Friday, May 16, 2008

Noticed Before Breakfast

Proposed Reductions of Speed Limits in Britain
The London Times reported today that
the speed limit on thousands of residential roads will be reduced to 20mph under government moves designed to cut road deaths by a third over the next decade.
Jim Fitzpatrick, the Road Safety Minister, told The Times that the government would consider setting a challenging target for cutting road deaths. “We get some criticism for not being ambitious enough,” he said, conceding that measuring deaths alone, rather than together with serious injuries, would provide absolute clarity.
One of the main ways of achieving the target, he said, would be to reduce the speed of traffic on residential roads.
It was also reported that

The minister quoted a Transport Research Laboratory study of 250 20mph schemes across Britain, which found that, after the limit was reduced, crashes fell by 60 per cent, child casualties by 67 per cent and average speeds by 9mph.
He said that his department was conducting a further study of the benefits of 20mph zones to persuade local authorities to introduce them more quickly.

[This item was found at:
This item caught my attention because just the other day I read the text of a radio talk that Max Beerbohm delivered on the BBC on April 26 1936, called “Speed”. Max Beerbohm was a great caricaturist and a fine writer, but he has seldom been called a prophet. His talk on speed could have been delivered today as a comment on the British Government’s new plans, and to that degree seems prophetic. Addressing the point that “speed itself is no danger, Beerbohm said

A cannon-ball fired from a canon is not in itself dangerous. It is dangerous only if you happen to be in the way of it. You would like to step out of its way; but there is no time for you to do so. Perhaps it would like to stop short of you; but it can’t; it is going too fast. That is what motorists are doing even when in ‘built-up areas’ they obey the speed limit of thirty miles an hour. They are going too fast. It would be unreasonable to expect them to impose on themselves a speed-limit of twenty miles an hour. But this is the limit which should — and sooner or later will be — imposed on them. Whether this slowing-down of traffic will cause a great or a small loss of national income, is, I am told, a point on which expert economists are not agreed. What is certain in that it will save a vast number of lives. (‘Speed’, in Mainly on the Air, 2nd edition, London: Heinemann, 1957, p. 20)

Seventy-two years is indeed “sooner or later."
Beerbohm made a comment earlier in the talk that should also be taken to heart. If people in his day felt shame about abuses and barbarities of the past, he asked, What do you think posterity will think of this age?

‘Perhaps,’ you will say, ‘posterity will be worse than we are.’ Well, then, let us set a good example to posterity. Let us persuade our legislators that we are shocked by the present state of things. Let us suggest to them that they may lose votes if they are not as shocked as we are. Let us insinuate that tests far more exacting than the present tests should be imposed on anyone who desires a licence to drive a motor-car. Let us whisper that the system by which a motorist can insure himself against loss by his own carelessness is not a very good system. Let us, slightly raising our voices, demand that a driver convicted of dangerous driving should be liable to a much longer term of imprisonment than he is now. Let us—but this is all merely tinkering with the problem. The main root of the mischief is that great fetish of ours, Speed. (p. 19.)

No further comment seems necessary.

1 comment:

kiwinerdgrrl said...

Bravo, sir!

One Toronto organization which takes a people-centred view of streets is streetsareforpeople.org.