I was deeply saddened to hear of more deaths on our roads this month. Tragically a motorcyclist lost his life in north Devon on June 16 despite the best efforts of paramedics and the Devon Air Ambulance. The next day two 18-year-olds were involved in a serious collision on the A38 in Cornwall, and just 24 hours after that a young man last his life in a crash on the North Devon Link Road near South Molton. Of course, my thoughts are with the families of all those affected by these incidents.
This trio of collisions came in a week that part of the A30 in Devon was named in a national report as the third most dangerous stretch of road in the country – with 213 accidents last year. Sadly such incidents are all too common, and alarmingly the number of people killed and seriously injured on our roads has increased in recent years. Figures for 2017 have yet to be verified but indicate that there were more fatalities and serious injuries in the force area than there were in 2016, when there were 52 fatalities and 772 serious injuries; that in turn was an increase on 2015, when the figures were 44 and 652 respectively.
It’s a horrific toll. That number of deaths caused by any other factor would cause widespread alarm, but somehow we’ve become too accepting of road traffic collisions. I worry people have become immune to road safety messages – the careless driving I see on our roads every day certainly indicates that.
We need a united and renewed approach to tackling road safety. Any solution has to involve central and local government, the emergency services and, of course, the driving public.
I was pleased to see the Department for Transport announce last week that it would provide £7.2m to improve the safety at four spots across Devon and Cornwall. And the North Devon Link Road will benefit from an £83m project to improve safety and travel times. But the finest road designs in the world won’t stop accidents unless they are coupled with good driving habits.
Community Speedwatch schemes – which involve the force working with volunteers to target specific problem areas – have a proven track record in delivering advice and education to drivers around the force area in a cost effective way. The Chief Constable and I will be supporting efforts to enhance the Speedwatch scheme and to support its use in communities around Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
A new policing road safety strategy, based on local data, is due to be completed next month. Fundamental to the strategy is the partnership nature of delivering safer roads and a recognition that road safety is the responsibility of all elements of policing – not just the dedicated roads policing unit.
I, together with the Chief Constable, have prioritised the recruitment of additional officers into a high visibility ‘No Excuses’ team on road safety following best practice. This will enable the targeting of our most prolific and potentially dangerous drivers and demonstrates our commitment to making road safety a priority.
But it’s not just about our work. Often tragic accidents are caused by people and the choices they make. People need change their behaviour - if we need tougher enforcement to make them do so - we will make that happen.
We share a vision for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly – that the region could have the safest road systems in the UK, free from the deaths and injury that have blighted so many lives in recent years. Delivering that vision is not going to be straightforward, but by working together and engaging the driving public I firmly believe we can make rapid progress on this vitally important issue.