The new M4 bypass will be the road to ruin

Car crash. Picture by Netto Figueiredo

Richard Jenkins

Have you heard about the death of Bridget Driscoll? You may be forgiven for not having done so, as it happened all the way back on 17 August 1896.

A 44-year-old Bridget, attempting to cross Dolphin Terrace in the grounds of the Crystal Palace in London, became the first recorded case of a pedestrian killed in a collision with a motor car in the UK.

So what, many readers may be thinking?

Well, since Bridget Driscoll death, 550,000 others in the UK have followed her to a premature end, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

That’s over half a million individuals just in the UK. It’s been estimated that since that date, worldwide there has been over 30 million road deaths.

That’s 30 million individual stories of unimaginable grief and loss. Of children, parents, brothers and sisters.

In my humble opinion, this begs the question, are we completely mad?

One of the first big decisions of Mark Drakeford’s time as First Minister will be to decide whether to give the go-ahead to the new M4 bypass past Newport.

Much of the debate about this bypass has focussed on the fact that it will go through six miles of wetlands that are of special scientific interest.

Less attention has been paid to the direct impact driving, rather than using public transport, has on human lives lost.

This is a bigger decision than the M4 bypass, in truth. The real question is, how does Wales see its future? Hurtling down a road in a deadly metal box, or reliant on comparatively safe public transport?

Safer

Ah! But it’s easy to cite figures from across the past 100 years, you may say. We are much more safety conscious now and demand a better standard of safety on our roads.

Really? Road traffic crashes continue to claim the lives of nearly 1.3 million people every year. There were 1791 fatal road accidents in the UK in 2016 alone.

How do we measure the grief and loss caused by just of one of these individual deaths, multiplied by 1791?

It’s incalculable of course and impossible to even contemplate the contribution to society many of these tragic individuals may have made.

Have we already killed a person who would have become one of the brightest scientific, political or artistic minds of his or her generation? Who knows?

Yes, cars are getting safer. But I would refer you to the death on March 18, 2018 of Elaine Herzberg. Haven’t heard of her, either? She was the first person to be killed by a self-driving car.

It’s clear that we need a major rethink, and that there are reasons beyond climate change and environmental protection to scale down our use of cars.

The solution seemingly favoured by Labour and the Conservatives in Wales is to build yet more roads. Unless Mark Drakeford has a change of heart, the new M4 largely seems to be a done deal.

Have they heard of Einstein’s famous definition of insanity – which is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result?

We must invest in alternative, safer methods of travel. To coin a very old hackneyed phrase, we need to think outside the box.

The metal box that becomes the coffin for far too many innocent people.

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