Stephen Ladyman, the road-safety minister, can find the time, and therefore spend taxpayers' money, saying in the media that he is "distressed" that Top Gear is being "knocked" in the wake of the injury of the presenter Richard Hammond. But, sadly, he can't find the time to launch National Road Safety Week (6-12 November), organised by Brake, the road-safety charity, which this year focuses on the terrible death toll caused by young drivers.
The minister, a repentant speeder, argues that his enthusiasm for driving makes him a better road-safety minister. It lets him say to Top Gear fans, "I'm one of you, and I still support speed cameras". At Brake, we think this a misguided tactic and there are better things that he could be doing with his time.
Many people across the country happily use cars for practical reasons, but aren't car fanatics and feel threatened by the speeding drivers who plague our roads and put our children at risk. These people, the silent majority, would have more regard for Ladyman, and give him their vote, if he didn't spend time pandering to a select group that glamorises speed.
Ladyman says, of Top Gear: "[It] celebrates fast cars ... [but] people don't go on to the road and break the speed limit because they watch [it]." But there's a wealth of research by transport psychologists demonstrating that the attitudes of drivers, younger males in particular, are influenced by the glorification of fast cars, and that this can affect behaviour. Car ownership and speed are aspirational for many young men, and they have a natural tendency to take risks on roads for kicks.
Attitudes can also, conversely, be influenced by road-safety advertising and education. If the Department for Transport didn't believe that influencing attitudes was important, it wouldn't bother with the (pitifully few) road-safety adverts it funds on television.
Ladyman says that he is "distressed" at attacks on Top Gear. This is nothing compared with the distress of watching your child mown down by a high-speed driver. Seventy-five children are killed or seriously injured on Britain's roads every week. The minister should save his adjectives.
The defensive outpourings of support for Top Gear over the past fortnight have often been counterattacks against "namby-pamby" road-safety officials who want the programme banned. This is interesting because, until now, there has not been a flurry of official statements, from Brake or others, calling for the banning of Top Gear. Mostly, such calls have been made by concerned mothers on radio phone-ins, and column writers.
Brake has remained quiet because tackling off-road high-speed collisions, such as the one involving Hammond, is not our prime concern. We are in favour of people using circuits rather than roads to "test" their high-speed driving abilities.
However, the likes of Ladyman and Jeremy Clarkson have been widening the debate by making broadbrush statements on road safety, and that is very much our concern.Reuse content