Thursday, December 24, 2015

Another day, another road tragedy

By Will Bramhill, CCC planning officer

It's Christmas Eve, and roughly one year since the terrible bin lorry crash in Glasgow.

I've done the cleaning and my wife is well on with the cooking, and it's all systems go for a happy family Christmas.

Sadly, it won't be a happy day for everyone, but then today — and tomorrow — is just like any other day with regard to tragedies on the roads.

The report above (see screenshot) is on breaking news on the BBC website: a car has crashed into a cafe in Westerham, Kent. One person is dead and five are injured.

Without knowing the cause for this particular crash, it is worrying that such incidents are so common.

While we put huge resources into fighting terrorism, there is a drip-drip-drip of road casualties that still results in 1,700-plus deaths a year and many more life-changing injuries.

The government trumpets the fact that the death toll is down but this is largely because car occupants are hugely more protected — too many victims are pedestrians, cyclists and bystanders. It is still a fact that 80 classrooms1 of UK children are killed or have life-changing injuries on our roads each year.

This crash may have been deliberate/accidental. It could have been the result of a medical condition, age (infirmity or inexperience), inattention (perhaps phone, radio, satnav) or inappropriate speed (not necessarily the speed limit). Whatever the cause, families’ lives will have been shattered.

As a matter of priority, the government should introduce Vision Zero policies to reduce road collisions to an absolute minimum.

Measures should include:

:: area-wide 20mph limits where people live;
:: a vast increase in the penalties for “minor” road offences (speeding, inattention, car condition);
:: compulsory five-year tests for all drivers (three chances to pass before a ban, but  your insurer notified about each fail); 
:: better liaison between doctors, patients and DVLA about fitness to drive, and
:: strict liability (making every collision between a motor vehicle and a cyclist/pedestrian, or a cyclist and pedestrian, roughly equivalent to a rear-end shunt between two cars — ie, the driver causing the most damage — heavier vehicle, greater speed — is automatically responsible unless they can prove the other party was reckless).

As usual, though, the government will follow what is known as FM Cornford’s Wedge: “You should not act justly now for fear of raising expectations that you may act still more justly in future — expectations which you are afraid you will not have the courage to satisfy.”

Or it may even follow Cornford’s rule of inaction that every public action that is not customary “either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time”.

Colchester Cycling Campaign invited senior councillors from Essex County Council to attend the UK Vision Zero launch, but one had a prior booking (at the time, three months ahead — and no offer to send a substitute), and the other two didn't even reply.

Meanwhile, the road carnage continues and the government uses the threat from terrorism to try to strangle the few freedoms (here and here) we have.

1 1 Based on 2012 figures; 30 children in a classroom