Wednesday, 18 July 2012

More Risk, Less Danger

As an example of media and government's penchant for pumping out scare stories, and the public's unquenchable thirst for sucking it all in, the high billing of today's "government blasted on road deaths" story is from the top drawer.
The government has been criticised for a lack of leadership after the first increase in road deaths for nearly a decade.
The tone of the article was a surprise to me because this news pinged into my inbox on the 10th, and seemed to be a pretty unremarkable set of stats. Indeed, it was only prioritised as 7th article of 12 in my regular VOSA bulletin.

Here's how it looks in a graph produced by the ONS.

OK, so it's a blip, yes. However, as the report itself points out, once road conditions are taken into account, there's really not a lot to see here.
Adverse weather (heavy snow falls) experienced in the first and last quarters of 2010 but not in 2011 are likely to be a factor in the increase in serious road casualties and fatalities recorded in 2011.
Or, to put it another way, unusually cautious driving during those periods - plus the least confident not taking to the road at all - led to a bigger fall in deaths for 2010 than would have otherwise been the case.

Sadly, as has become customary, the usual groups have taken this opportunity to call for more road schemes, interventions and - of course - money (cuts were inevitably mentioned by implication as a blame factor), and MPs are puffing their chests out and declaring that "something must be done".

It's the ministerial and single issue version of empire-building; the Westminster equivalent of trying to look busy instead of being caught shuffling paper clips around the desk through lack of work (when most of the time, it would be preferable if they just stuck to the paper clips).

In reality, these figures merely lend further credence to the theory that making drivers take more notice of what is around them is a far better road safety approach than convincing them that they needn't worry because government has their back and is eradicating all risk.


JonathanBagley said...

None of the interviewers I heard this morning thought to ask where the increases - and decreases - came from. Thanks for the link to the ONS data. A breakdown of the casualties is given in table ras30001 in the xls tables. Many of the increases were in the cyclist category. Darwin moight have had something to say about that.

Curmudgeon said...

It's obviously a blip - a small and not really statistically significant increase following years of substantial falls. But unfortunately nowadays road safety policy gets mixed up with wider issues of transport policy, and figures like this get enthusiastically taken up by those like BRAKE, RoadPeace and the Campaign for Better (sic) Transport whose agenda basically is to curb the use of private motor vehicles. Can't have the plebs enjoying all that freedom of movement, can we?

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Yes, reports I heard on local and national radio went something like "there's been an increase in deaths, so-and-so from road safety charity says ..." - little, if anything, by way of looking into the stats more closely. 

Dick_Puddlecote said...


SadButMadLad said...

Your (or the ONS) charts only starts in 2000. If you find a chart that shows overall road deaths since the introduction of cars, you'll find that the last few years is pretty much a plateau. We've reached the point in time when the cost of implementing safety features rises exponentially for every life potentially saved. The law of diminishing returns kicks in.

BRAKE should be able to close down now. They've done their job. They've saved thousands of lives through their tireless work. The future doesn't look all that good to them though because there will never be a time when there aren't deaths on the road - unless we have a person carrying a red flag in front of every car.

Dick_Puddlecote said...

Very true. Road risk expert John Adams makes the good point that road accidents fall in every nation at a similar rate irrespective of safety measures, simply because humans learn over time how best to live with, and react to, motor vehicles - whilst the vehicles themselves are engineered more with safety in mind. The first UK car fatality was caused by a vehicle travelling at 4mph, it's hard to imagine anything like that happening now the public are car-wise, and cars themselves better designed. 

sillyusername said...

 I understand what you mean, but I take issue with what you say. Since the average road speed in heavily populated town centres is little more than walking speed offering a blanket description of  the private motor vehicle as a contributor to "freedom" is being optimistic in the extreme.
Where I live (north Norway) the public transport system is fine for getting to and from work or going shopping at the weekends. If you want to do anything else or chauffeur the kids around to a hundred and one after school activities you absolutely must have a car. This cannot really be said for anyone living in central London. It is not personal transport per se that is a problem, it is the use to which it is put or in some cases the utter futility of owning (at considerable expense) personal transport.

Tom said...

I suggest we raise money for an annual paperclip sculpture prize for public servants.

ReefKnot said...

Guess where BRAKE gets its funding from ? It's not a proper charity you know - its aim is to lobby and campaign against the private motorist. It will continue to do so as long as it is funded by .....the Taxpayer ! How stupid we all are to allow this to continue, me included. It is quite simply a "Fake Charity" ( or sock-puppet ). The sooner the Government acts to de-fund all such organisations the better for all of us - they are a pox on society and our freedoms.

I expect the Government to take action, shortly after they have lit the "Bonfire of the Quangos " that we were promised, along with the "End of the War on the Motorist ". So, that will be never, then. Useless tossers , aren't they ?

Sam Duncan said...

Dare I say “dead cat bounce“, given the context? :)

Dick_Puddlecote said...


JonathanBagley said...

Apologies, can't read the table. In absolute terms the increase in deaths of 50 was largely pedestrians +48, car occupants +48, m.cyclists -41. Pedal cyclist deaths actually went down slightly. Amazingly. This year there seem to be a lot more of them, in Manchester at least. Some on the road. I even saw one use a hand signal a couple of days ago. Brought back memories of the cycling proficiency test back in 64. Expect next years figures to be higher.

Jax said...

LBC at lunchtime hosted a call-in as a follow-up to this story, particularly in the light of the fact that the statistics highlighted that in young people aged 16-24 (or thereabouts) road accidents were the highest cause of premature death.  Now, quite apart from that not actually being very surprising - because young people are generally much, much less vulnerable to illnesses than older people, and recover from them much more quickly nd efficiently - what was staggering was that in her introduction the presenter ran through a range of suggestions as to what "could be done" to help the situation, and each and every one, predictably, involved further restrictions on private car drivers - lower speed limits, no driving permitted at all in town centres on Sundays, etc etc - but there was absolutely no suggestion at all that young people (or, better still, children) should - as we all did back in the ol' days - learn some basic road safety and road sense a la the "Tufty" Club in the 1960's or the Green Cross Code in the 70's and 80's.

In my experience unaccompanied young people and teenagers have absolutely no concept of road danger and will gaily step out in front of moving traffic without so much as a glance in either direction.  And the laws of Physics will tell you, even a slow driving speed still has a certain amount of braking space, beyond which it is impossible to stop without hitting anything which happens to be within that distance.  With young people virtually shoving themselves voluntarily beneath car wheels then such road deaths will continue at precisely the same rate, regardless of how low the speed limit is.

It's almost as if the fact that they know it's the poor old motorist who will get the blame for any accident, regardless of how culpable a pedestrian or cyclist may actually be for it, makes them simply not care about safety at all.  It just doesn't seem to have occurred to them that, regardless of who is or isn't to blame, it will pretty much always be them - the pedestrian or the cyclist - who ends up most badly hurt.

SadButMadLad said...

Yep, I know of him too.

truckerlyn said...

I totally agree Jax.  For years I have believed that the onus for ones safety has to be on each individual, especially where roads and traffic is concerned.  For those not yet old enough to exercise personal responsibility, they should be supervised at all times when around traffic and other dangers - in that way they start to learn.

Another factor is the driving test - there is nothing included in the test to inform and educate the candidate on how to behave around large vehicles using the roads.  There is total ignorance amongst the public, as a whole, regarding trucks and only a little comprehension regarding buses/coaches.  This ignorance causes many accidents, some minor, others not.

There is also the issue, in my opinion, of 3 (that is THREE) different speeds on single carriageway A roads!  How ridiculous is that?  Even more ridiculous is that most road users are totally unaware of it!  Things like this cause frustration and impatience to car drivers who then start to look on truck drivers, in particular, as bullies who use their size to 'control and intimidate' the roads and other road users.

As for speed limits!  This is the usual knee jerk reaction whenever there is a fatal crash "reduce the speed limit on that stretch of road".  That will do absolutely no bloody good whatsoever!  If a crash happens solely due to speed, then reducing a speed limit will not have the blindest bit of effect, except to frustrate the every day motorist.

IMHO, too much speed reduction, especially on roads that were designed to be driven faster and therefore lead and encourage people to drive faster, as as much if not more to blame than most speeding motorists.  That and the absence today of road policing, which has been handed over to arbitrary cameras are much to blame.  Driving up to 10mph (sometimes even more) in itself is not dangerous nor in itself likely to cause accidents.  There are too many people driving too slowly that may not be in accidents, but who cause plenty!  Dangerous driving, which can does not always go hand in hand with speeding, is not detected as cameras are not capable of distinguishing dangerous from safe driving.

Bring back proper policing of our roads, stop reducing speeds to below what the road was designed for and get rid of cameras and our roads, I believe, would be even safer!  It would also rid the roads of the dangerous drivers rather than the drivers who might speed a little, but who are aware of what is happening around them and are ready to deal with situations, but in the process get caught a few mph over the prescribed limit and end up getting banned!