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Drive Slowly and Prosper

Posted in Models by Ferne Edwards on February 20th, 2009

Please find below a partial transcript of an interview between John Whitelegg (a recent guest of’s at the Sustainable Cities Round Table) interviewed by Peter Mares on ABC Radio National (more details below). This article was also republished in a Going Solar Transport Newsletter, compiled by Stephen Ingrouille. Going Solar newsletter provides an excellent commentary on local sustainable transport issues in Melbourne.

Drive Slowly and Prosper - partial transcript
John Whitelegg: “…. 80 per cent of the motorists say, when they look at the evidence, that they are very happy to go with lower speed limits when they see the impact that the higher speed limits have on child fatality, child serious injury. Motorists are not evil monsters. In the main, they’re very reasonable people and they’re very happy to drive at a lower speed when they are presented with the information of the severely damaging consequences of higher speed. And by the way, there’s detailed research on the loss of time when you’re making a journey to lower speed. If you’re doing a journey by car of, say, six, seven, eight kilometres and you’re driving at, say, 40 kilometres an hour rather than 50 kilometres an hour, you lose two minutes. You know, the time impact – put it that way – is trivial. And people can try it for themselves. Traffic moves more smoothly at lower speeds; traffic makes better use of the highway capacity. People don’t drive in a way where they accelerate aggressively and decelerate rapidly. You know, there are many advantages. I actually trust drivers to look at the evidence and arrive at a view. And the problem we’ve got is that politicians behave like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a passing car. They really don’t know what to do and they’re frightened of upsetting the electorate…. All it is saying is ‘Look, do we want a society where we’re likely to squash children over the roadside because they have the temerity to try and cross the road between parked cars and are hit by a car going at 55 kilometres per hour? Do we want the kind of society that creates children-unfriendly cities and elderly unfriendly cities (and we’re running into so called demographic time bombs with more of us, including me, going to be over the age of 55, than ever before)? Do we want a friendly city for those kind of people or not? And really, really, what are the consequences of lower speed limits – and they are trivially insignificant, apart from reducing the number of dead children? And what’s wrong with that?”

Peter Mares: “I don’t think anyone would argue with reducing the number of dead children and I guess people would say ‘No, it doesn’t necessarily have to be anti-motorist. But it is anti-car. I mean, it is saying the car having everyone getting about in their own individual car, that’s not going to make for an ideal city.”

John Whitelegg:
“It’s not anti-car at all. The car is a wonderful thing for many kinds of journeys, many kinds of situations; it should be used responsibly and intelligently. But Australian cities, for example, very often have (what’s the percentage?) around 30 per cent, 35 per cent of all the car trips are less than two kilometres – two kilometres in length. That’s generally recognised around the world as not an intelligent use of cars. You know, we have to go for smart use, intelligent use of vehicles, appropriate use of vehicles and, again, I find in my work, whether it’s in Germany or Denmark or Sweden or the UK, or wherever, the people say, ‘Yes, yes, we agree. And then we have to look for ways of implementing the changes in things like road design, speed limits, enforcement of speed limits and other things that reward the responsible user of the vehicle and punish the irresponsible user of the vehicle.”

Peter Mares: “Let’s now turn to perhaps the other benefit that there is to be had from this, and that’s the broader environmental benefit, particularly as we try to deal with climate change.”

John Whitelegg: “The climate change connections with a discussion of speed and health and child friendly cities are very strong, limiting speed of vehicles in cities. What it actually does is create a very attractive environment where people are more likely to reduce the use of the car from their own choice, from their own thinking. They work through it themselves and they switch to walking and cycling and public transport – they change their behaviour. If they do change their behaviour that way, there’s an immediate, very significant reduction in greenhouse gases in carbon dioxide. So, we actually have one of those classic win-win situations: we create healthy cities, safe cities more walking or cycling, more child-friendly cities, carbon-reduced cities, we deliver carbon dioxide reduction targets to sort out climate change.”

Ref: The National Interest, ABC Radio National, 12/12/08
See the full transcript at:

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