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Twenty’s plenty - crusade for safer roads in Harrogate, with Don Mackenzie

Child safety zones around the city of Sheffield'Darnall area signs and roads'Road markings telling drivers they are entering a 20mph zone
Child safety zones around the city of Sheffield'Darnall area signs and roads'Road markings telling drivers they are entering a 20mph zone

I attended a meeting of NYCC’s Transport, Economy and Environment Scrutiny Committee on July 12, three items on the agenda having particular relevance to my role as Executive Member for Highways, and as Road Safety Champion for the County.

Road Casualty Statistics 2017

The headline findings in this latest annual report show that there were nine percent fewer collisions resulting in personal injury on the county’s roads than in 2016, but that the number of fatalities rose from 28 in 2016 to 41 in 2017, while that for persons seriously injured reduced from 403 to 370. The total for last year included four pedestrian deaths in two tragic accidents, each involving two persons killed while crossing the A64 in Ryedale in darkness.

There was another double fatality involving children, passengers in a single- vehicle accident on the M62 near Selby. None of these tragedies resulted in recommended actions for NYCC since both roads are managed by Highways England.

I have, however, taken part in meetings with the local MP, Kevin Hollinrake, Highways England officers, the police and with local residents in drawing up a series of safety improvements on the A64.

The graphs showing fatalities and serious injuries each year since 1990 were viewed with great interest by committee members.

The clear trend is downward movement in both fatal and serious injury accidents – fatalities reducing from 90 in 1990 to 41 in the latest figures, and from almost 1400 to under 400 in serious injuries. Early figures for 2018 indicate continued downward movement in casualties. Budgets continue to be targeted on those areas where extra investment can bring about improvements in road safety.

20’s Plenty

The Scrutiny Committee heard from the campaign group 20’s plenty for us and its support for the introduction of 20mph limits on all roads in built-up areas.

It called on the committee to recommend that this lower speed limit be the default position throughout the county.

Without doubt, 20mph zones would likely bring certain advantages, including better survival rates in the event of a collision, lower levels of air pollution, and a quieter, healthier environment. They would also tend to encourage behavioural change as roads became safer for cycling and walking, while a lower speed limit discourages driving.

The current policy of NYCC is to introduce 20mph limits where there is a proven need for measures to improve safety.

Casualty statistics for the county show that certain road users are more at risk than others – motorcyclists, cyclists, older drivers, young drivers, drink- and drug-drivers – and limited budgets are used to address those areas of greatest risk.

This policy is in line with current Department for Transport guidance, which calls for 20mph limits to be self-enforcing.

Where existing mean speeds are above 24mph physical features are needed to reduce speeds. NYCC is currently awaiting the publication of a DfT review into the effectiveness of 20mph limits, at which time the policy will be reviewed.

Vehicle Activated Signs

Readers will be familiar with these flashing signs at the side of several roads in the Harrogate area. Use of such signs by NYCC up to now has been restricted to those locations where there is a proven record of accidents caused by speeding drivers. Additionally, the County Council has a stock of 30 sets of this equipment – known as VAS - which are rotated through 68 locations countywide, and are leased to parishes for temporary deployment on roads where speed is considered by the local community to be a problem.

Parish councils throughout the county have been lobbying councillors to change the current policy which prevents the placing of privately purchased VAS equipment on the public highway. This policy reflects concerns that the appearance of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of flashing signs on a permanent basis may lead to a sharp reduction in their effectiveness, especially in those areas where speed has led to accidents in the past.

The Scrutiny Committee, following responses from 22% of parishes consulted, voted to recommend to the NYCC Executive to change the policy and allow – with conditions – the private purchase and deployment of vehicle activated signs.