Monday, 2 July 2012

Each statistic is a tragedy

Over the years, it has not been uncommon to read articles and letters in national and local newspapers railing against the criminalization of various road safety laws.

The authors have been almost unanimous in opposing legislation which required the wearing of seatbelts, a limit on drinking and driving, and banned the use of mobile phones. All have been characterised as an unnecessary assault on individual freedom, despite the overwhelming evidence that each of those laws has led to dramatic reductions in deaths and serious injuries on the roads.

In recent years, there has been a similar campaign against speed limits and, in particular, speed cameras. Now, I’m quite happy to have an informed debate about speed limits and their enforcement, so let’s deal with the facts.

The new Labour government in 1997 introduced some targets to cut road deaths and serious injuries:
  • A 40% cut in deaths and serious injuries
  • A 50% cut in child deaths and serious injuries
  • A 10% cut in minor injuries

By 2009, all those targets had been exceeded, including a 61% cut in child deaths and serious injuries and a 30% cut in minor injuries.

The incoming coalition government – opposed to targets and for what it saw as populist reasons – simply removed all targets, axed road safety grants, and removed all funding for speed cameras. We can now see the result.

Last year, deaths on the roads increased for the first time since 2003 and there were sharp increases in the numbers of pedestrians killed and cyclists seriously injured. The number of people killed or seriously injured rose to 25,023. Deaths among pedestrians rose by 12 per cent to 453, including a 27 per cent increase in the number of child pedestrians killed last year.

Of course, statistics are bland, But, each and every one of those is a tragedy. Just ask the families and the doctors and police officers who have to deliver the awful news.