Last year there were 240 deaths from drink driving. Richard Allsop of the RAC Foundation estimates there would be 25 fewer deaths if the drink-drive limit were cut from .08 to .05. The story made the news, but the numbers are negligible compared with the casualties caused by the lethal rule of priority, which never make the news (despite my efforts). Those “accidents” are routinely attributed to driver error – a travesty of the truth.
It’s well-known that dirty urban air causes lung, heart and developmental damage, but increasingly it’s being linked to brain damage. The Times didn’t break the news but covered it on 19 September under the front page headline, “Dementia soars in areas hit by pollution”. Countless cases of dementia could be avoided by cutting air pollution from traffic. Because most of it, through a trick of chemistry, is invisible, governments get away with inaction which amounts to manslaughter.
Report here. To blame for this road death, of course, is the malign system of priority. Once again, of course, the perpetrators of the system will get away with what amounts to manslaughter. The onus for road safety should be on the driver or rider, not the walker. It’s another example of traffic lights failing to make roads safe. Why do they fail? Because they fail to treat the underlying cause of danger on the road: priority. And they flout the fundamental principle of road safety: to watch the road.
Last week I saw a woman with two toddlers trying to cross Portland Road at the east end of Ilfracombe High St. For a full two minutes, a stream of drivers ignored them, including a district councillor I know but maybe shouldn’t name here. Where is their common decency? As soon as I was able to get out of Hostle Park Road, I blocked further traffic and waved the woman across.
On one level, the neglect of other road-users is due to ignorance on the part of drivers — they don’t bat an eye when stopping at lights, or waiting for priority traffic to clear a junction. But unless there’s a pedestrian crossing or traffic light, they are oblivious to people on foot. Primarily, the neglect is due to the system for teaching neglect. As I’ve said before, the system is anathema to civilised values.
Today’s Guardian led with a piece about a comprehensive Chinese study which shows that air pollution (already implicated in 7 million premature deaths a year worldwide) damages intelligence and cognitive function, not just in foetuses and children, but in adults, especially those over 64. Equality Streets offers a low-cost, low-risk way of making an immediate difference. Without signals causing stops, restarts and needless delay, traffic can move gently and merge at low revs, cutting emissions dramatically.
Chief Constable Anthony Bangham of West Mercia Police, national head of roads policing, proposes penalising drivers for exceeding the speed limit by 1mph. “We are proud to be law enforcers,” he says. He seems to embody the dangerous banality of roads policy. Instead of teaching people to drive by context, the system teaches us to drive by numbers. If you’re doing 20 or 30 in a built-up area, you can hit a child with impunity. But on the open road, if you choose your own speed and cause no danger, you’re guilty, even though you’re innocent. If the law is an ass, nowhere is it more asinine than on the roads. As regards roads policy, the authorities are stuck in the dark ages. Today’s story. Earlier Telegraph report, which I missed at the time.
Should the offence of dangerous cycling be brought into line with dangerous driving? A 3-month consultation has been announced. Cycling UK says it’s an opportunity to review road safety legislation in general.
As usual, public debate about road safety refers to law and enforcement. No mention is made of human nature, culture or education. Danger on the road, and the culture of aggression, are CAUSED by the misguided rules of the road. Given equality, and a driving test based on equality, the milk of human kindness would start to flow, and “accidents” would stop happening.
It’s anomalous, and scandalous, that while public services are cut to the bone, tens of £billions are blown on a traffic system which amounts to a public disservice. The system is dysfunctional. It fails on every count: safety, health, efficiency, cost, air quality, quality of life and space.
Road-users are drilled in the delinquent priority system, and unleashed onto a man-made war-zone. They should learn – through a new rulebook and driving test – to act sociably, i.e. take it more or less in turns. Then, with equality replacing priority, we would enjoy peaceful coexistence, shorter journey times, cleaner air, and the state would save a fortune on counterproductive traffic control.
While the last ten years has seen the loss of 135 million miles of rural bus routes, a quarter of the staff at HS2 – that high-cost vanity project which does nothing to improve rural connectivity – are on six-figure salaries.
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