Ladies & Gentlemen,
Thank you for the invitation to address Conference. Aside from health, education and social policies; transport is perhaps the next most important issue influencing the electorate. I am very pleased to be able to outline the concerns of typical British road users.
Compared with the transport infrastructures of our major European partners — and economic rivals — the UK's is undeniably lacking. Successive administrations share responsibility for having permitted this decline. Under the current administration the pace has undoubtedly quickened. Instead of an Integrated Transport Policy, we have accelerating infrastructure deterioration.
Yet the transport infrastructure — particularly our road network — is the primary conduit delivering our long-term economic health. The idea — fashionable in some quarters — that a 21st century economy married to a 19th century transport infrastructure is in any way economically sustainable is as laughable as it is unrealistic.
What concerns road users?
In the last 25 years:
Frivolous or malicious planning objections have been far too easy to lodge. The compulsory purchase compensation policy has been insufficiently generous to enable major infrastructure projects to go ahead quickly, and free from protracted public enquiries.
British road users endure amongst the lowest levels of transport infrastructure investment in the developed world; while paying amongst the highest road user taxes.
Despite having only average car ownership levels, we are near the top of the traffic density league, having less mileage of high quality major roads and motorways vs. land area than our major counterparts.
With an advisory team heavily biased towards anti-car and public transport interests, the current govt. has evolved policies aiming to impose "modal shift". In other words, to force car and PTW users either off the road altogether; or onto an inefficient and overloaded public transport system.
Fast, efficient road transport is quite simply essential to our continuing prosperity, so what we actually need is urgent re-investment in our arterial road system in particular, to stave off approaching gridlock brought about by decades of under-investment.
Anti-mobility groups argue against such action. They want yet more unpleasant measures: intrusive, satellite-enabled surveillance, control & charging of vehicles being their next aim. Aside from civil liberties issues, is it really sensible to try to price the nation's wealth-creators off the road network that creates that wealth?
A central role in the quest for "modal shift" has been played by the increasing use of speed enforcement to make road use unpleasant and to raise revenue, rather than to improve road safety.
Speed cameras are no longer used exclusively for reducing casualties at locations with a history of accidents caused by excess speed. These devices now represent the tool-of-first-choice at any accident location — or indeed anywhere — usually at the expense of life-saving road engineering and road user education programmes.
In UK road safety's heyday period, when Engineering and Education balanced Enforcement, casualties were reducing annually by around 6%. Since 1993, when the focus was shifted entirely onto speed reduction, the improving casualty trend has gone into reverse. An estimated 5500 additional lives have been lost since then, possibly through the near-exclusive focus on speed enforcement. Meanwhile, the incidence of e.g., drink-driving offences, which speed cameras cannot detect, is disturbingly on the increase.
Apart from this, the cynical pursuit of cash before road safety is driving a wedge between the Police and the road user, who feels increasingly alienated from — and uncooperative towards — them.
We invariably hear the claim from their proponents that "if speed cameras save a single life then it's worth it". Well, actually, it isn't. If there are alternative uses saving more lives for the same expenditure then we are actually wasting both money and lives.
Using the DfT's own logic, to achieve a reduction of 3000 in the UK road death and serious injury toll, a 1.5mph reduction in UK average traffic speed would be needed.
This would cost the economy £1.1Bn per annum in lost productive time.
To achieve a similar reduction in the UK cancer death and serious injury toll through improved diagnostics and treatment would cost just £100m.
Considering that on average each of us is around 6 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured by cancer than by a road accident, is a road accident victim 11 times more important than a cancer sufferer? How many of your own family or friends have been killed or seriously injured by road accidents as compared to cancer?
To reduce UK road casualties we firstly need road safety research to be freed from dependence on government-funded projects with the apparent motto: "I'll give you the conclusions, you cobble me together the supporting evidence".
Much greater emphasis must be placed on road user education, & on road engineering to eliminate accident blackspots ñ instead of the cynical use of cameras to raise revenue while leaving them in place.
Speed limits must be objectively, rationally and realistically-set; and equally importantly - must be reasonably enforced — something evidently lacking at present. Policing must be by highly-trained officers dedicated to eradicating bad driving, not by mindless robots bent on emptying road users' wallets.
Anti-mobility, anti-progress groups would have us throw the baby out with the bath water.
Yet probably more so than any other inventions, motor-vehicles have brought enormous increases in freedom of choice and mobility, and enrichment of the quality of life, to the majority of this nation.
The same anti-wealth creation groups continually carp about governments "pandering to the wishes of the roads lobby". For a long time I was dismissive of this suggestion: because there didn't seem to be a coherent roads lobby. Well actually, there is: it's called the electorate. Isn't listening to — then acting on — the wishes of the electorate exactly what a government — or any party seeking election to government — should do?
Ladies and gentlemen, I leave it to you all to work out the implications of these facts for Conference. Thank You.