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Community spirit

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No apology for once again discussing road safety and the influence of traffic speed in this column. After all, since last week's NCE was published, around 70 more people died on the roads and 700 more were injured in the UK.

Yet also since last week we have at least seen the start of some action on behalf of our profession. Action in the shape of ICE president Mark Whitby's link up with Paul Hyett, his counterpart at RIBA, calling for prime minister Tony Blair's support for an investigation into the social, economic and environmental causes of the UK's high pedestrian and cyclist death and injury rate.

And, of course, NCE has also taken on the issue this week with an examination of the facts, figures, experiences and aspirations surrounding road safety in the UK. With your help, we should generate plenty of early feedback for the Whitby/Hyett study.

Pedestrian and cyclist road safety, vehicle speed and the politics of law enforcement on the highway are subjects close to the hearts and minds of civil engineers. The number of letters sent to NCE on the subject is testament to this fact.

One reason is clearly that many civil engineers are involved in the design and maintenance of the UK's highway stock. You are on the front line of decision making when it comes to weighing cycle ways against delivery van access against safe routes to schools.

You, perhaps more than anyone, know first hand about the pressures brought about by conflicting road use, by the need to satisfy local business needs without destroying communities, by the sheer cost limitations of what can be achieved.

Without doubt these credentials make the profession ideally placed to contribute to any study into the causes of road traffic injuries.

But perhaps the more important and relevant credential - and the main reason that the road speed and safety issue is so close to the heart of the profession - is that civil engineers are so often found working at the hearts of local communities.

Whether it is via clubs, church, parish councils, school parent associations or local charity groups, we find civil engineers deeply tied into their local communities, spanning age differences, social, class and ethnic backgrounds.

It is no coincidence. As civil engineering professionals we are driven to improve the infrastructure that makes life possible. Ensuring that this happens in our own backyard is the logical place to start.

But while this expertise and commitment has long been available on the ground, the influence and resources to help tackle major issues such as why so many members of our communities are killed and injured while walking and cycling have for too long been lacking. As civil engineers we have a view, a passion to change things yet no real mandate to act.

Which is why the Whitby/ Hyett initiative is so important for the profession. If Tony Blair backs the initiative he will send a vote of confidence our way and effectively give the profession the mandate to tackle the problem.

Funds will not, of course, necessarily follow. But we will at last have put a stake in the ground to mark our territory. So get involved. Only then will the profession be able to not just mark the territory but actually own it.

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