Terror on our roads

John Stewart (who is a key campaigner for the Stop Heathrow’s 3rd runway campaign) became RoadPeace Chair in late 1996. He has written a thought piece on speed limiters.  He’s a fantastic campaigner, and now an advisor – his input is immensely valuable to RoadPeace.  Many thanks John for writing this piece.


How to stop the terror on our roads

The two incidents too place on the same weekend in June. Three young men died in the ‘terror’ attack in Reading. Three pedestrians, all members of the same family, were killed in Cumbria by a car driven dangerously by a drunken driver.

Each and every one of the deaths was tragic. I can’t help but reflect, though, on the very different way the media covered the two incidents. Reading generated huge national publicity that went on for days, even weeks. Cumbria was national news for a day, maybe two at most.

When I hear about the ‘war on terror’ I want to scream at the television. I long for the day when a politician or panellist talks about the biggest threat to us. Which is not Muslim extremism or even the chance of being murdered. It is the danger of being killed in a car crash.

The figures are startling.

· Between 2000 and 2017 across the UK:

· On average each year there were 7 deaths as a result of terrorism; a total of 126

· The total number killed on the roads was 45,415

Over a slightly different period (2002/3 and 2018/19), 11,949 were murdered (in England and Wales).

The Real Terror

The real terror is on the roads. The ‘terrorists’ are ordinary people driving their cars. Now very, very few drivers set out to kill somebody. Most are mortified when a person dies as a result of their driving. But for the victims and their relatives, the result is the same. ‘Intent’ is irrelevant. Somebody has died.

It is true that, although there are annual fluctuations, the trend over the last two decades has been downwards but the figures are still frighteningly high. In 2018 1,782 people were killed on UK roads and over 27,000 seriously injured. The war on this ‘terror’ needs some new weapons.

Vision Zero

And they may have found them in Scandinavia. Helsinki and Oslo have cut pedestrian deaths to zero. In 2019 neither city recorded a single pedestrian fatality. For many years now both countries have signed up to Vision Zero which started in Sweden in 1997.

Vision Zero aims to do exactly what is says on the tin: eliminate road deaths and serious injuries. The Scandinavian countries haven’t met that goal yet but their policies are showing how it might be achieved.

Oslo and Helsinki have cut speed limits, changed street design, removed space for cars and generally made life harder for motorists. In Oslo, for example, it takes more time to drive from one part of the city to another now and you have to pay money to use the road much more than you used to. In 2017 there was a 70% increase in tolls across the city which led to a 6% decrease in traffic. Car parking charges were increased and many parking spaces were removed altogether to make room for 35 miles of new cycle lanes.

Similar traffic reduction measures have been employed in Helsinki. Anni Sinnemäki, the city’s deputy mayor of urban environment, said “It’s not only a question of speed limits, although I think all our specialists do say that is the most important single thing affecting traffic safety.”

Blackpool was the first British city to sign up to Vision Zero, in 2007. It has been followed by others including Brighton and Edinburgh. Transport for London has also signed up.

Vision Zero gives us hope. Hope that the war of terror on our roads can be won. It needn’t be a long drawn out conflict. We have the tools to gain a quick victory. The challenge for politicians is to be brave enough to use them.