THE number of pedestrians and cyclists killed or seriously injured on Scotland’s roads will overtake the casualty toll for those in cars within a few years, experts have warned.
Official government statistics show a dramatic decline in car-related casualties over the last decade to a point where, on current trends, they will be lower than non-car casualties.
Transport experts have now called for a refocusing of road safety priorities, as people are walking and cycling more and driving less.
The statistics, being highlighted by the Scottish Transport Studies Group think tank, reveal that the number of pedestrians killed or seriously injured in Scotland last year increased by 10 per cent from 504 to 556, while the figure for cyclists went up by 12 per cent, from 145 to 163 – making a combined total of 719.
By contrast, the casualty toll among car drivers and passengers fell by 16 per cent, from 1,007 to 845.
Researchers say the trends are significant, even taking into account that car trips have fallen by 5 per cent over the last decade, partly because of the recession and fuel prices, while walking has increased by 15 per cent.
Derek Halden, chairman of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in Scotland, said the casualty trend must be halted by making walking and cycling safer.
“Long-term trends show that we are on track to see pedestrian fatal and serious casualties overtake car user casualties within a year or so,” he said.
“If the recession continues to bite, we will have more people walking and less driving, so this might happen sooner rather than later.”
Halden, also the director of Edinburgh-based transport consultancy DHC, added: “Far too little has been done for pedestrians and there are few towns in Scotland where parents can feel relaxed about a child walking to the local shop or to the park, given the lack of safe routes.”
Halden said far more spending was required on improving walking routes, which accounted for 80 per cent of journeys.
“Most European countries have got their pedestrian casualties under control, and pedestrian casualties is a particularly Scottish problem – much worse than England,” he added.
Recent pedestrian deaths in Scotland include two elderly women and a 43-year-old man in Edinburgh in December, while two women were killed in Kirkcaldy in November.
Halden said: “Three things are needed: engineering changes to create safe routes, legislative changes to give better protection to pedestrians – such as car drivers assumed to be at fault if they knock someone down on a pedestrian crossing – and more education for drivers. Many car drivers only indicate when they see other cars, forgetting that pedestrians need to predict cars turning as well.”
Keith Irving, head of Living Streets Scotland, called for more 20mph zones and support for a new law which is going through the Scottish Parliament to ban pavement parking.
He said: “Every death or injury on our roads is a tragedy. We still need to ensure our roads are safer for the most vulnerable road users, and the fact that an increasing percentage of serious casualties are pedestrians illustrates the scale of the challenge.
“The 12 per cent increase in pedestrian serious injuries in 2011 should serve as a wake-up call to the government and local authorities that changes need to be made to ensure all road users are safe on our streets.” The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency conceded that more improvements could be made to cut deaths and injuries.
A spokeswoman said: “Scotland’s Road Safety Framework includes distinct and challenging targets for reducing road casualties by 2020 and we are on track to meet these.
“However, this does not mean we are complacent, and much work remains to be done to reduce these further.
“Over a three-year period, the Scottish Government is providing £57 million to local authorities, Sustrans, Cycling Scotland and Paths for All to promote active travel.
“In 2010, we published guidance for Scottish roads authorities to encourage streetscapes designed to take the needs of pedestrians and cyclists into account.
“Earlier this year, we contributed £80,000 towards the cost of a project in Gallatown [in Kirkcaldy] to redesign a neighbourhood to ‘Designing Streets’ standard, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to avoid busy roads on their trips.”
Steps to a healthier, safer nation
Dr John McCormick, chairman of the Scottish Association for Public Transport
THE Scottish Government and local authorities need to give higher priority to making walking and cycling safer.
Costly road projects such as A9 dualling are funded by government to reduce car accidents, often caused by dangerous driving. Yet much cheaper measures to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists could cut accident rates more dramatically.
Junctions and roundabouts in towns are often poorly designed, with fast-moving traffic making it difficult for pedestrians to cross roads. Councils seem reluctant to provide enough safe pedestrian crossings and 20mph zones, as these might impede cars traffic. Cycle lanes are often blocked by parked cars. Parking on pavements causes problems for prams and wheelchairs.
Bad urban road design is exacerbated by inconsiderate drivers, and creating safer, more pleasant environments for walking and cycling, as well as improving public transport, would encourage more people to leave their cars in the garage. Exercise and fresh air are the best antidotes to the Scottish epidemics of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
The government could achieve a healthier and safer Scotland by earmarking a significant proportion of the road budget for street, cycleway and pavement redesign.