PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 March, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 March, 2003, 12:00am

The Transport Department's K. K. So, in his letter headlined 'Fewer road traffic deaths on Hong Kong roads' (South China Morning Post, March 2) carefully avoids claiming Hong Kong roads are safer than they were 25 years ago.

This is not surprising because the transport authorities know full well the roads are getting more dangerous.

Even if the number of fatalities (defined as those dying within 30 days of a vehicle crash) appears to have fallen in the last 25 years this is due to several factors, among them the changed definition of fatality, casualty ward/hospital improvements prolonging victims' survival, increased crash protection for drivers and vehicle occupants (for example, air bags), and the introduction of seat belt and drink-driving laws.

Even if accident reduction were the key to road safety (which it is not, slower speeds being the key), the above improvements have nothing to do with reducing crashes or danger. They only mitigate the effects after crashes occur. Above all, there is no evidence overall crash and casualty figures, including the numbers of seriously injured, have been reduced.

Furthermore, safety improvements in the design of vehicles only benefit drivers or occupants of the vehicle. Those outside cars (the vast majority) are literally hit much worse than before.

This is due to the greatly increased numbers of vehicles, their increased size and aggressiveness (such as so-called sports utility vehicles bristling with metal bars across the front) and faster, higher-powered cars.

Police enforcement is token, with speeding routinely tolerated.

It has been shown in Europe that lowering the standard speed limit from 50 km/h to 30 km/h reduces casualties by 60 per cent (70 per cent for children).

Numerous benefits include a minimal impact on journey times but no speeding between junctions, reduced noise, lower emissions because slower and steadier speeds reduce acceleration, braking and gear-changing, and a calmer, happier environment for all.

Why does the road safety establishment avoid any consideration of this popular option?

Is it because the mighty vested interests of the motor trade and car lobby would object?