Road harm affects us all – why’s the issue such a hot potato?

road harm

A chief inspector in Police Scotland says those of us who like to walk should wear high-vis to avoid being run over by drivers. Ch Insp Lorraine Napier explained that, following a spate of collisions, pedestrians should do all they can to be visible.

Why is road road harm reduction a hot potato that always seems to be someone else’s responsibility?


You might think that safer streets would be a vote winner, but road danger reduction is considered politically toxic by those in power. And when it is discussed, political opportunism means the mere mention of planning initiatives that place the needs of people above those of cars are greeted with disdain. For example, talk of the ’15-minute city’ where life essentials like shops, schools and GPs are placed within walking distance of people’s homes prompted an MP to describe the idea as an ‘international socialist concept’ and it’s been labelled as ‘dystopian’ by the right-wing media.

As American engineer and professor in urban planning Donald Shoup says:“free parking is great politics, but terrible policy”.

If we can’t rely on the government to address road harm and foster conditions that will allow walking and cycling to flourish, who else might help?

Car makers

This is the obvious answer to road harm reduction. After all, car makers can incorporate whatever safety features they like. Unfortunately, history teaches us they have to be forced to introduce any measure that might curtail the driving experience. For example, speed limiter technology is as old as the automobile itself and yet it’s only now that very basic (and overridable) speed limiters and EDRs (event data recorders) are being built into cars by law.

There are so many features that, if factory fitted, would have an immediate effect on road danger. How about forward and rear-facing cameras as standard?

Motor insurance providers

If motor insurers were to act collectively, they could become a powerful force for good where road harm is concerned. Instead they continue to offer cover whatever the standard of driving. Around 8,000 UK motorists continue to drive legally with over 12 points on their licence and yet have no difficulty obtaining insurance. One man continued to be insured after accruing over 60 penalty points – although one can legitimately place all the blame for his continuing presence on the road with the magistrates who refused to impose a ban.

It’s not like they don’t have a technological answer at their fingertips. Young drivers are routinely offered insurance cover on the condition they use an app that monitors the standard of their driving. Telematics is a way of monitoring vehicles with GPS technology and on-board diagnostics (OBD) to plot everything from location to acceleration. It’s long been used by commercial fleet operators, but the advent of smartphones and apps has it far more accessible.

car insurance telematics

You’d think motor insurance companies would insist on all motorists using the telematics apps issued to young drivers

And while young drivers using car insurance apps to monitor their driving will receive warning texts in their driving is reckless, telematic systems can intervene in real time. For example, the technology being used in the current trials of e-scooters on UK roads includes ”Rapid Geofence Detection’ which activates in 0.3 seconds and ‘Dangerous Riding Detection’, which puts the scooter into limp mode or can disable it completely.

If anyone knows why such incredibly accurate safety tech is currently fitted to slow e-scooters but isn’t fitted to motor vehicles, please paste the reason below.

The Police

Some police forces do much better job at addressing road harm than others. After all, this was the week that the chief inspector of police Scotland recommended that pedestrian wear high-vis clothing to avoid being hit by drivers. However, policing is just one aspect of road danger reduction. More important is the town planing and road engineering that can minimise dangerous driving make walking and cycling more attractive.


Our current commitment to safer roads hinges on driver responsibility. Unfortunately it’s a fingers-crossed approach that doesn’t work – and no amount of public information films and safety initiatives can change that. It’s a challenge compounded by streets engineered for driver convenience and speed, which always comes at the expense of those not travelling by car.

How do we tackle road harm?

We made a 40-minute documentary that reveals the human cost of road harm and how we can begin to tackle it.

The ethical choice

The ETA was established in 1990 as an ethical provider of green, reliable travel services. Over 30 years on, we continue to offer cycle insurance , breakdown cover  and mobility scooter insurance while putting concern for the environment at the heart of all we do.

The Good Shopping Guide judges us to be the UK’s most ethical provider.


  1. Keith


    “A chief inspector in Police Scotland says those of us who like to walk should wear high-vis to avoid being run over by drivers”

    Despite the fact that there’s precious little *evidence* proving that hi-viz makes a ha’porth of Real World difference, because of the “invisible gorilla” effect – inattentional blindness.

    This being the accepted case, it’s not down to us to make roads safer: yes, we can contribute, but we aren’t the PROBLEM.

  2. Vincent Edwards


    I call my hi viz my invisibility cloak

  3. Pauline Gibson


    I am heartily sick of this victim-blaming. Why is there always an outcry if a residential road is closed to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists yet never an outcry if someone is killed or injured by a motor vehicle. There is no outcry about having to run the gauntlet along noisy, polluted roads, despite the scientific fact that pollution kills. In our towns and cities, the car rules and politicians are scared of doing anything about it, such is the power of the motoring lobby.

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