Magazine article The Spectator

The Risk Factor

Magazine article The Spectator

The Risk Factor

Article excerpt

Motoring imagine that the government announced new figures for road deaths in 2000 as the highest since records began in 1926. Imagine that they included a 14 per cent increase in child deaths since 1999, a I per cent increase in pedestrian deaths and a 26 per cent increase in cyclist deaths.

Imagine, too, the headlines about this senseless slaughter on our roads and the fat-cat motor-moguls who encourage it. Editorials would call for restrictions on car use and a doubling of the price of fuel. There would be a sombre ministerial statement to a hushed House promising an urgent review, followed by radical action, and an undertaking by the Prime Minister on Breakfast with Frost that, since human life was beyond monetary value, whatever - just whatever, David - sums were necessary would be spent to bring down our accident rates to European levels within three years (`Set this one in tarmac, David'). Imagine, too, the hand-wringing on the Today programme (whose presenters would have driven or been driven to the studio), the hostile interviews with carmakers, the gentler ones with cyclomaniac Greenpeace activists who wanted to ban all engines, and the one with the man from South Moulton who had a recipe for making cars from jelly. Panorama would do an on-the-road programme in France, where roads were so much safer, and press reports would claim that Japanese carmakers were pulling out of Britain because their products were being tarnished by association with carnage. Michael Heseltine would say there could be no improvement so long as we remained outside the single currency and drove on the left.

We are left to imagine all this rather than put up with it because the truth is, of course, the opposite. The figures quoted above are the reverse of what happened on our roads in 2000, when fewer people died than in any year since records began: 3,409 compared with 4,886 in 1926, when there were only 1.7 million cars in Britain. The percentage increases over 1999 were in fact decreases. These figures continue the longterm trend that has made our overcrowded and poorly maintained roads among the safest - possibly the safest - in the world. We'd have our work cut out to get them up to European levels, rather than down. But you wouldn't know it from the press coverage because the announcement was tucked away on the inside pages. There were no congratulations to the motoring public, with calls for yet greater efforts in 2001, talk of incentive schemes for safe drivers (tax disc reductions, for example) and promises of more funding of genuine roadsafety measures from the billions in profit the Treasury takes from the motorist each year. …

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