Since the beginning of mass private vehicle ownership, these numbers have reduced significantly through technological advancements and public health interventions. Most of us, thankfully, will never experience losing someone in such a way. But for those that do, the grief and injustice are unthinkable.
What many of us do experience, as the numbers of vehicles on our roads increase, is a pervasive fear for our safety and that of our families and friends. Up goes the age at which we allow our children out to play independently, stifling their resilience. Sleep is intruded by the thought of a blue illuminated knock at the door when our teenagers are late home. And even simple local trips by bike are punctuated by uncertainty as to whether vehicles rumbling behind will pass too close and knock us down.
The momentum to improve the situation on our roads has waned, and for many years now these grim statistics have been flat lining. Through a combination of cuts, ideological opposition to public health interventions and lobbying of a sympathetic government by powerful motoring and big oil groups, society has lost its way when it comes to road safety.
Our legal system, too, is affected by this bias, which sees driving as a right rather than a privilege. Even when people completely ignore their responsibilities behind the wheel and kill or seriously injure others, they are usually back on the road while their cases come to trial and are almost never subject to lifetime bans. The inconvenience of being prevented from driving is considered so great that it outweighs not only justice for victims of these crimes but also society’s right to protection from further harm.
Ironically, the convenience of travel by car – its supposed main advantage – is an illusion. Rush hour speeds in many major cities are often well below what could easily be achieved by bike, scooter or efficient public transport. Add to this its many disadvantages – not just the threat posed to public safety, but also the cost, pollution and effects on physical and mental wellbeing of sedentary inactivity in travel – and the case to disincentivise it where viable alternatives exist grows exponentially.
We have joined together because these issues affect each and every one of our communities and we are stronger when we speak with one voice. All of us live in fear that we or our loved ones could be next, and this fear impacts our lives and limits our freedoms. In a world where there are many ways to reduce these harms, and plentiful alternatives to car travel with such potential benefits to us all, we refuse to live like this.
Mat MacDonald – Safe Streets Now Co-ordinator