WMN opinion: Cutting road deaths must be a priority for the police
Every scientist and statistician knows that it is difficult and dangerous to always link a cause with an effect. So the fact that an eight-year trend in falling road deaths has come to a halt at the same time as dedicated traffic police have fallen victim to spending cuts does not necessarily mean there is a direct connection. Circumstantial evidence is not – as every police officer should know – enough on its own to secure a conviction. It is, however, sufficient to justify further investigation.
And that is certainly what should happen following the news today that the number of deaths on Devon and Cornwall's roads has already surpassed the 42 recorded last year, with two more months of winter still to go. To date in 2012, 50 people have tragically lost their lives on the roads of the Westcountry. Dedicated traffic officers were scrapped in May 2010 as part of budget cuts totalling £50 million and the loss of hundreds of personnel.
The Police Federation have no doubt there is a clear connection between those cuts and a rise in lives lost. Sgt Nigel Rabbitts, chairman of the Federation in Devon and Cornwall, warned at the time the cuts were announced that scrapping a dedicated traffic department would have consequences and could lead to a "a reduction in driving standards". It is too early to say if he is right. One year's figures that – to date – show a relatively modest increase in road deaths, albeit that every such death is tragic, does not "prove" the link.
There is, however, no room for complacency. By the end of the year the death rate is, sadly, likely to be even higher. Next year, if it is higher still, the possibility that cutting traffic officers is costing lives will be even stronger.
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At some point Devon and Cornwall Police must find out whether or not the changes that have been made are a contributory factor in a rising death toll. It is not, of course, the Chief Constable's fault that significant savings must be made on the police budget. The Home Secretary – acting on pressure from the Treasury – is responsible for that. He, however, has a responsibility to ensure that resources are used correctly. And saving lives on the roads is, surely, a priority.
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Even the most optimistic Cornish industrialist must have feared that deep mining for metals in the Duchy would never again be a significant wealth contributor following the closure of South Crofty mine in 1998. Falling tin prices and the fact that the metal could be extracted more easily, efficiently and cheaply overseas seem to have put the lid on the Cornish tin industry even before the start of the 21st century.
Never, say never, however. New investment to reopen the mine has been found; new markets for the metals that still lie beneath the Cornish landscape have been created with the rise of digital technology. And now we know the value of the metal still to be extracted equals £1.5 billion. Things may just be looking up.