The government hasn’t been having a very easy time recently, so we all awoke this morning to one of its trademark ‘eye catching initiatives’.
Excitable broadsheet newspapers told us that speed limit on many single carriageway A-roads could be reduced to 50mph and 20mph zones will proliferate in urban areas as part of a ‘ten year safety target’ that would see road deaths reduced from 3000 to 2000.
Enforcement of these new speed limits would be via the government’s favorite piece of new technology: average speed cameras.
Of course the government won’t be paying for the cameras, so your local council will have to make sure enough drivers are breaking the law, or they won’t break even.
But will lowering speed limits actually cut deaths?
According to National Statistics website, 2946 people were killed on UK roads in 2007. 1443 were in cars, 646 were pedestrians, 589 were motorcyclists and 147 pedestrians.
A couple of years ago I used a report of police accident statistics to work out that ‘breaking the speed limit’ was the main cause of 5 percent of accidents and 12 percent of fatalities.
The police also cite ‘going to fast for the conditions’ as a cause of around 20 percent of accidents, a subtle distinction which the government has long tried to include in its faulty 'speed kills' mantra.
Why clip speed limits when plain bad driving causes the vast majority of accidents? ‘Failing to look…and misjudging speed’ are still the really big problems according to the Police.
But according to a report in Guardian today, by far the most dangerous place to be is not on the road, but standing by one.
The Campaign for Clean Air in London is pointing to a report by the European Environment Agency, which says that 2905 premature deaths in Greater London were caused by particulate (PM10) emissions.
This figure is three times that estimated by the previous mayor Ken Livingstone in 2005. And, of course, the vast majority of urban PM10 emissions come from heavy diesel vehicles.
Clearly, this figure for premature diesel-induced death will be considerably higher across the whole country, but it is astonishing to think that virtually as many are felled by chronic traffic-induced air pollution in Greater London as are killed in road accidents across the whole of the UK.
While the rest of the world races to convert its inner-city commercial traffic to run on clean-burning gas, the British Government has ignored binding EU laws on clean air for many years. Which is why the EU has started legal action against the UK. In reply, the government is preparing to ask for another 2 years to comply with the regs.
So if you're waiting for a solution to the UK's terrible air quality, don't hold your breath.
Or, on second thoughts, do.