Hammond bottles it

Apparently, Philip Hammond is set to ignore the advice of a team of experts and refuse to lower the drink drive limit. The suggestion by the North committee would effectively mean that drivers  could have one pint and no more. Effectively this would save at least 65 lives per year and perhaps more.

But Hammond has acquiesced to the drinks lobby and decided that more rural pubs would be put out of business if the law were changed. I do wonder if our new transport secretary has been to any rural pubs lately – many have, indeed, already shut down, but those surviving have turned into restaurants and brasseries, making much of their money from food rather than alcohol. I doubt whether stopping people having a second pint would really make all the difference to their livelihood.

More important, halving the limit – to the amount in most European countries – would send out an important signal that basically if you are driving, don’t drink. Large swathes of the population already accept this and changing the rules would have encouraged the rest to do so.

I suspect the government is going to get into trouble over road deaths. Already, the £38m budget for road safety schemes has been cut and speed cameras are being turned off up and down the land because their funding has been cut. Everything that Hammond is doing seems set to increase road casualties, a rather bizarre political aim.

I have just been writing a series of articles on road safety for a Guardian supplement and even though I have written about this before, the figures are shocking – around 1.2million deaths annually, and that is without counting the many that are not reported. Roads kill more than either TB or malaria, and while HIV/AIDS accounts for probably twice as many, it gets $18 billion funding per year from global organisations such as the World Bank, whereas road safety gets just $18 million.   As Andrew Pearce, the head of the Global Road SafetyPartnership told me, this is a ‘an underfunded man made crisis’.

The reasons why this carnage attracts so little attention and funding are complex. Pearce suggest this is because the killer is ‘kinetic energy’ , which is a nebulous concept that is silent, invisible and little understood. Perhaps. I rather think it is because politicians – and much of the public – feel that road deaths are just a price we have to pay for our mobility. Cars and lorries increase connectivity and generate huge amounts of money, satisfying two basic human needs.

When numbers start to rise again in this country because of the ending of the non-existent ‘war on the motorist’,  let’s make sure that those responsible, like Philip Hammond, are called to account.

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