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Equality of restraint: Reframing road safety through the ethics of private motorised transport

Davis, Adrian L.; Obree, David


David Obree


Motoring is an emancipation. It is both an individual freedom and a collective freedom with car ownership at 30, 491, 000 vehicles by 2019 in Great Britain. Yet, as the evidence of the impacts of road transport accumulates and the health and environmental aims of sustainable travel become clearer, demand for an ethical analysis also intensifies.

The paper draws on a previous limited ethics-based literature on road transport. Key tenet of liberalism, of ‘freedom from’ as well as ‘freedom to’, are highlighted. This includes Edmund Burke's concept of ‘equality of restraint’ in meeting common needs. Freedom from fear of road traffic danger forms part of an individual's rights.

Equality of rights and freedom from fear in road use have not been key considerations for reducing risks to vulnerable road users. Indeed, ethical issues have largely been ignored. The emergence of Vision Zero within the road safety field with its focus on zero deaths and serious injuries has brought an ethics-based approach to the mainstream although it appears to be struggling to gain traction in neo-liberal societies.

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to UK governments promoting the use of walking and cycling. These modes have hitherto been left to fend for themselves in an environment where road safety has been measured by casualty reduction while fear has suppressed walking and cycling with the consequence losses to physical and mental health. We ask whether an ethics-based contribution, and lessons from Covid-19, can help re-set the direction of UK road safety policy and practice.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 27, 2020
Online Publication Date Nov 3, 2020
Publication Date 2020-12
Deposit Date Nov 12, 2020
Publicly Available Date May 4, 2022
Journal Journal of Transport & Health
Print ISSN 2214-1405
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 19
Article Number 100970
Keywords Ethical Road safety, Casualty reduction, Freedom from, Equality of restraint, Covid-19
Public URL


Equality Of Restraint: Reframing Road Safety Through The Ethics Of Private Motorised Transport (accepted version) (208 Kb)


Copyright Statement
This accepted version is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license.

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