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21st century Tufty Club
Local Government Chronicle –10 August 2006

The road safety message has come a long way since Tufty the squirrel. Mark Smulian reports on councils that are leading the way

Road safety is a success story for local government, but it is a never-ending task because keeping public awareness and behaviour focused is as important as highway engineering and maintenance.

In 1953, the year the Tufty Club was founded to foster road safety awareness among children, there were 797 children killed on the roads compared with just 141 last year, despite the lighter traffic of the mid-1950s.

That is 141 too many, but something is going right and it's not all down to Tufty.

Councils must meet a government target of a 40% cut by 2010 in the number of adults killed or seriously injured on the roads, compared with the average in the 1994-1998 period. For children, the target is a 50% cut.

David Frost, communication officer of the Local Authority Road Safety Officers Association and road safety team leader at Milton Keynes Council, says: "Many local authorities have achieved the target, but it is difficult to maintain and improve on and it is a matter of constantly keeping up public awareness."

Latest Department for Transport figures show that 3,201 people were killed in road accidents in 2005, against a 3,578 average for 1994-1998, and 28,954 were seriously injured, against 44,078.

Of these, child deaths fell from 260 to 141 and serious injuries from 6,600 to 3,331.

Five councils have been awarded beacon status for safety innovations. Here are examples of their work:

Get the message to children

Norfolk is "a data-led authority", says casualty reduction manager Stuart Hallett, and the data had started to show an unexpected correlation between child road casualties and deprivation.

The reasons for this were not entirely clear, but relevant factors included children in deprived areas being more likely to live on main roads than on quiet streets, and to be escorted by a sibling rather than an adult when out and about.

The council gained funds from the DfT's Kerb Craft education programme for two road safety trainers, who worked in Norwich and Great Yarmouth.

The latter was a partnership with Suffolk CC that also covered neighbouring Lowestoft.

"Kerb Craft is very intensive training for children and there are only so many schools that you can apply it to at any one time. We linked it to 10 schools," says Mr Hallett.

Norfolk also targeted engineering measures to improve road safety in these two areas.

The county has achieved reductions in the numbers of children killed or seriously injured between 1999-2000 and 2004-2005 well in excess of the 26% national average.

There were 68% fewer such accidents in Great Yarmouth, 52% fewer in Norwich and 49% across Norfolk.

But this success depended on the council's recognition that the service needed resources.

The road safety budget more than doubled to 722,430 in 2004-2005 against the 355,158 spent five years earlier.

Target bikers

Motorcyclists account for less than 2% of traffic but some 20% of deaths and serious injuries.

Jeremy Phillips, Devon CC's road safety operations manager, decided to tackle the problem.

The county invested resources because it recognised that riders are "a type of community, with shared beliefs and characteristic behaviour".

Its innovations included an internet bulletin board for bikers, a hotline for them to report diesel spills - which can cause the road surface to become as slippery as ice - and bike-riding road safety officers.

The latter is a group of Mr Phillips' colleagues who have been trained to ride motorcycles so they can view highway engineering and safety from a two-wheeled perspective.

Bike manufacturer Honda and dealer Torbay Motorcycles sponsored the initiative.

"I think it is the first time that council officers have been trained to a full professional standard to work with bikers," he says.

Devon had an average of 85 motorcyclists killed or seriously injured in the mid-1990s and this is now down to 71, although the figure has fluctuated.

Mr Phillips says the main problems are young inexperienced riders, and those in middle age who can afford a powerful machine but may not have ridden for a long time. These are the so-called 'born-again bikers'.

Ultimately, there is only so much the council can do.

Mr Phillips explains: "The difference between a slight injury and a fatality on a bike can be chance, just a split second.

"For example, if you hit a lighting column at speed that will take you out, but you might have only a slight injury if you slide past it."

Walking buses are not a panacea

When Knowsley MBC set up a safer routes to school initiative for the Stockbridge Village area, a walking bus was a central part of the exercise.

The safer routes are still in place, but not the walking bus, which taught the council a useful lesson about the design of these services.

The project expanded beyond child pedestrian safety to include traffic calming on main roads and upgrading of a footpath, which had been used by car thieves and drug-users.

This turned the path into a safe walking route between two previously isolated communities.

Road casualties of all kinds in the area fell from 19.8 a year to 2.8. But the walking bus no longer walks because it required children to wait at designated points each morning so it could collect and escort them in a group to schools.

The problem, says Andrea Ashworth, senior road safety and transport plans adviser, was that the community wardens who suggested the idea did not adequately consult schools and parents on the routes, some of which proved off-puttingly circuitous.

"Some children had to almost walk beyond their school to join a walking bus," she says.

One disadvantage of walking buses is that they cannot be used for return journeys, since the entire 'bus' would be delayed if a parent were late at a collection point.

Ms Ashworth says general safety improvements made the walking bus unnecessary, though they are used elsewhere.

Highlight accident blackspots

A rigorous analysis of serious and fatal traffic collisions enabled Lincolnshire CC and local police to target problem locations after coming under pressure from both residents and coroners.

This led to a project that classified the 12 routes with an unacceptably high number of collisions as 'red'.

The council's accident investigation and prevention team was allocated 1m to develop and implement local safety schemes, and the police provide an increased presence at known problem locations.

Engineers implemented 'low cost - high impact' improvements and routine maintenance work was targeted according to collision data.

Road signs display the 'red route' logo to inform motorists of dangers and signs are updated monthly to show the number of road deaths against the comparative figure for the previous year. A website was also created, which offers comprehensive information about routes.

Since the scheme was introduced there has been a 34% decrease in the number of people killed or seriously injured on red routes.

Lincolnshire Road Safety Partnership development manager Richard Greener says: "There has been a reduction compared with the rest of the county and I think people accept that resources are concentrated on these routes because of the casualty rates. We've no plans to change the routes in the scheme, but there are lessons from them that we can apply elsewhere."

Lights, cameras, money?

Nottingham City Council is treasurer for a partnership with Nottinghamshire CC, the police, courts service, Highways Agency, fire and ambulance services and two area health authorities. The partnership was formed to maintain the local speed camera network and retain the fine income for road safety work. Other partnerships around the country operate similarly.

Proceeds have been ringfenced for the cameras, the mobile enforcement equipment, road safety publicity, and police and magistrates' costs.

The partnership's budget has now reached 3.6m a year. Traffic light cameras are used where there have been two deaths or serious injuries within 50 metres of a junction in three years.

The introduction of safety cameras dramatically cut casualties, with fatal and serious accidents down by 81% at fixed camera sites and 34% at mobile ones.

Put pressure on ministers

The government intends to collect speeding fine income centrally and redistribute it to councils, instead of leaving it with the partnerships.

Frances Ashton, Nottingham's road safety manager, says: "Fine income will go to the centre and come back to the council through the local transport plan. It may get ploughed back into engineering measures or not, and we do not know how it will turn out."

Road safety officers fear it is going to be quite an issue to ensure that the money is still spent on road safety.