In response to my letter in Local Tansport Today 643 , LTT published a letter (issue 644) from a particularly extreme motoring advocate. (SEE TEXT OF LETTER BELOW) I politely responded as follows: “I am not sure that there is any possibility of meaningful, reasoned, debate with the more extreme car fanatics such as Mr Peat (Road Danger Reduction Forum can’t accept car-based reality, LTT 4 April), but he does question me and I was brought up to be courteous, so here’s a try.
“Nothing operates without the private car now”. Oh dear. To take an example, London has about two thirds of its journeys not by private car. It is quite possible to have a functioning society with far more use of the non-car modes. In fact, the history of post-war transport in many European conurbations is often one of resisting the temptation to rip out traditional city centres and insert new roads and facilities for car use, going for walking, cycling and public transport instead. All this happens in fairly conventional capitalist, consumerist 20th and now 21st century societies on the same continent as us.
This does not mean that there should be no cars about anywhere; it just means we are aware of the problems associated with mass car use that I referred to in my letter, and try to address them. It is an interesting feature of car fanaticism that the slightest questioning of motorist privilege leads to a panic stricken assumption that nobody will ever be allowed to drive a car ever again. The fanatics really do need to stop equating their basic identity with the “right” to drive wherever and however they may want – while identifying themselves as an oppressed minority deserving of special treatment, subsidy and exemption from the law.
Similarly: “...how can roads carrying large, essential, fast-moving machinery ever be safe places to be?”. Oh dear, again. Never mind the “essential” – exactly who decides what is “essential”, and to whom? – again there are plenty of possibilities for increasing safety shown both here and abroad. It may surprise the extremists, but plenty of normal motorists are actually prepared to obey speed limits and – wait for it – as in large areas of Europe, actually have lower ones. Watching out for other road users and accepting your responsibilities towards them is often accepted by many motorists as a basic duty for them, although you may have to go other countries to see this manifested to a reasonable extent.
The issue is reducing danger (there will always be some) and making those responsible for it – whether individual drivers, or highway or vehicle engineers – accountable. To many of us that seems to be natural justice and a requirement of a civilised society, quite apart from addressing issues of noxious and greenhouse gas emissions, local environmental damage, loss of local community, the health disbenefits of driving etc.
Dr Robert Davis, Chair, Road Danger Reduction Forum
(NOTE: Writers of letters don’t choose the bylines they are given: although in this case it seems to be appropriate: RD)
NOTE 2 : You can click onto a scan of the letter I responded to to read it,
..but generally the best thing is to read LTT letters by subscribing to the online version or the print version.