Killer Roads?

How can an investigative documentary with the pedigree of Panorama fail so dismally in its investigation? One cliché after another followed as the programme sought to account for the trending increase in road “accidents”.

The key interviewee was HM Inspector of Constabulary, Matt Parr. He thinks the increase is due to cuts in roads policing and speed cameras.

Cliché clips showed priority traffic insisting on its artificial right-of-way, as it failed to show empathy for others trying to enter or cross. At a roundabout, a driver who arrived first and filtered left was honked at and tailgated by a driver who was already in the roundabout. We were invited to tut at the left turner, because most commentators and policymakers in the traffic field are incapable of thinking outside the box marked “priority” – priority for the main road over side roads and pedestrians (creating lethal conflict when there could be gentle merging in turn); priority to the right at roundabouts (producing queues on the roads less travelled and a “need” for traffic lights). For me, the clips were noteworthy for their failure to prompt questioning or analysis by the programme.

We met a young boy whose leg was horribly broken by a driver in a Cornish village. His mother called it an accident. No. Like most “accidents”, it was an event contrived by the vicious rules of the road, which put the onus on the child to beware the motorist when it should be the other way round!

We saw volunteers manning speed cameras – as if they were the answer. Speed doesn’t kill. It’s inappropriate speed, or speed in the wrong hands that can kill. Policy always treats symptoms, never the cause.

We met shocking-pink-haired campaigner Clare Mercer, whose son Jason was killed on the hard shoulder of a “smart” motorway. Did we meet the perpetrator(s) of this act of corporate manslaughter? Not on your nelly. The programme was content to whimper, and failed to name, shame or call policymakers to account.

Next the programme discussed another old chestnut: drink driving. Along with less roads policing and fewer working speed cameras, we learned there are fewer drink driving checks. The programme claimed  240 deaths a year are due to drink. As a percentage of 2000 deaths and 23,000 serious injuries, it’s appreciable, but by contrast, Westminster City Council’s safety audit reveals that 44% – nearly half – of personal injury accidents occur at traffic lights. None of the remaining 56% is examined through the lens of priority.

There is always a blame culture at work in the field of road safety. It’s always a road-user’s fault, never the fault of the rules or design of the road, or an inadequate driving test, or, above all, the fault of the architects of the dysfunctional system which costs lives and costs the earth – in both senses.

On his trip from Land’s End to John ‘O Groats, reporter Richard Bilton led us to the A82, portentously stating that with 90 deaths a year, it’s the UK’s most dangerous road. We learned about an accident in which an entire young family died. “Who is to blame?” asked an earnest Bilton, leaning in. “No-one,” said the grandmother. “It’s the road.” Clearly the loss was appalling, but how can you blame an inert thing – a road?

John Barrell of the Road Safety Foundation blamed the lack of speed cameras for “accidents” on the A82. How about better education? How about allowing only advanced drivers on the road? How about a driving test that teaches us to drive by context instead of numbers? None of that was discussed. Brake! would claim that driving by context is a licence to drive without due care and attention. No. It’s a blueprint for driving with true care and attention.

A prerequisite for a driving licence should be cycling proficiency and a rider’s licence. Then we wouldn’t need to be told to THINK BIKE! We’d know!

“We must have targets,” said usual suspect, Edmund King of the AA. “Without targets,” he said, “road safety won’t be a priority.” Bilge! Actually, Ed isn’t a bad guy, though rather conventional in his thinking. It’s possible he said more useful things which didn’t make it into this disappointing programme, misleadingly entitled, Killer Roads.

About Martin Cassini

Campaign founder and video producer, pursuing traffic system reform to make roads safe, civilised and efficient
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