Well snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow. The roads were impassable, or so the media said, in large parts of the country. Panic buying has set in in some places, as the tabloids helpfully said, reassuring the public with useful headlines about food running out in the shops and causing much more. In short much like last winter!
So it comes as a relief to hear that the Church has at last decided to lend a hand, and the following rather fun story from the BBC last week made me smile.
The Bishop of Lincoln will bless Lincolnshire’s gritters in the hope of cutting the number of winter crashes.
The Right Reverend Dr John Saxbee, who retires in January, has blessed the county’s fleet each year since 2003.
He said past ceremonies had been followed by a reduction in road deaths, which was “perhaps not a coincidence”.
The blessing takes place at Sturton by Stow on 7 December, with church leaders simultaneously carrying out ceremonies at the county’s other depots.
Bishop Saxbee said: “These annual ‘Blessing of the Gritters’ events have coincided with a dramatic reduction in the number of fatalities on Lincolnshire’s roads.
“Perhaps that is not a coincidence, and as I look to my retirement in January I hope and pray that driving carefully and arriving safely will continue to matter to all who use our road network in the years ahead.”
Well, I’m all for the Bishop! Such a blessing, regardless of his rather hedged comments on whether it is efficacious or not – and let us face it, it raises so many theological questions I’m not even going to start – does something to make the Church relevant, and if it does have a positive effect on road safety statistics then even better! On sceptic forums however the response has been a bit more reserved, even unkind. I think the issue is that people have read the service as some kind of magical rite, and felt that it was supposed to have a definite effect. I think if it did, we would all be out praying right now.
Amusingly a lot of folks have pointed out that correlation is not cause, and have looked for other reasons for the decline in road traffic fatalities in Lincolnshire; the truth is that the picture there is similar to the general decline across the UK, for which we can all be thankful. Being CJ I set about investigating.
Ok, from the Department of Transport figures to 2008, being all I have easy access to, Lincolnshire Road Deaths, and after the slash / Norfolk road deaths and then the / third set are Suffolk road deaths. I chose Norfolk & Suffolk as similar terrain in part, and as far as i know the bishops there do not bless the gritters!
1999 – 104 / 71 / 48
2000 – 71 / 75 / 56
2001 – 84 / 75 / 53
2002 – 91 / 77 / 43
2003 – 104 / 62 / 60 * blessing starts winter 2003
2004 – 77 / 63 / 42
2005 – 69 / 53 / 36
2006 – 66 / 66 / 47
2007 – 79 / 56 / 39
2008 – 51 / 38 / 31
I have no later data. What is clear is a) Lincolnshire has a higher rate of fatalities than East Anglia does, but all three are in decline.
Not wanting to try and work out which 2003 deaths were before the blessing and which after, I just did the obvious simple maths – average of deaths prior to 2003, and post 2003.
Drop of 22%
Now the two un-blessed counties!
Drop of 26%
Drop of 22%
Conclusion: Blessing, while admirable and worthy, has not resulted in any effect on road deaths as far as I can see in the county. Still good publicity for road safety awareness.
Well, I guess my research is a bit coarse – one would not expect gritters to have much effect on road deaths except in the winter, and I could therefore say take fatality numbers in November, December, January & February for each county. I only note this because my methodology is a bit crude, and could in theory be masking an effect, as I’m testing total RTA fatalities per annum per county, rather than the actual “claim” made, in as far as there was one.
So as a prayer experiment a negative, but I still thank God for Bishops like Lincoln who actually do something and care about real issues, and long may he be blessed.