Deaths On The Roads
Sir, - Ms Cecilia McGovern (December 2nd) contrasts public attitudes over rail disasters and road accidents. Although the roads account for many more people killed and injured, she is dismayed to note more public concern expressed about the dangers of rail travel.
For part of the explanation of this we must go back to the opening of the world's first passenger railway, the Liverpool and Manchester, in 1829 when William Huskisson, a government minister, fell under the wheels of a locomotive. Perhaps it was because the railway's first fatality was a VIP that subsequent railway tragedies have always attracted more attention than common-or-garden fatalities on the road. A case of familiarity breeding contempt.
For the rest of the explanation we go back to 1896 when Bridget Driscoll was knocked down and killed by a motor car while walking to a Catholic church function in south London. This first road fatality involving a motor vehicle was described by the inquest coroner as an "accident", adding that he hoped such a tragedy would never happen again.
But it did, many times over in fact, so that 100 years later the worldwide number of road "accident" fatalities has reached 17 million!
Each of these tragedies - even when the driver involved is high on drink or drugs - is called an "accident" following the precedent set by that south London coroner. It is curious that ever since that first road fatality, the word chosen to describe such a tragedy is one generally defined as an event without apparent cause. If we could catch ourselves on, stop debasing the language in that way and agree on a word which does not detract from the gravity of such events, then slaughter on the roads is less likely to be treated as an acceptable form of homicide. - Yours, etc.,
Vice-Chairman, The Pedestrians Association, Aldersgate Street, London EC1