Road safety axe concerns

Road safety unit stock photo.
Road safety unit stock photo.

A former council road safety officer fears that axing the unit could affect the number of fatalities on Argyll and Bute’s roads.

Carl Olivarius, who retired from the post in 2009 after 27 years in the area, also expressed concerns that school pupils could be about to learn less about keeping themselves safe on the road.

Argyll and Bute Council confirmed last month that it would be axing the unit after it was one of several savings options proposed as part of its 2019/20 budget. It was also an option for the previous financial year only to be saved – but was not kept on this time around.

The administration’s budget was a clear winner in the vote, but all three amendments put forward by other councillors included retention of the road safety unit.

Carl said: “I am stunned, really. I thought the case had been made last year that this service provided value for money.

“I appreciate things are tight and that councillors have difficult decisions to take, but I can’t see that there is not enough slack for 1.7 officers in a service which has given a very positive image to the council.

“The job wasn’t just focused on school pupils, but most of the resources produced by the Scottish Government, and promoted by the unit, was targeted at that age range.

“The curriculum linked resources were good quality and a road safety officer would run training courses for teachers and nursery nurses.

“But if there is nobody there to promote it and encourage it, and no courses run, I will be surprised if it remains on the same level of the curriculum it is at just now.

“There is a lot of pressure on head teachers, it is a crowded curriculum, and unless somebody is there selling it I think it will fall down the pecking order.

“And that will have an effect on casualty numbers.”

As well as providing road safety advice to residents, the long-standing road safety unit also operates the annual competition to design a calendar.

Carl insists that it has been a factor in the gradual reduction of fatalities on the road, not just in Argyll and Bute, but all over Scotland.

And he warned that even one life lost is one life too many when it comes to safety on the road.

He added: “I came here in 1982 from Hamilton, having worked in road safety there, and my predecessor had been there since at least 1975. So that is at least 40 years the unit has operated.

“Everybody thinks the roads are so terribly dangerous now, but the peak casualty number was in 1969 or 1970.

“It is now down to less than a third of fatalities from what there was at that time. That is partly down to the education and training, along with seatbelt and drink-driving legislation.

“I wouldn’t claim that the drop in fatalities is down to the road safety officer, but they are part of what has been a tremendous success.

“Road safety officers all over the country have contributed to the success story and I’m stunned that the council can’t see that.

“It isn’t a service that people jump up and down and make a song and dance about because you don’t want them taking their eye of the ball. One life lost is one life too many.

“When I finished with Argyll and Bute Council in 2009, I had a six-month secondment to the Scottish Government with the aim of reducing fatalities on the roads.

“They had a target figure – but if you go to some Scandinavian countries, that target is zero. They argue that you can’t accept 100 deaths.”

A spokesperson for Argyll and Bute Council said: “We would like to be able to do everything that local people and our communities want us to do.

“Unfortunately, cuts to our funding mean we cannot do that and we must make changes, even to our most valued services.”