View Full Version : Lies, damned lies and leaked government letters

22nd July 2004, 21:42
According to an alleged leaked letter from UK Transport Minister David Jamieson, the reason for an increase in the road death rate is due "to the increasing popularity of high-performance motorcycles."

Despite the Government's recent annoucement that it was meeting all of its road safety targets, figures from 19 police forces, compiled by the lobby group SafeSpeed, show a 5 per cent increase in the annual death rate last year, the sharpest rise for 15 years. The survey calls into question the Government’s strategy of increasing the number of speed cameras while allowing forces to redeploy hundreds of traffic police to other duties.

Ministers have attempted to deflect attention from their failure to reduce the death rate by focusing on the fall in the number of serious injuries in road crashes (17%) in the last four years. But this figure was qualified by a note tucked away in a three-year progress report on road safety strategy, published by the Department for Transport in April.

The report said: “The previous downward trend in fatalities appears to have ceased since 1998. The 17 per cent reduction in killed and seriously injured is therefore entirely a result of year-on-year reductions that have been seen in serious injuries.” It concluded that the failure to reduce the death rate “would clearly detract from the success of achieving the target”.

The leaked letter from Mr Jamieson to the Government’s panel of road safety advisers discloses the concern over the death rate. Mr Jamieson writes: “I would like to make the levelling off in fatalities a particular area of focus for the panel.” It seems Mr Jamieson ruled out setting a separate target for cutting the death rate. “But I do think we need more research into why the death rate is not coming down,” he wrote in the letter.

So where does the blame lie for the increase in road deaths? Mr Jameison lays this firmly at our door, commenting “One of the main reasons why the death rate had stuck at about 3,400 for the past five years was the increasing popularity of high-performance motorcycles. Almost a fifth of all the people who died on the roads in 2002 were motorcyclists. The largest proportion of these were “born-again bikers”, men in their 30s and 40s riding machines of more than 500cc.”

But do the figure bear this out? The latest figures I could find from the DETR would seem to agree on the age front, showing 53.30% of UK motorcycle accidents are from the 26-40 age group, with 23.6% involving under 25’s. However, sports bikes were involved in under half (43%) the accidents, interesting given that the sales of bikes are dominated by this class.

The figures also make for interesting reading, given SafeSpeed’s criticism of increased reliance on cameras:

72% of motorcyclist casualties occur on built-up roads (roads with a speed limit of up to 40 mph), even though such roads carry less than half of motorcycle traffic. 26% of all casualties occur on rural roads (roads with a speed limit of over 40 mph) and just 1% of motorcyclist casualties occur on motorways, which carry 7% of >motorcyclist traffic. The pattern for motorcyclist fatalities differs however, with : 60% of motorcyclist deaths occurring on non built-up roads, 37% on built-up roads and 3% on motorways.

So the implication appears that commuters are the main culprit in terms of accidents, but leisure riders are the biggest group in the death stats.

A TRL study found that approximately 75% of motorcycle accidents occur at impact speeds of up to 48km/h (30 mph) and 96% at up to 64 km/h (40 mph). The >study also found that almost all (93%) of the serious and fatal head injuries occur at speeds of up to 64km/h (40 mph).

This would infer that speed on its own is not the problem.