'˜Knee-jerk reactions' to traffic collisions before inquests are '˜no help whatsoever'

Knee-jerk reactions to crashes on West Sussex roads have been criticised by one county councillor during a discussion of a new Road Safety Framework.

The new Road Safety Framework aims to reduce serious traffic collisions

West Sussex County Council consulted on the document, which includes ‘vision zero’, an approach towards a time when no-one was killed or seriously injured (KSI) on the roads, earlier this year.

The revised framework was supported by members of WSCC’s environmental and community services select committee at a meeting earlier this month.

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But during the discussion, Derek Whittington (Con, Fontwell) criticised ‘knee jerk reactions’ including calls for changes to road layouts after collisions especially ‘when most accidents are caused by poor driving’.

He thought that politicians such as Nick Gibb, MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, calling for action before a coroner had held an inquest into deaths on the roads, was often ‘no help whatsoever’.

Graham Jones (Ind, Felpham) said there were two junctions in his division that particular concerned his residents, but the official crash data did not seem to tally with local intelligence.

Officers explained they were trialling a reporting system with several parishes in the county as the only data they could rely on for certainty was the operational accident data. But one of the ‘difficult messages’ they had to explain to the public was that fatal accidents were not a good indication that there was something wrong with the road network at that point, although a pattern of accidents was a ‘different story’.

During the consultation on the framework the county council received a total of 271 responses from 229 residents, 26 county councillors, and five parish councils, with 83 per cent agreeing or strongly agreeing with the adoption of vision zero. The county council is looking to reduce KSI casualties by 25 per cent, against the national average baseline from 2005-2009, by 2020.

Aims of the framework include reducing the contributing factors and chain of events that increase the risk of crashes happening, providing a safer road environment, minimising the severity of crashes, and ensuring that the response to crashes ensures the best possible outcomes.

The officers’ report added: “It is also recognised that delivery and ownership of road safety is best carried out where problems are occurring.

“The framework therefore ensures that delivery is led by the most appropriate partner rather than assuming that the council should shoulder the whole of this activity.

“The council’s role therefore becomes one of co-ordination and sign-posting in addition to delivering what it is best placed to deliver.”

Nigel Dennis (LDem, Horsham Hurst) described the picture across West Sussex as ‘not all doom and gloom’ as fatal accidents had come down in the last decade, but the number of serious accidents had increased.

However, he felt the action plan did ‘not look like a sea change in terms of cycling facilities’.

On the decision to suspend five bus stops on the A24 following a collision between a bus and a van in January, Dr Dennis added: “It may make it safer for road vehicles but it can also cause enormous problems for some of the bus users in rural areas.”

Officers said they were holding a consultation on the bus stops to understand the demand and impact. The cabinet member would then consider a business case for ‘expensive’ bus laybys on the dual carriageway.

When the framework was discussed by county councillors back in December, Ruth Fletcher, chair of the Horsham District Cycling Forum, warned of a ‘road safety crisis in West Sussex for cycling’ with the number of KSIs doubling since 2010.

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