Letter to Robin Walker MP about road violence, Wimbledon school tragedy and Thorneloe Walk

Published in School Streets, Letter to my MP, Road Violence on Jul 8, 2023

I found the recent tragic events at a Wimbledon primary school deeply upsetting; a driver in a Land Rover Defender crashed through a fence, killing an 8 year old girl and injuring many other staff and pupils who were celebrating the end of term. This cannot all end in nothing being done to prevent future tragedies happening, so I wrote to my MP about it. Some of this is reused from this letter as it expressed some of the points I wanted to make much better than I could.

Dear Mr Walker,

Like me, I am sure that you are utterly horrified by the recent tragedy in Wimbledon that resulted in the awful death of an 8 year old girl and left others in critical condition in hospital. Children and staff should be safe in primary school, but instead they have had motor violence visited upon them through no fault of their own.

Just down the road from the primary school in Wimbledon, both Andy and Jamie Murray have been taking part in The Championships. They were both pupils at Dunblane Primary School in 1996 when the massacre happened. The Conservative Government banned hand guns a year later - an action for which they are rightly commended, and we have not seen a similar incident since. A similar response is needed here.

My children are 10 and 7 years old, and attend St Barnabas CE Primary School, on Green Lane in Worcester. As you have visited the school multiple times over the years, I am sure you aware that one of the school’s lovely outdoor spaces, where children regularly play, is bordered by Green Lane. The possibility of a similar tragedy being visited upon local children, parents and staff should be plain for all to see.

We have seen a considerable increase in vehicles on the roads over the years, and the recent trend is for more and more of those vehicles to be SUVs – “cars” (such as they are still classed) that are far too large, too heavy, and too powerful for use on our streets. One has to wonder what the outcome in this case may have been had the vehicle been smaller, lighter, and less powerful – indeed would it have happened at all? Perhaps the “car” would have been going slower, it wouldn’t have breached the fence, and if it had, it would have caused less harm. We can only speculate, of course. But the physics is simple – more mass, more speed, and greater acceleration are all contributory negative factors when things go wrong, whether or not caused by careless or dangerous actions by the driver.

The profile of SUVs with their high front-ends is another deadly factor in their design, when compared to smaller cars – people impacted by SUVs are more likely to go under the vehicle, where an impact by a lower-profile vehicle may lead to pedestrian going over the bonnet with potentially very different outcomes.

These SUVs are designed within legal limits of course, and if I were to anticipate your reply then I suspect it might be along the lines of the market providing what people want. To that I say tough. The market has failed; resulting in companies producing machines that are deadly in design, wasteful in resources, and damaging to infrastructure. Our regulations must be tightened to bring this trend of larger vehicles to a stop.

There must be tighter restrictions on the size, weight, power, acceleration profile, and top speed of cars generally available. We need improvements to safety standards that better evaluates the harm the vehicle causes to people when involved in collisions, limiting the height of the front-end to minimise the risk of people going under the wheels.

We also need a tax regime that penalises drivers of larger, heavy, and more powerful vehicles to disincentivise their purchase and use, whilst reflecting the harm they pose to wider society on more than carbon emissions alone.

This is also a reminder that we need a School Street on Thorneloe Walk for St George’s Catholic Primary School by Autumn 2023. My neighbours send their children to this school, as does the Conservative candidate for St Stephen Ward, Tom Wisniewski. I personally encountered a lost driver in a large, powerful car outside the school as children were being dropped off on Friday while helping with that school’s Bike Bus.

We do not need delay from Mike Rouse, the cabinet member for Highways. He says he supports School Streets, yet consistently puts blocks in the way: the County doesn’t have a published policy on School Streets; the local Councillor must request one and demonstrate local support and supply volunteers; the local Councillor must pay for it from their devolved Highway funds. Worcestershire still has zero School Streets, and there cannot be a better candidate than Thorneloe Walk. Neighbouring Shropshire is implementing six trial School Streets, entirely funded by a grant from the Department for Transport. To me it looks like the Conservative run County Council is not interested in implementing the brilliant School Streets initiative set up by the Conservative Government.

What will you do in response to this, and other incidents of injury and death caused by the use of motor vehicles? Will it be “thoughts and prayers” and then carry on as normal, or will this spur on meaningful change?

Doing nothing is not an option.

Yours sincerely,

Alex Mace