Monday, June 12, 2006

Death Machines

Just seen this press release - some academics 'calling on the government to adopt a bold new strategy to reduce deaths and serious injuries on British roads to zero'. I have a bit of an allergic reaction to anything which utilises the phrase 'zero tolerance' - but I'll make an allowance in this case, because I think the recommendations are absolutely right.

They've been studying the Swedish "Vision Zero" road safety programme and make a number of recommendations, based on the Swedish experience, for British road policy including:

Seems a good idea to me - though I'd like to see the speed limit enforced more strictly and perhaps reduced in non urban areas too. About 3,500 people a year die on British roads - many of them killed by speeding drivers. This is not acceptable. As the report suggests, we don't expect people to die at work or while on a plane (nor on trains), but somehow, this very large death toll seems to be taken as an inevitable 'fact of life'.

I don't have a car at the moment, but when I did, I have to admit that I didn't always keep to the speed limit. It's pretty usual actually, for drivers in 30 mph zones to drive at around 35-40 mph. In fact there's a huge amount of peer pressure on people not to stick to the 30 limit - try it and you'll soon find yourself at the front of a large tail back. We need a new social consciousness amongst the general population - similar to that which has been built up over the past 15-20 years or so about the social unacceptability of drink driving. It shouldn't be the norm that people habitually break speed limits except for when they're driving on stretches of roads dotted with speed cameras. In order to create this new norm we need to see public campaigns taken out of the anti-drink driving book, coupled with, I'm afraid, stiffer sentences for speeding. These needn't necessarily be prison sentences.

I've often wondered, too, whether car manufacturers can be encouraged/made to develop cars which don't allow the driver to break the speed limit. Surely we have the technology now to make sure that cars can't go over 30mph in urban areas and 60-70 in other areas? It's certainly the case that there is absolutely no good reason why cars capable of huge speeds should be produced for the mass consumer market (indeed many of them are sold on this basis).

Nobody should be allowed to drive their cars at break neck speed (with the exception of ambulance drivers and so on). Your dad is right when he says about the guy who's just overtaken you at speed - 'he'll only get there about 30 seconds faster'. These idiots are gambling with other people's lives for no good reason at all. It should be a serious crime.

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