A Porsche has been driven over the footway and into the Gerrards Cross branch of Cafe Nero, temporarily trapping two customers. No charge has been made by Thames Valley police, who are quoted as saying that the incident is “not thought to be suspicious”.
In this essay I examine this and a few similar incidents to see how the authorities accept and tolerate obvious rule and law breaking by motorists. As well as the Police services involved, the official “road safety” authorities in highway engineering collude and connive with this sort of violent behaviour. There is little comment on these incidents to challenge what appears to be the dominant narrative of tolerance of this behaviour, not least the type of language involved.
I challenge that narrative below, and argue against the dominant approach to these incidents, as well as the tolerance of them by the authorities. I think it indicates that in a crucial respect – the apparent acceptance of rule and law breaking by people simply because they have chosen to drive – this society is fundamentally uncivilised.
I am choosing seven different incidents which I have picked up in the last few months to illustrate my case. I am used to reading of similar cases on a regular basis: nothing about them is, in my view, exceptional or atypical.Incident 1: Sheffield, reported 21st January 2015
According to the Guardian: “In Sheffield, a car careered through the front window of a house after losing control in the treacherous conditions. It was pictured by passers-by after it mounted the kerb, drove through the garden wall and into the property.”
The issue here is apparently one of an inanimate object which manages to “lose(s) control” (presumably this is a loss of self-control), and power itself (“mount”, “drive”) with no human agency involved.
If I may continue to examine the language used: the one occasion where pejorative words are employed again relates to the inanimate, this time the weather conditions. These are said to be nothing less than “treacherous”. The implication is that unsuspecting drivers have been betrayed by what many of us have assumed to be a normal occurrence, namely snow falling in Yorkshire in the winter.
The Yorkshire Post uses the same language regarding the inanimate object: “The red Ford lost control and mounted the curb, before ploughing into the front window of the property on the residential street”.
I contacted the local police through Twitter to find:
I don’t want to get pompous about this, but it fascinates me that everything other than the driver is blamed. I’m sure that car-dependent Sheffield residents have all sorts of problems to contend with, but surely they should be aware that (a) Sheffield is hilly and (b) when it has been snowing the road surface is likely to be icy?Incident 2: Whittlesey, A605, reported 21st February 2015.
The account on the Facebook page of Policing Whittlesey describes the incident:Policing Whittlesey
Officers on patrol in Whittlesey witnessed a vehicle roll several times on the A605, landing upside down in a water filled ditch, a lone female was trapped inside the car full of icy water, the quick thinking officers put themselves at risk to rescue the the lady working tirelessly to prise the door open and pull her to safety, the lady is currently in hospital and on the road to recovery! If it wasn’t for these officers being in the right place at the right time it could of been a very different story. The roads are going to be icy of the next few days, please drive safely
I should make one point very clear: along with the commenters on the Facebook page, I applaud the police officers for their selflessness and commitment to assisting any member of the public in distress; however they came to be in the situation described.
I do have a problem though. In fact, I think the story as described by Police officers (and those commenting) is fascinating for what it leaves out. In fact, I think the Police and others commenting have the problem.
As indicated in my exchange on Twitter with Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Roads Police:
At no point in the accounts and Facebook comments is there the suggestion that the driver who overturned her car had committed any kind of offence or done anything wrong. Indeed, the driver is only seen as a victim, for example in one comment that the Council may have not put enough grit on the roads. Another comment argues that the task of rescuing errant drivers is what the Police are for, and not just catching criminals. Or charging any careless driver?Incident 3: Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire: 16th May 2015.
According to the local newspaper :Porsche Smashes Through Coffee Shop Window
A Thames Valley Police spokesman said: “The incident involved one vehicle and resulted in minor injuries to a woman who was the only person in the car. Two people, a man and a woman, were also temporarily trapped inside the building but were released. The road has since been reopened.”
Police said the incident was not thought to be suspicious.(My emphasis)
As in other cases, there were some comments to the effect that the inanimate object – a car – was assumed to be the problem, rather than the person legally in charge of it. The other comment is the one I use in the heading of this piece, namely that there is “nothing suspicious” about driving a high-powered car across the footway of a busy street and into a coffee shop, in a Home Counties town on a Saturday afternoon.
The Fire Brigade (who attended the scene) tweeted :
Bucks and MK Fire @Bucksfire · May 16 . So glad it wasn’t worse. Must have been terrifying for everyone.
Note the equivalence between the suffering of people sitting in the coffee shop and the driver. Neutralising the difference between those endangering others and those who are endangered by motor vehicles is a staple feature of “road safety” ideologyIncident 4 Elephant and Castle , London 30 July 2014
In this case where the two car occupants had minor injuries, police said they were investigating and that no arrests had been made. (It may be the case that the vehicle was forced off the road by a third party, but this possibility could be easily investigated through use of the CCTV cameras at the roundabout). Elephant and Castle is known as a site where the Metropolitan Police Service regularly stop and issue fines to cyclists who have gone over the stop line when signals are on red, an infraction rather less likely to hurt or kill other road users than whatever happened in this incident.Incident 5 Blackheath, London 17th March 2015
The lorry “overturned”. One minor injury. No reports of any arrests made.Incident 6 28 October 2014 Wandsworth Road, London.
In one account: “A Waitrose truck flips over”. In another “A driver has escaped uninjured but is ‘shaken’ after his lorry overturned”. As in the previous incident the drivers seem to have had nothing to do with the inanimate objects’ behaviour. No arrests mentioned.Incident 7 Staffordshire, 26th October 2014
This time the driver does seem to have done something wrong – he “overturned his vehicle”, and then shortly after it crashes into a house, apparently as it was left on a slope without the hand brake on. He is, however, described sympathetically as “Britain’s unluckiest HGV driver” No mention of an arrest.
I stated above that there is nothing atypical about these crashes – both in the way they are reported and the way police respond to them. The only reason why some of them reach the national media is because they feature dramatic images: they involve large vehicles and roads being closed, or something peculiar (a car in a coffee shop). Indeed, we should look at what is going on with all the normal car crashes which occur on the roads of Britain.
To get a rough idea of these “normal” incidents: approximately 4 million insurance claims are made by British motorists annually. The majority of crashes (between 75 – 90%) involving motor vehicles do not involve personal injury, and thus do not even require reporting to the Police. Ultimately this normality leads to Police and the media thinking that “nothing suspicious” has occurred, even when a high-powered car ends up in a coffee shop.
Normal crashes and the “road safety” industry
It isn’t just the Police who are implicated in tolerating and accepting this. Despite persistent anodyne requests from the publicity wing of the “road safety” movement for drivers to try to be careful, the main thrust of “road safety” has in fact been to accommodate rule and law breaking driving. Indeed, I argue that “road safety” has colluded and connived with careless, negligent, dangerous driving.
After all, billions of pounds has been spent by highway engineers on creating a road environment designed around the needs of careless, dangerous etc. driving. Cutting down and removing road side trees ; installing crash proof barriers and central reservations; placing shock absorbing structures around bridge supports and other solid structures; making lamp posts which break, so occupants of vehicles which crash into them are protected; laying anti-skid where drivers have crashed after going too fast; placing rumble strips to assist inattentive drivers etc. All of these and similar measures have been staples of highway engineering for decades.
On top of this, straightening sight lines and similar measures are based on implicitly ignoring the age-old requirement for drivers to “always drive in such a way that you can stop within visible distance”. Of course, sometimes engineers have defended these practices to me on the basis that innocent motorists may be protected from dangerous drivers (for example, those driving across the centre–line by a crash barrier). That’s true – not all these measures are to directly protect the rule or law breaking driver, as they may be protecting their victims. Nevertheless, many of them (the typical roadside tree removal) are, and all are based on accommodating rule/law-breaking driving.…and vehicle engineering
Similarly most motor vehicle “road safety” engineering is about producing more crashworthy cars to accommodate behaviour which threatens other road users. Collapsible steering wheels, seat belts, air bags, crumple zones, side impact protection systems, roll bars etc.: all are based on an assumption that motorists are inherently likely to crash and/or be crashed into by their fellow motorists.
So where does this take us?
I am suggesting that there is a widespread evasion of responsibility throughout our culture in general, and among those authorities supposedly responsible for safety on the road in particular. We are up against a belief system based on a sense of entitlement among motorists, which impedes both moves towards sustainable transport policy implementation in general, and reduction in road danger in particular – and the institutions and practices of official “road safety” are part of this.
That doesn’t mean we should despair. Some of us stress the low risks of travel by the benign modes, and the ways we might move forward. But what it does mean is that if this society has accepted “normal” crashes in the ways illustrated, we can and should base our demands accordingly.
For a start, although the level and extent of motorist incompetence and unwillingness to obey rules and laws may be exaggerated, it is organisations representing motorists – and those of the “road safety” industry – that are claiming that driving is inherently dangerous. Why else do drivers need the plethora of safety aids (seat belts, air bags etc.) in cars, and the enormous sums spent of engineering the highway (cutting down roadside trees, installing crash barriers and anti-skid etc.) . That means we can demand forms of driver liability in collisions where cyclists or pedestrians are involved, at least in civil law, accordingly.
It means we can argue that enforcement exercises like Operation Safeway should stop being biased towards the rule/law-breaking which is less dangerous to others, namely that by cyclists .
(At our conference on law enforcement last year an officer in the MPS’ Cycle Task Force stated that he saw no problem in arresting law-breaking cyclists if the law is enforced for errant motorists. The point is that it isn’t).
It means that highway engineers (as well as individual drivers) should accept the likelihood of pedestrians and cyclists making mistakes: Accommodating this is less anti-social than accommodating driver rule and law breaking..
It means that vehicle engineering should be based on controls on the potential of drivers to hurt or kill others. At the very least “black box” systems to monitor crash causation should be on the agenda.Interventions and the dominant culture
As a general rule we need to recognise that any specific intervention occurs within the culture which is car-centred and discriminatory against the non-car modes in general, and against non-motorised modes in particular.
Consider two commonly discussed areas of intervention: calls for forceful changes in law enforcement and sentencing policy, or the re-organisation of the highway to take space away from general traffic and re-allocate it specifically to cycling, are fine in themselves, but have to be assessed in the context of the surrounding dominant culture. As theorists of risk compensation have argued, unless there is an underlying change in the extent and kind of risk taking in society, official interventions can simply press down on the problem in one area while it pops up somewhere else. In these cases, unless the reasons for cracking down on forms of driver behaviour are carefully explained in terms of the obligations and duties of care owed by the motorised towards others, in the case of law enforcement and sentencing changes we may get resentment and a lack of willingness to support other forms of road danger reduction. Re-allocation of road space to cyclists may increase the unwillingness of drivers to behave properly in highway environments where drivers will have to be in close proximity to, and sharing space with, cyclists.
Now, this does not mean that we never engage in any kind of programme of danger reduction measures, such as those above, 20 mph areas, motor traffic reduction measures, etc. But it does mean that we have to be aware of the knock-on effects of these moves, and how they are affected by – and also affect – widely held beliefs about the kind of risk taking that is acceptable in the highway environment. Whatever the success of a specific intervention, it always has to be seen in the context of the car-centred (I have elsewhere called it “car supremacist”) culture we live in. And, regrettably, despite the best efforts of many individual professionals, the institutions of “road safety” are very much part of this culture.
Motor danger has been nornalised in the car-centred society we live in, not least by the agencies who should be dealing with it. But understanding this can allow us to move towards an alternative based on reducing danger at source and making those responsible for it accountable. This can come about by specific programmes being implemented as part of an overall cultural change towards a society where car usage – and specifically, the ways in which cars are driven – is seen in a more critical way. If we don’t achieve this, we will indeed be living in a fundamentally uncivilised society.
5:12 pm – 22 Feb 2015 · Details
As long standing readers know, the Road Danger Reduction Forum has worked alongside our cyclist and road danger reduction partners with Transport for London on this matter. Our aim has been to have only properly worded warning stickers on the right kind of vehicles, in the first instance on vehicles of TfL’s Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme.( See here for the longest account and history of this story, the follow up and how members of the public can engage with TfL/FORS on this matter.)
Some of this – replacing wrongly worded stickers on FORS member HGVs and on buses in London has progressed well. But there remains a substantial problem: a number of vehicles without blind spots (cars, vans, small lorries) belonging to FORS members (like the van above) are still displaying these stickers. Our understanding in meeting with TfL/FORS has been that they would try to get these removed and they have indicated in their guidance that they are not intended for vehicles below 3.5 tonnes (e.g. those without blind spots).
But is TfL actually doing what it can – and should be doing – here?The issue of stickers on vehicles without “blind spots”
One of the key issues has been the use of such stickers on vehicles where the driver has the ability and requirement to see cyclists on their near side. There is a major problem of drivers not using nearside mirrors (in contravention of Highway Code Rules 159,161,163, 169, 179, 180, 182, 184, and 202) associated with a significant proportion of incidents where cyclists are hit by motor vehicles. Even the AA has shown awareness of this issue through a campaign encouraging drivers to look in their wing mirrors. Accordingly representatives of The Association of Bikeability Schemes (TABS), the national cyclists’ charity (CTC), the national road crash victims’ organisation (RoadPeace), and the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) along with the London Boroughs Cycling Officers Group (BCOG) have met with TfL to get this issue addressed.
FORS specifically prescribes that warning signage should be fitted to vehicles over 3.5T (requirement V7 Vulnerable road user safety); In Mayor’s Question Time the Mayor (Question No: 2015/0852) the Mayor responded:
There have been several communications to FORS operators concerning the display of appropriate signage, and accreditation criteria has been updated to reflect the new advice. Operators who do not have the new reworded blind spot warning sticker on their vehicles will receive a minor action point in their next FORS audit.
The FORS programme firmly advocates continuous improvement, therefore any unaddressed points in an audit will be escalated to a major action point in the next audit and this would result in a failed audit result for the company. Cyclists, or any other road users, can report FORS vehicles displaying incorrect stickers through the FORS website (http://www.fors-online.org.uk/cms/contact/) and on the FORS helpline.
In addition, at the meeting of stakeholders with TfL/FORS last year, we suggested that if a robust justification of the instruction was made on a FORS web page, members of the public could contact non-FORS members explaining to them that the foremost fleet registration scheme in London (FORS) was opposed to stickers of this type on “non-blind spot”. This would spread the word to a large number of vehicle operators – FORS members are only part of the problem – and would also be a collaborative action introducing non-members to FORS.The problem now
So there have been a number of complaints in the last few months to the FORS helpline about FORS vehicles such as these:
And many others, including those belonging to supposedly pro-cycling Councils like LBs Camden, Islington and Brent).We believed that these complaints would assist TfL and FORS. However…The response…
Responses to those who complained from the FORS helpline contained the following justification for FORS not intervening to get the removal of these stickers from their members, vehicles:
Whilst FORS specifically prescribes that warning signage should be fitted to vehicles over 3.5T (requirement V7 Vulnerable road user safety), we cannot enforce the application of warning signage to vehicles of 3.5T and under as a number of clients contractually require signage to be displayed on those smaller vehicles. Where this is a contractual requirement of another organisation, it is outside of the remit of FORS and should be addressed with these companies / clients directly. Therefore I am sure you can now appreciate that FORS is not in a position to contact these companies to ask them to remove warning signage.…and our reaction
We were gobsmacked by this reasoning. We enquired as to who these clients were (are there many of them?) and why they would require the use of an unjustified sign with a reputation for being both intimidatory and excusing of careless driving. After various communications with TfL and FORS management, we were told that despite FORS Standard ‘V7 – Vulnerable road user safety’ requires approved blind spot warning signage to be fitted only on vehicles over 3.5 tonne gross vehicle weight,
“We are aware that other organisations contractually require their operators, as part of their measures to manage work related road risk, to use warning signage on vehicles below 3.5 tonne gross vehicle weight. However, we do not hold information about which of these operators are also FORS accredited. We strongly encourage other organisations to actively managing road risk and are committed to working collaboratively to provide support, guidance and to promote good practice However, neither TfL nor FORS have a remit to enforce prescriptive and onerous rules, such as the ones you appear to be suggesting, about how other organisations manage road risk in their supply chain. “
The ”prescriptive and onerous rules” RDRF suggested were that:
(a) FORS assess how many cases (approximately) have there been where clients of FORS members have contractually required them to display cyclist warning stickers on vehicles without blind spots as a necessary condition of employment.
(b) In these cases, TfL/FORS may inform the organisations in question that the stickers were never intended for vehicles without blind spots.
(c) Also in these cases, our strong request is for TfL to write to all FORS members, advising them that the use of these signs is contrary to the conditions of their FORS accreditation, and urging not to sign up to any similar contractual conditions in future, as this could lead to the loss of their FORS accreditation.
(d) In general, we would request that TfL write to all FORS members advising them that the use of these signs is contrary to the conditions of their FORS accreditation, and urging them to remove any such signs, as failure to do so could result in the loss of FORS accreditation and/or reduction in FORS accreditation level.
We don’t see such rules being enforced as onerous or prescriptive (except insofar as any rule is prescriptive).So what happens now?
RDRF has consulted with our partners:
The Association of Bikeability Schemes (TABS), the national cyclists’ charity (CTC), the national road crash victims’ organisation (RoadPeace) the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) along with the London Boroughs Cycling Officers Group (BCOG).
The consensus is that, while we acknowledge that TfL cannot over-ride any existing contractual conditions imposed on FORS operators by their clients we don’t accept that this renders them powerless to deal with this situation.
We will ask TfL/FORS to do the following:
(A formal letter, by the cyclist and road danger reduction organisations mentioned above, to TfL/FORS management making our requests is due to be sent after the General Election, and should then be found on their web sites. The link to this post has been sent to TfL/FORS. )
Dr Robert Davis, Chair RDRF 6th May 2015
Here’s a quick post on what the Conservative’s promise for cycling in the 2015 election. We have had a pop at the Labour promises (and take a recent look at Labour’s claims against those of the Lib Dems ) Above all, take a look at the CTC’s excellent summary of the Manifestos.
We note:1. The target of “doubling cycling by 2025”.
That is some time off, there is no way of checking if we are on target – and penalising those who are judged responsible for failure. That never gets mentioned. We have had doubling (and quadrupling) targets before, and they were not only met, but there was often no increase at all.
2. “£6 per person” being spent.
No, this is only in 8 specified cities and London, not for the vast majority of people in Britain.
3. £200 million
This is an aim. As the CTC point out…” As pointed out by Ralph Smyth of Campaign to Protect Rural England however, this figure comes from the Highways England Road Investment strategy launched in December 2014 and is unfortunately nothing new.” Also over what period? £200 million is just over £3 per person, over a Government that is some 60 – 70 pence.
4. “Cut red tape”.
The localism agenda again. How many local transport professionals see this as away of shifting responsibility away from central Government on to those without resources or commitment to achieve objectives?
5. Trialling “cycle streets”.
An interesting idea but trialling something in a even quite a few locations doesn’t really deal with the vast majority of cycle safety issues. The problems of motors overtaking cyclists are associated with highway engineering in general, a lack of understanding by motorists about the space necessary and the willingness of the police to work in this area to get the kind of behaviour motorists seem to be able to achieve more frequently in other European countries .6. Changing design features of ASLs and pedestrian/cycle crossings
Are these changes seriously expected to make a significant difference to the ease and safety of cycling?
7. Role models
Actually, here at RDRF towers we think Mayor Johnson cycling in normal clothing because he obviously thinks cycling is a sensible way of getting about (as opposed to the usual politician photo-ops) is excellent. But the role models selected are mainly sports cyclists. I also love cycle sport – but the issue is cycling as TRANsport, not as sport.
On new roads only – and we don’t know what the design standards used would actually be.
There has been plenty of criticism of the parties’ manifestos on the web, with a focus on the nature of what “spending on cycling” is actually going to mean in terms of what happens on the ground. There are plenty of grounds for fearing that . Any programme which is going to work for cycling needs:
Basically we have political parties, with the possible exception of the Greens, that are going along with a car-centric system which has a variety of obstacles and dangers to cycling. Issues such as the costs of motoring to society need to be raised both for producing a sustainable transport policy as well as attacking the mythology of the motorist paying “road tax”. Steps have been made by cycling campaigners like achieving the Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Bill, but don’t expect there to be any change in the UK lagging way behind nearby European countries on cycling whoever gets in on May 8th.
There’s been some concern that Transport for London (TfL) has dropped its target for cycling to have a 5% mode share in London by 2026. We have posted on the target question before, but it’s time for an update.
While some think we spend too much time on TfL and cycling in London, we’re unapologetic. Cycling has such a small modal share in the UK now, and is so crucial for a sustainable transport future, that it needs attention. And TfL is the one Highway Authority trying to invest significant resources in changing things.
So what should people make of the headline in LTT that “TfL axes 5% cycle trips target”? While studying this I suggest you look at Transport for London Board’s meeting on: 5 February 2014 , Item 6: Cycling Vision Portfolio: in particular Figure 5: Forecast growth in cycling trips in London to 2026 [Source: TfL Group Planning, Strategic Analysis] which is the same as the graph above before my additions to it.
TfL’s targets for growth in cycling modal share – setting the scene
The idea of having a 400% increase in cycling’s modal share was first raised under the first Mayor of London, and was regularly quoted as the target under Mayor’s Transport Strategies and other documents. For anybody with the most basic knowledge of statistics, 400% is a five times increase – although it seems to have been thought of as four times greater.
“4.17 In his 2010 Transport Strategy, the Mayor set an ambitious target to increase levels of cycling in London by 400 per cent by 2026 (from 2001) and to achieve a five per cent mode share of all journeys in the capital.”
Multiplying by 5 instead of 4 would mean:
A. The 2026 target – of 5 x 320k (daily) cycle journeys – would be 1.6 million cycle journeys, not 1.5 million. That is some 100,000 journeys more. In context, the well-known Cycle Hire programme aims for 40,000 journeys daily.
B. The modal share would be 5 x 1.2% (the share in 2001), which would come to 6%, not 5%.2. The axing of the target
On 26 March 2015 Item 10: Cycling Vision Annual Update was presented by Lilli Matson, Head of Strategy and Outcome Planning, Better Routes and Places, TfL Surface Planning directorate. She is reported as saying: “Mode share is not appropriate to be used as a target, as it is changeable due to population flux.”
What’s the justification for this? Presumably she’s saying that the increase in London’s population (known about for some years) means that modal share targets for cycling journeys go down, but go up for all other modes. Why? Transport planners are used to employing modal share as an indicator, even with population changes.
The only rationale I can think of is that while TfL are keeping the 1.5 million journey stages by bike by 2026 target – this “remains a relevant challenge” – they can’t really cope with the idea of having to get beyond it.
To explore this further, let’s look at TfL’s conceptualisation of cycling trips by studying the graph (whether as shown above or directly from Figure 5: Forecast growth in cycling trips in London to 2026 in Transport for London Board’s meeting on: 5 February 2014 , Item 6: Cycling Vision Portfolio).
TfL’s targets for growth in cycling modal share – what’s the trend?
The main issue is the two lines on the graph as supplied by TfL: these are ACTUAL in light blue font and TARGET in red font. I have no quarrel with the blue line, although TfL could have done a lot more to get good figures on the numbers and types of cycling trips. My problem is with the red line.
Or, to be more precise, the red curve. I have added a straight BLACK line on to the graph, which runs straight from the 2001 baseline point to the target point.
The characteristic of the red curve as it has been drawn by TfL is that it allows a lower number of trips to be presented as “on target” in the early years.
To be specific: If we used my straight black line, the “on track” number for 2013 – the last year for which we have figures – would be something like 900,000, not the much lower 585,000 for cycle journey stages on an average day announced by Lilli Matson. (Even on the red curve the number should be c. 620,000, but 585,000 is not very much lower.)
Of course, it is quite legitimate to give a curve such as the red one as the indicator of likely growth, rather than a straight line, because it represents a constant percentage increase each year. But this projection has to be based on evidence. In this case it would mean that the rate of growth increases very significantly from about 2016 – 2017. It should also be made clear that this assumption is being made.
Now, there are good reasons for making the assumption. It could be said that TfL has done very little since its inception to generate an increase in cycling. We are now due to have the much publicised measures of changes in highway layout coming in shortly, and these could result in a significant increase in take up of cycling from about 2016/2017 when the changes become apparent – and this would justify the sudden increase in rate of increase in cycling journeys.
So is TfL’s forecasting right?
TfL certainly has plenty of transport planning tools: The Cycling Policy Evaluation Tool (CYPET) which “provides a reasonable estimate of the impact of different infrastructure programmes in different locations”, development of modelling capacity through the Cycle Network Model London (CYNEMON) and the Cycle Demand Evaluation Response working group (CYDER) .
My experience is that TfL’s evaluation of cycling potential comes up with some interesting data. For example through the MOSAIC (a marketing tool used by transport planners) assessment, it is possible to see where he groups least likely to give up car usage live. It all helps TfL to work out where the “low-hanging fruit” – the easiest areas to invest in to get visible return – are.
But that could be the problem.
My suggestion is that TfL are generally cautious about their ability to support cycling as an everyday form of transport, and that this leads to limited initiatives for cycling, combined with an unwillingness to engage with the sustainable transport policies required to have a genuinely equitable approach towards cycling.
This is reflected in the ditching of the 5% modal share target and in another target – the Cycle Safety Action Plan target – chosen by TfL.
The Cycle Safety Action Plan target
We have reviewed the current TfL Cycle Safety Action Plan (CSAP) here.
A key problem with it is – against continual reassurance to the Cycle Safety Working Group – the failure to base its approach on an exposure-based measure of cyclist casualties. As I said at the time:
“The draft CSAP is a fundamentally flawed document which fails… Firstly, its idea of “safety” for cyclists is measured in a way which can indicate that having fewer cyclists and a higher cyclist casualty rate is BETTER than having more cyclists and a lower casualty rate…”.
This is not a technical or abstruse issue. It is an approach which would see as a failure any increase in cycling which outstrips a reduction in the cyclist casualty rate – where the rate is based on a measure of exposure such as journeys or distance travelled by bicycle, or time spent cycling. It means, for example, that if the number of cycle journeys doubles, the main official casualty (Killed and Seriously Injured, or KSI) rate would have to be halved. Along with a greater willingness to report injuries, and a higher concentration of children and elderly people (who are more likely to be seriously hurt after a collision) the casualty rate would have to go down by 60% or more in order to have a cut in overall cyclist KSIs. Such a cut would be very dramatic.
The conventional “road safety” way of assessing safety on the road is embedded in TfL’s culture. And it is inherently biased against a target of more than some 100% of extra cycling trips.What TfL’s current targets mean:
TfL’s targets, as with forecasting, are indicators of what goals it is prepared to pursue. In fact, cycling targets in the UK have historically been way higher than those achieved, and it could be that TfL has simply been unwilling to risk a shortfall. On the other hand, one can point out that no proponent of a sustainable travel target – the most obvious case being John Prescott’s commitment to cutting car usage - has ever had to suffer public ignominy when that target has not been reached. And the target is anyway twelve years away from assessment.
So I would suggest that the current state of targeting within TFL is indicative of caution, based on its reluctance to really push forward towards a genuinely healthy status for cycling as an everyday form of transport in London.
Let’s examine why this is, and what would be required.
The “Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London” is discussed at length here and in previous posts. We have argued that measures necessary to support cycling are weak in terms of failures in:
The above are just parts of the car-centred culture that TfL operates in. It features abuse and victim-blaming of cyclists, and what is in effect discrimination against cycling as a form of everyday transport. Transport for London is, of course, limited in what it can do to deal with deep-rooted beliefs. It is, after all, a highway authority with what it calls “cycling customers” on its TLRN roads.
But it could do a lot more, in our opinion, through its role as funder of the boroughs to address issues away from its roads, and indeed away from the context of highway infrastructure. Of course, that would in turn mean looking critically at its own belief system.
So do the Mayor, the Greater London Authority and Transport for London really want to see cycling have its proper status as a mode of transport in London. Because, if not, maybe cutting back on targets is the appropriate thing to do.
We have written about this case before in the context of law enforcement in London and our aims in the Traffic Justice Alliance. Unfortunately, we can’t report strides forward – yet – with the Traffic Justice Alliance, and have to report on developments in this case which should upset anybody who wants to see a civilised approach to danger on the roads. That may sound extreme, but recent developments reveal what we think is a national scandal and disgrace. This is not just a London matter, or just of concern to cyclists. It is about how crucial elements of the “road safety” culture we live under – including the beliefs and behaviour of those entrusted with law enforcement – are part of the problem of danger on the road.Since our last post on this case:
On 13th March 2015 Michael Mason’s family held a vigil near the place where he was killed, with a protest and “die-in”. Brenda Puech, Dr Robert Davis and Councillor Caroline Russell from the RDRF Committee attended this event, with Caroline speaking as a pedestrian and cyclist activist.Speakers: Caroline Russell, Cynthia Barlow (RoadPeace), Nicola Branch (Stop Killing Cyclists), Anna Tatton-Brown (daughter of Michael Mason). Roger Geffen for Cyclists’ Defence Fund also spoke.
It was an emotional gathering with palpable relief at the news – broken that day – that the file on the case had been passed by MPS to the Crown Prosecution Service.
Since then the news has been that some kind of mistake was made, and that in fact the MPS has not passed the file through, deciding against supporting a prosecution of the driver. For an account of this, and how horrified people have been at the treatment of Michael Mason’s family, see this.
However, our main concern is with the justification for the police not proceeding. This means analysing the Investigating Officer’s Report, which you can find here.What’s wrong with the Investigating Officer’s Report?
(You can read a similar set of arguments in an excellent article here )
Four justifications are given for the MPS failing to proceed in the manner which we should expect of them. These excuses are:
I have written at length on the problems of advocating hi-viz or bright clothing for pedestrians and cyclists. Part of our concern is a lack of evidence for such clothing actually making a difference to the chances of not being hit – luckily (so far) the Department for Transport has not come out with any convincing evidence.
But a larger part of our concern is that this focus shifts responsibility yet again away from those who endanger others (the motorised) on to those they endanger (pedestrians and cyclists). If drivers choose not to look where they are going, and simply watch out for very bright objects, they may well not “see” people outside their cars. Our problem is that this feeds into and colludes with the “SMIDSY” (Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You) excuse of drivers who refuse to look where they are going. They break the first rule of safe driving: Never drive in such a way that you cannot stop within the distance you can see to be clear.
Just in case anybody thinks we are being too extreme here, I should remind you of the experience of Tom Kearney, knocked down by a “bendy bus” mirror when walking on the footway on Oxford Street, not far from where Michael Mason was killed. When questioned by the police after the incident (or rather when he came out of the coma he was in after the incident), Tom was asked if he had been wearing dark clothing. When walking. On the pavement.
We think this is all victim-blaming nonsense that facilitates the endangering of others. It is related to the next excuse:
2.◾that a witness’s opinion was that “it would be difficult for a driver to pick out anything” in the visual noise of Regent’s Street
Ever since the CTC warned of the implications of getting other road users to be lit up for motorists’ benefit before the Second World War, there has been concern that street and vehicle lighting could dazzle. Glare became an issue. The message to anyone with any sanity would be that there is too much reliance on lighting.
There are two issues here: Are we seriously supposed to accept that a driver cannot see a cyclist or pedestrian who is not wearing bright clothing in Regent Street. Go there on a March rush hour evening and see what you think. The other issue is: if you can’t see a pedestrian or cyclist without hi-viz clothing then you are not driving properly, and are responsible for any crash occurring because you have not seen the person outside your car.
(There is also the issue of why “a witness” is an authority here, and not some sort of forensic expert)
3. ◾that the driver maintained her course
This excuse is not separate from the ones above – indeed it is essentially the same. The point about “not seeing” is not that is about images not falling on the retina. It is about whether the driver is watching, looking out and willing and able to process the images – and to do so in the correct manner. People see what they want to see, and similarly don’t see if they aren’t prepared to watch out in the manner required of them. It is very easy to drive on the basis that anything without lights is no threat and can therefore be ignored. It is also wrong, as anyone who has crashed into a deer realises.
In this case, as Bez says: “Of course, maintaining one’s course is often an effective means of driving straight into things: if there is someone in front of you, it hardly seems a reason not to prosecute.”
The final excuse is one that has concerned us for some time:
4. that Mason was (as was his legal right) not wearing a helmet
Now, we can argue that there is a lack of evidence on the benefits of helmet wearing across cycling populations, whether because of a lack of effect or relevance in cyclist collisions. We can argue that compensatory behaviour by helmeted cyclists and/or other road users absorbs any safety benefit. Or that it would make more sense to wear such helmets in cars. (See www.cyclehelmets.org for evidence). But probably the biggest concern about helmet advocacy is the red herring effect – one which we see here to grotesque effect.
The simple fact is that what Mason may, or may not, have been wearing on his head is irrelevant to whether a driver who drove into him had broken the law – in this case driving without due care and attention. The idea that if Mason had been wearing helmet there would have been no case to answer is beyond preposterous. It is simply preposterous to assume that if Mason had been wearing a helmet there would have been:
That’s the simply preposterous part – what takes it further is that driver carelessness is exonerated even if the consequences of it might not be that bad. Would we reduce the sentence of – or not even prosecute – someone who shot a policeman, because the policeman was wearing a bullet-proof vest?How the Investigating Officer’s Report reasoning is part of the problem…
This is the fundamental issue. “Road safety” ideology for decades has assumed that drivers are unwilling or unable to drive properly, and that driver carelessness is just part of the territory. The “can’t see” excuse has been accommodated by lighting and longer sight lines. The generally careless driver has been accommodated by more crashworthy vehicles (roll bars, crumple zones, seat belts, air bags, collapsible steering wheels etc.) The incompetent or rule-breaking driver has been colluded with through highway engineering (crash barriers, felling roadside trees, antiskid surfacing etc.)
Such idiot-proofing has often demonstrably exacerbated or generated idiot driving . Even where there is little evidence that it has, the long term effect is, as the MPS have done in this case, to confuse common dangerous behaviour with acceptable behaviour.: . Of course, we have also had the complete failure of the official “road safety” organisations to get involved in cases such as this, and a general failure of the police to address the issues of careless and dangerous driving. But underlying it all is that the idea that bad driving is an inevitable feature of the cyclist’s or pedestrian’s surroundings.
…and what to do about it.
So where does this take us? My view is that cycling in London is not anything like as hazardous as is made out. I also think driver behaviour can be changed through measures such as guard rail removal, and that there is a Safety in Numbers effect from more cycling. But in a sense, that doesn’t matter when it comes to cases like this.
If the police, and other organisations with a brief for safety on the road, feel that driving is so antagonistic to other road users, there needs to be forthright commitment towards reducing that danger. That can be achieved by – well , any means necessary. It can be done by proper road policing addressing the danger at source. The highway can be engineered to reduce danger to cyclists and pedestrians, as can vehicles (with cyclist/pedestrian-activated braking, or at least “black box” type collision recorders).
And if “road safety professionals” are so keen to point out the threats posed by mass motoring, then there is yet more of an argument to bring in driver liability legislation (at the least in civil law). But whatever the means used, the basic issue will be one of seeing inappropriate driving as wrong and the basic problem, whether it has resulted in someone being hurt or killed or not, and whether or not ‘everyone does it’.
Consider the case of collisions where nobody is reported as hurt or killed – in fact the vast majority of collisions involving motor vehicles. Measures of road danger could include actual collisions. The vast majority of car crashes, particularly at the lower speeds of urban areas, are not recorded in casualty statistics, because no injury is reported. Indeed, without (reported) injury, these results of careless/dangerous/rule-breaking/criminally negligent or whatever driving just don’t exist for the road safety professional.
Is that not what the excuses brought up by the MPS are all about? If they can claim that a reported injury occurred because of the victim’s own actions, then the world of bad driving can continue to be tolerated.
But it shouldn’t be.
For the moment, what you can do is:
Give: To help the family of Michael Mason you can make an online donation to the Cyclists’ Defence Fund to support its work on cycling and the law – such as challenging unduly lenient law-enforcement of dangerous drivers, unjust prosecutions of cyclists, and highway and planning decisions which disregard cyclists’ needs. Or see information on other ways to donate to CDF here.
We have already criticised Labour’s current shadow Secretary of State for Transport for his car-centrism. It seems that after a particularly lacklustre performance at the recent Times debate on provision for cycling in the next Parliament, some of his advisers had a few words with him, and he was rather upbeat in his recent talk to the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT).
So would a Labour Government make things radically different and better for walking and cycling? We analyse his talk below. But first there have been some more bits of nonsense since we last posted on Dugher. Regrettably, it looks like he is still bent on an agenda which sees motorists as an oppressed minority to be pandered to with additional subsidy, soft touch and minimal law enforcement. So here’s what looks like the face of Labour’s transport shadow again.
Since our last post on Dugher, here are three episodes:
“Quite a number of journeys that people make are less than a mile. There is a lot of evidence that if people switched a proportion of their journeys you’d have a huge influence in terms of environmental benefits” , he explains, “but there’s a whole bunch of reasons why people in those circumstances choose to use their cars. there’s got to be viable alternatives. You’re only going to do that if you’ve got a bus network market that isn’t broken, as it is at the moment. You’ll only cycle to the station if, when you leave your bike there, there is a reasonable expectation that it will be still there when you return“.
Now, three RDRF committee members have spent a fair amount of time trying to get better cycle parking at stations. We think it is good and necessary. But is it the main reason why people don’t cycle to the station? Is it even in the top ten? Nor do people drive just because of problems with bus network efficiency (and we doubt that future Government is likely to massively change it).2. “Stealth cameras”
These utterances looked like they came straight from the Daily Mail, so let’s look at how they reported this. Basically, you have to be allowed to break the law except at limited locations (decided by the number of “accidents” that have occurred at their locations being high enough), and at those you have to be given the warning that you might be given a few points on your licence and a small fine (like Dugher)
Of course, if you really do want motorists to avoid paying, you could conceal cameras and have far more of them. Then drivers would know not to exceed speed limits anywhere, and not get fined.3. “Transport policy in England is too heavily shaped by people who don’t drive cars.”
Transport policy in practice means: declining costs of driving – when austerity economic policy means higher housing costs, static or lower incomes, etc – road building for more cars, predict and provide forecasting, minimal levels of walking and cycling. + cancelling a rise in fuel duty despite a big fall in the oil price and the govt’s desperate need for more income And that is “too heavily” shaped by people who don’t drive cars? And who are these people?
One quote from this interview is: “Given that most people spend most of their time travelling by road – politicians spend most of their time taking to the minority of people who don’t.” Of course , most politicians – of whom Dugher is just one – assume the view of a motorist-as-victim, without even having to talk to them. They certainly don’t base their policies on those who don’t drive, even if they bother to talk to them. And of course, the people who “travel by road” might be walking or cycling, or going by bus. But for Dugher (although he did try to correct himself on this in a tweet afterwards) “going by road” means going by car.
Another: “The idea that I should be cycling from Westminster to Barnsley to show that I’m not anti-cyclist, it’s just bollocks!” . No, but you could go by train. And maybe even cycle to the station. A minor point, affected by precise details of origin and destination – but why is the “proud son of a railwayman” not doing the 2¾ hour journey by train from Barnsley to central London rather than driving the 185-mile journey – which would have be done at a 67 mph average to be as quick?
(By the way, Dugher does like saying “piss me off” and “bollocks” a lot. Does this make him a man of the people?)…but do we now have a different Dugher ?
At a Campaign for Better Transport event, he said that .A Labour Government would “put cyclists and pedestrians at the top table of transport policy” with a cross-government Cyclist and Pedestrians’ Advisory Board to boost active travel, which would include ministers from across Whitehall, senior civil servants from the Departments for Transport, Education, and Health, and the Department for Communities and Local Government, as well as cycling and pedestrian representatives, and chaired by the Secretary of State. An active travel strategy would then be put in place by summer 2016.
Other key elements in the announcement were a stated commitment to:
* Ensuring “justice is done and seen to be done in cases where collisions lead to cyclist deaths and serious injuries.”
* An end to “stop-start funding” for cycling.
* an in-depth review of how all government departments, agencies, local government, LEPs and the private sector are currently investing in walking and cycling. This will help determine the scale, sources and distribution of per capita funding we need for the future.”
So what conclusions can we draw from this? Cross-departmental working is necessary, and a commitment to Ministerial direction is welcome. But significantly it does not include the Treasury (who always have a big say in expenditure).
That may seem pessimistic, but we have been here before. A key problem with Cycling England (the quango abolished by the coalition) was its failure to get sufficient funding for projects. And in the party political debate, while the Liberal Democrat spokesman gave a figure for the amount of money to be spent on cycling, Labour and the Conservatives would not.
And then we have the issue of what that money would be spent on. The blogosphere is alive with tales of money supposedly to be spent on cycling being misspent.
On sentencing, we note that the reference is to cases of death and serious injury. But addressing danger to cyclists and pedestrians means using law enforcement – not just sentencing – to deter people from endangering others. How does this sit with someone whose best-known other comments on traffic law enforcement are about the supposed unfairness of having speed cameras which are not painted in bright colours?
Dugher’s stated intentions continue:
“…move cycling and walking from the margins to the mainstream – not only swelling the ranks of people cycling and walking to work, but giving people from all walks of life the confidence to ride a bike. We will ensure that we change how our streets are designed, improve traffic management and enforcement, and encourage people to change their travel behaviours.”
Encouragement: Some recent spring cleaning unearthed my delegate badge to the 1984 “Ways to Safer Cycling” conference, where the then Minister, Lynda Chalker, first stated Government intention to “encourage” cycling. The experience of the last 31 years does not breed confidence in Government’s effectiveness in encouraging cycling.
Improve: Without specified amounts of funding, clear definition of what this will be spent on, “improvement” can mean very little in terms of change.
How our streets our designed: Again, we don’t know what this will mean in terms of design standards and how widespread any new design – or more important, re-design – would be. And cyclists and pedestrians use roads as well as streets.
The RDRF has always taken the view that cycling and walking cannot be assessed, let alone genuinely supported as forms of everyday transport, outside the context of wider society and its culture.
Whether in terms of road space re-allocation, general engineering of new and existing roads, engineering motor vehicles, law enforcement and sentencing, land use policy, parking standards etc., that requires changes in transport policy and its implementation which will have an actual (or perceived) impact on motoring.
But everything we have seen from Dugher indicates that he inhabits a car-centred culture bubble. In this bubble drivers are an oppressed minority who must suffer no possible impact on their easily bruised sensibilities, whether policies will have any real adverse effects on their rights or not.
Are we done with the driver-dominated depiction of our destiny from Dugher? As usual, time will tell. My view is that it doesn’t look good.
The French are to continue with their programme for felling trees to protect motorists who drive off the road. This story illuminates yet again how “road safety” (The Telegraph piece correctly uses inverted commas) ideology and practice inherently colludes with homicidal rule and law breaking by the motorised, rather than working to reduce danger at source.
This is an old story. In 2001 it was reported that gangs of chainsaw-wielding motorcyclists (the “Anti-Plane Tree Commando”) were felling roadside trees in the name of “road safety”, and France has had a policy of felling such “obstacles” for some time.
What interest us are the arguments for and against the measure. Against the felling are conservation groups arguing for the beauty of the French countryside. While a noteworthy cause, that is not our principal concern. There is also an argument that shadows from roadside trees have a speed-reducing effect on drivers, and that the presence of trees can otherwise moderate driver carelessness. That’s more to the point, although not our main interest here.
The next argument is that there is no demonstrable effect (as seen through casualty statistics before and after felling) on casualty rates. That is a good point – and rarely comes up in discussion. But again, it is not the main point. After all, the history of “road safety” is history of measures being implemented regardless of the evidence on their success in reducing casualties.The risk compensation question
Often this is because, as we have seen again and again, drivers adapt to their perceptions of danger (risk compensation) and the “road safety” intervention largely displaces the risk elsewhere. And what is really interesting is how this happens not just in the short term – as displayed in the (lack of) change in casualties – but in the long term. These long-term effects are the penetration of our culture by unstated ideas about what safety on the road is all about. And that is our main point in this piece.
For what we think is really revealing about this episode in the history of “road safety” is the acceptance of, and conniving and colluding with, rule-breaking and illegal driving. Even where drivers are forced off the road into trees by other drivers, the problem for us is essentially that of motor vehicles being driven off the road. This, for those who don’t know, is illegal.
There are two problems with this. In the short term, measures which idiot-proof motoring produce (or at least facilitate) idiot motoring. Whether it be idiot-proofing the vehicle environment (seat belts, crumple zones, side impact protection systems, collapsible steering columns, air bags or ABS brakes), or idiot-proofing the highway environment (anti-skid, longer sight lines, crash barriers, hatching and wider centre lines), the evidence shows a worsening of driver behaviour.
This is through changes which are generally slight enough not to be immediately noticeable, but sufficient to counter much if not all or more of the benefits. This consumption of the safety benefits as performance benefits – as the technical literature calls it – also shifts the danger on to other road users, usually those who are less dangerous to others and more vulnerable.
In the longer term it has less distinct, but crucial, effect in terms of altering general assumptions about what the problem of danger on the road actually is. The deleterious effects of “road safety” practice and beliefs are on our society’s culture. For what really counts is how the commentary on the tree-felling in France hardly ever mentions that motorists are not supposed to drive their vehicles off the road.
The Road Danger Reduction opposition
There are exceptions: Chantal Fauché, the president of the Association for the Protection of Road-side Trees, blames successive French governments for creating an anti-tree psychosis among road users. “The politicians prefer to cut down trees rather than take any real action against speeding and drinking, which are the real causes of deaths on the roads,” she said.
But there is hope.
In presentations for some years I have been referring to this school of “road safety” engineering. In a key text (Rattenbury and Gloyns, Traffic Engineering and Control , October 1992) cutting down roadside trees is described as “like putting insulating tape on electric cable”: tree stumps should also be removed “as these can still be aggressive”; fences are “a particularly aggressive form of man-made structure” . Faced with this sense of motorist entitlement – a world where “my way” extends not just to wherever the driver feels like going on the road, but off it as well – the audience reaction is fascinating.
The traditional highway engineers don’t understand what the problem might be. Some may stare at their shoes as gales of laughter sweep from the (few) members of the audience from sustainable transport, cyclist, pedestrian or other road danger reduction organisations. I can report that there is more laughter as the years go on. For whatever reason, a generation including some professionals and campaigners prepared to support road danger reduction as opposed to “road safety” has appeared.
Errant drivers don’t deserve the death penalty for their violent law breaking – but then neither do their actual or potential victims, particularly if they are using transport modes which pose less of a threat to others.
The decent and humane way of addressing the issue is to reduce danger at source – whether through vehicle or highway engineering, law enforcement or whatever – for the benefit of all road users’ safety. The precise technologies (if any) don’t really matter.
In addition, while violent driver rule and law breaking is not only tolerated but accommodated by this society, arguments which shift blame on to cyclists and pedestrians simply have no basis (See this episode , for example). If careless, reckless, criminally negligent – whatever – behaviour by drivers is accommodated, then it’s unjust to treat that by those with less lethality to others any differently.
What matters is that we understand what the problem is. Doing that means deconstructing the ideology behind roadside tree felling and replacing it with something civilised. It means opposing “road safety” and replacing it with road danger reduction.
You might think that a grown human being shouldn’t have to do this – and you would be right, in my opinion. However, since there has been a lot of interest in this issue, we have a duty to follow through. (And anyway life is often about doing things you shouldn’t have to do).
So here goes: We are showing how you can play a part in the removal of stickers that are on the wrong vehicles (or wrongly worded stickers on vehicles for which they were intended) belonging to members of Transport for London’s Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme (FORS).
And it should indicate to TfL that we can cooperate with it.
Vans – which were never intended to have these stickers on them – belonging to FORS members
So, firstly, do read the post here and the follow up UPDATE: “Cyclists stay back” stickers and HGV safety in London to remind yourself what the fuss is about (the detailed history of this episode is in posts referred to in those).
Now you’re up to speed, we remind you that we thought that FORS could have a web site available to refer non-FORS members to explain why it has changed the wording of stickers, and why stickers should not be on vehicles with good driver visibility (cars, minibuses, vans etc.).
FORS (or to be more precise, the organisation running FORS for TfL) don’t think they can do this. They have told us:Stickers are issued to FORS operators and advice on how to display them is provided in the FORS Standard, through our FORS eNewsletters and on the back of the stickers themselves. Since taking on the concession we simply issue the new blind spot warning signage on behalf of TfL.
That’s a shame – hopefully TfL will try to be more forceful in getting the types of misuse we have referred to changed. We also think it should be able to influence non-FORS members – it wouldn’t take too much effort, and could be part of a campaign of recruitment for FORS
Instead, they’ve asked people to report sticker misuse to them:
Anyone who wishes to report the misuse of FORS stickers can do so via the FORS Helpline 08448 09 09 44 or email@example.com. You do not have to be a FORS registered or accredited company to do this.
So this is how you can work with TfL to cut the abuse of stickers. Please remember the following:
FORS said:“Any issues with London Buses, London Underground and any other parts of TfL should be directed to TfL.”
(We will try and get you a contact.)
Our suggestion is that there is enough to do for now under Number 2 above. Use a photo, date and location and the contact e-mail or phone number, and keep a record of what happens.
So, if you’re unhappy with stickers on the wrong kind of vehicle (albeit just on those of FORS members) here is something you can do about it.
Dr Robert Davis, Chai Road Danger Reduction Forum, March 5th 2015
Since our last post we have had our requested information from Transport for London about their Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme (FORS) and the (ab)use of warning stickers. We assess this response and analyse the new HGVs designed to be less dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists and showcased last week.The TfL Response
We have been informed that:
Well, those audits haven’t swung into action yet. Along with the FORS members using stickers on vehicles which should never have had them (minibuses, short lorries with low cabs, taxis and cars) illustrated, a short period of time in inner London today (27/02/2015) reveals these FORS members with stickers on the wrong vehicles:
UK Power Network (positioning off-side wing mirror properly might help)
FloGas London Borough of Brent
And this photo of a car belonging to FORS member Apex Lifts was sent to me:
We also have the problem of TfL’s own vehicles working for London Underground and London Buses (shown here):
TfL is not actually a member of their FORS, but should it be so difficult for someone in TfL to expect it to behave in accordance with the FORS criteria for stickers?
2. Our contact couldn’t give us a URL on FORS’ website to refer operators to. (Some people working for FORS members, most obviously transport planners/engineers working for London Boroughs, want to be able to refer colleagues in fleet management to the FORS criteria for stickers).
3. Our contact pointed out – as we knew already – that FORS has no jurisdiction over non-FORS members, who can buy stickers from other suppliers. (Incidentally, that’s a good reason for this issue to have not arisen in the first place). However, members of the public could refer operators to a FORS website explaining why FORS is now trying to make sure that no stickers should be on any vehicles other than buses or HGVs, and that even on those vehicles the appropriate wording should be used. Above all, the reasons for this – particularly not having stickers of any sort on minibuses, cars, and taxis – must be explained, as most freight operators won’t understand otherwise.
Our view is that if TfL is serious about cycling as a mode of transport, and the safety of road users near lorries, this should be done.
Meanwhile here are some non-FORS members spotted today in a short period of time in inner London with vehicles which should not have stickers:
A Tyrefix-UK van being tailgated by:
A Brandon Tool Hire lorry with apparently adequate nearside wing mirror and low cab, and a minibus. And some time ago one of my favourites (apologies if stickers have since been removed):
As stated in our previous post, this is not the main issue with regard to lorry safety in London – but it is indicative of Transport for London’s readiness – or lack of it – to tackle this and other safety issues for pedestrians and cyclists.Safer construction industry vehicles?…
Last week a major exhibition showcased new lorry designs for the construction industry. There is a particular problem with construction industry HGVs: vehicles like tipper trucks have been disproportionately involved in cyclist deaths compared to other HGVs, and TfL has taken some steps towards addressing this through support for CLOCS.
Below you can see just some of the vehicle designs which make it easier for lorry drivers to be able to see around them and – often less remarked on – smaller gaps between the vehicle body and the road surface, reducing the chances of pedestrians and cyclists being dragged under lorry wheels.
O’Donovan waste Mercedes-Benz design
So does this indicate that TfL are properly addressing the HGV safety problem? A lot of what was said is encouraging: Sir Peter Hendy (Commissioner of Transport for London) supported law enforcement to stop unfit drivers, “relentlessly hounding” bad operators, committing to reducing motor traffic capacity on new highway infrastructure for cyclists, looking at changing the concentration of freight in the morning rush hour (while aware of the problem that this can be a muck-shifting exercise which pushes freight on to people outside these hours), and above all:
“TfL are working towards a point where we’ll say if you want to work on one of our sites it’s got to be one of these – we’re not very far away from this. We’ll do everything we can to make this happen.”
Other speakers showed an awareness of issues beyond the traditional highway authority thought envelope: moving the construction industry’s health and safety focus on to road risk, increased rigour in procurement criteria for freight operators, pushing for more sophisticated technology on vehicles, both new and for retro-fit, retiming lorry delivery, etc
All of which looks good: moves in the right direction prompted not least by the activities by our friends and partners Cynthia Barlow (Roadpeace) and Kate Cairns (See Me Save Me) Unfortunately, there are important problems to be considered, and our duty is to do just that.
The first problem is specifically about construction industry vehicles (such as tipper trucks). When considering Sir Peter Hendy’s comments above, we have a commitment towards a requirement for the safest lorry design to be a feature of HGVs on construction sites operating for TfL sites: what about all the others in London? And when will this be required?
…and lorries in general
We also note that in the concluding comments to the conference by CLOCS chairman Brian Weatherly, he said, “When will CLOCS’ work be completed? Volvo has Vision 2020 – no one will be killed by a Volvo HGV in 2020. It would be an excellent goal for everyone in CLOCS to adopt. If we could achieve that we would know CLOCS has done its job.”
Here at RDRF we have something of a general problem with Volvo. We point out the adverse effects on other road users of drivers feeling that they have to less to worry about because of increased crashworthiness of their vehicle. And Volvo have historically been synonymous with greater car crashworthiness.
But let’s just focus on events last year: for this sorry story of blocking the introduction of safer lorries read this in The Times. Essentially, under pressure from Renault and, yes, Volvo, the French and Swedish governments blocked manufacturers from implementing more aerodynamic lorry designs.
Such redesign also benefits cyclist and pedestrian safety by having lower cabs with more driver visibility, and skirting and/or lower vehicle and cab bodies to reduce chances of being dragged under lorry wheels.
Since these lorries won’t be on the roads now until after 2020, one does rather wonder about Volvo’s Vision 2020.
An aside: The recent history of lorry design
At this point I should refer to a meeting I had at Transport for London (with my colleague from the London Boroughs Cycling Officers Group). This was at a time (I think 2002) before The Times started pushing for cyclist safety, when we had to fight hard to get anybody to take notice of the HGVs/Cyclists issue. We were met by, among others, a freight industry representative, who explained the 10-year cycle of lorry design, manufacture, sale and use.
Now, it was a while ago, and I may have got the details wrong (and they may have been inaccurately conveyed to us) but my understanding was this: Lorry manufacturers take about ten years to design, implement and manufacture a model, and this will then be bought and used by operators for another ten years before they buy the next model. We were told – as I recall – that the next design/manufacture cycle would start in 2010. New models would come in then, and by 2020 almost all HGVs would have the safer and more aerodynamic characteristics shown above.
But they didn’t. The episode recounted above – where RDRF joined others to lobby the EU to allow (that is just allow, let alone make mandatory) safer lorry design – indicates that the cycle we are now in ignored all the evidence about the importance of lorry design for cyclist and pedestrian safety in the 1990s and early 2000s, as well as the desire of operators to have more fuel-efficient vehicles.
The HGV problem in context
We have to say something else about the HGV issue. There is a specific problem of safety posed by HGVs for other road users, and in urban areas this is a particular problem for pedestrians and cyclists. I have dealt with the various ways this problem should be addressed here as follows:
We have been working on the safety issue for cyclists and pedestrians posed by HGVs, specifically in cities, since the early 1990s. There is a range of solutions which require implementing, namely:
Highway engineering which could eliminate potential collisions of all severities, and also do so with collisions involving all motor vehicles and create safer space. This is restricted to specific locations, and is less relevant for pedestrians, so attention is also needed to engineering HGVs so that drivers can be aware of who and what is around them. HGVs should also be engineered so that it becomes far more difficult (or impossible) for pedestrians or cyclists to be crushed, by skirting HGVs or otherwise reducing the gap between road surface and the body of the vehicle. Safety standards on HGVs can also be enforced by the police. Swift and high quality post-crash investigation, and the threat of deterrent sentencing for unsafe HGV operation are required. Construction sites and operators can be subject to appropriate procurement procedures to push forward relevant measures. Additional technologies such as black box recorders and pedestrian/cyclist-activated vehicle braking systems should be introduced.
HGV driver training is necessary, although low down the list of priorities. We are believers in cycle training, but the essential issue is reducing danger at source – from HGVs (particularly construction industry HGVs) which are currently unfit for purpose in a city. Not all of the million people who sometimes cycle in London can be reached or – even if experienced and careful – expected to avoid HGVs that hit them from behind or overtake and turn left. Even where a cyclist or pedestrian is careless or ignorant (as we all are on occasion) they do not deserve to be punished with death or serious injury. After all, motorists have their carelessness accommodated by highway and vehicle engineering – why shouldn’t cyclists or pedestrians?
For further discussion see the post by Bill Chidley here with RDRF comments below.
As at least half the cyclists killed in London are now killed in incidents where they go under the wheels of HGVs, plainly this is a specific issue for sustainable transport and road danger reduction in urban areas and London in particular. The relatively small number of vehicles, and the professional nature of their drivers, mean that there is less excuse for not dealing with this problem. However, it is worth remembering its place within the spectrum of problems, even specifically for cyclists.The table is based on Table 1 of TfL’s current Cycle Safety Action Plan: Ratio of cyclist KSI (Killed and Serious Injury) injury and collision involvement by mode share (2010-12) Other vehicle involved Average yearly number of KSI collisions involving a cyclist (2010 to 2012) Ratio of involvement to mode share %age involvement Car 1140 0.9 72 Light Goods Vehicles 176 0.9 11.1 Taxi/ private hire 75 4 4.7 Medium and Heavy Goods Vehicles (over 3.5T) 74 1.4 4.7 Bus 72 2.3 4.5 Motorcycle 51 1.4 3.2 TOTAL KSIs on average per year 2010 – 2012 1588 Source: STATS19 and Department for Transport data
The fact is that less than 5% of cyclist KSIs (98% of which are not deaths) involve lorries. A similar fraction exists for slight injuries, and probably near misses. (The proportions for pedestrians are even lower). Lorry danger is therefore a highly visible iceberg tip of danger on the roads in London, to cyclists and to other road users. And of that, danger from tipper trucks – essentially industrial equipment primarily used off-road – is just a part.
Transport for London has made an important step forward in addressing lorry danger in London through its support for CLOCS. Our concern is that while impressive efforts can be made with high profile issues (the “big and shiny” syndrome), its bureaucracy can get wrong-footed on a more mundane and routine issue. While the issue of stickers on wrong types of vehicle is of little importance in itself – although the large numbers of inappropriately stickered vehicles on London streets do send an unhelpful message, especially to drivers – it has reminded us about more general problems TfL has on sustainable transport in particular and cyclist safety in general.
We have spent plenty of time on www.rdrf.org.uk drawing attention to TfL’s wrong and dangerous targets for road safety , its inability to measure danger on the road properly, and its poor record on cyclist safety apart from some work on lorry danger . Then we have all the usual transport establishment issues about the methods of cost-benefit analysis (see these useful comments) ; bias in law enforcement ; the inequitable costs (to the user) of motoring compared to other modes, particularly cycling; a failure to consider areas – such as adequately accessible bicycles, cycling equipment or secure and convenient home parking – which affect the take-up of cycling; and “ road safety” ideology which blurs the difference of rule-breaking between motorised and non-motorised road users.
Partially addressing the use of one type of the most threatening type of vehicle involved in half the cyclist deaths (but less than one in twenty injuries) is welcome.
But only a very small part of what needs to be done.
Below we recount the story of the introduction of these stickers and the problems they’ve caused for cyclists. As an episode of incorrect and abused messaging, the issue is important – but not one of the major problems most would cite about cycling policy and its implementation in London or elsewhere. Writing the day after yet another cyclist is killed under the wheels of a tipper truck in London, obviously we see dealing with this problem by reducing danger at source (as explained below) as the priority. Yet for us the issue is revealing of problems with the transport establishment’s treatment of cycling.
Firstly, the problems have not yet been resolved: inappropriate stickers and (more important) stickers on vehicles they were never intended for are still there – even on TfL vehicles!
Secondly, it’s taken nearly two years after complaints were first made to get even the limited progress we can now see. Bureaucracies like TFL will always have problems in rectifying mistakes (which is a good reason to not make them in the first place). But the length of time involved, the difficulties TfL had in realising that mistakes had been made, as well as the fact that stickers on the wrong vehicles are still out there even on TfL’s FORS members’ vehicles lead to us a question:-
Is this story an indication that Transport for London simply doesn’t understand cycling and/or take it seriously in the way it might consider other forms of transport?
People who cycle in London, and many who ride elsewhere in the UK, were annoyed by the stickers that started appearing on the back of commercial vehicles nearly 2 years ago, telling cyclists to STAY BACK. Intended for (large) lorries and buses, they were applied with a lack of discrimination to all sorts of other vehicles – cars, vans, taxis, short and lighter lorries with perfectly adequate ability (through use of mirrors and direct vision) for their drivers to see cyclists and pedestrians in their vicinity.
Irresponsible vehicle operators now had official stickers telling cyclists to know their place and stay out of the way of their betters.Timeline
I (CM) first complained to TfL about the stickers in Summer 2013. (The reasoning is described in a post here written on December 18th 2013.)
Road Danger Reduction Forum then co-ordinated a complaint – with CTC (the National Cyclists’ Charity), the London Cycling Campaign, RoadPeace (the national road crash victims’ charity) and the Association of Bikeability Schemes – to Transport for London, saying that the wording was inappropriate and that stickers should anyway not be on vans, taxis, small lorries and cars for which they had not been intended. Carefully reasoned and constructive suggestions as to how these failings should be resolved were explained here on February 19th 2014 .TfL responded in a rather inadequate fashion necessitating another co-ordinated response from the organisations on April 30th 2014. And then TfL chose to give yet another – let’s say “inadequate” again because we try to be polite – reply to press enquiries rather than replying to us directly. By now even seasoned campaigners were getting annoyed enough to say that we – road danger reduction and cycling groups – were being treated with contempt on 30th May 2014.
The anger expressed seemed to have an effect, and on June 25th 2014 RDRF and the other organisations involved, plus representatives of the London Boroughs Cycling Officers Group, attended a meeting at Transport for London chaired by Lilli Matson, Head of Strategy and Outcome Planning, with nine other TfL officers concerned with safety, freight and fleet operations, buses, taxis, and marketing and communications. We were glad to say that the outcome was very positive. TfL agreed to reword stickers for larger lorries and buses, and 8 months later the reworded stickers are starting to outnumber the originals. (Lorry_BlindSpot_TakeCare and Bus_Caution_BusPullsInFrequently).
We understand that new stickers will be on all buses by mid-May 2015, and that some 5,000 stickers for HGVs have been distributed by TfL’s Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme, out of some 48,000 ordered (about 30,000 HGVs are on the roads in London daily).
At the time we concluded:
“Of course, none of this deals with the core issue of properly engineering HGVs so that their drivers are aware of cyclists and pedestrians – why is there a “blind spot” in the first place? It does not deal with engineering out the amount of space between the vehicle and the road surface which is implicated in them being crushed; nor the issues of highway engineering which would minimise this kind of occurrence in the first place; nor issues of rule- and law-breaking which endanger other road users as well as cyclists and pedestrians.
Nevertheless, one part of this problem was the idea that while a “blind spot” exists it would be useful to advise cyclists how to correctly position themselves, and we were prepared to support this. Unfortunately the issue was mishandled for some time – now we hope the mistakes are being corrected.
Finally, we suggest that all this is happening because of a concerted and well-argued response by RDRF and our sister organisations. (A similarly positive outcome in June 2014 has come here). This suggests that watchfulness informing coordinated action by groups wanting road danger reduction is necessary. We look forward to the changes outlined at our meeting with TfL. Watch this space.(emphasis added)”
So where are we now?
Above I mention the changes to stickers for buses and HGVs and their imminent introduction – some two years after initial concerns were voiced. That’s the good part. But what about the real problems of stickers on vehicles for which they were never intended?
In Mayor’s Question Time answer 2014/4047 Mayor Johnson stated that “TfL has emailed 6,069 operators registered with the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS), including all those working on TfL contracts, requesting that all safety stickers are removed from vehicles under 3.5 tonnes, including vans and cars, and that existing HGV stickers are replaced by the new ones.”
But this isn’t working. Either TfL hasn’t made the instructions clear enough, or operators are wilfully ignoring them – including parts of TfL itself! Here, are photos taken of London Underground and London Buses service vans with stickers taken in 2015:
And Clear Channel “operating for London Buses” in 2015:
And Initial “working in association with London Underground” last year (note the off-side mirror):
Or how about black cabs – nominally regulated by TfL? Here are a couple photographed recently:
And one also showing the use of a “Cycle Superhighway”:
If TfL can’t get it right, what chance is there of other operators doing so? Let’s take a look at some well-known members of FORS:
London Boroughs of:
Here are some recent pictures of other inappropriately used stickers by vehicles used by FORS members last year.They may have been taken off these vehicles since these photos were taken, in which case apologies, but stickers were recently seen on vehicles used by major contractors Murphy:
And other FORS members recently spotted (again, apologies if stickers have been removed from these vans since the photos were taken):Cappagh Group 2015) & Rexel (note warnings to pedestrians not to walk near van) Brammer & Abbey Gate (amended stickers, wrong position, wrong vehicle)
HaveBike (Yes, Bicycle recovery…) UK Power Networks
Remember, this is just a selection of vehicles belonging to FORS members .
The virus spreads
Once the signs were out, not only did they appear on vehicles they had not been intended for, but in other positions (captions below photos):
Such as the side of an HGV belonging D Smith (FORS member) above…
cut into pieces and put in three places…
…on the side of a van belonging to Active Plant (FORS member)
…and (my favourite) on the front of a van.
Oh yes, there is this one on scaffolding in the City (HT Cyclists in the City). Then other signs started appearing:
Sainsbury’s fitted new vehicles with a massive message trumpeting danger: as LCC pointed out, maybe this wouldn’t have been necessary with a better designed vehicle.
Or “We have done you and pedestrians a very big favour by being able to see around us, so that we can now see you if we feel like looking.” Errm, maybe “doing your bit” involves rather more than this?
And this one: perhaps just a more extreme expression of the basic message?
Naturally some of the worst cases of sticker wording, positioning, and use on the wrong vehicles, is not done by members of FORS. But if TfL in general, and FORS in particular, was clear about what was wrong in the first place, then it would be possible to :
But there is no well-known website page which operators can be referred to.
In 2014 we asked TfL to publicise a web page which could (a) remind FORS members of what they are supposed to (not) do and (b) could be used by members of the public – or a TfL/FORS member of staff? – to inform non-FORS member operators about sticker (ab)use.
We have asked again, but as yet there has been no response.
Perhaps vehicles cold be leafleted, for example:OPERATOR TO REMOVE THIS STICKER See Highway Code Rules 159, 161, 163, 169, 180, 182, 184, 202. See www…..
All of this has spawned pro-cyclist stickers, the most well-known of which is:
See it’s use here . But others have appeared on bicycles, such as these :
..with designs for posters to go on motor vehicles circulating:
And adaptations on existing stickers:
As well as a personal statement:
The HGV problem
We have been working on the safety issue for cyclists and pedestrians posed by HGVs, specifically in cities, since the early 1990s. There is a range of solutions which require implementing, namely:
Highway engineering which could eliminate potential collisions of all severities, and also do so with collisions involving all motor vehicles and create safer space. This is restricted to specific locations, and is less relevant for pedestrians, so attention is also needed to engineering HGVs so that drivers can be aware of who and what is around them. An absolutely critical factor is that HGVs should also be engineered so that it becomes far more difficult (or impossible) for pedestrians or cyclists to be crushed, by skirting HGVs or otherwise reducing the gap between road surface and the body of the vehicle. Safety standards on HGVs can also be enforced by the police. Swift and high quality post-crash investigation, and the threat of deterrent sentencing for unsafe HGV operation are required. Construction sites and operators can be subject to appropriate procurement procedures to push forward relevant measures. Additional technologies such as black box recorders and pedestrian/cyclist-activated vehicle braking systems should be introduced, not least for introduction on to other motor vehicles.
HGV driver training is necessary, although low down the list of priorities. We are believers in cycle training, but the essential issue is reducing danger at source – from HGVs (particularly construction industry HGVs) which are currently unfit for purpose in a city. Not all of the million people who sometimes cycle in London can be reached or – even if experienced and careful – expected to avoid HGVs that hit them from behind or overtake and turn left. Even where a cyclist or pedestrian is careless or ignorant (as we all are on occasion) they do not deserve a death or serious injury sentence. After all, motorists have their carelessness accommodated by highway and vehicle engineering – why shouldn’t cyclists or pedestrians?
Our analysis indicates that through the early 2000s a “Safety in Numbers” effect occurred as HGV drivers became more aware of the growing numbers of London cyclists – but this is by no means enough for us to rely on by itself. The measures above have to be implemented. This the real issue which need to be addressed, with the “Cyclists stay back” issue – in itself – of minor importance.
But sometimes these minor issues become important. The lack of understanding – or perhaps unwillingness to accept – what has been problematic about the messaging and (ab)use of the stickers by TfL is important to us. We think it indicates general problems in TfL‘s thinking and practice, which impede addressing the HGV and other issues for cycling and sustainable transport in London.
Sometimes minor issues are indicative of big problems.
This post written by Colin McKenzie as RDRF Committee member and Dr Robert Davis, RDRF Chair.
Hat tips to all who submitted photographs or whose photos I have used, including Bill Chidley, Cyclists in the City, The Ranty Highwayman, Jono Kenyon, Ken Peters and Alex Ingram, . Apologies to those we have missed out.
If any operators shown have since removed stickers, do feel free to notify us through submitting comments below.