Anger as Wirral Road Casualties Toll Soars; 200 Victims of Serious Accidents in a Year

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Byline: BY SAM LISTER

DEATHS and critical injuries on Wirral's roads have gone up by 31% in five years - despite a government campaign to cut them by 40%.

The shocking new figures reveal that more than 200 people were victims of serious traffic accidents in the borough last year.

On Saturday, a four-year-old boy was left fighting for his life after being struck by a 4X4 as he crossed Brighton Street with his family in Wallasey. He suffered a fractured skull and is being treated at Alder Hey hospital.

Campaigners last night branded the spiralling death and injury rates a 'disgrace' and called for sweeping changes in road safety policies. But the latest figures mean Wirral Council is likely to miss out on a pounds 693,000 bonus payment for reducing road deaths.

Council highways officials blamed the rise in casualties on an increase in leisure drivers, particularly motorcyclists, through the borough and on young, inexperienced drivers.

The peninsula is the main through route for motorists heading between Liverpool and Wales.

Thousands of tourists also travel along country roads as they visit its coastline during the summer months.

When the Government announced national targets six years ago, calling for a 40% reduction in road deaths and injuries, Wirral recorded 156 casualties. Since then they have risen steadily each year.

Two years ago, the council negotiated a new target with the Government to reduce the rates to 137 by 2006. In return, it would receive a pounds 693,000 payout. But officers privately admit now that it is highly unlikely to happen.

By last year, the number of deaths and serious injuries had shot up to 204 despite pounds 390,000 being spent on safety schemes by the local authority each year.

It has set up a number of projects targeting younger drivers and child pedestrians.

Since then, there has been a drop in child casualties in the borough.

Officers now want to repeat the success by targeting motorcyclists. They claim the number of bikers has increased considerably over the past five years.

But a road safety expert has condemned the council's approach and claims over-zealous use of traffic calming and speed cameras and under-policing are really to blame, not teenager drivers or bikers.

Tony Vickers, from the Association of British Drivers, said: 'They claim younger drivers are partly to blame for the increase but why should younger drivers now be more prone to crashes than they were 10 years ago?

'We have always had younger drivers so it doesn't follow, especially when cars are better built now.

'There has been an increase in motorcycle ownership. There has been a trend among middle-aged men who perhaps could not afford a bike when they were younger to get one now and sometimes they cannot handle the machine.

'But they are not significant enough to account for such a rise.

'Traffic increased dramatically during the 60s and 70s but deaths and serious injuries fell year on year. …