The Life-Sized City Blog: Close the Danish Road Safety Council

The Danish philosopher, Arno Victor Nielsen, wrote an op-ed in the Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende recently - “Et godt råd - Luk Rådet for Sikker Trafik” or “A Piece of Good Advice - Close the Danish Road Safety Council”.

It's a provocative piece but it is refreshing that someone apart from us voices concern with the non-work of the Danish Road Safety Council and calls out the Traffic Safety Industry. We don't necessarily agree with every point he makes, but we applaud him for tackling the mastadon that is the Traffic Safety Industry. Here's a quick translation of his piece.

A Piece of Good Advice - Close the Danish Road Safety Council

by Arne Victor Nielsen

"Over the past years the risk of being in traffic is much lower. Why? The roads are filled up. There isn't room for any more accidents. Noone can show that there is any connection whatsoever between traffic safety work, traffic research and campaigns and the sudden fall in the traffic accident curve.

The Danish Road Safety Council (Rådet for Sikker trafik) used to be called The Council for Greater Traffic Safety (Rådet for Større Færdselssikkerhed). In 2009, they changed names and that is basically the only concrete thing the Council has done in many, many years. The name change was meant to shift focus from the area of work to the goal - which is, of course, safety. And safety is something that we all desire. We wish for maximum safety and minimal traffic. But now the reality is that traffic safety has almost exploded because we now have maximum traffic.

The Danish Road Safety Council hasn't played any role whatsoever in our traffic safety. Nevertheless, the number of employees has risen sharply - by 30% in the past five years - and now it has been revealed that the Council's director recieved a princely paycheque and drives around in a free car - an Alfa Romeo 159.

The director, Anders Rosbo, is a journalist and loves to be photographed sitting on the hood of his company car. He used to be the head of communications for the Conservative Party and it was another Conservative politician that gave him the massive pay rise. It is possible that Rosbo is worth the pay. He just shouldn't work with traffic safety because there's not much left to do.

Traffic safety is, today, virtually complete. There are about 350 deaths a year. This is the same level as in 1946, when there were 300,000 cars in the country. Today there are 2.6 million cars on the roads. In 1968 there were 20,000 accidents with injuries. In 2005, that number had shrunk to 5,400. If you regard the stats in light of how much transport there is, how many kilometres are driven/ridden, the risk of getting into traffic is much lower. Why is traffic un-safety so much reduced? Because the roads are filled up. There isn't any room for more accidents. Noone can show that there is any connection whatsoever between traffic safety work, traffic research and campaigns and the sudden fall in the traffic accident curve. Traffic research and traffic safety committees, The Road Safety Council, a whole bunch of ad agencies, the insurance industry and a handful of politicians earn their living off of traffic safety. We can certainly call it a Traffic Safety Industrial Complex - in the same style as the military-industrial complex and the medicinal-industrial complex.

The point of deparature of the traffic safety industry is the concept of a natural traffic situation, where everyone fights against everyone else. Without a complicated net or rules and provisions, the traffic would develop into a permanent state of war and the traffic users would all behave like wild animals in the traffic jungle. Therefore, they must be chained down with a mountain of laws, rules and provisions. As a traffic user I don't ask myself, "What should I do here? What is reasonable and suitable?" I ask myself, "What regulations, injunctions, bans are in place here?"

The Traffic Safety Industry's biggest problem is that traffic safety is improving. But don't tell the public and especially don't tell the politicians that there isn't really any problem with traffic safety. I've noticed that they always put the number of killed and injured together so that we can get a bigger, scarier number. If big numbers that prove the necessity for the Traffic Safety Industry are hard to come by, there are always "dark numbers". Nobody knows what they are, otherwise they wouldn't be dark, so feel free to use your imagination. A traffic researcher from the Transport Economic Institute (TØI) in Oslo said a few years ago that the numbers in statistics are now so small, so thin, so insignifigant that it's quite impossible to conclude anything based on them, so traffic safety work now basically takes place in the dark. You cannot expect that the traffic safety insurance will understate the improved traffic safety. It must be unacceptably high in order to justify the Traffic Safety Industry.

If politicians decide that we can live with roughly 300 deaths a year, that we can be proud of that number, it is possible that the traffic users would take over a bit more responsibility for safety. They don't get a chance, however, to prove their worth as responsible, caring traffic users, because they are constantly treated as potential criminals."

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