Thursday, 25 August 2011

Belt Up 1984 - Part 2

July 1984 saw the publication of the first edition of "Thinks!", the Channel Island Mensa Magazine.

The editor Ken Webb, decided to mark the launch with a topical debate - on seat belts. He was annoyed that the JEP motoring correspondent seemed to be lobbying for seat belts rather than having an informed debate about the advantages and disadvantages, and giving equal time to protestors.

In the second edition, two people replied. The first was Peter Bryans whose letter is reprinted below. It is interesting how some of the arguments that Peter Bryans brings to bear have a modern twist.

Consider former Deputy Gerard Baudains, who is standing again for Deputy in St Clements is vociferous in his opposition to a 30 mile per hour speed limit. Not one for mincing words, he tells us that "once again the Nimbys & Tree huggers have managed to inflict their ill-conceived ideas on others."

Gerard Baudains has his own unique argument for reduced speed limits causing accidents:

How does a reduced speed limit cause more accidents? It's not rocket science. At 40mph a driver is watching the road ahead (or the majority are) - looking to see if a pedestrian is about to exit his / her property onto the road - or a car about to pull out. Maybe some children are on the pavement and playing around as children do. So the driver is prepared.. Now take 30mph. The driver is frustrated. The journey needlessly takes longer as he knows he could safely go faster. In fact, so little is happening so slowly that he resigns himself to 'autopilot' mode, just staring at the back of the vehicle in front and no longer studying the road ahead. Why should he look ahead? It'll be ages before he gets there. All a recipe for accidents.

Really, one has to wonder if a driver is so frustrated that he drives on autopilot whether he should be out and about on the roads at all - perhaps a retake of a driving test would be a good idea! Driving without due care and attention is an offense - has Mr Baudains read the Highway Code recently? How a difference of a mere 10 mph could mean "ages before he gets there" in an Island that is 9 miles by 5 miles is beyond me. If he really wants frustration, perhaps he should try rush hour traffic in St Helier around 9.00 am, when traffic crawls along at between standstill and 5 mph. A clear run, at 30 mph, is not going to take that long, nor be that frustrating! The drivers who speed and would like more than 30 mph will probably zoom along at 45 mph in a 40 mph zone; one passed me on the way in from St Brelade doing around 50 mph on a clear road. What's needed is for measures to prevent speeding, and deterrents for those who are so careless of the speed that they endanger other road users and pedestrians.

Like a conjuror, Gerard Baudains pulls figures out of his hat to support his case:

The 30 signs had only been up a few days when there were three serious accidents, including a fatality.

In fact, this is the same kind of anecdotal evidence that Peter Bryans is talking about. The global statistics for 30 mph show a decrease in accidents, but there will, as he points out, always be the rogue statistics, the outliers, which are snapped up eagerly by the News of the World (when it was being published), and Gerard Baudains today!

In today's JEP, I see that a man has been charged with dangerous driving after a crash along St Clement's Coast Road. Does Gerard Baudains serious think that raising speed limits will prevent this kind of event?

Contributed by Peter Bryans

I must congratulate the new editor for conceiving a splendid plan to elicit a response from our generally silent readers. By choosing to write a deliberately provocative article, which brilliantly plumbed the pinnacles of banal naivety, he has demonstrated that at least one member of Mensa (me) will respond to an article which is intentionally lacking in objectivity, common sense and academic irrelevances such as facts and proof.

He asks a simple question - WHO DECIDES? On issues which affect all members of a community, single individuals could only be allowed to make their own individual decisions if we lived in a society of anarchists. Because we live in a democracy the answer had got to be that the government elected by the community decides, after listening to and evaluating all points of view. This decision is then given the force of law to protect the innocent and persuade the ignorant.

A simple fact (which Ken very cleverly omitted so as to generate controversy where there need otherwise be none) is that since the wearing of seat-belts became compulsory in the U.K. the number of road deaths and serious injuries has decreased dramatically (a 31.23% overall decrease and a 28.72% decrease in areas governed by a 30 m.p.h. speed limit) (Jul - Dec 1983). Put another way, at this rate 2,500 people are alive in July 1984 who would have died (statistically) had they not been made to wear seat belts in the previous months.

However, I am sure that investigative reporters angling for a career with the News of the World will eventually demonstrate that someone, somewhere has died because they wore a seat belt - just as instances can be shown of a pilot who was strangled by his own parachute, a Farmer whose skull was fractured by his tractor's safety cab and a hospital patient who had died from the side-effects of a "miracle" drug. All of these instances don't mean that we should ban parachutes, safety cabs, life saving drugs or seat belts - just that God sometimes has a sense of humour.

Mensa brains must be shown to be capable of supporting democratic measures (even paternal dictatorships) which demonstrably save large numbers of lives in the community. Membership of Mensa does not allow us to drink and drive, survive car crashes seat-belt less with impunity or walk on water.

Remember the cemeteries are full of people who knew better than to wear seat-belts - although their widows and orphans have now learnt by sad experience, that collective wisdom was better than their loved ones individual decisions. Ask them WHO DECIDES? they never got the chance.

Editor's Note:
Upon Peter's views I will not comment. On his attack on my personal integrity I most certainly will. He made an erroneous and unwarranted presumption as to my motives for writing the article. I do not use a subject affecting the lives of my fellow humans for the triviality of eliciting a response from Members. Some years ago my life was saved because I was NOT wearing a seat-belt. I would like everyone - including Peter - to have the same choice. That was my sole motive.

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