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Why was road safety not a key topic in the election manifestos?

A personal perspective from Former Transport Minister and Strategic Advisor to Clearview Traffic Group, Dr Stephen Ladyman.

June 4th

We all think road safety is a big issue.

Parliamentarians are no exception and they do spend a great deal of energy and parliamentary time discussing it once they’ve been elected.

And local road safety black spots will often feature heavily in campaigning prior to elections because there is nothing like a petition for a new crossing for getting a prospective MP into a local newspaper.

So why is road safety such a low-key issue in the election itself?

The Institute of Advanced Motorists professed themselves to be ‘dismayed’ by the lack of attention it got in the party manifestos [1] but should they really be surprised.

The fact is that during a highly-charged election campaign a call for road safety improvements is not going to get air time against a policy announcement on the economy or the NHS, no matter how much logic dictates that it should, and the mainstream parties have given up on detailed manifestos that list their promises from A-Z: firstly, because they are hostages to fortune, and secondly, because no-one reads them.

Truthfully, we the public, (and yes this is a generalisation) are interested in the way traffic speeds through our village or community but not much interested in the way it speeds through anyone else’s.

Once we get behind the wheel and leave our own neighbourhood behind our emphasis changes from ‘how fast’ cars are moving to ‘how slowly’.

A crossing serving the school our own kids attend is a necessity: a crossing near any other school can sometimes be seen as an irritation.

Perhaps I’m being harsh, or at least provocative, to make my point.

I don’t seriously believe that any of us are content for any road user to be at serious risk, but our focus on road safety is bound to be directed most strongly at the safety of our own community.

Which means we expect our Parliamentarians to take road safety throughout the land seriously – but we are not going to use it as a dividing line between the Parties so it won’t feature heavily in the debates or the manifestos.

If it’s any comfort to the IAM, they may be dismayed about the focus that road safety received during the general election but they’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much attention it gets from now on after the election as the new crop of MPs start looking for issues where they can be seen to make their name while doing work that their constituents see as important.

Of course, road safety is not the only road related issue that should get more of a focus during elections.

Road spending always gets a boost before elections – remember the promise of 15bn to upgrade roads that was made at the end of last year? Unfortunately, I saw little critical assessment of those plans in the election debates, nor has there been much focus on the need for proper funding of road maintenance.

The Asphalt Industries Alliance (AIA) is right to call for the new Government to prioritise funding for local road repairs [2] but they should not hold their breath.

Highways England may have had a guaranteed five year funding package for the national network but local authorities, who fund local road repairs, were told to expect swingeing funding cuts by the previous Government and those cuts are bound to hit highways departments hard.

There was, in the last Parliament, an All Party Group on Highways Maintenance – hopefully it will reform in the new Parliament, and make the case that the Government should find some extra cash to help.

But the best we may be able to hope for is that local authorities get enough money to stop things getting any worse.

To find out more about Clearview Traffic, please get in touch here.

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