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Thursday, 9 December, 1999, 06:41 GMT
Road safety revealed as 'low priority'
by the BBC's Roger Harrabin
New league tables of death and injury on Britain's roads reveal many politicians and police chiefs are failing to take account of widespread public concern about road safety.
Click here to view the tables
A person is almost twice as likely to be injured on the roads in Surrey as in South Wales. Yet less than a third of the worst counties in Britain have approved strategies for cutting the death toll.
Many did not even mention road safety when they consulted the public about police priorities during the national Crime and Disorder Audit, preferring to focus on issues like graffiti instead.
Safety campaigners say the figures show that government, police and local councils are out of touch with public anger about road danger.
They say road safety is appallingly under-funded compared with rail safety, with Britain spending just one sixteenth as much as the Dutch per head on making streets safe for children.
Britain has one of the worst record for child pedestrian deaths in Europe, with 5,000 children hurt or killed on the roads every year.
Safe streets 'key priority' for public
In areas where people were consulted about road safety under the Crime and Disorder Audit - a national consultation to determine police priorities - 86% said safe streets should be a key priority on a par with burglaries and muggings. The results come at a time when police budgets for catching law-breaking drivers have been halved.
According to the figures from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), obtained by BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, the worst offender nationally is West Yorkshire, which comes third from bottom in the national road injury table - but where not one local council asked residents about road safety during the survey.
Local campaigners say this reflects the very low priority accorded to road safety.
Clare Nash of Leeds pedestrians' Association said: "West Yorkshire is notorious for not being interested in safe streets. We tried to get them to consult people about it as one of the questions on the Crime and Disorder Audit - but they refused.
"I think they want to concentrate on issues like burglaries or robberies instead - but they are ignoring the fact that bad driving kills and injures more people than all muggings and burglaries put together."
West Yorks police refused to comment on the figures.
'Out of touch with public opinion'
The worst local council for road injuries - Westminster council in central London - also failed to consult its residents under the Crime and Disorder Audit - although the council says its has asked residents in another survey.
"This shows some councils and chief constables are out of touch with local public opinion," said Peter Williams of the Police Superintendents Association.
"We have seen the budget for traffic policing cut from 15% in the mid 80s to 6% now - and traffic policing has been removed from the core police duties laid down by the Home Office.
"Chief constables need a very clear lead from the Home Office on this - and they are not getting a clear enough lead at the moment."
Demand for 'road safety tsar'
Rob Gifford of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, (PACTS) said: "It is clear that some chief constables treat road safety as a very low priority. We need to see the Home Office laying down a much tougher line on road crime.
"The government appears to tolerate 5,000 children being killed or seriously hurt on the roads each year - the worst figures in Europe. The public will not accept this any more. The government should create a road safety tsar to knock heads together and make sure road safety is given at least the same priority as rail safety.
"We are prepared to spend £14m to save a life on the railway with the ATP - but all round the country councils are struggling to money for minor traffic calming schemes which save death and injury far more effectively and at a fraction of the cost."
The worst offenders
According to the figures the worst police force area in the country for road safety is Surrey, with more than 6,000 people hurt on the roads every year - and more than 700 killed or seriously injured. Police said the figures reflected Surrey's high car ownership.
Cheshire police sources blame the busy M6 for their high rate, although motorways are the safest roads in the country. Only two of Cheshire's councils asked their residents about safety under the national survey.
Merseyside is next, followed by West Yorkshire, where none of the five councils raised road safety as an issue with their people.
An ACPO spokesman said: "The figures in these tables contain a lot of important information, but we don't know yet how to interpret it. There is the need for a lot more research on why some areas of the country are so much better than others. One thing is clear from the figures - the public is demanding better road safety from police and councils and they are not delivering it as well as they should."
Pressure groups campaign for change
The government is preparing its review of road safety and speeds. It may be planning tougher action against law-breaking drivers in heavily-populated areas following support for the policy from the RAC Foundation and the AA.
Ministers will face increasing pressure over the next few weeks under a barrage of campaigns being launched by groups representing many people who say they are not protected on Britain's dangerous roads in towns and villages.
The groups who have written to the prime minister include the Women's Institute; The Children's Society; the RNIB; Help the Aged; Roadpeace for road traffic victims; The Children's Play Council; and the Pedestrians Association.
Many of them are planning to coordinate their campaigns with scores of residents' groups round the country.
Links to other UK stories are at the foot of the page.
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