This week’s BMJ, the journal for doctors published by the British Medical Association, is a theme issue. And the theme is ‘War on the roads’, with the emphasis on cars being the enemy in this particular war. An enemy that kills three thousand people a day worldwide, yet goes unpunished by society and largely unreported by the media.
For every pedestrian or cyclist road crash fatality or serius injury, the cost to the British taxpayer is £57 400, twice that of injuries or fatalities sustained by vehicle occupants.
By 2020, road crashes will have moved from ninth to third place in the world ranking of the burden of disease. Yet motor manufacturers could reduce death and seriuous injuries by 20 percent if cars were manufactured with pop-up bonnets, windscreen airbags, and ‘soft impact zones’. These safety measures would add just £19 to the cost of an average car.
The European Enhanced Vehicle Safety Committee 9EEVC) recommends such safety measures are taken by manufacturers but “this is not on the agenda of any manufacturer or official safety agency,” says an editorial in the BMJ.
The public health community must intervene, argues the BMJ.
“The last thing the world needs is another war…War is often waged by the powerful on the weak. In this case the interests of pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road users are pitted against the powers that stand to profit from increasing global motorisation.”
The BMJ’s editor wades into the polemic:
“The average person in a developed country has a one in a hundred chance of being killed in a road traffic crash [note : the BMJ doesn’t say ‘accident’]. We are addicted. We can’t imagine life without our cars, so we pollute our environment, concrete over our countryside and ignore the carnage.
“Concerted action by motor manufacturers could reduce deaths dramatically, but they oppose many of the innovations that would be necessary. The manufacturers are not yet seen as pariahs – as are tobacco manufacturers – but they might be wise to take the lead in reducing deaths and injuries rather than be forced by external forces to take action…
“Generations from now people will look back and wonder how we allowed things to get so out of hand…
“One important lesson is that improvement will come not from educating pedestrians on road safety but from changing the whole environment. We need better design of roads and cars and a shift from car use to walking, cycling and public transport.
“This is a major – but largely neglected – public health issue.”
The European new car assessment programme:
European Federation of Road Traffic Victims