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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

This report is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information
Publication Number: FHWA-RD-99-089
Date: December 1999

Research, Development, and Implementation of Pedestrian Safety Facilities in the United Kingdom


3. Overview of Accident Countermeasures and Safety Programs

3.1 Policies and priorities

The DETR carried out a major review of road safety policy in the mid-1980s (DOT, 1987a). This led to the adoption of national road safety targets — notably the one third reduction in accidents by the year 2000 — and a long-term program of measures. As a result, local highway authorities are required to draw up a road safety plan and periodically update it. The DETR produces road safety reports (DOT, 1995a; DETR, 1997b and DETR, 1997c), outlining objectives, priorities, policy, research, and performance against targets. The more detailed document (DETR, 1997c) examines each road user group and relevant safety measures separately.

In its latest review (DETR, 1997b), the main problems are summarized as:

  • Excessive and inappropriate speed.
  • Drinking and driving.
  • Novice drivers.
  • Protecting vulnerable road users.
  • Reducing slight injuries.

Topics relating to safety of pedestrians, that have received new or increased DETR attention over the past 5 years include the following:

  • Speed reduction publicity campaigns.
  • Traffic calming.
  • 32 km/h (20 mi/h) zones.
  • Speed enforcement cameras.
  • Child pedestrian safety.
  • New forms of signal-controlled pedestrian crossings.

Pedestrian safety issues that have been highlighted or implemented by other safety interests, such as local highway authorities or non-government organizations (NGOs) include:

  • Lower speed limits.
  • Increased driver responsibility.
  • Safe routes to schools.
  • Road danger reduction.
  • Safety audit.
  • Urban safety management.
  • Traffic reduction.

The common denominator for most of the public sector road safety work over this period has been attention to speed. (The motor industry has concentrated its efforts on protecting occupants in increasingly high-performance vehicles (Mackay, 1994).) Speed limits are commonly exceeded. The national road traffic speed surveys regularly show that a majority of motor vehicles exceed speed limits. For example, 70 percent of cars, 70 percent of light vans (<3.5 tonnes gross weight) and at least 46 percent of heavy goods vehicles exceed the 48 km/h (30 mi/h) urban speed limit (DOT, 1996c).

Whilst speed is by no means the only causal factor in accidents (pedestrian or otherwise), excessive speed has been shown to be a contributory factor in a high percentage of accidents, and is likely to lead to more serious injuries if an accident occurs.

The booklet Killing Speed, Saving Lives (DOT, 1992a) summarized much of the research into speed undertaken by the TRL, outlined Government priorities for further research, and a series of measures to reduce excessive speed.

During the 1990s, emphasis has shifted from localized treatment of accident "blackspots" to area or route treatment, often involving traffic calming and speed reduction. This also reflects the Urban Safety Management approach set out in the Institution of Highways and Transportation's guidelines (IHT, 1990).

3.2 Evaluating accident countermeasures

As noted in section 2, pedestrian accidents have declined sharply over the past 5 years. However, establishing causes and effects is not easy. As noted earlier, the amount of pedestrian activity had also declined sharply. In addition, the evaluation of the accident reduction effects from specific countermeasures has rarely been rigorous, partly because of practical difficulties. The typical method consists of a comparison of reported accidents (or casualties) for 3 years before and after the scheme. It rarely includes the known confounding factors such as changes in traffic flow, changes in traffic composition (particularly pedestrian flows), background trends in accident numbers, regression to mean effects, adaptive behaviour by vulnerable road users or more controversial aspects such as accident migration. Elvik (1997), reviewing United Kingdom and other accident studies, found that very few allowed for these factors; he also found that when they were taken into account, little or no accident reduction benefit could be directly attributed to the countermeasure. Elvik's work supports the earlier work of Adams (1985) and others, suggesting a trade-off between safety and performance. To compound the problem of evaluation, no work appears to have been done to show how the (claimed) accident savings from particular schemes or program relate to the overall changes in accident numbers. Accident countermeasures can alter the relative convenience and the balance of risks between user groups, but it is more difficult to prove cause and effect or conclusive accident savings.

3.3 Road danger reduction

Although there is widespread agreement that road safety should be improved and casualties reduced, there are disagreements over policies and priorities. The conventional approach has been criticized for concentrating exclusively on reducing accident numbers (the bottom line), if necessary by removing or restricting vulnerable road users, while ignoring the dangers (fast moving motor vehicles) which cause the accidents. This has resulted in the establishment of the Road Danger Reduction Forum supported by several local authorities, such as Leeds and York, and environmental organizations (Davis, 1993). The Forum favors measures such as lower speed limits, greater legal responsibility for drivers towards vulnerable road users, and promotion of benign modes of transport (walking, cycling, and public transport). Some of these policies, such as promoting walking and cycling, are now also Government policies. However, the central thrust of the Government's road safety policy is casualty reduction, and it remains to be seen to what degree road danger reduction issues will be integrated with road safety strategy.


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