The Minister of Transport Who Couldn't Drive
Barbara Castle was responsible for the introduction of major road safety laws that we take for granted today. However, if she the choice had been hers, she would never have been Minister of Transport.
When Harold Wilson appointed Barbara to the post she was less than enthusiastic. She loved her job at the Ministry of Overseas Development, and felt she was making a real difference there. Her only hope of remaining in the department was to point out to Harold Wilson that she couldn't drive. When she told him this, his response was "I think that is a good thing. We cannot have Ministers of Transport knocking down people on pedestrian crossings."
Her three most important contributions to this department were:
- The introduction of the 70 mph speed limit.
- Passing laws to make it illegal to drive with more than 80 mg blood alcohol limit (2 units) and compulsory breathalysing to enforce this.
- Making it compulsory for cars to be fitted with seatbelts. She was not able to pass laws to make it necessary for people to wear them.
Her most controversial act at the Ministry of Transport was the launch of the Breathalyser. Despite a good deal of opposition it was used from 1967 onwards. The institute of alcohol estimates that Barbara Castle's laws may have saved up to 62 000 lives.