Cutting back on road safety spending is a “false economy”, a report from the IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists) has said.
Achieving casualty-reduction targets by 2020 will save 2,500 lives and save the economy more than £4bn, the IAM said.
“These staggering figures prove conclusively that investing in saving lives on the roads saves the country money, so funding being taken away from this area is a false economy,” said IAM policy and research director Neil Greig.
The report, entitled Deaths and Injuries on Britain’s Roads, showed that in 2009 the UK was number one in the world road safety league table of safest roads, having been sixth in 2007 and fourth in 2008.
In the EU, the UK has half the road death rates of Austria, Belgium, Portugal and Luxembourg.
The IAM said each fatal accident cost the UK economy £1.8M in lost output, health care, pain and suffering.
Greig said: “Meeting our casualty reduction targets has meant that deaths on Britain’s roads have halved over the past 20 years with 31,000 deaths avoided and savings to the economy of around 50 billion.
“The IAM calculates that achieving similar targets for road deaths by 2020 would save society 2,500 lives and the economy over £4bn.”
He said it was important for public bodies to compensate for any cutbacks in funding for road safety.
Greig urged public bodies “to focus on the benefits to all road users and to the economy of investing in road safety education and awareness, training for younger drivers and riders, and targeted safety improvements to roads.”
The IAM report showed rural roads were still the most dangerous in the UK, accounting for two-thirds of fatal and serious casualties.
Despite falling casualty rates, young drivers were still the most at-risk category. Greig said: “With changes to the theory and practical parts of the driving test under way, and an ever-increasing focus on the risks faced by younger drivers, we hope that this number will continue to fall.”
Road safety minister Mike Penning said: “We are committed to further improving road safety and fully appreciate the economic as well as personal benefits this can bring.
“That is why we have taken steps to develop drug-screening technology to make it easier for the police to prosecute drug drivers and, as the IAM recognise, have made improvements to the driving test.”
He went on: “The importance of tackling the country’s deficit means that we have had to make tough decisions in all areas of our spending. However, we have also removed ring-fencing from local authority grants so that councils are able to set their own priorities.
“We would expect that road safety would remain a priority for local communities and that local spending would reflect that.”