Organisation: Edinburgh Napier University
Date uploaded: 17 November 2020
Date published: November 2020
• There is a paucity of ethical considerations in road safety
• Road safety as operated in the UK suppresses active travel due to fear
• Equality of restraint is part of the liberal tradition and should be applied to road safety
• Global vested interests operate across the transport sector subordinating safety to profit
• A pandemic has shown how quickly behaviour changes can occur
Motoring is an emancipation. It is both an individual freedom and a collective freedom with car ownership at 30, 491, 000 vehicles by 2019 in Great Britain. Yet, as the evidence of the impacts of road transport accumulates and the health and environmental aims of sustainable travel become clearer, demand for an ethical analysis also intensifies.
The paper draws on a previous limited ethics-based literature on road transport. Key tenet of liberalism, of ‘freedom from’ as well as ‘freedom to’, are highlighted. This includes Edmund Burke’s concept of ‘equality of restraint’ in meeting common needs. Freedom from fear of road traffic danger forms part of an individual’s rights.
Equality of rights and freedom from fear in road use have not been key considerations for reducing risks to vulnerable road users. Indeed, ethical issues have largely been ignored. The emergence of Vision Zero within the road safety field with its focus on zero deaths and serious injuries has brought an ethics-based approach to the mainstream although it appears to be struggling to gain traction in neo-liberal societies.
The Covid-19 pandemic has led to UK governments promoting the use of walking and cycling. These modes have hitherto been left to fend for themselves in an environment where road safety has been measured by casualty reduction while fear has suppressed walking and cycling with the consequence losses to physical and mental health. We ask whether an ethics-based contribution, and lessons from Covid-19, can help re-set the direction of UK road safety policy and practice.
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