THE FIGHT FOR ROAD-SAFETY
THE annual debate on the Ministry of Transport last Monday was the first in which Mr. lore- Belisha figured as Minister. Probably to most people it will come as a surprise to realize that he has not yet been twelve months at his Department, so power- fully has his personality been brought to bear on its work. When he went there, the carnage due to road-accidents was not only terrible, but increasing. Now it is still terrible, but it has been conspicuously diminished. For years the death-roll had gone up continuously, and successive Ministers of Transport, some of them very able men, had stood powerless before it. Mr. Hore-Belisha refused to believe that improvement could not be had, if we tried hard enough. And so, by exploring not one way but many, and by rousing the whole community to a more adequate sense of the Monstrous evil to be overcome, he has broken down the legend of " inevitability " which had paralysed his predecessors.
Three methods are claimed to have come well out of the tests of experience—the provision of pedestrian crossings, the speed-limit in built-up areas, and the policy of closing streets of working-class houses to all motor traffic except vehicles on their way to premises in those streets. The first was pioneered in London, and is still most largely exemplified there ; and we now find that the reduction in the number of killed during the last 11 weeks, as compared with the number during the same weeks last year, has been nearly double as great in London as in the rest of the country. The second was pioneered in Oxford, and came into operation for the .built-up areas of the whole , country on March , 18th last ; its success is suggested by the fact that the subsequent reduction of casualties in city, metropolitan, and borough police areas (which are roughly those of the 30-m.p.h. limit) has been 144 per cent., while elsewhere it has only been 8 per cent. The third policy was Pioneered entirely in Manchester ; though its brilliant success has since been copied elsewhere, and the Ministry of Transport has decided to apply it in London. Its principle is that in densely inhabited working-class areas, where the side streets are the natural and often the only playground for poor children, it should be possible for them to play there without the risk of their games being at- any moment turned to tragedy by a motor vehicle. And by giving them safe streets to play in it keeps them out of the Unsafe.'ones. - , Mr. Hore-Belisha is now trying to multiply " Belisha " crossings in the provinces by the same method which enabled him within three months to get 10,000 put down in London, i.e., by making an offer to the local authorities with a fixed time- limit. He is probably justified, for the general usefulness of these costly affairs may be taken as established, though the precise degree of it is still open to doubt. It will not have escaped the attentive reader of our last paragraph that the first set of figures—associated with the crossings—is suspiciously similar to the second—associated with the 30-m.p.h. limit, and may really (since the 30-m.p.h. limit operates nearly everywhere in the London area) be in large measure explained by it. The success of the limit is by far the more incontestable of the two, and has been ever since the Oxford figures became available. The only thing that may militate against its continued success is the attitude of some of the magistrates.
As to that, the whole problem of the magistracy in relation to motoring offences remains very diffi- cult. Motorists complain, truly enough, that in some petty sessional courts they can never hope for a fair trial ; and per contra there are similar courts (and probably more of them) where it is almost impossible to get the Bench to convict motorists of serious offences or to inflict any penalties sufficient to compel respect for the law. This is really part of a larger question—the shortcomings of petty sessions as a court of justice. But in view of the small probability that the problem of reforming the local benches will be tackled within any reason- able time, there is something to be said for setting up, at least in a few experimental areas, special courts for motoring offences.
For much we must still look to educational propa- ganda among road-users, and not least among the drivers of private cars. People often talk about "motorists as a class," but really there is no such class—there are good motorists, bad motorists, and indifferent. The " bad " have been considerably disciplined, at least on built-up roads, by the curtail- ment of overtaking and eutting-in, which the speed limit involves. But the same result might be obtained if dangerous cutting-in and similar offences were regularly . and frequently prosecuted before motoring courts able to appreciate their gravity and alert to stop them by punishment. It is ton early to judge what will be the results of the com- pulsory driving-test for new drivers, which came into force as from last Saturday. But few who try to consider the question impartially can doubt that it was worth trying. During the past three months, said Mr. Hore-Belisha, 35,000 persons have taken the test voluntarily, and nearly 10 per cent. of them failed. That is a very striking figure, and throws a sharp light on " the needless risks which were taken previously in permitting anyone to drive a powerful machine on a payment of 5s." It is a, pretty safe prophecy that twenty years hence tests of all kinds, for brakes as well as drivers, will be enforced with a regularity and stringency at which we might jib today. Time' will steadily ,win approval for them. Meanwhile the casualty figures remain appalling. About a hundred people are still killed on our roads every week,- and three or four thousand injured. There is no room for COM, placency there, grateful as we may well be to our present Minister for bringing down the figures from levels 50 per cent. worse. Moreover the problem is not stationary. The number of motorists grows all the time. The net increase in the number of licensed vehicles on the roads has been higher of late than ever before, no fewer than 151,268 being regis- tered in the first four months of this year. Nothing as yet suggests our reaching any kind of saturation point.