Tory Boy Racers

An excerpt from the Guardian:

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 27th July 2010

“They insist that those who break the law should not be punished or even caught. They clamour for councils to abandon a scheme that almost pays for itself, and replace it with one that requires constant subsidies.

What is this cunning device for reprogramming conservative brains? It is of course the speed camera. The government hates it just as much as the moronic petrolheads who dance with glee whenever one is torched.

It hasn’t yet announced a general policy of turning off speed cameras, but it knows that this is the likely consequence of its assault on road safety grants. After losing 40% of its government safety funding, this week Oxfordshire will turn off all its cameras.

Buckinghamshire says it is likely to follow. All the other local authorities in England will have to start counting their options. The roads minister, Mike Penning, leaves us in no doubt about what he wants them to do. Local authorities, he says, “have relied too heavily on safety cameras for far too long.” By cutting the grant, he claims, the government is “delivering on its pledge to end the war on the motorist.”

There is and has never been a war on the motorist. Motorists are handled more gently than anyone else: they are the only people who can expect to get away with breaking the law on almost all occasions. A war is an event in which people are injured and killed. Which circumstance most closely resembles one: an occasional £60 fine, or the daily carnage on the roads?

You can see the victims of the real war that’s being waged – the war against road safety – in every hospital and mortuary. Seven killed, 71 seriously injured, every day. About 120 children killed in Britain every year: 120 families plunged into lifelong grief(5).

Every two or three weeks I visit a spinal injuries unit in which a close friend is confined. He wasn’t hurt on the roads, but many of the other patients were. Every time I walk though that hospital I see the broken bodies, the shattered hopes, the endless complications, both physical and psychological, caused by the war being waged on the roads. You will see something similar in wards which specialise in the loss of limbs and eyes, the smashing of faces, the crushing of brains. This is the closest most of us will get to seeing the aftermath of war, a shattering of lives that bears no relationship to what Penning so crassly describes as the war on the motorist.

A study for Penning’s department shows that 19% fewer people were killed or seriously injured at accident black spots after speed cameras were introduced, above and beyond the general decline in accidents on the roads.

Yet the conspiracists in the Sun, the Express and the Daily Mail, on Top Gear and throughout cyberspace, insist that speed cameras exist only to tax and control us. They point to the example of Swindon, the first place in Britain in which the cameras were shut down, at the behest of a Conservative council. In the year before they were switched off, there was one death and eight minor accidents at the camera sites; in the year after, there were no deaths, two serious accidents and seven minor ones. “These figures”, the council’s leader, Rod Bluh, maintains, “completely vindicate our position”. They show that “fixed speed cameras are more about fund-raising than road safety.A study conducted by the Wiltshire and Swindon Safety Camera Partnership, across the whole county over three years, found that after speed cameras were installed there was a reduction at those sites in deaths and serious injuries of 69%. Mr Bluh’s hostility to the cameras might have more to do with the fact that he was banned for speeding.

As for the fund-raising issue, the Treasury takes some £85-90m a year from speed camera revenues and shells out £110m to local authorities to run them: the cameras are almost self-financing, but not quite. So when Mike Penning maintains that “the public are concerned about whether they are there for safety or to raise money for the Treasury” he’s engaging in a subtle deception: the public might be concerned, but he knows it’s not true.

Turning off the speed cameras, on the other hand, is a staggeringly expensive policy, if similar levels of safety are to be maintained. Oxfordshire is having to switch off its cameras for want of £600,000: a pittance by comparison to the £13.6m that Thames Valley police already spend on traffic enforcement. Penning’s own department reports a cost-benefit ratio for speed cameras of 2.7:1(15). The House of Commons Transport Committee examined the alternatives and found that “a more cost effective measure for reducing speeds and casualties has yet to be introduced.”This Tory cut has nothing to do with saving money.

Penning might have fallen for another tabloid myth: that speed cameras are unpopular. The most recent poll whose results I can find show that 82% of British people surveyed approve of them, and that the percentage has been rising. The horror and fury being expressed by parents in Oxfordshire will be voiced wherever they are switched off.

The real reason why conservatives hate the enforcement of speed limits is that this is one of the few laws which is as likely to catch the rich as the poor: newspaper editors and council leaders are as vulnerable as anyone else. The conservative reaction to speed cameras suggests that they love laws, except those which apply to them. ”

The results of Tory Party policy are in hospitals and the mortuary. I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be a deluge of victims with staff being unable to cope, not to mention the lack of room for them.

Will road safety victims under the Tories be put outside in tents or there be mass graves? Then of course, there will be disease.

As we hear that under the Tories 105mph celebrities are let off, such as Frank Bruno, the tide of feral driving will get worse.

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