1990s >> 1994 >> no-1082-october-1994

Capitalism – Driving Us To Destruction

January 1993, Bradford: van driver killed by runaway lorry. Lorry’ owners subsequently fined £4,500 for failing to maintain the vehicle’s brakes.
September 1993, near Leeds: two killed and five injured by a lorry which crashed through the central reservation of the M62. Lorry owners fined £6,500 for failing to maintain the vehicle’s brakes.
September 1993, East Yorkshire: a schoolgirl and the driver of a school bus killed when a lorry collided with said bus. Lorry owners face prosecution for failing to maintain vehicle’s brakes.
September 1993, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire: six people killed by 30-tonne truck. The owners — fined £5,000 for failing to maintain the vehicle’s brakes — have applied for their operator’s license to be renewed. Despite an inquest verdict of unlawful killing, the Crown Prosecution Service have decided that there is insufficient evidence for a corporate manslaughter charge.

Spotted the similarities yet?
For one thing, they are all genuine cases, recently picked up again by the local press because they have either just come to court or are being used by some reformer campaigning for better road safety.

For another, the owners in each case look like getting away with murder. And it looks a lot like said owners have a bit of a thing about not maintaining the brakes on their vehicles.

But take a look at this next lot . . .
July 1994: Avon & Somerset police conducted spot-checks on coaches travelling on the M5. Of 236 vehicles inspected, 118 had defects. Three — with exhaust and oil-leak problems — were banned from going any further. Thirty-one prosecutions are being considered.
June 1994: West Yorkshire police spot-checked 98 HGVs on the M62. Sixty percent were defective, with 34 having to be ordered to effect immediate repairs.
June 1994: police spot-checked 104 vehicles of all types near Halifax. Forty-six had defects.

. . . so it is not just brakes on lorries in Yorkshire in 1993!

According to the Department of Transport (DoT) there were 902 deaths on the roads during the first three months of 1994, as well as over 10,000 serious injuries.

Readers may be tempted to think that lorry, bus and car owners are, by nature, deliberately murderously negligent — that they like nothing better than seeing drivers and innocent bystanders alike killed or maimed. But the truth is that vehicle owners and drivers are not psychopaths — it is profit that is the real culprit here.

Car drivers all too often simply cannot afford to properly maintain their vehicles, or cannot take the time off work to get their cars checked. And cost is a major factor for lorry and coach owners too. At the same time, a lorry or coach which has to be checked and repaired is off the road for a day or more, which means it is not earning money for its owners. Which means that the vehicle is not making a profit for the shareholders of the haulage or passenger transport company.

Road safety campaigners argue that individuals should be held responsible for their vehicles, and prosecuted. But as with all types of reform, this is to try to treat the symptoms, not the root cause. The competition for profit leads to companies cutting comers on safety as surely as night follows day.

The same people also call for stiffer regulations, and more resources for those organisations responsible for enforcing them. But here too the profit motive overrides safety. The Vehicle Inspectorate, an agency with the Department of Transport which is responsible for ensuring the roadworthiness of goods and passenger vehicles, has just announced that it will cut 26 percent of its staff over the next three years. As the examples cited above show, this is certainly not because there is not enough work for it to do. In a Parliamentary answer, the DoT revealed that, of 218,648 HGVs and PSVs inspected throughout the country during 1992/3, 22 percent were found to be defective. It is because the Government ordered the agency (along with other parts of the DoT, including the Marine Safety & Driving Standards agencies) to cut 20 percent off their costs. Why? To help deliver tax cuts. Taxes cut into profit margins, after all.

At the same time, the Government aims to “reduce the burden on business” by ending the practice whereby haulage and passenger transport companies have to renew their operator licences every year (cf. The Deregulation & Contracting-Out Bill, currently wending its way through parliament). And for the same sorts of reasons the Government is dragging its feet over implementing recommendations, made in the wake of the recent M40 minibus crash and similar disasters, that coaches should be fitted with seat belts.

Everybody wants to see an end to the slaughter on our roads. But while pursuit of profit is the primary consideration, drivers will continue to fall asleep at the wheel, coaches will keep travelling at 80 mph in the outside lane, wheels will go on shearing off lorries. Capitalism will continue to kill people.

Paul Burroughs