Headlines: December 17th, 2003

More of the money which road users pay in taxation should go only to those authorities providing a safe and well-maintained road network, according to a leading motoring organisation. The call has come from the AA Motoring Trust, which has criticised Britain’s roads and the fact that highway authorities are not properly accountable to road users with councillors elected for short terms making decisions about long term road safety.The Trust says the lack of accountability means hundreds of lives are lost annually and a backlog of billions in road repairs has been built up. It cited figures which showed that Britain’s A-road network has skid resistance standards so poor that one mile in every five fails initial safety checks. Minor roads, it claims, where no independent safety review is carried out, are worse.

The Trust’s attack on the state of roads came at a seminar designed to assess progress since the Government’s 10 year transport plan was launched four years ago. Contributors at the event included representatives from the County Surveyor’s Society, Transport Research Laboratory, the Institution of Lighting Engineers and the National Road Maintenance Conditions Survey Committee.

The AA Trust’s figures showed that 2,500 bridges – about a third of those maintained by local authorities – was not strong enough to carry today’s weight of traffic, leading to diversions, closures and weight restrictions. It said there were no systematic programmes to implement on existing roads the standards of crash protection required for new roads and even the basics were not being looked after as a quarter of a million lampposts were over 30 years old, the age at which they could collapse.

Almost 5,000 fatal and serious accidents each year involved inadequately protected ‘roadside furniture’, such as trees, lampposts and telegraph poles. Although the Government had national roads under control, its report said, the underlying structural condition of local authority roads was worsening and there was a multi-billion pound maintenance backlog.

John Dawson, director of the Trust, said the ten-year plan, launched in 1999, had forced the Government to come out of denial and face facts. It now knew that the idea that Britain’s transport could rival any in Europe by 2010 was ‘plain silly’. He said local politicians could carry on diverting essential maintenance money to other services to curry short term favour and he called for more of the 38 billion pounds a year that British road users paid in taxation to be put into a trust fund and paid out only to those who delivered a well-maintained and safe roads system.