#1
The Times May 18, 2006

Quote:

The rest of Europe has lagged behind Britain in the past two decades in reducing road casualties. Britain still has the second best road-safety record, beaten only by Sweden, but progress has faltered in recent years and other countries are catching up fast.


Britain blocks EU safety move on speeding and drink-driving
By Ben Webster

The Government is accused of hypocrisy in trying to thwart measures that it has supported in public


British roads are amongst the safest in the world




BRITAIN is blocking pan-European road safety measures, including reducing the drink-drive limit and installing speed limiters on cars, according to leaked documents obtained by The Times.

The Department for Transport has intervened in the drafting of a landmark statement on road safety due to be agreed by European Union transport ministers in Brussels next month.

The department has deleted references to several measures it had previously claimed to support, including speed limiters, steps to reduce the number of crashes caused by elderly drivers, and systems for monitoring driver attentiveness. It has also removed a section on harmonising drink-drive laws across the EU.

Road safety groups have accused the Government of hypocrisy for publicly supporting the measures but behind the scenes seeking to undermine progress by the EU in introducing them.

The introduction to the statement, entitled Council Conclusions on Road Safety, has also been weakened at Britain’s insistence. The original version stated: “The Council of the European Union stresses the importance of the community legislation on issues of road safety where harmonised standards are desirable.”

The new version, rewritten by Britain, substitutes the word “recognises” in place of “stresses” and says that harmonised standards are “advantageous” instead of “desirable”.

In a memo to the EU council, the transport department makes clear that it is reluctant to make commitments. “We do not think it is desirable or necessary to be more specific than this about individual measures,” it states.

Britain’s intervention has angered the European Commission and several member states, including Spain and the Czech Republic, which have traditionally looked to Britain to take the lead on road safety.

The rest of Europe has lagged behind Britain in the past two decades in reducing road casualties. Britain still has the second best road-safety record, beaten only by Sweden, but progress has faltered in recent years and other countries are catching up fast.

Since 2001, Britain has had the lowest rate of reduction of road deaths among the 15 member states before EU enlargement. Deaths have fallen by only 6 per cent compared with 14 per cent across the EU 15 and 32 per cent in France.

Rob Gifford, of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, said: “It is extremely disappointing to see the UK weakening the text when this country has always sought to be the leader.

“It seems hypocritical to try and fetter progress on issues such as speed limiters when the UK has already acknowledged that they have a role to play.”

The department is spending £2 million on trials of car speed limiters at the University of Leeds. Preliminary results show crashes involving death or serious injury fall by a fifth among drivers who have limiters fitted. A report commissioned by the department has also recommended introducing cognitive tests for drivers aged 75 and over.

Stephen Ladyman, the Road Safety Minister, who will represent Britain at next month’s meeting, has been caught speeding three times and has a passion for sports cars and powerful motorcycles. He has encouraged police and local authorities to consider alternatives to speed cameras.

But he admitted in March that Britain’s failure to reduce the death toll from drink-drive crashes might force the Government to reduce the alcohol limit from 80mg per 100ml of blood to the European level of 50mg.

A department spokesman said: “We do not comment on leaks but understand this is a draft working document still under negotiation.”

thetimesonline.co.uk