Safety officials count the cost of death

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The Independent Online
THE COST effectiveness of road safety measures is assessed by the Department of Transport on the basis of giving a value to each life lost or injury caused, writes Christian Wolmar.

If it is judged that the amount saved in terms of deaths and injuries by the implementation of a measure is greater than its cost, then, when funds allow, it is introduced.

The costs, as shown in the table, are based on an assessment of the wider expenses of an accident, ranging from the actual physical damage to the time of police officers and ambulance crews involved, have been increased quite steeply in recent years as a deliberate strategy by the department to take more account of intangible factors such as grief and distress.

The introduction of seat belts on all buses and coaches would cost between pounds 25 and pounds 50 per passenger, according to the industry, suggesting that with 50 seats the average price would be about pounds 1,500 to pounds 2,000. With about 20,000 coaches in the country, that would imply a total bill for the seat belts alone of pounds 30m to pounds 40m.

However, Alan Gurley, technical director of the Bus and Coach Council, suggested that the associated engineering costs of equipping coaches could double this total.

He said: 'Even then, I'm not sure it could be implemented on all existing coaches. It might not be feasible.'

He also said that very few deaths and serious injuries associated with bus and coach travel occurred to people sitting down: 'Most people are hurt when they are boarding or alighting, or when they are standing in the aisle.'

If the bill were pounds 80m introduced over a 10-year period, seat belts would have to result in, say, five fewer lives lost and 65 fewer serious injuries each year to make them worthwhile, by the Government's own calculations.

Richard Simpson, technical editor of Coach and Bus Week, suggested another problem: 'If the price of coach travel is pushed up by the implementation of these measures, then more people might travel by car, which is 10 times more dangerous per mile, and therefore have a greater chance of being killed on the roads.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- Official assessment of road accident costs ----------------------------------------------------------------- Pounds Fatality 715,330 Serious injury 74,480 Slight injury 6,080 Average cost of accident involving injury 53,950 -----------------------------------------------------------------

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