Tuesday, 29 June 2010

20 mph limit for all built-up areas?

Today's fascist on the BBC Breakfast soapbox was Joanna Bailey from Brake, calling for the speed limit to be reduced from 30 to 20 in all built up areas.

The car-hating Oxford council introduced 20 limits across much of the city a few months ago. It's a ridiculous policy, as I've noted previously:
Responsible drivers already did 20 where it was appropriate. Irresponsible drivers continue to drive irresponsibly despite the lower limits. We now have the added harm caused by a minority of obedient citizens following the 20 limits in areas where they are completely inappropriate. Congestion increases; zombie driving is encouraged; overtaking cyclists is more difficult; and countless innocent people are delayed and enraged.
Bailey's argument was that children sometimes come running out into the road without notice, but the onus should really be on parents to teach their children road safety. And even if we can save lives by reducing the limit, that has to be weighed against the massive inconvenience to millions of drivers.

In an article back in 2008, Jamie Whyte approached this theme with characteristic rationality:

“No amount of entertainment is worth the life of a child!” This is perfect political rhetoric, guaranteed to get the Question Time studio audience clapping their support. But it also explains why that same audience is beset by so much “nanny state gone mad” regulation. What's more, it is wrong. Anyone who thinks that no amount entertainment is worth the life of a child either overvalues children or undervalues entertainment.

Start with children. How much is it worth spending to save one? The precise amount is not as important as taking the question seriously. Children are not priceless. In a world of limited resources, nothing is. Any money spent on saving a child is money not spent on something else, including saving other children. Above a certain price, saving a child does more harm than good; the money would be better spent on something else.

The Government agrees, not just about children but about people generally. For example, when deciding whether or not to spend money on improving the safety of Britain's roads, it uses a “value of a statistical life” of about £1.5million. If a road improvement that would save only one person costs more than this, the Department for Transport prefers to let him die. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) uses similar reasoning to decide which medical treatments should be offered through the NHS. If a treatment costs more than it is worth in “quality adjusted life years”, we do not get it. If the price is right, nanny is rightly willing to sacrifice her children. She is overprotective not because she cares too much for our lives, but because she cares too little for our fun.

That is the problem with Joanna Bailey and her righteous friends: they care too little for our fun. If we are insufficiently vigilant, they will soon produce a Britain where nobody wants to live.

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