This post first appeared on Bright Green
The horrific crash on the M5 earlier this month was a stark reminder of the dangers of road travel- but it was by no means an isolated incident. The fact is that people die on Britain’s roads every single day of the year – six people – one less than died in the pile up on the M5.
Two years ago this January I picked up the phone to one of my closest friends. It was one of the worst conversations I could have imagined. On his way home from a night out a car speeding along a main road had ploughed into him and his friends. One of the group, a friend of mine, died instantly. One died a few months later after never coming out of a coma. One sustained injuries that kept him in hospital for months. One broke his leg. My close friend was left conscious on the scene. The driver fled.
This accident is, one might think, highly unusual. A new map by The Guardian shows us just how common road accidents have been in Britain over the last 10 years. When I zoomed in to see the mapping of my friend’s accident I couldn’t find it because someone else had died there too and covered them up. When I looked to see the spot where my mum was flung across the road by a four by four I couldn’t make out which of the many ‘serious injuries’ was hers as there were so many on the same spot.
33,000 people have been killed on Britain’s roads over the last ten years and nearly 3 million, just under 5% of the population, have been injured. Add to this the estimated 4000 people dying every year from air pollution in London alone and you begin to get a picture of a desperate situation. The government, you would of thought, would have to act. And they have acted, sort of. They’ve declared an ‘end to the war on the motorist’- a war which George Monbiot points out never actually took place.
The Tories have removed part of the congestion charge in London, removed planning restrictions which limit parking in city centres, publically supported the idea of 80mph speed limits and now, after pressure from The Sun, they are planning to ‘trim benefits’ to stop a fuel duty rise in January. They’ve also cut the road safety grant, which has led to speed cameras up and down the country being switched off. At the very time when motor traffic volumes are actually falling the government is putting in place incentives to put more drivers on the road.
The government isn’t solely to blame on this one; the media also have blood on their hands. For years they have campaigned against this non-existent ‘war on the motorist’. As they cover multi car pile-ups on their front page their comment pieces attack speed cameras as an affront to liberty. They heartily cheered the ‘common sense’ policy of 80mph speed limits and lambasted the congestion charge, whose profits paid for public transport.
Today is the world day of remembrance for road traffic victims. But we should not remember them in silence. Plenty of campaigns are fighting with the government about their policy on transport. The London Green Party are attacking Boris Johnson for ‘gluing’ pollution to the road, Climate Rush are fighting back on behalf of cyclists and The Campaign for Better Transport continue to promote trains and buses as safer, greener transport options. In memory of my friend and for the thousands of others who’ve died I’m going to join the fight.
The statistics I used for road deaths have mostly come from the Office of National Statistics. Sian Berry’s Blog for the Campaign for Better Transport was very useful