Economist Thomas Piketty, “is in no doubt,” writes Will Hutton, “that rising wealth inequality imperils the very future of capitalism. He has proved it.” As I have been saying for years, inequality on the road imperils life. It has been doing so for nearly a century. Commissioning editors in the Press and BBC, however, as well as most traffic officials and Westminster politicians, think it’s of no interest that the annual peacetime casualty toll of 25,000, many of them children, is due to a fatal flaw in policy and practice. Of no interest to them either is the evidence from Portishead and Poynton (see Media) that equality is the solution to our problems on the road. If you have to write a book for people to take notice, I’m game. Any publishers game?
Brake! wants “tougher sentences for killer drivers”. As usual, the blame is misdirected. The priority system is the cause of our problems on the road. By fashioning an unequal killing-field, it makes victims of us all. We live in the Country of the Blame, where the likes of Brake! see only symptoms of a dysfunctional system.
Our roads are stuck in the age of deference. By making side roads and pedestrians defer to main road drivers, regardless who arrived first, the traffic system is chronically out-of-date, as are most of the people who run it.
A new law against domestic violence – coercive control – is on the statute books. Isn’t it time to outlaw violence against the public in the form of priority-driven traffic control?
(To paraphrase from this piece about education by Simon Jenkins): Traffic engineers crave quantification. They have made what is measurable important (e.g. questionable accident stats) instead of what is important measurable (such as quality of life and space).
The current traffic control system is fit for the purpose of enriching the traffic control industry, but is it fit for people’s safety, convenience or pleasure?
Walkers and drivers can coexist in harmony. But not under the current system. Why do we allow drivers to own the road and intimidate walkers? Why must children learn traditional road safety drill, and why should adults observe it? Vehicles are the killing machines that cause the damage. It’s high time to turn the tables and reverse the balance of power. Let drivers defer to walkers. Let drivers learn the drill. Then, at last, our roads would be safe.
From the Guardian article (in the previous post), Theo Hobson continues: ”If we want to reform our world, pragmatic rationalism is not enough: we need this bold vision, of full humanity regained.” Similarly, if we want to civilise our roads, we must realise that traffic regulation is the problem, not the solution. We need to reclaim our roads to regain our humanity.
In his Discourse on Inequality (1754), Rousseau proposed the idea of “the state of nature”, a period in human life when natural compassion held sway and ensured equality (Theo Hobson, Guardian). With civilisation, this primal equality disappeared, chiefly because property was invented. “From how many crimes, wars and murders,” wrote Rousseau, “from how many horrors and misfortunes might not anyone have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes … and crying to his fellows: you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.” The parallel here? With traffic regulation, equality disappeared, because priority was invented. How many deaths, bereavements, injuries, expense, horrors and injustices might we have spared humankind by scrapping priority and crying to our fellow man: we are all undone if we forget that the fruits of the public realm belong to all road-users in equal measure!
James Tate of Leeds University appeared in a One Show item last night about the added air pollution from traffic stopping and restarting. Apparently, it boosts the production of poisonous nitrous oxide by cooling catalytic converters which are most efficient when hot. Not once did the item mention traffic signal control, the primary cause of traffic stopping and restarting. Many of our social, environmental and economic problems from traffic are amenable to the Equality Streets treatment, but is anyone listening?