Road safety auditors and engineers coming together

7th Jun 2022

Dennis Symons, SoRSA chair and Lyn Turner, SoRSA's membership secretary signpost the themes and priorities every road safety auditor wants to discuss at the in-person SoRSA annual conference in Manchester in 12 days’ time. By John Challen, with SoRSA chair, Dennis Symons and SoRSA membership secretary, Lyn Turner.

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Working from home over the past two years might have been essential for many, but there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction, which is why the return of physical events is welcomed with open arms. Ahead of the Society of Road Safety Auditors’ (SoRSA) annual conference in Manchester on 20-21 June, two committee members talk about plans for the next 12 months and beyond.

1 Post-pandemic, getting out in the real world is key

It’s paramount that we maintain our membership as well as the high standards of those members – and events such as the conference help us achieve that

begins Dennis Symons, chair of SoRSA.

Our auditors go through an annual review to ensure that their work is at the required level. As a society, we’re there to educate – and our conference is part of that education. The webinars throughout the year have also been important but, going forward, we’re hoping to run more face-to-face activity alongside the virtual events

2 The upcoming SoRSA conference in June will help improve auditors’ skills

Lyn Turner, SoRSA's membership secretary agrees that the human touch is very important and – as a society – it’s something that should happen more. 

Having just been through our annual review process we know some members aren’t entirely happy with how we carry out those reviews, she admits. At the moment, all the annual reviews are done anonymously by the committee, which can be frustrating. I've spoken to a lot of members this year, rather than just relying on emails going back and forth – and I think it makes a big difference. If our members can put a voice to the person behind the emails, they might be more understanding about the decisions we make. Talking to members also helps us understand what they want from the Society and enables us to work out how we can work better for them.

Moving on from the pandemic has its complications, including the difficulty in gauging road safety levels, due to the huge drop in volumes. That is something that’s proving problematic for Symons and his team as they look to benchmark over the coming months.

We've been discussing what we do with the figures from the pandemic because they will obviously be very different compared with those from ‘normal’ years, he says. In March and April 2020, traffic seemed to pretty much disappear and, therefore, the number of incidents of people being killed or seriously injured also went down. So, to a certain degree, we have discarded 2020 data because it could be described as flawed.

He adds that traffic comparisons between 2020 and 2022 (and even more so 2023) will be impossible.

Legislating for traffic volumes during the pandemic is going to be one of our big challenges. And, on the other side, we also have to account for abnormal traffic volumes in the South West during the summer of 2020, when restrictions were lifted and everybody decided to go to Devon and Cornwall for staycations. When looking at the data, we need to understand the impact on that area, especially because people were coming from all over the country – essentially across the whole network – not just southern England, for example.

3 A greater emphasis on the needs of vulnerable road users should be considered

Of course, drivers weren’t the only group of people who had to stay put during the lockdown months.

When thinking about vulnerable road users, it’s important to appreciate that we’ve been sat at home behind desks for a lot of the past two years, states Turner. Now that auditors are getting back outside, they need to remember who is using the streets and how they are using them. For example, there’s a lot of guidance in relation to tactile paving but, as fully sighted people, I don’t think we understand how partially sighted or blind people use them.

Turner suggests a bit of a refresher to fully understand and appreciate how people interact with roads and pavements.

Things like the cones on the underside of the pedestrian crossing boxes, she suggests. It’s important to understand why they are there and to check if they are working. Auditors need to keep on top of these sorts of things.

4 New forms of active travel, such as e-scooters, present challenges for auditors

Another element of the transport network that requires attention is active travel. That includes e-scooters, whose trials, enforcement, and safety all feature in the SoRSA conference schedule. Symons realises their integration needs to be carefully managed.

E-scooters are clearly becoming increasingly popular, but people are using them when and where they shouldn't be, he reports. They are being ridden on pavements, but they don’t mix well with pedestrians, especially the elderly. We’ve seen increased figures for the use of e-scooters since the pandemic but, unfortunately, we’ve also been made aware of more incidents involving them.

Another concern on the roads is the use of mobile phones and the focus for the SoRSA team will be to continue to target the minority of drivers who pay no attention to the laws.

I would say 90-95% of the people are compliant – and it’s probably no different to when the seatbelt laws came in or with drink-drivers or people who speed. It’s always about targeting the last 5-10% of hardliners who are going to carry on doing something that they shouldn’t. That means the educational side of road safety is ongoing.

Talking of education, Turner says that one of the priorities for the whole transport industry should be to get STEM activities targeted towards primary school children.

By the time they start thinking about GCSEs it can be too late, so starting earlier is key, she believes. Children need to be educated on what engineering is – and the different forms it takes. Road safety is just one tiny little part of a much bigger picture.

5 Different opinions and approaches to auditing are welcomed

Returning to the conference, Symons says one of the most hotly anticipated sessions will be Tuesday afternoon’s ‘Is this a problem?’ slot.

Everybody comes with different thoughts and that’s what makes auditing unique, he reasons. Everybody looks at things differently. For example, my background as a police officer for 30 years is completely different to that of an engineer. They might design and construct roads, but I used to drive along them, so I was looking at them differently. But that's why we do audits with a minimum of two, because everybody looks at different things.
>>> Find out how you can become a qualified road safety auditor here


A limited number of tickets are still available for the SoRSA Annual Conference that takes place from June 20-21 in Manchester. This event will be of interest to developers, project managers, designers, and auditors. Get your tickets here. 

Photo credits: Shutterstock 

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