Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Driver Privilege Checklist

On Saturday readers of ibikelondon & Cyclists in the City, cycle campaigners such as LCC and possibly even Boris Johnson will tour the 10 worst junctions for cyclists in London. Meanwhile Boris sticks to his guns insisting that roads aren't the problem (hint: they are, in part).

These issues are not confined to London. Kristin Mueller-Heaslip, a blogger from Toronto, has identified another problem: the privileged position of drivers.

The Driver Privilege Checklist follows in the shoes of The Male Privilege Checklist and The White Privilege Checklist. I do not agree fully with equating the issues pedestrians and cyclists face compared to those faces by Women and non-Whites; however, the argument for pointing out the advantages afforded to drivers is arguably stronger than those for pointing out either gender or racial privilege: because, you cannot choose your race or gender*. You can choose your mode of transport**.

Boris is perpetuating this privilege by insisting on "Smoothing Traffic Flow", in doing so ignoring pedestrians, cyclists and users of public transport. Transport for London (TfL) goes as far as ignoring pedestrians and cyclists in the traffic flow figures.

This enables TfL to fulfil Driver Privilege 7:
"Large areas of the city, suburb, or rural area I live in are built and laid out with driving in mind to the exclusion of other forms of transportation, and may be totally inaccessible to non-drivers."
A point well made by the 10 junctions which the tourers will visit on Saturday.

There is another Privilege which has been missed from the list and from the comments here and here.
Drivers are free to pollute the environment and thereby kill blamelessly.
The equivalent of 29,000 lives were lost to pollution in 2008 is dire. This adds to the over 2,500 people killed in collisions on the roads that year***.

Drivers try to perpetuate their privilege by ignoring these factors. For example the Tax Payers Alliance:
 "justified ignoring the cost of road traffic collisions and fatalities because the measures taken to reduce collisions, such as “driving tests, speed limits, speed cameras and... speed bumps... impose significant costs on drivers”, as though the cost of travelling within the speed limit equated to the cost of being hit (and possibly killed) by a driver."
Quote from written evidence to the Transport Committee (.pdf, page Ev146, footnote 25) from The Campaign for Better Transport.

Specific taxes on road users totaled £30.9bn in the tax year 2007-2008 (over 80% of this was fuel duty). In the same time period £8.8bn was spent on roads in the UK. Pro-motorist lobby groups use these values to argue that drivers are being charged over the odds (e.g. the AA giving evidence to the Transport Committee, pg. 13).

In fact they are being subsidised massively (Privilege 2). They just ignore the externalities.

Let's take the casualties into account. The HSE valued a death at £1m in 2001, I will use this figure.

Deaths on the roads add at least £2bn (2,000 deaths) to cost to society of driving. Pollution related deaths raise this yet again, according to DEFRA, road transportation is the primary source of 6/9 identified pollutants. Therefore, I will assume 50% of pollution related equivalent deaths are due to road transportation. This is 14,500 more deaths, or £14.5bn. This brings the cost of driving to £25.3bn.

Adding in other costs such as non-fatal collisions, loss of rural landscapes, congestion and policing hikes this yet again. The Campaign for Better Transport places the full cost of these externalities at up to £95bn. This means that almost 70% of the cost of driving comes out of general taxation, a massive subsidy.

Boris needs to accept that drivers have never had it so good, and do something to help others less privileged.

The author of The Checklist has followed up on some the criticisms and explained the rationale for the list.

I have written a follow-up to this post.

* Excepting gender-realignment etc., and it can be argued that you are in fact the same gender, just with an altered body.
** In London driving is an active choice, considering the provision of public transport, excepting disability.
*** Neither of these figures are entirely due to motorists, however I expect that a significant proportion of the first, and the vast majority of the second are directly due to drivers.

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