Thursday 25 June 2009

The great ‘road safety’ confidence trick

Later today the official government statistics for road deaths and injuries will be published. The number of fatalities will probably have fallen. An airhead minister will be wheeled out to say that Britain has some of the safest roads in the world. No car supremacist journalist (and certainly not one from the BBC) will challenge the meaning of these statistics.

As they only record deaths and injuries the figures will exclude most crashes on Britain's roads, since most result in no recorded injury (such as the recent Boris near miss lorry episode). In no meaningful sense will they indicate anything about safety or danger on the roads. You can be quite sure that the minister will not be asked why the government has not introduced an immediate driving ban for anyone caught using a mobile phone while driving. The answer is, of course, that the solution to road carnage is political, and all the major parties have cosy links with the road lobby. A few hundred dead and injured cyclists and pedestrians is a small price to pay for keeping the mobile phone companies and the motor trade happy.

In reality any fall in casualty statistics will in part reflect a reduction in traffic volume in the face of recession and high fuel costs. Other factors include air bags and rigid steel safety cages, which protect people in cars from the consequence of crashes. The air ambulance whisks victims of road crashes to hospital. The roads are no safer; it's simply that people who would once have died now live. And traffic congestion, by forcing drivers to go slowly, also helps reduce fatalities and injuries. Average speed cameras also curb lawless risk-taking driving.

The road lobby, with the traditional and active complicity of the BBC, has got in early:

More than half of Britain's A roads have failed to be rated as safe in a study of 28,000 roads and motorways. A quarter of motorways also rated poorly, the European road assessment programme (EuroRAP) found.

EuroRAP is a road lobby group. Its website has to be scrutinised with care. For example, ‘Road Peace’ (sic) is correctly listed as a victim support site but has nothing at all to do with EuroRAP. The EuroRAP solution to road carnage is to spend more money on roads. It is not remotely interested in speed limiters, or black boxes in vehicles to record speed at the time of a collision, or limiting vehicles to maximum national speed limits. Like all such bogus road safety organizations its reports reveal a pattern of systematic neglect of pedestrians and cyclists. EuroRAP exists to deflect attention from the true causes of road carnage – reckless criminal driving and vehicles cynically designed to encourage reckless speeding.

Any cyclist knows that Britain’s roads are not safe, and criminal and reckless driving is a very visible reality. Drivers know that the police have little interest in curbing their risk-taking. All the road ‘improvements’ in the world are no protection from the yobs who clog our road network. People like this character: Shennan continued to overtake even after the end of the dual carriageway, travelling across the chevroned lines in the centre of the carriageway.