Uses and abuses of transport and road safety statistics in policy formation

Manchester Statistical Society, Occasional Paper, July 1992.

Many fundamental and closely-related assumptions underlying transport and road safety policy are derived from surveys conducted and statistical data collected regularly by the Department of Transport. The findings are used principally as an aid to the formation of government policy and for monitoring progress on its implementation.

This paper examines a selection of these sources from the viewpoint of their adequacy and appropriateness for these purposes, revealing that they are often unreliable and lack comprehensiveness. It proceeds to suggest that the way they are interpreted distorts perceptions of the direction that public policy should be taking.

Road safety
Serious grounds for concern can be expressed about the methods used in gathering and presenting road accident statistics. This holds true not only in terms of the application of the statistics for determining trends and comparisons with other countries, but more particularly because of the significance attached to them.

Take the definitions used in road accident data. These are precise: casualties are recorded as fatal if they are human and result in death less than 30 days after an accident which involves a road vehicle on a public highway or footpath. Thus, a drunken motorist who drives into a lamppost and dies is included in the statistics, but an elderly pedestrian who has a serious fall after tripping on an ill-fitting paving flag and dies is excluded. Further insight into the minds of those who decide on which casualties are to be incorporated in road accident statistics may be gained from the fact that, although we pride ourselves on our concern for animal welfare, no attempt is made to keep any record of domestic pets or farm or feral animals killed as a result of being hit by a motor vehicle. Yet it is widely known that these are frequent and almost invariably fatal.

The term ‘serious injury’ covers an extraordinarily wide band of severity ranging from one where an accident results in severe cuts and lacerations, or in general shock requiring medical treatment not necessarily in hospital , to one which results in death after 30 days. As a result, no change from one year to another in the incidence of serious injuries could simply be masking increases or decreases in their actual severity. We have no way of knowing. The term slight injury covers such damage as a sprain, bruise, cut or a slight shock that does not even require medical attention and, for this reason, is of far less consequence than injuries of a more serious nature. Yet it is not unusual for the number of casualties according to all severities to be cited in discussion of aspects of road safety policy or practice.

To compound the problem of evaluating the significance of these statistics, thereby lowering confidence in their usefulness, it should be noted that the accidents are recorded on standardised forms detailing the circumstances of the accident, with the decision about the severity of the injury being made by the policeman filling in the form ‘on the basis of information available within a short time of the accident’.

A further substantial blurring of the reliability of the published figures which are intended to accurately reflect the number and severity of personal injury accidents stems from the fact that the police are not always aware of these accidents and are therefore not in a position to take details. Several studies conducted in recent years have revealed that a high proportion of non-fatal injury accidents go unreported, especially those involving pedestrians and cyclists. A hospital-based study of road accident casualties covering the whole of Oxfordshire established that the overall number of casualties among all road users reported to the police was only 58 per cent of the number who attended hospital. The rate of reporting of injuries varied both by accident severity and by road user type. In the case of single vehicle accidents, 75 per cent of injury accidents involving the vehicle occupants were reported to the police in contrast to only 35 and 3 per cent respectively for motor cyclists and pedal cyclists. The study also established that the degree of severity recorded on the police forms was generally exaggerated, with slight injuries often being set down as severe.

Given the wide range of degrees of bodily harm covered by the definitions and the substantial level of under-reporting, it would seem to be highly desirable to make comparisons and reach judgements on changes in public policy on the basis of fatalities only, all of which are unsurprisingly registered. The fact that, of course, samples based on fatalities often tend to be too small for disaggregation should not be allowed to justify analysis and policy implications being drawn from the spurious figures on injuries recorded as serious and slight.

The safest areas in which to travel
The significance of this issue can be made apparent by considering one area of road safety policy derived from the overall casualty figures. These are often used to justify road building as it can be shown that the casualty rate on new roads, and particularly motorways, is generally lower than on existing urban roads. They are also used in making decisions on what is intended to be cost-effective investment to improve road safety.

Which are the safest areas of Britain from the viewpoint of road travel? The form in which the official road accident statistics are presented, ostensibly to allow comparisons of the relative danger on roads in different counties and metropolitan districts in Britain, is in fact useless to answer this question. Its value lies only in allowing trends in casualty rates within any county to be observed for neither traffic levels nor populations are used which would enable casualty rates per vehicle, passenger kilometre or per head of population, to be determined. Even then, reservations remain about their reliability on the grounds set out earlier.

However, by relating population figures to road casualty figures, that rate can be determined. Table 1 shows that, in some instances, the fatality rate and the casualty rate per head of population sometimes match in inter-county comparisons: for example, it can be seen that both the fatality rate and casualty rate in the Lothians are the highest in Britain and, in both instances, are the lowest in the Western Isles. On the other hand, Scotland has the highest fatality rate but the lowest casualty rate.

Given the relatively high levels of household car ownership in SE England and the high volume of motor traffic in Greater London, it is thought that the casualty rate there must be among the highest in the country. It is assumed that there is a higher risk of death on the capital’s roads because of the density of traffic and the exceptional exposure of pedestrians to that traffic. Clearly that is incorrect. It can be seen in the Table that Greater London has a relatively high casualty rate but an unusually low fatality rate.

Table 1. Road fatality and casualty rates per head of population for England, Wales and Scotland, and for a sample of their 66 counties.

rate per 100,000 population
Country fatalities all casualties
England 9.3 624
Wales 8.8 584
Scotland 11.0 549
order of rate among the 66 counties
Sample of counties fatalities all casualties
Western Isles 1 2
Greater London 7 58
Greater Manchester 10= 40
West Midlands 10= 12
Cleveland 15 16
Surrey 24 60
Derbyshire 23 22
Durham 38 15
Buckinghamshire 39 44
Gloucestershire 59 25
Cumbria 61 32
Lincolnshire 64 54
Lothian 66 66

Sources: calculated from Department of Transport, Road Accidents, Great Britain, 1990: The Casualty Report, 1991, London, HMSO; Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, Key Population and Vital Statistics: Local and Health Authority Areas: England and Wales, 1989, London, HMSO; and General Register Office, 1991 Census: preliminary report for Scotland, 1991, London, HMSO.

This has considerable significance for road safety policy. First, the probable explanation is that traffic is so much denser in Greater London that traffic has to move more slowly. As a consequence, given the strong relationship between vehicle speed and accident severity, fatalities are far less common in personal injury accidents. Thus, solely from the perspective of the development of policy on reducing death on the roads, growing traffic congestion is currently playing a significant role as it is reducing overall traffic speeds: recent Department of Transport figures show that, where a child is hit by a vehicle travelling at 40 miles per hour, the child will almost certainly die; at 30 miles per hour, there is a one in two chance of survival; while at 20 miles per hour, there is a 95 per cent chance of survival.

Fatality rates by distance travelled
The precision of the official statistics on each class of road user, determined as a rate per kilometre travelled is highly dubious for additional reasons. In order to determine these rates, the Department of Transport has relied largely on traffic cordons on a sample of roads chosen to reflect the national pattern of traffic as closely as possible. The traffic figures thereby derived exclude pedestrians so that other means have to be arrived at to determine their casualty rate. Even so, there are substantial grounds for concern about the published rates. Comparison of the personal travel figures derived from the traffic cordons with figures from the National Travel Survey (NTS), which is a far more accurate source of data on patterns of travel being based on a diary kept for seven days by the members of about 10,000 households, reveals substantial differences.

Table 2 incorporates the two sets of figures adjusted to enable these comparisons to be made. It can be seen that, in some instances, there are wide discrepancies between the two, and that when these are employed in relation to the fatalities of each class of road user, the rates revealed from the NTS source are substantially higher than those set out in the official statistics. In the case of walking and bus travel, the mileage travelled is drawn from the NTS and the fatality rate is therefore the same and reliable. However, the actual fatality rates per kilometre for cars, cycles and motor cycles are 21, 49 and 74 per cent respectively higher than those recorded in the published Department of Transport report. The figures suggest that, in international comparisons, the UK’s road accident record may be somewhat less impressive than that frequently cited in support of the efficacy of its policy on road safety, though of course the level of under-reporting in other countries could be higher – or lower. Again, we do not know.

Table 2. Fatality rates by mode by total personal kilometres travelled in Great Britain derived from traffic cordon and NTS sources.

Travel method Cordon NTS Fatalities Cordon NTS Comparison of Cordon with NTS
(annual bn kms) (Number) (Fatality rate per 100m. kms)
car1 451.0 396.0 2146 0.48 0.58 +21%
bus2 n/a 41.5 56 n/a 0.13
motorcycle 8.0 4.6 779 9.74 16.93 +74%
rail 36.5 32.8 4 0.01 0.01 +11%
bicycle 5.8 3.9 279 4.83 7.2 +49%
walking n/a 21.1 1815 n/a 8.55
All 563.0 487.0 5273 0.94 1.08 +15%

1including taxi; 2including coach
Note: for comparison with the 1985/6 NTS, the figures derived from the traffic cordons and the fatalities have been taken as the average for the two years.
Source: Department of Transport, annual volumes of Road Accidents, Great Britain: The Casualty Report, and Transport Statistics, Great Britain, London, HMSO; and Department of Transport, National Travel Survey: 1985/86 Report, Part 1, An Analysis of Personal Travel, 1988, London, HMSO.

The safest form of travel
A further major and related problem of current policy is that it is derived from comparison of the relative risk of travel by different travel methods. At present, statistics are presented in such a way as to imply that, for instance, car travel is much safer than travel on foot or bicycle: published figures show the fatality rate per kilometre for travel on foot to be about 16 times as high as that for travel by car. From this, it is generally inferred, and seems sensible to believe, that cars are a much safer form of transport than either of the non-motorised modes.

An obvious interpretation of these figures from the perspective of government policy aimed at achieving a one-third reduction of road accidents by the year 2000 is that people should be encouraged to make more of their journeys by the ‘safe’ modes – cars and buses – and fewer of them by the ‘dangerous’ modes – foot, bicycle and motor cycle.

Such a view is strengthened by reference to the activities of motor manufacturers both in this country and the United States. Research has shown that the risk of injury is related to wheelbase, vehicle weight and car size, and are important factors influencing death rates. In the latest figures available, derived from the frequency of insurance claims in the United States, 12 of the 15 cars with the highest rates were small, three were mid-size, and none was large. Taking 100 as the average for all cars, the frequency of insurance claims in which a car occupant had suffered a severe injury was found to be 69-189, 73-122 and 65-85 for small, mid-size and large cars respectively. The clear inference is that the closer a car approximates to the characteristics of a tank, the lower the fatality rate for its occupants.

A recent article in the motoring columns of the national press noted that ‘… A good deal has happened under the skin of the new Saab 9000 CS Series to reinforce its sturdiness’, and ‘… the Saab’s safety record is outstanding which says something for its design and build quality’.) The US Highway Loss Data Institute found that Volvo cars are ‘among the safest when it comes to statistics and facts based on real life traffic accidents’. Volvo’s Chief Executive welcomed publication of the statistics showing this because they represent ‘a first step in assisting the motorist to assess the relative safety of new cars’. His company’s vehicles are now provided with side impact protection and collapsible steering columns with air bags on medium sized cars, and next year, a revolutionary integrated side impact protection system will be provided, for crash simulations have shown that this reduces severe and fatal injuries from side impacts by up to 50 per cent.

However, any vehicle on the public highway poses some risk to road users other than its occupants, but the form in which the published statistics have been recorded only relates to the vehicle user under consideration. The obvious way of comparing the relative danger of travel by the different modes is not just to ‘internalise’ it, but also to ‘externalise’ it. After all, for whom is the car much safer? It is not safer for pedestrians, about three-quarters of whose deaths conspicuously result from a collision with a car. For these unfortunate people, the car was certainly not a safe form of transport.

Last year, I proposed to the Department of Transport that a key table missing from its annual series on road accident statistics should be included in future to show the fatality rate associated with each kilometre travelled by other road users as well as that fatality rate for each type of road user. Table 3 implies a significant change in perception of what are the dangerous and safe modes of travel. It records both the fatality rate per vehicle kilometre for each vehicle user and for the associated fatality rate for other vehicle users and pedestrians. The Table gives a clear indication of the relative vulnerability of certain types of road user and the unsurprising correlation between the rate for the largest and sturdiest vehicles – buses and lorries – and unprotected road users – pedestrians, cyclists and motor cyclists.

Table 3. Fatality rates by vehicle user.

fatalities per 100,000 vehicle kilometres

Vehicle type vehicle user pedestrian other vehicles all other fatalities as prop. of all
Bicycle 4.9 0.1 0.1 5.1 4%
TWMV1 10.3 1.7 0.6 12.6 18%
Car 0.7 0.4 0.4 1.5 53%
Light goods 0.4 0.4 0.6 1.4 71%
Bus or coach 0.4 1.8 1.7 3.9 90%
Heavy lorry 0.2 0.5 1.9 2.6 93%

1Two-wheeled motor vehicle.
Source: Department of Transport, Road Accidents, Great Britain 1990: The Casualty Report, 1991, London, HMSO.

The Table reveals an almost complete reversal of the relative danger and safety of travel by each of these vehicle types. Whereas the fatality rates for people in buses and heavy lorries are the lowest of all road users, use of these vehicles is associated with the highest proportion of fatalities among pedestrians and other road users: for instance, for every person killed per person km in a heavy lorry, 13 other road users are killed, whereas for every cyclist killed per cycle km, only 1 in 24 other road users are killed.

Thus, the Table enables, for the first time, a meaningful appreciation of the relationship between the risk per kilometre for each class of road user in relation to each other class, that is the risk incorporating fatalities among all road users. In this way, policy makers are more pertinently informed of the risks to society of the different travel methods rather than the risk to the user of any particular method.

Whose lives are most at risk in road accidents?
Whilst there is understandable concern about the disturbingly high pedestrian casualty rate among children, the way in which statistics are presented gives a misleading impression of the most vulnerable group of road users. Neither politicians nor the general public are aware of the fact that, as Table 4 shows, this rate is highest among elderly people. Indeed, analysis of data from road accident statistics and the National Travel Survey shows that the fatality rate for young pensioners per kilometre walked is about twice as high as that among children, and the rate for old pensioners is about ten times as high.

Table 4. Pedestrian fatality rate per kilometre and per capita, by age group.

pedestrian fatality rate
Age group per 100 million kilometres per 100 thousand population % of population
0-4 4.6 1.6
5-9 8.4 2.7 18.8
10-14 5.1 2.8
15-19 3.7 2.3 7.9
20-59 4.5 1.7 52.5
60-64 8.7 3.3
65-69 10.7 4.3 20.8
70-74 22.5 7.3
75+ 66.4 12.0
All pedestrians 7.9 3.1 100

Source: O’Donoghue, J., ‘Pedestrian Casualties’, in Road Accidents Great Britain 1987, 1988, London, HMSO, and further analysis of road accident statistics.

The significance of these figures for policy on making the pedestrian environment safer, perhaps by reversing the priority at road intersections through raising their levels to pavement height – in effect, combining the function of the pedestrian crossing with that of the sleeping policeman – is brought sharply into focus when it is realised that the fatality rate per kilometre of old pensioners getting about on foot is six times as high as that of motor cyclists – most of whom are young men.

The measure of road safety
Perhaps the most important grounds for concern about road safety in this country, and indeed around the world, stems from the assumption that the only measure of safety or danger on the roads that is required for assessing the success or failure of policy is the number of accidents on the roads. It apparently stands to reason: safe roads have few if any accidents on them whereas dangerous roads have many accidents on them.

In an article prefacing last year’s report of the Department of Transport’s Road Accidents Great Britain, there is a discussion by a member of its Statistics Directorate on the many different ways that the Department sees that safety can be measured. From the simple base of the number of people killed or injured, it goes on to show that more useful figures can be derived if there is a suitable denominator so that rates can be determined, for instance, the casualty rate per numbers in the population, per vehicle kilometre, per passenger kilometre, per hour of exposure and so on. It then sets out detailed tables according to these measures, and seemingly implies that, one way or another, safety is comprehensively reflected in these data sets.

The danger of relying on these data as the sole measure of road safety in the formation of policy is well illustrated by reference to the recent Department of Transport brochure entitled Safety on the Move. This included the claim that “… over the last 25 years, our roads have become much safer”, and seemingly sought to substantiate this with the statistics that “… Road accidents have fallen by almost 20 per cent since the mid-1960s; the number of deaths is down by one third. At the same time traffic has more than doubled.”

One may wonder whether the author of this brochure, his or her superiors or ‘inferiors’ who presumably checked it in draft, or indeed Cecil Parkinson, the Secretary of State for Transport at the time who wrote the Foreword, stopped to think for one moment that these statistics could not conceivably substantiate the claim. How could anyone knowing that traffic levels have more than doubled during this period (and knowing that traffic speeds generally have risen too) conclude that “our roads have become much safer”? Was there perhaps a subconscious resistance to thinking through the apparent paradox, implying as it must a radical re-assessment of the tenet of faith of those responsible for road safety policy on which it has been based for so long – like the Church in the 19th century finding it difficult to come to terms with Darwin’s theory of evolution?

Last year, we replicated surveys that we had previously conducted 20 years earlier among children in schools around the country. The separate questionnaires for the children and their parents recorded the extent to which the children were allowed to cross roads, go to and from school and generally make journeys on their own, and cycle on main roads (if a bicycle were owned).

We showed that part of the reason why both the number of child fatalities and the fatality rate per kilometre they travel and per head of population have fallen sharply in spite of the considerable increase in traffic is explained by parents modifying their children’s and their own behaviour in view of their logical perceptions of an increasingly unsafe environment. In the face of this, as we established, they have made two changes: first, they have progressively withdrawn their children from the risk of injury by limiting their freedom – a freedom which is incidentally cited as a justification for welcoming the growth of car ownership and use. And second, they have had to take on the often tedious and time-consuming escort burden which is thereby necessitated.

We found that, whereas in 1971, 80 per cent of the seven and eight year olds were allowed to go to school without adult supervision, by 1990, this figure had fallen to 9 per cent. The response clearly indicated that the wide and increasing restrictions on the children’s independent mobility were a direct result of parental fears, in the main of involvement in a road accident, though molestation was a secondary reason cited. It seemed to us that parental perceptions of the changes in the level of safety on the roads over the years, rather than road accident statistics, may well be a better source for determining whether our roads have become safer or more dangerous.

Our research suggests that if current road safety policy continues to be judged according to the degree to which the government-set target of reducing accidents by one third by the end of the decade is being achieved, it is likely to be focused on the wrong target. Success may have been won not because our roads have been made safer but because the growth of traffic has made them more dangerous!

In the light of this research, we have argued that there is a clear need for new indicators of road safety to be adopted. We put some forward in the conclusions of our study, such as simply changes in traffic volumes on selected classes of road, or changes over time in the proportion of children of selected ages who are allowed to cross roads, come home from school on their own or use their bicycles on the roads. We considered that these indicators would more appropriately reflect road safety than the number of fatalities and injuries, that is the perception of the risk of injury on the roads. Had such indicators been employed to monitor the effects of road safety policy over the last 20 years, the results would be pointing to its failure in that it would have been apparent that our roads have become more dangerous and children have been in effect called upon to pay the price for our adult mobility by having their freedoms dramatically curtailed.

Transport policy
If attention is turned to the statistics upon which transport policy rather than road safety policy is based, equivalently disconcerting observations can be reached about the distorting impact they have had.

Are long or short journeys preferable?
Cabinet Ministers have argued on many occasions that growth in traffic and in the demand for road transport, particularly for cars, are symptoms of the success of the British economy. There is an implicit assumption in current transport policy that longer journeys are more ‘important’ than shorter ones. It follows then that a better rate of return on investments will be achieved by increasing speed and reducing delay on longer journeys.

The principal use to which the findings of the National Travel Survey (NTS) are put is for the purpose of recognising trends in the demand for motorised travel and therefore in order to plan to accommodate this in the future road building programme. For this reason, the NTS report concentrates on travel distance, giving disproportionate attention to ‘longer journeys’. In an easily overlooked Note prefacing the latest report on the NTS, it is pointed out that journeys of under a mile only account for three per cent of all personal travel mileage and that “most of these are walks” – with the implication that they are of little consequence even though, from an ecological perspective, shorter journeys, most of which are made by non-motorised modes, are the ones that it is most in the public interest to promote.

The omission of these ‘very short’ (sic) journeys leads to a very different image of the distribution of journeys by mode: Table 5 compares this distribution for each main mode, including and excluding journeys of under a mile. It can be seen that it results in the significance of the non-motorised modes, particularly those on foot, and of course the travel of those more heavily dependent on them, being seriously under-represented. Thus, of all journeys, the proportion made on foot is reduced to a third of its actual level, whilst the proportion for those by car is increased from half to over two-thirds.

Table 5. Distribution of journeys by mode including and excluding journeys of under one mile, 1985/86.

Journeys of under one mile























Source: special calculations from published figures in Department of Transport, National Travel Survey: 1985/86 Report, op.cit.

As Table 6 shows, over a third of the journeys that people make cover distances of under a mile, including nearly half of the journeys of children and nearly two-fifths of those of people over the age of 60 years. It can be seen too that roughly three-quarters of these shorter journeys are made on foot or by bicycle.

Table 6. Percentages of journeys by all modes and by walking and cycling, over distances of less than one mile, by age and sex, 1985/86.

Journeys under one mile

Children Elderly Women Men All
Age 0-15 60+ 16-59 16-59
% of all journeys 45 38 33 22 33
% of these on foot or cycle 78 78 79 69 76

Source: special calculations from published figures in Department of Transport, 1988.

To compound this error of judgement, the most widely used sources of data on patterns of travel do not incorporate figures on these shorter trips, thereby providing meaningless and distorting bases for the formulation of a sensible transport policy. This can be seen in guidance given by the Department of the Environment aimed at directing local authorities towards public interest decisions on patterns of shopping provision. The relevant document relies on published NTS figures and therefore reports on walking playing only a very minor role, overlooking the fact that nearly half of all shopping trips are made on foot. At the same time, having incorrectly up-graded the significance of longer journeys, mostly by car, the document then emphasises for local authorities the importance of providing sufficient parking space for car-borne shoppers. It goes on to give advice on large stores – the “now well-established form of retail development clearly meeting strong customer demand for convenient car-borne weekly household shopping”. It is disturbing to realise that planning approvals granted with this advice in mind have reduced the viability of local shops that are the most convenient for people who largely depend on walking to get about.

A further effect of the omission is to relegate the non-motorised modes to an inferior position in the transport hierarchy in spite of the fact that, again as with shorter journeys, these are the ones that it is most in the public interest to promote. The very low costs of making provision for walking and cycling compared with motorised travel are then overlooked because of the absence of meaningful data on them.

The lack of appreciation of the significance of walking and cycling in public policy in recent years can also be established by checking through other official documents on transport in which it could be expected that they would feature. Such an examination reveals that few mention them, and those that do typically categorise them in effect as ‘also-rans’. Insofar as walking is considered in policy documents, it tends to be treated primarily as a ‘safety’ problem.

This could be cited as a further explanation for the unsatisfactory outcome of policy as forecasts made in the process of determining plans for meeting future transport demand and expenditure on the plans extraordinarily exclude the non-motorised modes. It would appear that they are not worthy of consideration. Yet, the relevance and reliability of this forecasting process would be considerably improved, and the focus of policy sharpened, if it were simply acknowledged that in the year for which predictions were made, close on 100 per cent of the population will be able to walk and the great majority will be able to cycle and would welcome wider opportunities for doing so if proper provision were made for them in the form of safe networks. In this way, a future role for walking and cycling would be recognised and policy adjusted accordingly.

The significance of public transport and walking
Oversight of the significance of shorter journeys, and walking in particular, leads to the notion that there are basically only two forms of transport for day-to-day travel – car and public transport. The focus of attention is then on road building to cater for the demand for car use and on public transport for people without cars and for situations where there are limits on the demand for car use being met through increasing the vehicle-carrying capacity of the road network, as in the rush hour.

Indeed, most critics of current transport policy argue that one of the key ways of resolving the conflict between traffic growth and its adverse environmental consequences is to greatly improve public transport. In this way, it is thought that car users can be more easily encouraged to transfer back to public transport – or be obliged to do so with less justification for objecting.

Such a judgement stems from a wholly mistaken belief that the growth in car travel has come about as a result of people no longer being prepared to use public transport. However, as can be seen in Table 7, journeys on foot are, even today, three times as frequent as those by all public transport modes combined – a ratio that has not changed in the ten years from the 1975/76 NTS to that of the 1985/86 NTS. The Table also shows that, in spite of the decline in the use of walking and cycling, the ratio is highest among children, and rising, but still high and fairly constant for all adults.

Table 7. Ratio of number of journeys on foot to the number by public transport, by age and sex, 1975/76 and 1985/86.

National Travel Survey









Women (16-59)



Men (16-59)






1special tabulation from the National Travel Survey.
2 calculated from published figures in Department of Transport, 1988.

In fact, little of the growth has occurred as a result of people deserting bus or train: over the 20-year period to 1989, car user kilometres have increased by 278 billion (100 per cent), whilst bus passenger kilometres have declined by only 14 billion (25 per cent); and rail passenger kilometres have actually increased by 5 billion (14 per cent). Indeed, for every passenger kilometre apparently ‘lost’ to public transport during these two decades, 31 passenger kilometres have been ‘gained’ by car users.

It is clear that by far the largest change in patterns of travel has resulted from newly-generated travel by car. The expectation that, given sufficient improvement in public transport, people will return to it from the car overlooks the fact that most travel never came from public transport in the first place. The car has enabled widely-scattered space-extensive patterns of activity, the great majority of which cannot now be realistically met by public transport. Thus, the scope of public transport for meeting future travel needs has been greatly exaggerated.

This paper suggests that the quality and comprehensivity of the data sources used in the formation of public policy on transport and road safety seriously distorts its objectivity. As a consequence, government continues to fail to meet its responsibility for furthering the public interest in these domains.

The logic of current policy, and the misleading form in which statistics are presented and interpreted, are inexorably taking us down a road fraught with the now obvious risk that it deters people from travelling in ways which clearly match what could be described as ‘the wider public interest’. Its outcome is to discourage them from getting about on foot or cycle – the ecologically and healthy but apparently ‘dangerous’ modes on which many, such as children and others who do not have a car of their own, are heavily dependent. Directly and indirectly, it promotes longer journeys and journeys in ‘crashworthy’ cars. In that way, survival is better assured in the hostile traffic environment that we have allowed to grow up as the ownership and use of cars have spread

A clear ethical dilemma is posed. If we care about our own safety, our own freedom, and are prepared to ignore the wider consequences, we will travel by car if we have the choice to do so. On the other hand, if we care about the safety and freedom of others, particularly children, and about the ecological consequences of our patterns of travel, we will make more of our journeys on foot or bicycle.

Collings, H., ‘Comparative accident rates for passengers by mode of transport’, in Department of Transport, Road Accidents, Great Britain 1989: The Casualty Report, 1990, London, HMSO.

Department of the Environment, Planning Policy Guidance: Major Retail Development, 1988, PPG6, London, HMSO.

Department of Transport, National Travel Survey: 1985/86 Report, Part 1, An Analysis of Personal Travel, 1988, London, HMSO.

Department of Transport, Safety on the Move, 1990, London, HMSO.

Department of Transport, Transport Statistics, Great Britain 1991, 1991, London, HMSO.

Department of Transport, Road Accidents Great Britain 1990, 1991, London, HMSO.

Department of Transport Press Release No.303, ‘Rifkind launches child pedestrian safety campaign’, 21 October 1991.

Hillman, M., and Whalley, A., Walking is Transport, 1979, London, Policy Studies Institute.

Hillman, M., Adams, J., and Whitelegg, J., One False Move… a study of children’s independent mobility, 1991, London, Policy Studies Institute.

Hillman, M., and Cleary, J., ‘A Prominent Role for Walking and Cycling in Future Transport Policy’, in Roberts, J. et al. (eds.) A Green Transport Policy for Britain, (in press), London, Lawrence & Wishart.

Hillman, M., Cycling: towards health and safety, A report from the BMA Professional, Scientific, and International Affairs, 1992, Oxford University Press.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, IIHS Status Report, Vol.24, No.11, 25 November, 1989.

Jones, D., ‘The risks posed by vehicles to other road users’, in Department of Transport, Road Accidents, Great Britain 1990: The Casualty Report, 1991, London, HMSO.

O’Donoghue, J, ‘Pedestrian Casualties’, in Road Accidents Greast Britain 1987, 1988, HMSO.

Plowden, S. and Hillman, M., Danger on the Road: the needless scourge, 1984, London, Policy Studies Institute.

Tunbridge, R.J. et al., An in-depth study of road accident casualties and their injury patterns, Department of Transport, 1988, TRRL Research Report 136.

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