Neil McNicholas: Don’t punish all drivers for stupid pedestrians

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WHEN I was teaching in Zambia, there was a notorious bend in the Great North Road just outside of town where vehicles would regularly leave the road and smash into a large tree, even though it was some distance from the roadside. Rather than stop motorists from driving recklessly in the first place, a decision was eventually taken to remove the tree!

I somehow feel we have something of this mentality going on at the moment. Recently, there has been a call to introduce a blanket 20mph speed limit in towns in order to protect pedestrians using mobiles. Another initiative is underway to reduce the on-going fatality rate amongst motorcyclists on North Yorkshire’s roads.

It isn’t motorists who are a threat to mobile-using pedestrians, they are a threat to themselves and to others. How often do you find you have to step aside to avoid someone walking along, or pushing a pushchair, whilst texting, completely oblivious to anyone else trying to use the pavement? Little wonder the law forbids using a phone whilst driving!

All we need is some common sense here. Why impose a speed limit on drivers when the problem is with texters who haven’t got the common sense to watch where they are going?

Drivers are surely already watching out for pedestrians anyway; it’s the texting pedestrians who need to learn (the hard way if necessary) to use their phones standing still if they can’t safely walk and talk at the same time.

And this new campaign to reduce fatal accidents involving motorcycles, backed by the “95 Alive Partnership”, while supposedly directed at motorcyclists somehow seems also to contain the usual advisory to car drivers that some of the responsibility (for the accident rate and its reduction) is theirs.

One presumes that the majority of bikers are law-abiding and careful, and that it is a minority who not only put themselves and other road users at risk, but also get the law-abiding majority a bad name.

Particularly when the motorcycling “season” begins, anyone regularly driving the moor road between Whitby and Guisborough will regularly experience bikers totally ignoring the speed limit and the double white lines, weaving through traffic with assumed (on their part) immunity.

Similarly anyone hoping to enjoy the otherwise delightful drive between Helmsley and
 Stokesley, will all too often find that it’s a nightmare if “the
 boys” are doing their traditional time trials between the two towns.

There should be no need for campaign after campaign. As tragic as the annual loss of life undoubtedly is, what is required is for the existing laws to be enforced rigorously – but clearly they aren’t.

I don’t know that I can ever recall seeing a police patrol or a speed trap on the Helmsley road in all the years that I have used it.

There are speed camera signs but never any actual cameras or patrols and bikers know it. And even on the Whitby road, as busy as it is and as high as the accident rate is, you rarely if ever see a patrol or a speed trap.

There’ll be a camera van regularly parked just as you leave town to catch people doing 32 in a 30 zone(!), but they’ll be doing nothing about bikers and car drivers doing 80 or more across the moors.

In the same way that texting pedestrians can be their own worst enemy, so too can a certain element amongst bikers.

The trouble is that someone texting on a phone, not watching where they are going, hardly creates the same hazard as a biker doing 80 on a country road, dicing with on-coming traffic until the tragic day when he or she doesn’t get another roll of the dice.

Motorists don’t deserve to be penalised by a 20mph limit when it is phone-users who need to have more regard, indeed more common sense. And it is motorcyclists and motorists across the board who need to have more respect for the rules of the road and regard for other road users.

Figuratively speaking, we shouldn’t have to remove a tree in order that someone can safely aim their vehicle for the spot where it once stood. Anyone deliberately taking such a risk must be prepared to accept the consequences.

If someone is incapable of walking safely whilst texting, the obvious answer is for them to do one or the other.

And if motorcyclists hope to enjoy safe journeys and to similarly enjoy the consideration and regard of other road users, then it surely has to be a two-way street.

We don’t need more laws – we already have them. What we do need is respect for those laws and for the consequences of breaking them.

• Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in the Diocese of Middlesbrough.