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Tuesday, 29 February, 2000, 18:50 GMT
The challenge to cut road deaths
Crashed car on the M6 motorway in Cheshire
Reducing road deaths is being given top government priority
By BBC transport correspondent Roger Harrabin

The government has set itself the ambitious target of cutting road deaths by 40%.

The UK's record for injuries to child pedestrians and cyclists is one of the worst in Europe, with British children walking and cycling only a third as much as Dutch children, but facing more than double the risk of death.

The ten-year strategy - to be announced on Wednesday - will aim to halve the number of children killed and seriously hurt in the same period.

If the policy works it will leave about 2,000 people killed on the road and 3,000 children killed or seriously injured.

The figure will compare well with most of our European neighbours, but potentially badly with our main road safety rival Sweden, which is putting in place policies which will aim to end all road deaths.

But it will compare very poorly with safety standards expected of rail and air travel.

Cyclist braves the traffic in central London
Uneasy rider: UK has poor cycling safety record
The most controversial issue has been whether to change the existing framework of national speed limits.

A statistical analysis led ministers to consider reducing the 30 mph limit in towns and the 60 mph limit on country roads, while raising the limit of 70mph on Britain's safest roads - the motorways.

But the lowering of limits nationally was resisted by motoring groups - and the increase in the upper limit was rejected because driving fast produces more pollution.

Cyclists appear to have been left out, with no clear policy for reducing the risk to bike riders and pedestrians on urban A and B roads, where half of urban pedestrian and cycling deaths occur.

The Home Office will publish a wholesale review of sentencing for driving offences, in the summer.

Skid road sign
Accidents increase 5% for every 1mph over speed limit
But Home Secretary Jack Straw is reluctant to make traffic policing a core duty for police forces, it was described in a recent report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Police as a Cinderella activity.

The number of traffic officers has been halved in just over a decade. The question will be how far the government will meet what will be a massive national demand.

The reviews will raise the likelihood of greatly increased safety spending in the transport spending review due in the summer.

And they will herald a new level of co-operation with the Health and Safety Executive to bring business driving under similar rules laws that apply to workplaces. This might lead to a clamp-down on the excesses of white van man.

Although deaths and injuries are confidently expected to fall, the government has abandoned hopes of cutting the number of accidents which will be likely to rise as traffic increases.
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See also:

21 Feb 00 |  Previous programmes
Speed. Your comments. Panorama 14.2.00
26 Jan 00 |  Talking Point
Should there be drugs tests for drivers?
14 Feb 00 |  Panorama
Speed. Panorama 14 February 2000
06 Jan 00 |  Northern Ireland
Road death toll plummets
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