Last Sunday, I was privileged to attend a large ecumenical memorial service at Norwich Cathedral, to honour the too-many precious men, women and children killed in road crashes. This event was part of the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.
World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims creates a link between victims of road crashes, who deserve to be alive today to fulfil their hopes and dreams instead of having been killed, prematurely and violently. Witnessing the tears during the service, and speaking with people afterwards, I got a strong sense of how the lives also of those closest to road traffic victims have been traumatically affected by their loss. One of the vital purposes of an organisation like RoadPeace is to bring together those close to those who have been killed on the roads. Because losing a loved one on the roads can bring a terrible sense of isolation. There just isn’t the same kind of network of support that exists for, for instance, widows of members of the armed forces.
As part of the act of remembrance on Sunday, at one point in the service there was an opportunity to write the names of those killed in crashes on an Oak Leaf card, which was placed at the foot of the Easter Resurrection Candle. I went up and placed a card, as did all too many others in the cathedral. I was remembering several people killed or seriously injured in car-crashes, but especially my great-uncle Harold, a lovely funny old fellow, who was cruelly ripped from us and from his wife, my great-aunt Margaret, at a point when they were hugely enjoying their retirement together. He was knocked down by a van-driver while out walking to the corner shop one evening near to his home.
I feel passionately about those needlessly killed in the annual car-nage on our roads. And so I am in direct sympathy with the central suggestions that RoadPeace make: To remember and to reflect on the scale of the disaster and the ongoing suffering of victims’ families.
It is vital to remember that this disaster is man-made and needs us to correct it. And we need also to raise awareness of the urgent need for improved post-care and support for the bereaved, who seem largely forgotten by the justice system and modern society. We need to commit to a culture of road safety, respect, accountability and responsibility towards every road user – and the importance of a more serious response to law-breaking on our roads. Cars are potentially deadly weapons: as with knives, their abuse should not be tolerated at all.
Should we consider for instance, as they are introducing in Spain, a strongly-enforced 50mph limit for some or all major roads where the limit is at present 60 mph? Including of course country roads where there is a 60 mph limit at present, unbelievably: as these roads present the most hazards and where walkers, cyclists and motorcyclists, the most vulnerable road users, have to face the death penalty on the roads with speed limits that are un-survivable in a collision – and which are routinely broken with widespread tolerance of speeding. So we should avoid always using terms like ‘accident’ or ‘tragedy’, which suggest something God-given or unavoidable. Too many car crashes – and their aftermaths – are the result of thoughtlessness or selfishness or sometimes even worse, on the part of both individual motorists or of the authorities.
Department of Transport statistics for 2006 show that a child is injured or killed on UK roads every 16 minutes. And that road crashes are the biggest killer of 15 to 25 year olds. Since the first ever car victim was killed in 1896, over 30 million individuals have been killed on the world’s roads and countless millions more have been maimed.
World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims was initiated by RoadPeace in 1993. In November, we remember of course most famously those killed in wars. But it’s important to remember those killed in ‘peacetime’ too. Because over the last half-century, a quarter of a million people have been killed in road crashes in Britain alone. Let’s work to bring about a society less dependent upon road travel, and to bring about slower travel on those roads, so that we can bring true peace to our land. For those of us who have been badly affected by car-nage on our roads know that there will be no true peace until there is road-peace.