Stephen Ladyman: Car drivers are not the enemy

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Britain's roads are among the safest in the world - and they're getting safer.

Last year, there were 33 per cent fewer deaths and serious injuries in accidents compared with the 1994-1998 average. We're on track to meet our target of a 40 per cent cut by 2010. But nine people a day are still being killed.

As the minister for roads, I'm used to criticism. I'm accused of being anti-car and anti-motorist for enforcing speeding and dangerous-driving laws. Then I'm criticised, as I was in The Independent last week by the road-safety group Brake's Mary Williams, for "pandering to a select group that glamorises speed".

After Richard Hammond of Top Gear was seriously injured in a crash, I said that I hoped that the accident would not be used to knock Top Gear. It's vital to engage with the audiences of such programmes. By doing so, I was not glamorising irresponsible driving and speeding.

Debate about safe driving deals with two stereotypes: the car-loving, speed-addicted petrolhead, and the car-hating spoilsport. Neither reflects the views of most road users, or the position of the Government.

I believe in policies that support road safety and the motorist. Cars support our economy, but more than 3,000 people lost their lives last year, including 141 children. We need to fight drink- and dangerous driving, and protect pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.

The audience for the Government's road-safety messages includes Top Gear viewers. We need to reach people who will most benefit from our messages. Sometimes we will be unpopular.

The press criticised the speed-camera scheme, for example. But nine months ago, an independent report on 4,000 camera sites found that the number of vehicles exceeding the speed limit at the sites had fallen by 70 per cent.

There was a 22 per cent drop in collisions that caused injury, and a 42 per cent fall in the number of people killed or seriously injured at the sites.

Cameras save lives, but they need monitoring and updating to be effective.

The Department for Transport is giving local authorities more freedom to pursue locally agreed road-safety measures, and there will be £110m a year of new funding.

Last year's Road Safety Bill introduced mandatory retesting for repeat drink-drivers, and improvements to the Drink-Drive Rehabilitation Scheme and the High Risk Offenders Scheme. We also created powers to set different fixed penalty points. The new initiative will punish drivers who break the speed limit excessively.

The Government has an important role to play in setting road-safety strategy, and making sure that it's properly implemented. It's about encouraging local authorities, charities, safety groups, motoring organisations, the police, car makers, the media and others to work together. Many people have a view on how roads are run, and we need to engage with as many of them as possible. We need to engage with road users of all types, and not just preach.

There will be differences of opinion. But I will never condone speeding.

The writer is Minister of State for Transport

motoring@independent.co.uk

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