Road violence vs dog violence

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Back in September 2023 the Government announced its intentions to put restrictions on the ownership of a particular breed of dog, an action that it appeared to take quickly following a series of attacks. Noting this, I raised a point with my local MP highlighting the disparity in Government action compared to motor violence where no action is taken despite ongoing daily occurences of death and serious injury on our roads.

Here you can see the exchange of emails on this subject, concluding with a lightweight reply from the Secretary of State for Transport, Mark Harper MP which can barely be considered to have answered any of the matters raised in my original or follow-up communications.

Mr Harper’s response fails to consider the substantive point of society’s glaring blindspot with regard to road violence. He also incorrectly speaks about a “blanket” 20mph speed limit instead of a default urban speed limit of 20mph (two distinctly different things), implies that the funding for active travel is good while dodging the point that Scotland speeds fifty times per head what England does, and makes no meaningful comment about excessive size, weight, and power of an increasing number of vehicles on the road.

Take a look at the full exchange below. My conclusion here is that Mr Harper and the government are happy to maintain the status quo, that they are willing to accept the daily sacrifice that is the thousands of deaths and injuries every year which are directly attributable to motor violence, never mind the harm from pollution and inactivity which hasn’t been covered here.


Initial Email

Dear Mr Jones,

Perhaps you could explain the logic here.

On the one hand, following recent dog attacks, the government is moved to push ahead with banning a particular breed by the end of the year.

On the other hand, we have daily cases of death and injury being caused on the roads, including the case of children being mown down in school, yet the collective response to this is – nothing whatsoever.

Even when I wrote to you following the Wimbledon School incident, your reply to me was dismissive and lacklustre, failing to address the majority of the points I’d put to you. It seems very much that if people are injured or killed in incidents involving motor vehicles, the response is a metaphorical shrug of the shoulders.

So, please explain why the government doesn’t value human life when it comes to motor vehicle incidents, but it does for the rarer cases of dog attacks?

Email to Marcus Jones MP, September 2023

Response from Mr Jones MP

Thank you for contacting me about dangerous dogs and road traffic deaths.

I believe that it is possible to deal with both dangerous dogs and road safety. The two challenges are not mutually exclusive and are managed by different department. Therefore, I cannot see an opportunity cost relationship between the two issues. The banning of this particular breed of dog has been under consideration for some time. Decisive action was necessary to prevent these dogs from causing further harm.

In respect of road safety, I completely agree that any road death is a tragic loss. Despite Britain having  some of the safest roads in the world, I know that ministerial colleagues are always looking at ways to help keep all road users more safe. To this end, the Government has taken proactive steps, finding new funding and approaches to enhance road safety.

In April 2023, £47.5 million was allocated to 27 different schemes through the Safer Roads Fund. Funding is allocated based on data independently surveyed and provided by the Road Safety Foundation. The data analysed is based on a road safety risk, looking at data on those killed and seriously injured alongside traffic levels. In total, £100 million has so far been provided through the programme to improve the 50 most dangerous roads in England, the majority of which are rural roads.

More broadly, since 25 March 2022, motorists are breaking the law if they use a handheld mobile phone behind the wheel for any use, including to take photos or videos, scroll through playlists or play games, This means anyone caught using their handheld device while driving could face a fine of up to £1,000 as well as 6 points on their licence or a full driving ban. A THINK! awareness campaign was launched to telegraph these changes to the public.

Drink driving enforcement has been strengthened too, by ending the automatic right for drivers who fail a breathalyser test to demand a blood and urine test, thereby removing the opportunity to sober up while waiting for the test to be taken.

Additionally, this followed changes to the Highway Code which came into force at the end of January 2022 which introduced a ‘hierarchy of road users’. The hierarchy places pedestrians at the top, alongside older adults, disabled people, cyclists, horse riders and motorcyclists. The updated Highway Code also introduces guidelines for safe passing distances and speed limits for drivers when overtaking pedestrians.

As I hope you can see, the Government is rightly concerned about dangerous dogs, but also committed to improving road safety for the people of the UK.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. 

Marcus Jones, October 2023

Further email

Dear Marcus,

Thank you for your email.

I take issue with the claim that the government is treating road violence seriously. The evidence does not support that. The number of people killed in road incidents each year has remained roughly level at about 1,700 people since 2010, and the number seriously injured has been increasing – this is across the thirteen years that the Conservatives have held power where no progress has been made in reducing death and serious injury. Prior to 2010, these figures were falling (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reported_Road_Casualties_Great_Britain).

The schemes you highlight may be all well and good, but they’re reactive. They “require” people to be killed or seriously injured before mitigation measures are put in place. This insulting approach is one which Warwickshire County Council (and presumably many other highways authorities) also takes when deciding where to target measures, what it calls a “data-led” approach – why do we not have a nationally driven proactive approach that evaluates our streets and traffic, and fixes road safety BEFORE people are killed and injured?

I know that most roads are outside of the direct jurisdiction of central government and MPs, but the direction could be set nationally and funding properly allocated for road layout changes designed to reduce dangerous driving behaviours, and minimise the impact should a collision occur.

We know roads are dangerous; we know there is a problem with careless and dangerous driving; we know that vehicle sizes and weights have been increasing; we know that traffic has been increasing at unsustainable levels; we know that despite law changes, people continue to use the phone behind the wheel; we know that knowledge of the Highway Code changes is far too low; we know there are countless “near miss” incidents which may never get reported but all contribute to the feeling of fear and discomfort that exists when walking, wheeling, or cycling local streets.

What we do not see from government is an impetus to change the status quo. It tinkers around the edges with a few million pounds (small money in the grand scheme of things) to fund some schemes here and there, but the underlying problems continue. Transport is dominated by cars, there is too much traffic, vehicle sizes are too large, speeds are too high, too many people are getting away with dangerous driving behaviours, and we do not have universal safe alternative options.

We’ve recently seen the government refocus its transport around driving, to the detriment of active travel. The Prime Minister has attacked measures intended to make local environments safer and more attractive for walking, wheeling, and cycling through low traffic neighbourhoods, fifteen-minute cities, and 20mph limits. Earlier this year, funding for new walking and cycling infrastructure was been cut where this could have been used to roll out better infrastructure designed to keep people and motor vehicles separated.

So, what could the government be doing to proactively improve road safety? In no particular order, why not…

  • tackle the ridiculous size and power of some vehicles which is totally unnecessary for everyday car journeys;
  • mandate speed limit restrictions in all new vehicles;
  • mandate automatic emergency braking in all new vehicles;
  • introduce regular mandatory re-testing to ensure all drivers continue to be aware of the minimum standards and changes to regulations;
  • abolish “exceptional hardship” for those who accumulate 12 or more points (the points system serves as enough of a warning to do better);
  • provide ANPR at all fuelling stations to check for a valid MOT, VED, and insurance before dispensing;
  • bring England into line with London and ban pavement parking;
  • follow the lead of Wales and reduce the default urban speed limit in England to 20mph;
  • support and provide funding for local schemes designed to improve urban environments for people (LTNs, 15 min cities etc.);
  • properly fund Active Travel England to enable a rapid build-out of high-quality separated cycling infrastructure (Scotland spends £50/head on cycling; England a measly £1/head).

You say your ministerial colleagues are always looking at new ways to help keep all road users safer. I have to wonder what they’re doing. I have listed ten ideas here that could improve road safety to varying degrees. Why aren’t they being tried? Where are their ideas? Where is the urgency to reduce those KSI numbers?

You speak about an opportunity cost relationship between the two issues I mentioned in my opening email – this isn’t a question about money per se. Not in the first instance at least. It’s one of attitude and priority. Regardless of whether the plan to ban the dog breed has been in consideration for some time, the point stands that the government announced its plan quickly after a spate of attacks. It did not announce a nationwide plan to, for example, tackle dangerous and inappropriate SUVs and overpowered cars after the disaster in Wimbledon, nor does it do so after any road death or serious injury. Now with Mr Sunak’s recent pivot back to a driver-first transport focus, it looks clear that road safety actually isn’t a priority at all.

So, given the rising incidents of serious injury, the roughly level numbers of people killed, and the continual presence of dangerous driving on our roads, I would like to repeat the question – why is human life valued so poorly when it comes to motor vehicle incidents? Why are these numbers acceptable to the government including to the extent that it would attack the provision of safety measures?

Perhaps these questions and all of the above points could also be put to the Transport Secretary for his response given he stoked conspiracy theories and sided with motoring zealots when, in his conference speech, he spoke falsehoods about fifteen minute cities and the use of cars within them. Maybe the Prime Minister could also be asked to respond, given he has spoke about “slamming the brakes on the war on motorists” (which doesn’t exist given how sidelined everyone outside the car has been for decades) and stopping “hare-brained” traffic schemes (which are designed to reduce car dependency, increase transport choice, and provide safer urban environments).

I look forward to the replies, and as always, thank you for your time.

Regards,

Email to Mr Jones MP, October 2023

The matters is raised with the Secretary of State for Transport

Thank you for taking the time to contact Marcus Jones MP.

Marcus has decided to forward your concerns onto the relevant Government Minister. Once a reply is received, Marcus will be in touch.

Thank you again for contacting Marcus.

The Office of Marcus Jones MP, November 2023

Mr Harper MP finally responds

Thank you for your email of 9 November to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, enclosing correspondence from your constituent about road safety. Your constituent raises several concerns which we aim to address below, however it must be noted that they cover many significant policy areas.

The UK has some of the safest roads in the world, but this government takes road safety very seriously and recognises that more can be done. We keep the law under continuous review and carry out research and collect evidence to ensure that we make the right interventions to improve road safety.

All manufacturers must demonstrate that their vehicles and equipment satisfy a range of regulated technical requirements before they can be sold. These include rigorous performance-based standards for all cars, irrespective of their size and mass, to ensure the front structure and bodywork reduces the risk to pedestrians, including children, in the event of a collision. The
Government has also established tax incentives to using more fuel-efficient vehicles, which are likely to be smaller, lighter and less powerful.

Crash avoidance technologies play an increasingly important role in casualty reduction, and some vehicles will be fitted with advanced emergency braking (AEB) to apply the brakes automatically if it detects an imminent collision. The Department commissioned external analysis on the benefits and implications of mandating a range of new vehicle technologies in Great
Britain, including AEB and Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA). A decision to mandate any of them will require consultation and legislation to amend the GB type approval scheme. The Department remains a member of Euro NCAP which incentivises many new technologies, including ISA and AEB.

Sentencing, including the imposition and length of a driving disqualification, is a matter for our courts.

The law provides for the banning of drivers who amass twelve points or more. It is for the courts to interpret the legislation as to what is exceptional hardship, and that has to be determined in each case.

Responsibility for the provision or restriction of on-street parking rests with the relevant traffic authority, as they are best placed to consider how to balance the needs of local road users. Local authorities outside London already have powers to restrict pavement parking where necessary, but the Department has carried out a public consultation on additional measures to help them
tackle this problem. The Department is working through the policy options and the means of delivering them and as soon as those matters are certain we will publish our formal response.

The Government does not plan to introduce blanket 20mph speed limits to urban areas. The standard speed limit in urban areas is 30mph, which represents a balance between mobility, safety and other factors, but traffic authorities do have the power to impose 20mph limits and the government supports their use in the right places. As well as influencing safety they can
influence quality of life, the environment and the local economy. The Government does not however, support 20mph limits being indiscriminately set on all roads without due regard to the safety case and local support.

Local transport policy and funding, including for active travel, is a devolved matter for the Scottish Government. Outside of London, the Government is projecting investment of over £3 billion in active travel in England up to 2025 across the second Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS2) period. Last year, Active Travel England announced £200 million to fund new schemes and improve the safety and connectivity of existing infrastructure. £4,761,000 of this has been allocated to Warwickshire Council.

I hope this reply is helpful and illustrates our commitment to improving road safety. Where the safety of all road users is concerned, the Department continuously considers options for changes in policy or regulation and their likely effectiveness to improve road safety. Please thank your constituent for taking the time to write to the Department with his concerns.

Mark Harper MP, Secretary of State for Transport, January 2024

Cover image: Official UK Parliament portrait of Mark Harper MP, released under an Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) licence. The image as presented here has been cropped for a 16:9 ratio and is available under the same licence terms.

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