BBC Panorama gave wrong impression about Scotland’s road safety – Alastair Dalton

Whenever I see an announcement that includes the words “Britain’s” and “transport”, I heave a big sigh.

So much of transport is devolved to Scotland and run differently, that references to an apparently homogenous system are often wildly inaccurate.

Like the end-of-term holiday travel “rush”, when school end dates are very different on either side of the Border.

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Then there's separate Covid restrictions, such as mask wearing on public transport, which will again differ in England from next Thursday when it will once more no longer be required.

But the worst examples can be when broadcasters seek to paint a “national” picture when none such image exists, and they pay lip service to a very different situation in Scotland.

When it’s the BBC’s former flagship documentary series Panorama, it’s more surprising than with the hatchet job “rail chaos”-type fodder I’ve grimaced about on other programmes too many times.

This Monday’s show sought to investigate “Britain’s Killer Roads” and why they were “getting more dangerous”, referring to a five per cent increase in the death rate per vehicle miles in 2020, which it called the most significant for 40 years.

But roads don’t kill, drivers do – and using such phrases just moves the key focus from the person behind the wheel.

Panorama described the A82 as the most dangerous road in Scotland (Picture: John Devlin)Panorama described the A82 as the most dangerous road in Scotland (Picture: John Devlin)
Panorama described the A82 as the most dangerous road in Scotland (Picture: John Devlin)

Police Scotland deputy chief constable Malcolm Graham described the programme’s assertions as “false” and “inaccurate” at a Scottish Police Authority meeting on Wednesday.

He said there had been a “sustained casualty reduction”, and pointed out that while traffic has increased by 30 per cent since 1995, collisions had reduced by 64 per cent.

Panorama reported a reduction in road policing officers across Britain, but I have learned it received inaccurately-compiled information from Police Scotland that the force’s numbers had reduced by 47 in five years.

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Mr Graham told the meeting the total was the same as when Police Scotland was formed in 2013 – 596.

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The programme named the A82 Glasgow-Inverness route as “Scotland’s most dangerous road”, without any explanation of how this “dreadful statistic” was calculated or whether its length, as one of the country’s longest at 167 miles, had been taken into account.

Panorama highlighted a crash on the road in 2020 in which a family of four died near Fort William, with a relative interviewed on the programme blaming “the road”. However I understand this is not likely to have been the accident’s main cause.

Significantly, Police Scotland told me: “A report was submitted to the procurator fiscal and there has been no direction for further police action.”

The programme also mentioned the dangers of “smart motorways”, where hard shoulders are used as an additional lane, with several references to “the government” without explaining that was the UK government and that there are no such lanes in Scotland.

The way Panorama represented Scotland was in stark contrast to the acclaimed output of the BBC Scotland channel, as The Scotsman’s arts correspondent Brian Ferguson highlighted in his Inside Arts column on Wednesday.

At a time of acute political scrutiny of the BBC finances – a two-year licence fee freeze has been announced by the Conservatives who hold power at Westminster which amounts to a real-terms cut – maintaining the renowned quality of its programmes has never been more crucial, and this one did Scottish viewers a disservice.

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