In late November, Transport 2000 and Friends of the Earth, amongst others, put out an appeal for people to write letters via T2000 to Tony Blair. There had been concern that the Slower Speeds Initiative had stalled under pressure from the car lobby. I wrote a letter pointing out that speeds and volumes of traffic on rural roads were restricting the freedom of many to move on foot or by bike.
It was arranged that letters would be handed over to the Prime Minister on Tuesday 21 December and, at the same time, the Safe Streets Coalition would be launched. This is a coalition of over 20 charities who wish to highlight the deaths, danger, and restriction of freedom that excessive speed causes. The text of the launch document and a list of the charities concerned is reproduced below.
Much to my surprise, I received an email asking if I would be interested in coming to Downing Street as part of a small group who might be allowed through the security gates. So, on a bitterly cold morning, I found myself outside Downing Street with a group of around 60 people. In the end only those with children were allowed through, including most of a class from a London school whose classmate had been killed by a speeding car.
‘Over a thousand deaths per year, or a Paddington rail crash every ten days, caused by excessive speed’
Those remaining outside included campaigners from Bristol, Oxford, many parts of London, and the founder of RoadPeace, John Stewart. We had much time to discuss our respective backgrounds, whilst seeing and hearing of progress from inside the gates: ‘They are photographing the children in front of the Christmas tree…’, ‘They have let some people into No 10…’, ‘They have been in for 30 minutes.’
After the delegation left No 10 more filming was done, and then many of us retired to the café below the Methodist Central Hall adjacent to Parliament Square. Here we could talk to some of those who went in to No 10, and warm ourselves with a welcome cup of coffee. I talked with Pauline Fielding from Cheshire whose 16-year-old son was killed by a speeding car. She said that Tony Blair seemed genuinely interested, and appeared shocked at the statistic of over a thousand deaths per year, or a Paddington rail crash every ten days, caused by excessive speed.
Was it worth it? Definitely. It was the lead story on the BBC children’s program Newsround and bits appeared elsewhere. A couple of days later I was interviewed for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, and an article appeared in the motoring section of the Cambridge Evening News . It’s good to feel that the problems of excessive speed are reaching a wider audience.
Every year, nearly 1200 people die in crashes in which speed is a major contributory factor. Nearly 14,000 are seriously injured. This is the equivalent of a Paddington train crash every ten days.
Speeding traffic on residential streets and country lanes also takes away the freedom to walk or cycle for children, older and disabled people. It blights many town and city centres and local high streets.
The organisations listed below are concerned at the impact of speeding traffic on communities and quality of life. We want better enforcement, and more investment measures to make roads safe. We are concerned both about the problem of excess speed (drivers who break the speed limit), and inappropriate speeds (driving too fast for the conditions). We call on the Government to take action in its Speed Policy Review to tackle the problems of road death and injury, and loss of freedom.
Together, our organisations represent the concerns of many millions of people. We note that:
One in 15 children will be injured in a road crash before their sixteenth birthday. Children from low-income families suffer greater exposure to traffic, which makes them four times more likely to die than children from higher income families. Children from some ethnic groups are also at greater risk.
Many of the older and disabled people represented by our organisations are unable to drive a car and are dependent on a safe pedestrian environment for their independent mobility. Every day, our members feel intimidated by speeding traffic that makes it dangerous to walk along rural roads or cross the street. We know of many cases like that of a blind person who was recently killed at a pedestrian crossing in Stamford, by a motorist who was driving too fast to stop.
Speeding traffic makes people feel it is too dangerous to walk or cycle. As a result, children are kept indoors or ferried everywhere by car, and older people may be isolated in their homes. This loss of independent mobility leads to loss of fitness and poor health. Many of the children ferried around by car today will consequently suffer from heart disease, obesity and osteoporosis when they are older. 60% of older blind people do not get out alone and nearly half find loneliness a particular worry.
One of our organisations represents women who live in rural communities. In a recent survey, many of them told us they wanted to see lower speed limits in their villages. We know from experience in Suffolk that village speed limits of 30 mph can cut crashes by a fifth. Yet, in many villages elsewhere, speed limits of 40 mph, 50 mph, or 60 mph are the norm.
Another of us represents the families of people who have been killed in a road crash. They are families which have been torn apart by the loss of a loved one.
All of us are united in believing that the Government should act firmly to cut the number of casualties on our roads, and by a belief that action to cut speed is essential to achieve this. It has been suggested that motorists will object en bloc to efforts to reduce traffic speeds. Yet motorists are also parents, residents, pedestrians. It would be a tragedy if the perceived concerns of a minority of motorists influenced government policy in such a way as to allow over a thousand deaths from speed-related crashes every year. We call on the government not to allow this to happen.
Child Accident Prevention Trust
Children’s Play Council
Council for the Protection of Rural England
Cyclists’ Touring Club
Help the Aged
Institute of Child Health
Joint Committee on the Mobility of Blind and Partially Sighted People
National Federation of Women’s Institutes
National Heart Forum
Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety
Royal National Institute for the Blind, Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, and Joint Mobility Unit
Royal National Institute for Deaf People
Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents