Watchdog criticises British government cycle safety policy

Attempts to reduce cycling deaths and injuries 'too unfocused'

A recent report from the Audit Commission - the body charged by the British government with measuring the effectiveness of its own policies - has concluded its policy to reduce cycling and walking deaths and casualties is a victim of its own rather confusing information.

Of particular concern is the fact -- revealed in the report -- that the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured fell from 2000 to 2004, but rose again by 11 percent from 2004 to 2007, despite the amount of cycling staying broadly constant.

Whilst there is a general pat on the back -- the Department of Transport (DfT) is currently on track to meet its overall targets for big reductions in the number of killed and seriously injured on the roads -- the report questions the statistical methods and information gathering on which its cyclist and pedestrian injury figures are based.

The two most damning overall criticisms are:

1. The DfT 'does not have an explicit strategy' for working with those who are supposed to deliver reductions in cyclist and pedestrian injuries and deaths.

2. The DfT 'disseminates to much information that is insufficiently focused.' Overall, information should be more detailed, more technical and more practical.  

Other weaknesses include:

* The department's own figures under the 'Killed and Seriously Injured' (KSI) heading do not distinguish between the two categories, so masking the complex reality of what is actually happening.

* Some types of serious injury are under-recorded. Specifically the DfT should compare the police data they use alongside hospital admissions as well as looking at other sources of information such as motor injury compensation claims. All this would help give a more rounded view of trends.

* Evidence shows 20mph limits can reduce cycle casualties by up to nearly a third. However the DfT has been ineffective in sharing such success stories with poorly performing local councils and encouraging their take up nationally.

The report also provides some eye-opening background statistics when setting the context for its report:

* The Department for Transport’s budget for its own road safety activities in 2008-9 was £36 million.

* In 2007 over 30,000 pedestrians and over 16,000 cyclists were injured with 646 pedestrians and 136 cyclists killed. The National Audit Office (NAO) estimates that casualties for these two groups cost the economy over £3.4 billion in addition to the inevitable distress and health problems for the victims and their families.

* The UK was fourth highest out of 14 European nations in 2006 for the least number of cyclist deaths per head of population.

* Over the last 30 years the average distance people cycle annually has fallen by 24 percent. Although cycling levels have stabilised over the last decade they have shown no sign of a major recovery on a national level.

For more information, visit www.nao.org.uk.

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