Lives are at risk if road safety budgets are cut, a Whitehall advisory body said today.

It was vital that tough new casualty reduction targets should be laid down to be met by 2020, said the Parliamentary Advisory Councils for Transport Safety (Pacts).

Pacts executive director Robert Gifford added: "In the last three years, we have seen substantial falls in deaths and injuries (on the roads).

"If we fail to maintain our investment in safety, it will be difficult to keep that trend falling. Without the necessary investment, lives will be put at risk."

His comments accompanied a report prepared by Pacts for the RAC Foundation, entitled Tackling the deficit: Where next for road safety?

The report said some councils had already cut road safety engineering by 60%-80% as well as switching off speed cameras, abolishing or reducing lollipop men and women and cutting road safety education programmes.

The report also said the Government should set a target of reducing, by 2020, the number of people killed or seriously injured on the roads by 50% compared with the average for 2004-08.

Mr Gifford said; "Britain has a long commitment to reducing death and injury on the roads. We need to maintain that commitment even in challenging economic circumstances.

"Road crashes are preventable events. By focusing on cutting these further, we can reduce demand on the health service and enhance the nation's economic capability."

RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister said: "Britain has made huge strides in cutting road deaths over recent years, but further casualty reduction is not guaranteed. Reduced budgets and more traffic could mean more people killed rather than less.

"To avoid this, the Government must prioritise road safety and send out a clear message to councils that this is an important area of policy."