Death on the roads! Nightmare coach crash! Take double decker coaches out of service! Britain has been in the grip of coach crash paranoia over the last two days after a nasty accident on the M4 close to Heathrow [BBC]. Suggestions in the newspapers have ranged from compulsory seatbelts (sensible) through to the idea to fit black box flight recorders to buses (mad – have these people never heard of the tachograph?)
Yet let’s put this in perspective. While any road death is a tragedy, and my sympathy is with the victims, 2 people have died in this accident. Few in comparison to the 3201 people that died on UK roads in 2005 [National Statistics]. Bus and coach travel is really safe by any comparison, and to over-report a relatively minor incident like this has the same impact as the over-reporting of rail accidents – creating the implication that a means of travel is more dangerous than is actually the case.
So everyone, please get a grip. Coach travel is really adequately safe. You are far more likely to die when you walk across the street tomorrow on the way to the coach station to take a coach journey somewhere than you are to come to a nasty end in the coach itself. So let’s all just be a bit more sensible about this.
Apologies that this is not a new thought, but the response to this accident is just one example of the broader issue of (largely but not entirely media-driven) exaggerated over-response to real but really not very extensive problems. The UK public debate is very good at this kind of over-response – the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act is perhaps the classic example, but the severe over-regulation of school trips as a result of an extremely small number of problems is also one that has got some publicity recently.
We have a totally distorted approach to the issue of risk in public policy.
For an interesting recent proper (but readable) look into this, I recommend http://www.brc.gov.uk/publications/risk_report.asp