) letter. But so far as this writer is aware, such letters have no legal force. This scheme has been promoted by Transport for London and the Metropolitan police in London.

According to a recent press report, in the London Borough of Havering they have gone one step further. According to the Romford Recorder, after issuing a letter for the third time to a driver, the police will take further action by issuing a “mandatory speed awareness course” invite. It is not at all clear what legal basis the police might be claiming for having powers to do this. Could they prosecute the driver for example if the speed awareness course invite is ignored?

Of course this kind of scheme, effectively local vigilantism, is opposed by many. For example a poll by Populus conducted on behalf of the AA showed almost equal numbers of people in favour as opposed. As one person said, it was “just an excuse for local busybodies to interfere with neighbours behaviour” (quote from a Guardian article on the subject).

The writer is looking into this topic further.

Roger Lawson

Telegraph Coverage of Speed Awareness Courses

On the 3rd September the Daily Telegraph ran a lengthy article on speed awareness courses which included some quotes from this writer. Here’s a brief summary of the contents.

It noted that 1.6 million motorists were caught speeding last year and record numbers were attending speed awareness courses (1.2 million last year). These numbers have partly risen because the “qualifying speeds” within which you may be offered a course have been broadened (for example as much as 42 mph in a 30 limit area, or 86 mph in a 70 limit).

But there is little evidence that the courses do much good. The article quoted Chris Miller, former Hertfordshire Assistant Chief Constable, as saying “There’s too little independent oversight, too little research to show whether these highly lucrative courses, all at the expense of motorists, do any good”.

I was quoted as follows: “If you were a burglar and police let you off if you paid some money it would be a criminal offence. What’s the difference with SACs?” And: “We believe they are also used to fund police activities other than simple SAC administration contradicting what Ministers promised when the courses began”.

A really odd response was obtained from Rob Gifford, CEO of the Road Safety Trust and UKROED (who run the scheme), who was asked whether they should be independently run by the Government. He said “…police would be extremely concerned because it would give the Government the power to tell police officers what to do and historically they have never done that”. Since when were police not accountable to the Government, and to Parliament? Do they now consider themselves above the law?

The article also reported that the Government has commissioned IPSOS MORI to carry out to carry out a review of the SAC industry. As AMPOW has said, there is no firm evidence of any benefit to road safety. The only evidence that is available is based on “attitudinal surveys” done on attendees. They reported on positive responses to the courses and “greater intentions to comply with speed limits”. But of course the problem with these kind of surveys is that the respondents are likely to give the answers they think those asking the questions would like and it is easy to distort the results by the way questions are phrased.

What we surely need is to track people who attend such courses and compare their accident records with a control group who have not attended a course. And compare them also with a group who were given penalty points which the article suggested is known to be effective.

But using IPSOS MORI to do such research is very odd as they are primarily a market research company focussed mainly on public opinion polls. Indeed I would say they are the Governments favourite pollster when they wish to get the answer they want. So it looks exceedingly likely that this will be a whitewash of the evidence on this subject.

Perhaps the best comment on this topic was in a subsequent letter to the Telegraph by Andrew Tobin who said “Sir – If speed awareness courses are effective, my insurance premium should go down if I take one, as I become a lower risk. But it goes up”.

Yes insurance companies might well be able to provide useful evidence on the question of the effectiveness of speed awareness courses, but even if the ends might be beneficial (which I very much doubt), the means are illegal and unjustified.

Roger Lawson

ABD Launches Campaign Against Speed Awareness Courses

AMPOW Campaign Against Misuse of Police Waivers

The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) has launched a campaign against the misuse of speed awareness courses (named AMPOW) because the actions of the police in offering such “Education Courses” as an alternative to prosecution for speeding and other offences are distorting road safety policy. It is leading to the proliferation of speed cameras and threatened prosecutions because the police now have a direct financial incentive to maximise their activities in this area. This is wrong.

In our view there is no statutory support for this activity and it is contrary to law. In addition it is a perversion of justice for the police to waive prosecution on the basis of money being paid to them.

There is also no hard evidence that putting people through a speed-awareness course has any impact on their subsequent accident record, or behaviour in general. So what we now have is an enormous industry dedicated to raising money to pay course operators, the police and other organisations who benefit from these arrangements.

The Government has claimed that the police only recover their “administration” costs but that is not in fact true. They are actually using their proportion of fees paid by course attendees to finance more cameras and more staff to operate them plus to fund other equipment and activities from the surpluses generated. We can provide evidence on this.

We ask the Government to put a stop to these arrangements forthwith simply because Parliament has never approved these activities. If they do not we will consider a legal challenge to prevent these abusive practices from continuing.

More Information

You can learn more about this campaign from a new web site set up to support the campaign here: http://www.speed-awareness.org . Members of the public can register their support for the campaign and sign a petition here: http://www.speed-awareness.org/join.html

A document that gives all the evidence on what has been happening and why it is illegal is present here:

http://www.speed-awareness.org/Speed-Awareness-Campaign-Summary.pdf

Roger Lawson

London Mayor Transport Policies

As we are coming up to the election of a new London Mayor on May 5th, and of course for representatives to sit on the Greater London Assembly as well, it looks a timely moment to look at the policies of the main parties. I will only comment on their transport policies.

There is one thing that clearly differentiates the two main candidates for Mayor. It is that one is the son of a billionaire financier and businessman, while the other is the son of a London bus driver. You can easily guess which is which of course, but their policies on transport are actually not that much different. Both candidates will continue to support that expensive hand out to the electorate called the “Freedom Pass” where both the rich and poor get encouraged to consume public transport by unjustifiable subsidies which impose a major financial burden on local borough councils (and which the public end up paying for but not transparently). Both support the proposed new East London river crossings, investment in Crossrail 2 and tougher rules on HGVs entering London.

They are also both keen to reduce air pollution in London, and to encourage cycling. So Conservative Zac Goldsmith says “Dirty cars, vans and buses contaminate the air we breathe” and he intends to “make London the greenest city on earth”. As he also says in his manifesto, he has been a lifelong environmentalist and is opposed to expanding Heathrow airport.

Labour’s candidate, Sadiq Khan, is keen to expand London’s public transport network while making it more affordable. One difference between the candidates is that Mr Khan would freeze fares for 4 years and cut Transport for London’s budget. Indeed he is threatening to take personal control of TfL by chairing that organisation. As he says, TfL is a vast organisation but he thinks it is inefficient and flabby. He suggests there are major efficiency savings to be made but he would spend more of TfL’s budget on cycling – expansion of the Superhighway network and Quietways for example. He would also spend more on support of 20mph zones. Mr Goldsmith says that freezing fares is not practical to meet the investment plans for TfL and maintain operations, i.e. that a budget could not be devised to do this.

Mr Khan also opposes a third runway at Heathrow but prefers expansion of Gatwick to meet demand for air travel growth. He supports keeping the Congestion Charge (aka “Tax”) as its current level but he would bring forward the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and extend it to major arterial routes “or a wider section of central London” as he rates cleaning up London’s air to be a priority. He would also call upon the Government to “introduce a diesel vehicle scrappage scheme”, although that would surely not be likely to prompt a positive response.

Incidentally both candidates seem keen to pedestrianise Oxford Street. That has always been a popular concept but ignores the practicality of routing all the buses elsewhere apart from the objections from the retailers that this would deter a lot of their customers.

The Green Party (candidate Sian Berry), who actually did quite well in the last London elections, would also like more investment in walking, cycling and public transport. They would introduce a “smarter” congestion charge system with much more extensive coverage and also expand the ULEZ. They also support a workplace parking levy.

UKIP (candidate Peter Whittle) do not seem to have published a specific London manifesto at the time of writing, but historically they have vowed to scrap HS2, have opposed speed cameras being used simply to raise revenue, and opposed road tolls and congestion charging.

There are also a large number of other minor party candidates, if you don’t find any of the above to your liking. And don’t forget this is a transferable voting system (a supplementary vote where your second choice is used if there is no outright winner on first choices). So there is no harm in declaring your preference for a minority candidate. Just make sure you VOTE FOR SOMEONE.

Zac Goldsmith’s views on cycling 

Now it just so happens that I was able to ask a couple of questions of Zac Goldsmith at a recent husting meeting. I asked him what he was going to do to sort out the traffic congestion that Boris had created with the Cycle Superhighways, and whether he was a keen cyclist himself. In answer to the first question he said he would look at the issue when the works had been completed, and might consider mitigation measures if necessary. He avoided answering the second question altogether. An altogether weak response. I am afraid Mr Goldsmith comes across as a glib and slick politician but one who is not likely to win the election, particularly if he goes on in this manner. Needless to say he is trailing in the opinion polls at present.

But whichever candidate wins, it looks like we will get a continuation of the policies pursued in the last few years which have been so damaging to the road network of London.

Roger Lawson

ABD Press Release on Speed Cameras

The Alliance of British Drivers have published a press release on the latest evidence concerning the effectiveness of speed cameras. See this link for more information: https://twitter.com/TheABD/status/703714480400830465/photo/1

It highlights analyses of the claims for speed camera benefits in London, the Thames Valley and Wales which contradict the claims made for their effectiveness. There are also doubts about their use in Scotland and a wider scale study by Idris Francis, a well known campaigner against cameras, is about to be published.

Here is a brief extract from the press release giving the comments of the ABD: “The response of the authorities and other vested interests to soundly-based criticisms that their claims were clearly nonsense has certainly been consistent.  Since the first official reports from 2002 onwards, they have sought to bury their heads in the sand – in the hope that the damning and mounting evidence that cameras are useless for road safety purposes will simply go away. Given how very lucrative are speed cameras and their downstream operations; it is hardly surprising that Camera Partnerships and other financially-involved, vested interest groups continue to systematically and cynically misrepresent the reporting of casualty data trends and the effects on them of speed cameras. The emerging evidence clearly shows that speed cameras are nothing less than a monumental waste of a very great deal of money – that ought to be put to better use elsewhere on: e.g., road and junction improvements, dualling etc.” 

Those who promote the benefits of speed cameras, and continue to advocate more expenditure on them, as has happened in London of late, should surely study this data more carefully. Regrettably those who make decisions on these matters often seen to have closed minds and have little background in the science required to make sense of the data.

Roger Lawson