When six cyclists were killed on the roads in London in a two week period the national press treated it as a big story, there was a passionate debate including contributions from the head of the Metropolitan Police and the Mayor of London and 1000 cyclists took part in a demonstration calling for action.
During that same period another sad death occurred. A young man called Cian Pace, 19 years old, was in a car crash here in Sheffield and died three days later. Two people in the car with him were seriously injured. There was some coverage in the regional press but no outcry. My son is two years older than Cian but still I can’t imagine how dreadful it must be for his family. Maybe they hope that something might be done to prevent other families suffering in future but there was no outcry, nobody demonstrated and nobody made speeches.
Cian’s life ended at the sharp end of a rolling tragedy. Young people like him are the most likely to be involved in car accidents. In a typical two weeks this year 66 people died on the roads in Britain but nobody made much fuss. If even one or two people die in a train crash it’s headline news but rarely is it mentioned that trains are actually very safe with few deaths or injuries for the miles travelled by rail passengers, while the carnage on the roads goes on week after week. There’s a whole herd of elephants in the room.
If Cian had grown up in the Netherlands, probably he would not have even been in a car with his friends. From the age of seven they would have been able to get around town independently and in safety by bike. They would learn that cycling is the most flexible, reliable and independent way to travel locally, and most young people there carry that habit into adult life along with strong legs, hearts and lungs.
Given the very different situation in Britain, it’s not surprising that young people here see having a car as a big milestone, a kind of liberation from years of limited mobility, but it doesn’t have to be like that.
In the 1970s, when car use and car accidents to children were rising in the Netherlands, people said it wasn’t acceptable, they called it murder and the government listened. The rest is well-known history. But it’s a lesson we still have to learn here in Britain. We need our towns and cities to be safe for cycling, not because cyclists like me want it for ourselves but because of all the people whose lives are blighted by the traffic monster.
It’s not just poor Cian and his family. It’s not just the children and old people who lead restricted lives while some of us are free to drive ourselves anywhere we like. It’s not just the people who can’t afford a car or public transport. It’s not just the people who die younger than they should because of poor air quality or lack of exercise. It’s all of those things and they are happening because we have made ourselves dependent on the traffic monster and we don’t want to talk about it.
So let’s get upset about those terrible motorists who drive too close and fail to notice cyclists, let’s shout at stupid pedestrians who walk out into the road without looking, let’s complain about those arrogant cyclists who jump red lights and don’t wear helmets. Let’s get into pointless arguments about who pays ‘road tax’. Let’s all complain about speed cameras and parking restrictions and traffic wardens and bus lanes, and vans parking on the cycle lanes etc etc etc but DON’T EVER mention the fact that our society has become addicted to motor cars and it’s killing us.