Sunday 20 May 2012

Are adults mature enough to share roads with children?

By now everyone surely understands the multitude of health, environmental and personal development reasons  for children to walk or cycle to school, to their after-schools activities, to their friends' houses, or just for the pure fun of doing so.

So why do so few children cycle around their neighbourhood and why are parents so reluctant to permit them to do so?

I think the answer is quite simple. We have created an adults-only culture on our streets.

The expectation is that people using streets have obtained a driving licence to use them, and that other road users should not interfere with the 'urgent', 'important', grown-up traffic. They should cross at designated points and have a professional bus driver to take them from A to B.

The driving culture of lessons, licence and penalties is clearly not really orientated on controlling your fast, heavy vehicle to stop it intimidating and damaging children who are bumbling along the roads in an unpredictable manner (because children are immature, unpredictable and prone to being distracted, otherwise we wouldn't call them children).

Instead, our culture has made the driving licence the base-level for road usage - with all other users required to have the level of understanding of road signs, rules and mechanical control that the licence holder has. The Highway Code is essential reading for everyone, says the Goverment, even if you can't yet read!

If you don't show the motorists' understanding of road rules they will simply bully you off the road.

So, in our culture, what happens when a child is using their road (as much their road as an adults) and a driver smashes into them at over twice the legal speed limit, behaving in a totally 'important adult' get-out-of-my-way way? This week's report from 'This is Somerset' tells you all you need to know:

Talented footballer Callum Hartigan, 11, was left with broken bones in his right leg and needed skin and tissue grafts from his back and left thigh after he was struck by Daniel Wooler, a company director who was driving at 67mph in a 30mph zone in Bristol, as he rushed to attend a meeting he was late for. 
Bristol Crown Court heard Wooler was racked with remorse after driving his BMW 7-Series at more than twice the speed limit and hitting Callum as he rode his bike in Bradley Stoke Way.
Wooler, 44, of Stanton Drew, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving in February last year. 
Judge Simon Darwall-Smith gave him a 12-month jail term, suspended for two years, with 150 hours of unpaid work and £850 court costs. He banned him from driving for a year and ordered him to pass an extended driving test before returning to the road.
The judge told Wooler: "You were driving in excess of 60mph in a 30mph area. This speed had a disastrous effect on Callum. He was injured seriously and will have ongoing further surgery. 
"I accept that you are fully remorseful about the speed of your driving and the consequences of it. 
"This was not a case where any injury was intended by you."
There is absolutely no prospect of masses of children cycling in their neighbourhood until such an appallingly 'adult' use of the road is considered by our culture and our judiciary to be the exact equivalent of callously hitting a pensioner over the head with an iron bar, and punished accordingly.