When we step into our cars none of us views ourselves as a potential killer, yet there are seven deaths on the road every day, and many more injuries. For the first time in many years, the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads has stopped declining. But perversely, because they happen so frequently and tend to be viewed as ‘accidents’ and hence somehow unavoidable, the motoring public tends to write them off as an acceptable price to pay for our right’ to drive.
This attitude is mirrored in public policy which distinguishes illegal behaviour, which should be punished, from foolish’ mistakes, which aren’t. Yet even minor lapses in judgement or concentration can have very serious consequences. Ironically, the police hardly help matters by viewing roads-policing in a vacuum, as something separate from other types of policing, and yet a person with a criminal conviction is four times more likely to kill someone on the road.
Roads policing is the Cinderella of the service; the number of roads policing officers has fallen by 29% in the last ten years and the government’s Strategic Policing Requirement, which is intended to ensure that certain areas of policing aren’t neglected, doesn’t even mention roads policing. Why is it that while there are Railway and Marine Accident Investigation Branches there is no equivalent for the roads? Wouldn’t greater emphasis on road accident investigation enable increasingly limited resources to be allocated more effectively?
In his Independent Review of Policing, Sir Ronnie Flanagan says that the litmus test for resource allocation should always be the degree to which something is a threat or a risk and likely to cause harm. Understanding more about the risks associated with driving and communicating the costs, both financial and emotional, could help prevent dangerous driving and reduce the harm it can cause. The cost of road casualties is much higher than the money spent on measures such as lowering traffic speeds, with every £1 invested in road safety returning at least £10 and maybe as much as £20 in return. Investing in prevention pays. The clunk click’ campaign of the 1970s saw a significant increase in people wearing seat belts and the drink-driving campaign was singularly successful in changing the way drivers and drinkers behave. Campaigns to stop texting while driving, and change the way speeding is perceived by many drivers as socially acceptable, could become the next great success. Self-policing costs nothing. But the signals sent out by the government about the importance of roads policing must be challenged if the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads is to start falling again.