ROAD ACCIDENTS: prevent or punish?
J. J. Leeming

John Leeming
John Leeming had a distinguished career in highway and traffic engineering. He rose to the position of County Surveyor for Dorset, where he was able to further his work into the study of road accident causes. His interest in this field arose during the earlier part of his career, when he worked under the pioneering traffic engineer Lt-Col G T Bennett, the highly respected County Surveyor of Oxfordshire.
Leeming was a firm believer that road accidents could be reduced by a scientific and dispassionate analysis of their causes. He was strongly opposed to the view that accidents are caused by the wilful misdeeds of drivers, who must therefore be punished for their 'crimes'. Indeed, he pointed out that this blame culture leads to drivers being reluctant to talk openly about their actions to accident investigators for fear of prosecution, with the result that the true contributory factors may never be established. Further accidents will continue to occur, therefore, which might otherwise have been prevented.
In 1969 Leeming published his book Road Accidents: Prevent or punish? The title reflected his view that a fundamental shift in attitude was required if society really wanted to reduce road accidents, and not just pillory drivers for what are, in most cases, human errors from which no one is immune. In the book he also examined the effectiveness of measures widely believed to benefit road safety and found that many of them had little positive effect or even made matters worse. He was scathing about allowing road safety policies to be driven by assumption rather than science.
The book has long been out of print and, sadly, the changes Leeming wanted to see have not come about. Indeed, drivers today are more persecuted than ever and subject to increasingly arbitrary rules and regulations. While the annual death toll on the roads of Britain has more than halved, this has been due largely to better roads and vehicles. The rate of reduction slowed sharply in the mid 1990s, despite continuing improvements in vehicle design. The slowdown coincided with cutbacks in road network investment and the adoption of speed limit enforcement as the main thrust of road safety policy.

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In order to keep Leeming's vision alive and to challenge a new generation of road safety policy makers, the Association of British Drivers (ABD) has arranged for his book to be reprinted. ABD member Malcolm Heymer, who is himself a retired traffic engineer, managed to obtain a copy of the original book in 2003 and wrote a series of articles based on it for the ABD's newsletter On The Road. Those articles were added to the ABD's website, where they can be read at
The articles generated a great deal of interest and led to contact with John Leeming's son, David, who still had some of his father's working papers. These he entrusted to the ABD, which subsequently arranged for them to be transferred to the safekeeping of the National Motor Museum library at Beaulieu. The ABD was also contacted by Quinta Press, which suggested reprinting the book.
David Leeming was very enthusiastic about seeing his father's work in print again and, since the Leeming family retain the copyright, it was agreed that proceeds would be shared between the ABD and a charity of their choice — the Disabled Drivers' Motor Club, now Mobilise. The DDMC was formed in 1922 by veterans disabled in the First World War. John Leeming lost his left leg in the conflict and became one of the DDMC's first committee members in 1923.
Through his involvement with the DDMC, John Leeming had become a good friend of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, who enthusiastically accepted the ABD's invitation to endorse the reprinted edition, as follows:
“I am delighted that Road Accidents: Prevent or punish? is being reprinted. I am very familiar with the work of John Leeming, who I much admired, and we are delighted to have his original papers in the library at Beaulieu. Leeming's book should be compulsory reading for every politician, every police traffic officer, and every civil servant working in the transport sector. Perhaps then we would begin to make real progress towards Leeming's vision of roads that are safe and enjoyable for everyone and see the end of the fruitless war waged by the State against motorists.”

John Leeming may have been ahead of his time in 1969, but his message should strike a chord with today's beleaguered motorists. Copies of the book will be available from 30th November 2007 and will cost £9.99, plus £1.50 UK postage and packing. They will be available through the ABD's website (, using a debit or credit card, or by sending a cheque for £11.49 (made payable to 'The Association of British Drivers') to P O Box 2228, Kenley, Surrey, CR8 5ZT.


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