Baroness Jones: Why we must do more to tackle ‘lawless roads’

The truth is that the decline in the numbers of traffic police has led to a focus on those road offences that can be enforced by cameras.

Jenny Jones is one of two Green Party members of the House of Lords

The Prime Minister is ending the imaginary war on motorists that has raged for the last 13 years. It will no doubt also end the necessity of his flying around the country in a publicly funded helicopter, carrying his 7 recycling bins and avoiding all the blanket 20mph zones that have clogged up the country’s motorways.

Jokes aside, will the frantic thrashing about of a decaying government make things worse? Yes, because they are throwing the environment and the lives of vulnerable road users into the toxic pool of wedge politics in the hope they can deflect attention from how rubbish they are.

Sunak is using the Conservative Party conference to repeatedly claim he is the candidate of change at the next general election. To me, that is as credible as Liz Truss claiming that she wants to lower everyone’s bills, but will the public buy it? The newspapers have certainly got behind the cancellation of Net Zero policies that never existed and a pro-motorist agenda that changes nothing locally that is already in place.

Some of the billionaire owned press has also gleefully reported on the ban on mobiles in school, which is actually guidance to supplement the policies that nearly all schools already have in place. They have also reported on the Labour Party meat tax, which a Tory Minister justified on the basis that no one knows what Starmer believes in, so he might believe in this. It is a culture war of catchy headlines, but it is designed to be fought in the dark corners of social media, unhindered by facts or reality.

Meanwhile, the Wales 20mph scheme will stay, along with the London ULEZ. Government funding of future local schemes will dry up for a year or so, until Sunak is replaced as PM, but will then start to trickle again as local authorities of every political colour demand a 20mph zone for their village or busy high street.

My regret is that it will close down the space for a genuine debate about transport policy in the pre-election period, as the Conservative right push their ‘war on motorists’ bandwagon and Labour hide from saying anything relevant. Yet last year’s rise in the number of car drivers being seriously injured or killed because they are ignoring the rules on seatbelts, or taking drugs, is a cause for concern. Clamping down on such behaviour is not having a go at motorists, it is protecting them.

The truth is that the decline in the numbers of traffic police has led to a focus on those road offences that can be enforced by cameras. As a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority I spent years successfully fighting to get more resources for traffic officers and to stop the Commissioner from abolishing the unit altogether. If you only use electronic enforcement, then there is a built in incentive for people to evade the camera system by driving unregistered and uninsured.

Insurance premiums rise when there are more uninsured drivers on the road, but more importantly the number of hit and runs also goes up, as uninsured drivers don’t tend to hang around. In 2021 there were on average over 21 people injured every day in hit and runs in London alone. That is over 14 people killed or serious injured every week in London. London is not exceptional, the national figures are just as bad but the government stopped collecting them. According to the insurers’ organisation, over one in ten of the collisions reported to them involved a hit and run.

If the Conservatives want a culture war, then let’s talk about increasing the number of traffic police and ending the lawless roads that cause so much misery and heartache.

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