It’s official: saving money comes before saving lives

Posted on October 9th, 2012 by James Luckhurst

It’s official: saving money comes before saving livesDriving home from London late last night (Monday), I tuned into ‘Today in Parliament’ on Radio 4. I was flabbergasted by the comments made in the House of Lords by Government transport spokesman Earl Attlee. Lowering the drink drive limit was on the House’s agenda, yet Attlee used the opportunity to snub every piece of sensible (and correct) information put to him.

First, he was challenged by Liberal Democrat Lord Taverne.

Did the estimated saving of more than 160 lives not make a compelling case for reducing the drink drivelimit in line with the rest of Europe, he asked.

No, replied Attlee, because the policy would not ‘achieve the desired result’ and would not be the best use of police time.

The exchange came after Lord Taverne called for the new Transport Secretary Patrick McCloughlin to show “courage” and introduce random testing. Lord Taverne said as a Labour Home Office minister in the 1960s he co-operated with Barbara Castle, the then transport secretary, to bring in drink-driving legislation.

He said she had “bravely ignored all the forecasts of a violent backlash of motorists” and the law was now widely accepted.

At question time in the Lords, he asked Lord Attlee:

Since Australia, New Zealand and most of the American states have now accepted random testing, which is far the most effective way of reducing serious deaths and injuries, will you advise the present Secretary of State for Transport to show the same kind of courage that was shown by Barbara Castle 45 years ago?

Lord Attlee replied:

The difficulty with random testing is that it would not achieve the desired result. The object of random testing is to create an expectation amongst the drivers that would fail to produce results if not backed by raising the actual level of testing.

This would not be cost effective or justified use of resources in the current economic climate because most of these tests, if they were random, would prove to be negative.

Very bad news – but at least it has now been made clear to us that, for this government, saving money is a higher priority than saving lives. But we had probably worked that out already.

Watch what happens north of the Border, where a reduction in the drink drive limits is on the cards, possibly as early as Spring 2013. We can only hope that the UK government will be shamed into falling in line with every other European country (except Malta) and political rhetoric will eventually fail to cover up what everyone in road safety has known for many years.