Pump Court Chambers

Who is responsible for transport safety?

Blog 6th October 2015

For anyone involved in transport law, safety is always the first priority and concern of any regulator or court. The Transport Safety Commission has recently published a report ‘UK Transport Safety: Who is responsible?’ The Commission, which is an independent body established in 2013, has the role of inquiring into transport safety matters, in order to assist with the development of policies that will reduce risk and bring about a continued reduction in transport-related casualties. Their reports can lead to changes in the law, regulations and good practice.

The report sets out its findings on the legal framework and institutional responsibilities for transport safety (road, rail and aviation) and examines whether there are clear lines of responsibility for transport safety; how road safety goals can be aligned with other transport objectives; how to achieve a greater culture of safety among employers, transport users and others; the current level of funding for transport safety; and the case for an independent road safety or collision investigator.

The Commission’s starting point was the disparity between the small number of deaths in rail and air transport over a number of years and the average of nearly five per day on the roads. It began by examining the responsibilities for safety in the different types of transport and concluded that responsibilities for safety in rail and air transport are well established but the safety regimes in road transport are very different. In England, on an operational level, responsibility for leadership and administration of road risk management is divided horizontally between central government, Highways England (previously the Highways Agency), local government, voluntary bodies, the vehicle manufacturers and private individuals as users. It is also split vertically between bodies such as the Department for Transport, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office, the Department of Health, the Health and Safety Executive, elected Police and Crime Commissioners, Coroners and others. The Health and Safety Executive is responsible for road worker safety but plays a minor role in relation to work related road safety.

The report suggests that these arrangements have worked to a degree but could be improved. The Commission believes that the powers and duties of the various different bodies involved are neither comprehensive nor sufficiently well-defined and the complex structure leads to a lack of transparency for both the public and professionals.

Overall safety authority Road Rail Air
International International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO)
European European Commission DG MOVE European Railway Agency (ERA) European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)
UK Department for Transport (DfT)

Devolved Administrations

Civil Aviation Agency (CAA)
Standards DfT

Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA)

Highways Agency (HA) – Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB)

Road Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) CAA
Regulator DVSA

Traffic Commissioner

Office of Rail Regulation (and Passenger Focus)

Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) CAA
Certifying Vehicles Certification Agency (VCA)

Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA)

Network Certification Body (NCB) CAA
Investigatory Coroner (cause/responsibility)

Police (investigation/illegality)

DfT – Road Accident In-depth Studies (RAID) (learning)

HA (road death investigation guidance)

Local authorities (learning countermeasures)

Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB)
Enforcement Police ORR CAA
Incident Reporting (confidential) HA National Incident Liaison Officer [Nilo] reporting

Construction Logistics and Cyclist Safety [CLOCS]

Confidential Reporting and Analysis System (CIRAS) Confidential Human factors Incident Reporting programme (CHIRP)
Incident Reporting (Standard) Police


Safety Management Information Systems (SMIS) CAA
Operators Organisations and individuals operating one or more vehicle Network Rail

Train Companies

Airline Companies

The Commission recommended a systems approach to road safety focussing on tackling the causes of death and serious injury using the measurement, targeting and monitoring of speed, seat belt use, drink driving, the safety quality of roads and vehicles, and emergency medical response times.

The Commission called for leadership and co-ordination from government in order to achieve further significant casualty reductions and recommended that ambitious targets are set for casualty reduction on the path towards zero deaths and serious injuries. Target setting needs to be grounded on sound analysis informed by the underlying principle of making risks as low as reasonably practicable. It recommended strong leadership in enforcement, education and campaigning.

The Commission noted that the number of deaths resulting from road travel in the course of work greatly exceeded the number occurring in the workplace and that as many as 30% of all road deaths may be work-related. It expressed disappointment at the HSE’s role and said that employer-responsibility for managing work-related road safety is not being addressed adequately but being passed between HSE, DfT, the Police and other agencies that might intervene. They recommended that the HSE changes its policy so that employers have to report on the RIDDOR (Register of Injuries Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) database when there is a road collision involving someone driving in the course of work.

The Commission recommended the creation of an advisory body for road safety independent of government to provide continuity of knowledge and to be an authoritative source of expertise, dissemination, advice and intellectual leadership in risk management in road use. This new body is not expected to have executive or enforcement powers but could have powers to establish a system of road accident investigation.

What is not clear so far, is the extent to which the Government will take note of, and act on, any of the Commission’s recommendations. If the Government takes this report to heart, then the solution would be the streamlining of road safety from policy through to enforcement under a single agency.

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