BEWARE OF THE BULL!
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YOU run the greatest risk in bed, according to the old joke. More people die there than anywhere else, Nobody puts the idea forward seriously. The flaw in the logic is too apparent. But the momentary illusion of a genuine paradox shows how easy it is to make false. comparisons between accident statistics when they are applied to different circumstances.
Airlines have been known to boast that their customers have the lowest casualty rate per passenger mile. This may well be true, but it gives no reassurance to the majority of people.
Nature lovers fighting to keep the country footpaths open could put in their own claim in this context. Apart from hazards such as brambles and wild bulls, the rambler does better than other pedestrians. There is certainly no chance that he will be knocked down by a car or lorry while he keeps to the broken lines on his map.
Providers of the footpaths have missed an opportunity. They should seek a subsidy for the costs which their right of way has saved the community by preventing accidents. The argument could be the contrast be- Itween the accident rate on a mile of footpath and a mile of main road or city street.
1 The demand would be at least as sensible as the one that appears to be made in the report of a study carried out jointly by British Rail, the University of Loughborough and Cranfield Institute of Technology. If a given quantity of freight is trunk-hauled by road instead of by rail, says the report, at least 12 times as many deaths and 35 times as many serious injuries will result.
The pseudo-scientific jargon is not sufficient to hide the fact that the statement is meaningless.
It is possible to go further and say that freight cannot be conveniently interchanged between road and rail in the way described. As the Government's consultation document on transport policy puts the point in somewhat harsher terms : " It is a pipe-dream. No large-scale shift of such traffic is practicable."
Awareness of this point may explain why the report speaks of a transfer in the opposite direction, from rail to road. This does not alter the principle. The authors may have thought it more convincing to suggest a possibility that would increase accidents rather than the other way round.
For the intention, one must suppose, is to persuade the Government that there are still good reasons for giving the railways money, especially if it would help them keep traffic they may be in danger of losing.
Another of the study's conclusions makes the point in financial terms 'In 1975 road casualties cost the community approximately 150 times as much as rail casualties, while road carried approximately four times as much freight and 15 times as much passenger traffic."
The computation is no doubt inspired by the consultation document, which contains the
customary attempt to set a figure on the cost of accidents so that
road users can be taxed up to that level. Total accident costs in 1974 are put at £875m on some rather fragile estimates, and the amount which, after various deductions, is finally allocated to vehicles over 30cwt unladen is £25m, although the Department admits that this may be an under-estimate.
British Rail say that their report deals with one of a number of environmental advantages which the railways have over road transport. It has gone to the Department of the Environment as a contribution towards its policy-making exercise.
Operators must, therefore, take the matter seriously. The Depart ment's experts are unlikely to be impressed by the arguments, but the report can have an effect on public opinion, especially when the conclusions are ventilated through publications notoriously hostile to the heavy lorry.