Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Populism never saved lives

I’ve been reflecting on the latest road accident casualty statistics in Britain and the world1 .
In 2016 there were 181,384 accident casualties recorded on Britain’s roads; 1,792 of these were fatal.
In 2016 46% of those fatal road accident victims were car occupants; 25% were pedestrians; 25% motorcyclists; and 6% were cyclists.
Comparing those groups in terms of distance travelled, you are about twenty-five times more likely to be killed or to be a casualty if you are a motor-cyclist rather than a motorist. And cyclists are about fifteen times more likely to be killed and twenty times more likely to be a casualty than a car driver. It is little wonder that road accident campaigning today focuses on those dangers.
After 1945, fatalities increased year-on-year throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, to a peace-time peak of 7,985 (more than 21 road deaths per day) in 1966.
Then, in Great Britain, the overall number of fatalities and road casualties has been in long term decline since the mid-1960s, and especially since the mid-1990s. This is despite the fact that the number of vehicles on British roads has consistently increased over that period. So, a near 80% cut in road deaths compared to 50 years ago.
To think about this in a different way, if we had the same fatality rate today as in 1966, each and every week of the year, a police officer would be knocking on the door of an additional Sheffield household to bring them the dreadful news that a son/daughter/mother/father/sister/brother had been killed on the roads.
How has this decline come about?
There are a number of significant reasons, but it isn’t a coincidence that the drink-driving laws were introduced in 1966.
Nor is any coincidence that enforcement of the speed limits has been a significant contributor to the reduction.
And, certainly, legislation requiring improvements in the minimum safety standards of cars, and the enforcement of maintenance standards through MoT tests, and the requirements to wear seatbelts and carry children in car-seats have all made substantial contributions.
And, do you remember the populist campaigns against each and every one of these new laws? “It’s an Englishman’s right to be able to drink and drive…drive as fast as I like…decide when his car needs maintaining. The state shouldn’t be interfering in our rights.”
Of course, those same populists are now campaigning against the ban on using your phone whilst driving, despite the damning evidence.
What is happening in the rest of the world?
According to the World Health Organisation, more than 1.25 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes. Injuries from road traffic accidents are the leading cause of death among people aged between 15 and 29 years of age. Low- and middle-income countries had higher road traffic fatality rates per 100,000 population (24.1 and 18.4, respectively) compared to high-income countries (9.2).
Over 3 400 people die on the world's roads every day and tens of millions of people are injured or disabled every year. Children, pedestrians, cyclists and older people are among the most vulnerable of road users.
The numbers killed in road accidents is just lower than the number of deaths from tuberculosis. On current trends road traffic accidents are to become the seventh leading cause of death by 2030. The 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development has set a target to halve the global number of deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents by 2020.
It is clear that many countries will have to go through exactly the same legislative and enforcement changes - relating to reducing traffic speed, drink-driving and increasing the use of motorcycle helmets, seat-belts and child restraints – that we have been through in Britain if they are to cut the casualty and fatality rates significantly.
But, just like in Britain, there are populist campaigns against restrictions on speed, drink-driving and safety standards.
So, throughout the world, we need our elected representatives to make tough decisions on our behalf, not based on the views of those shouting loudest, if we are to make significant improvements.
Populism never saved lives.