Rational thought needed on the roads

The debate over the role of speed cameras, traffic humps and other road safety measures in reducing road casualties is frequently devoid of any reference to hard fact.

The strangely influential and yet tiny Association of British Drivers is wont to make outlandish claims, such as speed cameras have resulted in 5,500 extra deaths and that speed was a contributing factor in only a tiny proportion of accidents, arguments which are neatly knocked down on the slower speeds initiative website: www.slower-speeds.org.uk. Sadly, some councillors are prepared to listen to this sort of nonsense. In Barnet, for example, road humps are being removed by the Conservative council on the grounds that they are ineffective with no evidence being produced to back that case.

So when the government produced research which found to a 40 per cent reduction in those killed or seriously injured at sites of speed cameras which suggested 100 lives per year were being saved nationwide, the matter would have appeared to be finally put to rest.

Not so. Rather inconveniently, a couple of weeks later the annual road casualty figures revealed that for the first time in six years, deaths exceeded 3,500, a 2 per cent rise on the previous year. This led to yet more strange interpretation of statistics. The Times on June 25 in a story under the headline ‘Despite cameras and promises, road deaths rise to 3,500 a year’, said: ‘in the decade before speed cameras were introduced, from 1984 to 1993 road deaths fell by 32 per cent, in the decade since, deaths have dropped by only 3.8 per cent’.

This is a fantastic misuse of statistics because there is no evidence of any relationship between the two facts which is implied in that sentence. Road deaths dropped in the 1980s because of legislation making seat belts compulsory and changing public attitudes towards drink driving, not because, as The Times story oddly implies, there were no speed cameras. Moreover, the fact that deaths have still been going down despite annual increases in mileage on the roads is a considerable achievement helped by such safety measures.

But as road safety groups pointed out, it is the fact that the government has not implemented enough safety measures such as lower drink driving limits and random breathalysers, rather than too few, which is the underlying reason why the death toll has not gone down as fast as had been hoped.

It is heartening, therefore, that despite the enormous hoo-ha about speed cameras, surveys still suggest that they have the support of the majority of the population. Moreover, the police becoming more vocal in their support for them. Richard Brunstrom, chief constable of North Wales police and head of the road policing division of the Association of Chief Police Officers recently told Local Transport Today ‘So many of the people who are against this [speed cameras] are clearly mad – they are right at the fringes of rational thought’. Strong words coming from a cop.

Perhaps the burghers of Barnet should listen to him. Clearly, one of these days a child will be killed or badly hurt on a street where humps have been removed. What will these people on the fringes of rational thought say then?

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