The leader of UK’s Labour Party had a car accident last Sunday: Sir Keir Starmer involved in road collision with cyclist (BBC).
This weekend, Keir Starmer made a decision that million of other British people make every day. He probably didn’t even think twice about it. But that decision had consequences — for his neighbourhood, for the air, for the climate and for one stranger who, because of this decision, would end their weekend in the hospital.
On a temperamental Autumn afternoon, Starmer made the decision to drive his SUV the 0.8 miles to the local dry cleaners. It’s a journey he could have walked in 15 minutes, or cycled under five. But it had been raining on and off all day and no one wants to risk getting their dry cleaning wet. Besides, what’s the harm?
Starmer isn’t alone in thinking the benefits of short car journeys outweigh the costs. Around 70% of all car trips taken in London are under 3 miles, and around 35% are less than 1.2 miles. That’s a hell of a lot of people who are choosing to put another car on our streets rather than walking, cycling or taking public transportation. For many, it’s a matter of convenience.
But what are the costs and consequences of that convenience?
The cost to the environment
Let’s start with the obvious. If SUV drivers were a nation, they would rank seventh in the world for CO2 emissions. Between 2010 and 2018, emissions from SUVs alone were greater than the yearly total emissions of the UK and the Netherlands combined. This means that any progress we have made by shifting to cleaner, more efficient and electric cars has been offset by those, like Starmer, who are choosing to drive an SUV.
The cost to cyclists and pedestrians
But it’s not just the climate that SUV drivers are putting at risk. SUVs are significantly more likely to kill pedestrians in crashes, and although they are often marketed as safer, those driving them are 11% more likely to die in a crash than people in normal cars. With so many of these vehicles on the road, it’s no wonder that in 2020, two-thirds of adults in England think cycling on the road is dangerous — the highest figure for more than a decade. For every SUV driver who uses their car to nip down to the shop, there are countless others who are rendered too terrified to make their journey by bike. It’s a viscious cycle.
The cost to our neighbourhoods
So one car leads to another and another and another and soon our roads are congested with cars carrying one passenger a short distanced they could have easily walked or cycled if only there were less cars so they felt safe enough to do so. And now we have traffic. Between 2012 and 2019, the distanced driven in Keir Starmer’s Borough of Camden increased by fifteen million miles. And considering this is the year that the UK topped 40 million vehicles on the roads for the first time ever, it’s hardly surprising.
As more and more cars clog our streets, traffic spills out off the main roads designed to handle them. Thanks to Sat-Nav technology and apps like Google Maps and Waze, traffic is no longer confined to arterial roads but instead dominates residential streets too — streets where a driver is twice as likely to kill or seriously injure a child walking, and three times more likely to kill or seriously injure a child on a bike, than if they stuck to the main road.
The cost to our air
It’s not just our streets that are clogged — it’s our air too. The air pollution caused by exhaust fumes and the miniscule particles that come off brake pads and tyres is so thick you can taste it. And of course, this is killing us too. Just this week we’ve learned that thousands of coronavirus deaths could have been avoided if our air was cleaner. Just this week we’ve learnt that small rises in air pollution have links to depression. That’s just this week. And there’s still so much we don’t know.
So, what’s the harm of Starmer’s quick trip to the tailor? In summary, the harm is the consequences his SUV is having on the climate, the harm is the risk his SUV is putting on his neighbours, the harm is the fear he’s contributing to that stops people taking their journey by bike, the harm is the congestion choking our streets, the harm is the residential roads transformed into dangerous speedways, the harm is the pollution in our air that is killing us all.
And that’s before we even get to the fact that on this short, unneccessary car journey, Starmer collided with a cyclist in a way that was so damaging that the cyclist ended up in hospital.
Keir Starmer isn’t unusual for making the choice he did. Millions of us do it. And like us, Starmer probably didn’t give the costs of his journey a second thought. But we can’t afford to carry on this way.
Every car journey has a consequence. Drivers need to think about those consequences every time they consider getting behind the wheel and ask themselves: is it worth it?
For a quick trip to the tailor? I’ll let you decide.
Paramedics extract a patient in a car accident (Toronto 2014) . By Hillelfrei via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paramedics_extract_a_patient_in_a_car_accident.jpg