Saturday 23 February 2008


‘Speed kills’ is the message - and it’s true. But all cars are built to go at speeds vastly in excess of the maximum speed limit and no political party has ever suggested that it should be otherwise. Even supposedly liberal newspapers like The Independent and The Guardian have motoring correspondents who regularly rave about fast cars. The gutter press regularly screams with outrage about speed cameras. BBC News follows a similar agenda, giving enormous attention to trivial speed camera stories and informing us that speed cameras are nicknamed "yellow vultures". They are painted bright yellow because the police insisted upon it, worried that they might alienate drivers. Which is funny, because drivers are the most violent and lawless offenders of all, killing over 3,000 people a year. No other type of criminal gets this indulgent treatment.

The road safety industry is silent, preferring to blame the victims and putting all the emphasis on teaching children to take care when they cross the road and warning cyclists to wear helmets (though statistically it would make more sense for all car drivers and passengers to wear crash helmets) and to make themselves as visible as possible to inattentive killer drivers.

The consequences of this culture can be seen every day of the week:

Part of the northbound M11 motorway has been shut and a man arrested after six separate crashes in early morning fog. The motorway would not reopen until the middle of the afternoon, police said. An eight-mile stretch of carriageway was closed between junction eight at Stansted Airport and junction nine at Saffron Walden in Essex. Police said a seriously injured woman and a man had been taken to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge. Essex Fire and Rescue said 12 cars and three lorries were involved in crashes and they had sent seven appliances to deal with the incidents.

Terrorist violence merits enormous media coverage. The much greater violence of drivers barely rates a flicker of attention. But the cause of those six crashes is not hard to seek. The M11 is packed with drivers screaming along at speeds well in excess of 70 mph, and there is no shortage of lunatics prepared to drive at high speed in fog. The problem is that the most stupid and murderous drivers on the roads are often those in the most expensive vehicles. Their recklessness is protected by air bags and safety cages. It’s those who they hit and kill who pay the price.

In the London Borough of Waltham Forest, drivers enter Forest Road from the North Circular and the M11 and come racing down the hill past a school, through a residential area. And there is no speed camera at all. Just a solar powered advisory sign which flashes thousands of times a day.