I have already confessed my love for cycle sport in general and the Tour de France in particular – while arguing that that the Tour in Britain may have had a negative effect on the prospects for everyday cycling. It’s not just that the benefits of cycling as sport for cycling as transport are limited – the Tour de France is, after all, not supposed to be more than, well, the Tour de France. It’s that the impressions of what “cycling” is, as derived from the Tour and cycle sport in general, can actually impede the progress of cycling as transport.
I’ve enjoyed the Tour in the UK, and will stay glued to it. But it is time to review the situation with some observations of where we are and what the effect of the Tour may be.
The rule of the Smarter Travel movement is to be positive, talk up the alternatives to car use, and not to be negative about car use. Being sceptical about benefits of the flavour of the month is not smiled on by the powers that be. But – and remember, I’m speaking as a cycle sport nut – that is exactly what we have to do. In this case I’m not the only one.…and the reality
A good review of the amount of cycling in the UK is provided here. It’s nicely scientific; not coming to definite conclusions about whether there are small trends (outside the obvious increases in inner London this century) upwards or not. The point it makes is that any upward trends there may be are just that: small. It also shows how a continuing cycling modal share of around 1 – 2 % nationally is regularly associated with government and other officials talking up cycling. We are led to believe that if a large number of people are not cycling already, they very soon will be. The history of my career as a transport professional is of politicians from Lynda Chalker in 1984 onwards talking about how government wants to encourage cycling. Take a look at the graph below to see what’s happened
Let’s take a swift look at some cycling themes which have been brought to my attention in the last week:1. Here’s the view we had of the Tour passing by near the Olympic site:
And the road after they have gone: remember this is part of a mainly purpose built environment close to the Olympic site.:
So, the problems with Operation Safeway look set to continue, with the Met telling cyclists to wear helmets and hi-viz while – I hope this report of what the officer said is wrong – there is reluctance about enforcing the law “because we would be accused of it just being about revenue”.3. This tweet from Green MLA Jenny Jones:
Jenny Jones@GreenJennyJones 14h
While #cycling this morning a cabbie shouted at me: ‘Why no hi viz? You look like a pedestrian.’ Don’t they have to look out for them too?
Any prospect of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association taking disciplinary action?4. Road Safety GB North-East
Then the “road safety” publicity in South Yorkshire (which appears when the Tour de France visits) comes up again from “Road Safety GB” in the North East with the same old (to be polite) “problems”:even more money to support the country’s car culture.
One can go on, and on, and on…The point is, will the Tour de France visit help to deal with the car-dependent and anti-cycling culture of which these (few of many) cases are manifestations? Or make no difference? Or hinder?
Now, obviously the failure to achieve a significant rise in cycling’s modal share can’t be attributed to cycle sport. But it does have some bad effects, which I can illustrate again:
I mentioned here the high tendency – compared to normal urban cycling in the UK – of Tour de France racers to crash. Since then the two main British stars, Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish, have crashed out in front of billions of viewers. Based on watching TV coverage, it is easy to see how “Cycling” can be seen as inherently hazardous, with a relentless stream of crashes. that must be a key element in any image of “cycling” drawn from the Tour.Photo: Baltimore Sun
Speaking for “cycling”
The go to spokesmen for “cycling” are now those with deserved reputations for expertise when it comes to the sport, who are now supposed to be authorities on cycling in general. Of course, Sir David Brailsford, as the architect of Olympic and Tour de France wins, has to be worth listening to. But on transport policy and safety on the roads? Try this: “It’s quite clear when you stand back and look at it,” he urged. “If cyclists took a little bit more time to think about motorists, and people in cars took a little more time to think about people on bikes, everybody would win.”
No, it is not “quite clear”. This is just the old “road safety” policy of the “even stevens” approach, which ignores the difference in potential danger to others of the two forms of transport.
Me, I’m going to carry on being glued to the TV and websites, as I am every July. I’m hooked on the magic. But every time a racer hits the deck or displays his bandages, I’m not just feeling their pain. I’m thinking about the negative effects of the Tour de France on the prospects for sustainable transport. Cycling as sport does not have to be cycling as transport – but I do have concerns about it getting in the way of it.
First, a confession: I am a cycle sport nut. I used to be a keen racer (albeit to no significant effect in terms of results), have a much repeated link with England’s greatest ever road racing cyclist , and frequently take part in sportives and Audax events. I watch all the main races and fret over the minutiae of transfers, alleged drug taking, fancy new equipment etc. on the sport web sites. I shall immerse myself in the magic as the Tour de France passes my east London vantage point.
I will happily use the occasion as a break from the world of car dependency and the social acceptance of road danger that we find unacceptable. And yes, I do know that the Tour de France is not supposed to usher in a world of mass cycling. The Tour de France is the Tour de France: nothing more, nothing less.
However, there is a view that The Tour de France and cycle sport generally are associated with a supposed big increase in everyday cycling: let’s just talk it all up and we’re on our way. I think there are issues about the difference between cycle sport and everyday cycling, about negative features of cycle sport and the image of “cycling” which we need to look at. So, when you take a break from the excitement, you may wish to consider the following:
Sport is, well, sport. Cycling as a form of everyday transport – for ordinary people wearing ordinary clothes to make ordinary journeys for ordinary everyday purposes of shopping, working, education, visiting people in their communities – is what I am more concerned with. It is that which justifies social and political support for, among other things, mass allocation of resources.
Cycling as transport is a key element – probably the key element – in dealing with the problems of an unsustainable system centred on excessive car and road freight usage. Cycling as transport is particularly under-represented in the UK compared to similar kinds of society in northern Europe. Cycling as transport is necessary for increased health of the users of the mode, reducing danger to other road users, noxious and greenhouse gas emissions, visual intrusion, noise pollution, destruction of rural and urban environments through road building and increased or stabilised levels of motor traffic, costs of road building, and the loss of local community.
Cycle sport is something else: some people move from it to use cycling as a form of transport, and vice versa. I have, but many don’t. Plenty of racing cyclists are locked into car usage for most journeys (including to and from bike races). Even if a “Wiggins effect” bolsters numbers of active sporting cyclists to, for example, French levels, we are unlikely to have more than a fraction of 1% of journeys made by them. A lot of the people who get into cycle sport would have been doing some form of sport anyway, so the health benefits for the people doing it may be small anyway.
And then some key groups who may become the “utility” cyclists of tomorrow may be actually be put off by muscular young men with specialist clothing and equipment. There is a small change with the (slightly) increased profile of women’s racing – but then the women who feature in mass cycling countries are not there because of the influence of women sporting cyclists, any more than they are trying to emulate male racers.
With a love of cycle racing comes an acceptance of crashing. (Minute remnants of my skin are no doubt lodged in the debris of the Eastway cycle circuit which was destroyed to make way for the Olympic Velodrome). In the 2012 Tour de France, I calculated that of the 45 withdrawals at least 20 were due to sustaining what in road safety we classify as “Serious Injury” (SI) (That does not include Geraint Thomas racing with a fractured pelvis) That’s about 10% of all the riders over the three weeks. Although that year may well have been worse than previous ones, these injuries happened in a period of some 90 hours, equivalent to about 4 months of typical commuting for an urban cyclist.
To translate that into London cycling terms, that would result in some 25% of cyclists being seriously injured every year – about 65,000. Instead there are some 400 – about 150 times fewer. Even allowing for non-reporting, we have a difference of dozens, if not a hundred times fewer. If we used the (I think less valid) exposure measure of distance, it would still be the case that tour de France riders are far, far more likely to suffer SI than people cycling in London.
What Bradley Wiggins and the cream of racing cyclists do to become role models is, as only a few have pointed out, far more hazardous than urban UK cycling, at least the London version of it.
It is, unlike cycling as a basic mode of transport, inherently hazardous.
…Crash, Crash, Crash…
You may wish to do some calculations of your own: lists of withdrawals with reference to crashes are publicised, so the data is quite good. You can also see the equivalent of road safety’s “Slight Injuries” by looking at the crashes shown on television which don’t result in the more severe injuries.
Compare the injury rates (with time as the unit of exposure) to London or other locations – London is best because of better information, particularly on cyclist exposure levels. To do this count up the numbers of riders still in the race, use 40 kph as a rough indicator of average speed (the time given at the end of each day is for the first over the line), and the length of distance over a given stage. Add up after three weeks and voila!
…Crash, Crash, Crash….
There is another key feature of cycle sport’s inherently hazardous nature. Sometimes it is pointed out that this high injury rate happens despite the racers having:
• The best maintained equipment
• The highest level of bike handling skill
• A commitment to avoiding crashes – crashes reduce the chances of getting to the finish line quickly, and sustaining injury requires time and energy to recover.
• High quality emergency care immediately available
• Excellent quality physiotherapy and massage care for injury.
• The latest bicycle crash helmets, expertly fitted
• Information on race radio about hazards on the course
• Awareness of the parcours layout based on careful study of each stage, including speed humps and other street furniture.
• An absence of motor traffic: there are motor vehicles on the course, but only a small proportion of incidents involve them.
• Fewer problems from errant pedestrians. There are incidents, as there are millions of spectators – but most are aware of the presence of the race in a way in which typical pedestrians in urban areas are not aware of cycle traffic.
In fact I suggest that it is actually wrong to say that the high injury rate happens despite the racers having these “safety aids” and other features. It happens, at least in part, because they have them. Risk compensation/behavioural adaptation theory has time and again shown how safety benefits are consumed as performance benefits. The Tour de France and high-level cycle racing are no exception.
…Crash, Crash, Crash.
Does it matter? Yes, I think it does.
Cycle sport fans inevitably use the word “cycling” based on cycle sport, and everyday cycling is supposed to slot into that conception of cycling.
“Cycling” is inevitably seen as being inherently hazardous. If the images of “cycling” and “cyclist” are of “cyclists” crashing and hurting themselves, that’s bad. It distorts discussion of issues like cycle helmets and is just plain misleading and negative.
Racing cyclists as role models
As I have mentioned before, people basing their views on their experience as bike racers are not good role models for everyday cycling. From the way they get about, to their tendency to adhere to a subservient notion of cyclists’ place in the transport system, cycle racers – the latest is Sir Chris Hoy – don’t tend to get it right. Indeed, the saintly Chris Boardman who (with the exception of an ill-advised appearance on Top Gear) almost always gets it spot on, is the exception that proves the rule. And he has made it clear that he is interested in everyday cycling, and would trade his Olympic success for success on that front.Chris Boardman (Photo road.cc). Normally he isn’t smiling when he comments on everyday cycling because he knows what’s going on.
So what does happen?
The mantra is that “cycling is popular in the UK” I do see lots of sporting cyclists out on my training bashes, but apart from London and one or two other places, cycling has not been taking off as a significant form of everyday transport. There was no increase, even including leisure cycling, between 2011/2012 and 2012/2013
The brutal truth is not just that the fantastic success of Team Sky and Team GB has not led to a move towards cycling getting above a 1-2% national modal share. It is not even that there are minimal benefits from cycle sport feeding in to cycling as transport. It is that there are significant negative elements, particularly its association with crashing, that exist.
None of that stops me from saying: “Vive le Tour! Bonne route, bon courage et chapeau aux coureurs!”. But I do think it is something to consider.
RDRF has – almost alone of transport organisations – highlighted the decline in the cost of motoring . Compared to the costs of housing and other necessities, the costs of what conventional economists call “externalities”, the costs of more sustainable modes, the decline is persistent from 1980, then from the beginning of the Blair government and now through the current supposedly “austerity” one. While we have given rough estimates in the past, here are the official figures given by the Minister:Answering a question from Caroline Lucas MP on 30th June: ( Hansard Citation: HC Deb, 30 June 2014, c367W)
Robert Goodwill (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport); Scarborough and Whitby, Conservative):
“The Department for Transport published statistics on travel costs based on data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in the Transport Statistics Great Britain compendium.
Data from the independent ONS suggests that:
(i) Between 1980 and 2013 the real cost of motoring, including the purchase of a vehicle, declined by 12%, bus and coach fares increased by 59% and rail fares increased by 62% in real terms.
(ii) Between 1997 and 2013 the real cost of motoring, including the purchase of a vehicle, declined by 9%, bus and coach fares increased by 28% and rail fares increased by 22% in real terms.
(iii) Between 2010 and 2013 the real cost of motoring, including the purchase of a vehicle, decreased by 2%, bus and coach fares increased by 3% and rail fares increased by 5% in real terms.
((iv) The costs of travelling by air are not available from ONS data. However information is available based on fare data from the Civil Aviation Authority. The real cost of the average UK one-way air fare, including taxes and charges, covering domestic flights from 2000 to 2013 declined by 43% and from 2010 to 2013 declined by 3%. Estimates are not available on a comparable basis before 2000.”
Apart from what we refer to in the introductory paragraph above, what about how:
• Costs of fuel (the fuel tax accelerator slashed by this Government without anything more than approval from the opposition) need to rise if revenue is not to be lost with more fuel efficient cars coming on stream (and how it needs to increase to promote uptake of such vehicles).
• There is an urgent need to show how motorists do not pay their way compared to cyclists – necessary to counteract the “I Pay A tax” bigots.
• Measures like land use planning and law enforcement – necessary though they are – will not be enough to reduce car dependency.
Who is raising such issues? Not the Government or “Opposition”. The Green party barely raises a peep: “if necessary work towards the introduction of road pricing schemes like the London congestion charge”. The issue is normally raised only in the context of public transport fare rises – although not the cost of cycling (few mention that the middle class dominance of the rise in cycling in London may be related to the cost of cycling). And cutting public transport fares has a lot less effect on reducing car use than many think.
So it is being raised here.
We raised our concerns about the widespread (mis)use of “Cyclists stay back” stickers over 6 months ago , sent a letter of complaint with our colleagues the CTC (the National Cyclists’ Charity), the London Cycling Campaign, RoadPeace, and the Association of Bikeability Schemes, followed by another complaint due to an inadequate response by TfL . 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.
But yesterday 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 are glad to say that the outcome was very positive.
TfL now agree that stickers of this type have no place on lorries below 3.5 tonnes, vans, cars or taxis. On such vehicles there is no “blind spot” making it difficult for drivers to see cyclists in places where they are entitled and likely to be. Our concern was that the need for motorists to “stay back” where there is inadequate room to overtake (Highway Code Rule 153) and/or to use nearside wing mirrors (Highway Code Rules 159,161,163, 169, 179, 180, 182, 184, and 202) would be eroded, with drivers using the stickers as an excuse for not watching out.
TfL are asking members of its Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme (FORS) to remove the incorrectly placed stickers. So, hopefully, no more of these:
TfL are also saying that “where TfL has influence” action has been taken to prevent stickers on other vehicles where they are inappropriate. I would have thought that, even where operators are not members of FORS, TfL has “influence”. This is particularly so where the stickers are ones with “Transport for London” and “Mayor of London” logos – but we would hope they can get involved in all types of case where stickers are misused.
Despite the fact that the stickers were originally intended just for large lorries, they have found their way on to London buses. The issues there are different, but there are concerns about potential conflicts involving cyclists when overtaking buses. On that basis, a differently worded sticker for use with buses is to be considered.
Re-wording of stickers
One of the matters raised in the discussions over these stickers over the last year has been the precise effects of the “Cyclists stay back” wording. Where exactly are cyclists being told to go? Shouldn’t there be an explanation of why cyclists should be doing what is suggested? And of course, a “command” can be – without any legal justification – be used to justify inappropriate driver behaviour.
We’re pleased that TfL has agreed to re-wording of these stickers – probably with different messages for buses on the one hand and heavier lorries on the other. This wording will be created with input from the cyclists and danger reduction organisations involved and is already in progress.
The TfL advice web page
Fleet operators may still be using the out of date stickers, including ones inappropriately placed. TfL have agreed to put up a web page explaining the problems with the old stickers and their positioning on inappropriate vehicles. They can use this in explaining not only to members of FORS but other operators why they should remove the old stickers. Hopefully members of the public will be able to refer vehicle operators who don’t comply with the new guidance to TfL and see results.
Of course, none of this deals with the core issues of properly engineering HGVs so that their drivers are aware of cyclists and pedestrians – why is there a “blindspot” 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 “blindspot” 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 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 co-ordinated action by groups wanting road danger reduction is necessary.
We look forward to the changes outlined at our meeting with TfL. Watch this space. And meanwhile
Although the image below is a bit difficult to make out (the original is here), we reproduce it and take some time to examine its message as delivered by the “South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership” (SYSRP) . It is typical of why official “road safety” – as opposed to the real road safety of road danger reduction – is part of the problem of danger on the roads and discrimination against cycling and sustainable transport.
The classic cheery official way to address cycling: apparently friendly, but actually starting off from the premise that there is something unusual and problematic about it. Would any advice to motorists start in the same tone? (“Driving can make you feel like a real man or an independent woman…”*). Let’s briefly look at some of the attributes of cycling selected:
• “Quick”. Well, it can be, but not as much as it should be if you live in the car-centred communities of South Yorkshire, built up by??? the local Highway Authorities and the Highways Agency – who sit on the South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership”.
• “Inexpensive”. Cycling in London – one of the few places where it has increased significantly in the last decade – is largely the preserve of the middle class, partly because of its cost, while the cost of motoring remains low
• “…helping to keep you fit”. The health benefits of cycling are one of its best features, but not as a sports activity or a desire to “keep fit” – the health benefits of cycling happen in societies with mass cycling. And these societies are, above all, ones where cycling is a normal everyday activity, carried out by ordinary people wearing their normal clothes, looking like this:
And not like the helmeted hi-viz chap in the South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership poster:Poor definition image, but you get the picture
In a society where cycling is taken seriously as a form of transport, starting off any serious publicity campaign with the patronising assumption that cycling is doing something remarkable or unusual would just not happen. It is wrong from the start.
Of course, you could say some things about cycling if you actually wanted to support it. You could say that cycling, instead of using motorised transport:
Is less dangerous to other road users, emits less noise pollution, reduces noxious emissions and greenhouse gas emissions, and is part of promoting local sustainable communities. But my guess is that the Councils of South Yorkshire are not really into that sort of thing. And saying that cycling is less dangerous to others than driving might direct attention to the source of danger, where we think it belongs. But do South Yorkshire Police and others on SYSRP?
So let’s look at the “road safety tips”:
1. “Wear a fluorescent reflective jacket to make yourself more visible”. If you want to consider the evidence and context for this classic theme in “road safety”, look here: More recently campaigns have been commented on here and here . According to their representative at the last meeting I attended with him, even the Department for Transport can’t come up with any evidence on hi-viz reducing casualty rates among cyclists.
If you want to be visible, you can cycle in a more prominent position on the road (which might well annoy uneducated motorists), but otherwise work for a society where the responsibility for seeing goes back to where it should always have been – with the person looking, not the person being seen. This is exactly what all the “road safety” lobby, with its pushing for hi-viz, works against.
2. “…always wear a correctly fitted cycle helmet”. If you want to see why there is no evidence for cycle helmet wearing reducing chances of being hurt or killed, look here . But you probably don’t. Particularly if you are a member of the “road safety” community.
3. “Always use lights at night”. Er, yes, but why do you have to make this point? Most cycling in South Yorkshire right now will not be at night. Bicycle light use doesn’t seem to have much relationship to whether you get hurt or killed on a bike . This is just another example of one of the numerous things which cyclists should be doing (all road users have numerous things they shoudl be doing), so you just chuck it into the list without evidence of its importance as a real factor in a significant proportion of incidents leading to cyclist casualties. Which is what “road safety” does all too often.
4. “Jumping red lights is illegal and puts you in danger”. Illegal you say? Are South Yorkshire Police going to be enforcing the law on speeding apart from at some well publicised sites where the right number of casualties have been reported? And isn’t the real problem that pedestrians might be put in danger? No, that means looking at the danger you pose to others, and you would have to go after drivers.
5. “Use cycle lanes and bus lanes where possible”.
(a) Cycle lanes. Now, there’s a bit of history with “cycle lanes”: not least the victory for the CTC in defending a cyclist who correctly refused to use one when ti was not to his safety advantage Hopefully any such lanes we find in South Yorkshire will be to the highest standard of design and implementation – in which case cyclists are going to use them anyway. What is interesting is that when the cyclist rides in the way taught in National Standards (“Bikeability”) training, as the one in the illustration appears to be doing, he will be riding close to the edge of the Advisory Cycle Lane. Unfortunately, the evidence is that many drivers seem to feel that it is all right to drive right up to the edge of such lanes.…
(b) Bus lanes. If there is a bus lane you’re highly unlikely not to use it. Unless you have been terrified by what we might euphemistically call “inappropriate” behaviour by bus drivers. (See examples of this at the end of this post). Or unless you’re going right and the bus lane is by the nearside kerb – in which case using the bus lane is the most dangerous thing you can do. (This applies even more to kerbside cycle lanes).
But most of all, we need to note the reason for inclusion of this “road safety tip”. It seems to be based on the patronising assumption that the Highway Authority has “done something” for this deviant group of people, and that they need to repay the special favour supposedly done for them. This attitude definitely exists and is hardly likely to help people view cycling as a normal activity. We think it needs serious critical examination, (a brief example is here)
6. “Undertaking long vehicles is dangerous. They may not see you if they are turning left”. RDRF has been involved in cycle training programmes which get this message across for 15 years, but it might still be worth pointing out that:
(a) However well trained you are, we all make mistakes – after all, “road safety” highway and vehicle engineering is based on the idea that drivers are going to get things wrong as a matter of course. Hence the “forgiving” environments of cars (seat belts, roll bars, collapsible steering wheels etc.) and roads (felled roadside trees, crash barriers, anti-skid etc.) to accommodate the careless and rule-breaking driver. How about some engineering of lorries and the highway environment to accommodate cyclists who may not always be doing the right thing?
(b) Er, it’s not the object; it’s the person in charge of it that “may not see you”.
(c) Actually, it appears that a large proportion – if not the majority – of incidents where HGVs end up crushing cyclists involve the cyclist being hit from behind or by an overtaking lorry. What are SYRSP doing about this?
(d) And a properly equipped HGV should have the tools (such as infra-red sensors) to make it easier for the lorry driver to see the cyclist in the first place. Are SYRSP doing anything on this?
The nice lady in the SYRSP facebook page, or other members of the SYRSP, may not understand what I am talking about. They may well mean well: But most of the people who endanger others on the road are not necessarily bad people, they just happen to do bad things.
And that’s what I think SYRSP are doing – bad things. I actually got the point about the introductory comment wrong*, as SYRSP do have “advice” for drivers, prefaced by:” We all enjoy the freedom of driving and being able to travel in our vehicles, but we must also take responsibility for our actions and follow the laws of the road”. But actually, drivers DON’T have to take responsibility; otherwise there wouldn’t be the mass law- and rule-breaking which make the roads more hazardous for other road users – including other motor vehicle occupants – than they should be.
None of this means that cyclists have no responsibilities – although anything which might empower cyclists with good quality confidence training doesn’t get highlighted by SYRSP. What it means is that, whatever pedestrians and cyclists do, they will be at the mercy of road danger coming from the motorised, while the converse is not true. It is a simple matter of natural justice, equity and civilised values, to emphasise that the priority for real road safety is to reduce road danger at source by making those responsible for it – be they highway engineers, vehicle engineers, police officers or drivers themselves – accountable.
That is not happening in South Yorkshire, and people who want a civilised approach to safety on the road will point out what’s wrong with the road safety lobby until it does.
Developing a culture which opposes endangering others on the road – the core element of road danger reduction – will need the appropriate responses from the police to such behaviour. We are concerned that while claims are made about a “cycle safety crackdown” in London, in reality there was no real “blitz” on unsafe driving , and that fair traffic policing
is still not on the agenda. The cases below are mainly in London and concern cyclist safety, as this is the area that has a current high profile: but other cases are given, chosen just by what has presented itself to me recently:
About 8% of all cyclist Killed and Seriously Injured (KSI) casualties in London involve car doors opening on cyclists and either hitting them or forcing them into a collision (see TfL’s Cycle Safety Action Plan (p.16) . The RDRF has been instrumental in developing cycle training programmes which show cyclists how to ride outside the “door-zone” (often to the chagrin of some drivers) , and some separation is achieved by some good quality cycle facilities on main roads, but the fact remains that cyclists will often be close to car doors, and sometimes have to be.
Rule 239 of the Highway Code includes: you MUST ensure you do not hit anyone when you open your door. Check for cyclists or other traffic.
He “has lost his faith in the Met’s ability to police our roads fairly” Read his story – it s worth reading in detail – here:
He is a well-known figure in the London cycle trade. Last October he was doored in an incident which left him with a broken vertebra, broken collar bone, broken rib and punctured lung. The driver confessed to having not checked his mirrors when a police officer attended – the incident happened to occur outside * Police Station in North London – but there have been no charges against him.
2. Jake Thompson
Jake Thompson was a teacher killed on a pedestrian crossing when hit by a lorry whose driver escaped conviction after police investigation errors, including failing to interview the driver for four months after the collision. This case, including the findings of the independent inquiry fought for by Jake’s parents, is described in the Western Daily Press, Northern Echo, Bristol Post and Durham Times .
As our friend Kate Cairns (sister of Eilidh Cairns) says: “A catalogue of errors” – the same phrase eventually used (verbally and unofficially) to me. How many other cases have suffered the same? And are still doing so?
This is in the most serious case of a road death (only revealed after the persistence of action by Jake’s parents): no wonder there are questions about policing of incidents with less serious consequences, let alone rule- or law-breaking behaviour.
3. John Bowman
John is a transport planner working in west London. In this case no offence has occurred; it is, however, revealing of police attitudes at a time when a “crackdown” is supposed to be happening:
“I was cycling eastbound along Uxbridge Road in between Church Road, Hanwell and Eccleston Road, West Ealing when I was hooted at by a police van.
When I waved my arms to enquire what the hoot was for I was asked to pull over. I immediately pulled over and the officer asked me why I wasn’t wearing high visibility clothing: I explained that it wasn’t a legal requirement and they said that it was in my interests.
I asked why they had hooted at me and they responded saying I was cycling in the middle of the road. I explained to them that there was van parked on the road which resulted me in needing to be in the middle of the lane and that there was a bus in front of me which was about to stop at a bus stop some metres ahead. The police refused to acknowledge there was any bus even though a few seconds before they hooted at me, traffic came to a standstill including the police van, when the bus had to wait for oncoming traffic in order to pass the van parked on side of the road.
They insisted that I either use the cycle lane, a cycle lane which had pondings at a number of points and in which the ground is uneven pretty much along the length of it, with one officer stating that I should at least be close to the cycle lane. They also stated that I was causing delay to drivers, I questioned this reasoning as I had been delayed just seconds before by the bus in front of me needing to overtake the parked van and that cyclists on average go quicker than cars on this stretch ( I also pointed out to them that I first noticed the police van at the junction of Uxbridge Road with Dormers Wells Lane a distance of about 1 mile and I had caught up and overtaken the van in that time.)
I was doing nothing illegal and I get frustrated by car drivers hooting at me for doing nothing illegal. By having police vehicles hooting at me for doing nothing illegal gives out the wrong message to other drivers.”
RDRF Committee member Colin McKenzie suggests the following ten points that MPS officers should be trained to be aware of:
- Cyclists are not required to wear hi-vis, and there’s no evidence that doing so makes them safer
– Cyclists are not required to wear helmets, and there’s no evidence that doing so makes them safer
– Cyclists are not required to ride in the gutter, and there’s evidence that doing so makes them less safe
– Cyclists are allowed to ride on the carriageway of all roads in London except motorways
– Cyclists are not required to “get out of the way” of motor vehicles
– HGVs pose special danger, and cyclists should be discouraged from passing them on the left
– Cyclists need to use their positioning to ensure that they can be seen easily
– Cyclists should look behind frequently
– Cyclists are not required to use cycle facilities, and there is no evidence that doing so makes them safer
– No sticker on the back of any motor vehicle overrides drivers’ responsibility not to move into road space that is already occupied.
4. An incident in Chorleywood.
It is unusual, even for a transport practitioner with a special interest in safety, to witness a Road Traffic Incident from start to finish. Last autumn I witnessed someone driving with obvious uncertainty towards a junction to make right turn. Despite the obvious appearance of a cyclist approaching – and shouting a warning – she turned into his path and caused a collision, leaving him with, thankfully minor, injuries.
Eben with clear evidence, no charge was brought, and the elderly lady driver was simply required to take a “driver awareness” lesson.
There is substantial debate about the value of “speed awareness” and “driver awareness” courses. Suffice it to say that in this case, even with the cost of the course borne by the driver, this is likely to be less than the cost of increased insurance following penalty points from a careless driving conviction and the (small) fine. And this is for learning what a motorist is required to know in the first place, after an innocent third party has been injured…
These cases have not been scientifically selected. If details of one day’s collisions or near misses in just one area of the UK, and the police (lack of) response to them were recorded, the picture would be far more forceful. I do, however, think it worthwhile recording these instances to give a snapshot which I’m afraid is indicative of how far we have to go to get civilised road traffic policing in this country.
Transport for London (TfL) has today taken its behaviour over the “Cyclists stay back” stickers farce to a new low. We believe it has shown contempt for the main cycling and danger reduction organisations who have tried to get it take a rational approach to this issue:Background
Stickers were issued by TfL in mid-2014, following consultation with cycling groups, for positioning on lorries where there are particular problems with drivers having difficulty in seeing cyclists on their near sides. The wording was somewhat contentious, and more importantly, they were never intended for use on other types of vehicle. Despite this, they found their way on to buses, vans, cars and even taxis.
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), the Road Danger Reduction Forum (RDRF) and the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) wrote to TfL requesting withdrawal of the stickers from the wrong kinds of vehicle, and better wording on stickers where their use may be justified (HGVs and maybe buses and coaches).
After some months TfL gave a rather confused response – it appeared to be unaware that we were concerned primarily with the behaviour of drivers of vehicles other than lorries – to which we had to reply.
1. Transport for London have not responded to our organisations – but have issued statements to the transport professionals’ fortnightly Local Transport Today published today (30th May) The text is here:Removing cycle safety stickers too tricky – TfL
Transport for London has no intention of asking firms in London to remove ‘Cyclists stay back’ stickers from their vehicles.
Cycling and road safety groups have criticised the stickers, saying the wording of the message is unsuitable because it implies cyclists are “second-class road users” (LTT 16 May). They are particularly unhappy that the stickers have appeared not only on HGVs – which can trap cyclists on their nearside when turning left – but on buses and vans as well.
But a Transport for London spokeswoman told LTT it would take a “substantial amount of time and money to remove the existing stickers from circulation, effort that would otherwise be devoted to improving the safety of vulnerable road users”. On the concern that stickers now appear on vans, buses and HGVs, she said: “It would be incredibly resource-intensive to differentiate between and enforce the distribution of stickers for different vehicle types.”
Ben Plowden, TfL’s director of surface strategy and planning, said: “We are not aware of any evidence that suggests the design of these stickers is reducing their effectiveness in promoting safer behaviour among van, lorry drivers or cyclists. We are always open to suggestions about how we can improve safety and we will look at whether the design of future stickers should be changed to further improve their value.”
National Express is to fit stickers for cyclists to its coach fleet. The stickers, designed with Sustrans, state: ‘Caution: blind spots, please take care’.
2. The whole issue of driver responsibility towards road users on the nearside of their vehicles is not addressed. As Roger Geffen of the CTC says:
“TfL says it knows of no evidence that these stickers are changing drivers’ behaviour, but that’s only because nobody has looked for the evidence. However an inquest has been told that a deceased cyclist had failed to observe a “cyclists stay back” sticker, as if that somehow meant they were at fault. We also know of a case where a cyclist, who had been cut up and abused by a left-turning lorry driver, phoned up the company’s “How’s my driving” reporting line, only to be told that he was in the wrong because the lorry had a “cyclists stay back” sticker. If that’s how these stickers are affecting people’s attitudes, it seems pretty obvious that they will worsen people’s behaviour too.
It is ironic that Transport for London is working hard alongside CTC and others in pressing the Government to give cyclists greater priority and safety at junctions. Yet these stickers are clearly giving drivers the impression that it’s up to cyclists themselves to stay out of harm’s way. Instead of denying that there’s a problem, TfL really needs to act before these stickers cause yet more deaths and injuries to cyclists because of drivers turning left without looking properly.”
Even before considering new segregated cycle tracks – where drivers need to expect cyclists on their nearside at junctions, TfL’s own Cycle Safety Action Plan has for some years shown that not looking for cyclists on the nearside is a form of driver rule-breaking implicated in a significant proportion of collisions involving cyclists.
3. The idea that “It would be incredibly resource-intensive to differentiate between and enforce the distribution of stickers for different vehicle types” is insulting to the intelligence:
This is a car:
This is a van:
All TfL has to do through its Freight Operators Recognition Scheme is instruct its members to remove the stickers from vehicle types for which they are not intended. Explaining why this should be done would involve minimal resources and be a valuable part of education about road user responsibility.
These stickers have been around for nearly a year now. It is unacceptable that TfL is resorting to delaying tactics rather than admitting it made a mistake and taking action to correct it.
Yesterday Mayor Johnson announced a reprise of last winter’s “Operation Safeway” with claims that this policing programme will increase cyclist safety. We are very much in favour of law enforcement as a crucial element in reducing danger for cyclists and other road users – but we doubt that the “mini- Operation Safeways” announced will be it. Unless the lessons from Operation Safeway are learned – and there is no sign that they have been – TfL and MPS will continue to fail Londoners with the provision of non-discriminatory and effective law enforcement. Here’s why:The evidence on the effect of Operation Safeway: the first two months
Operation Safeway kicked off as a result of the spate of six cyclist deaths in autumn 2013. As we said http://rdrf.org.uk/2013/11/29/is-there-a-police-blitz-on-unsafe-driving-in-london/
the Mayor’s Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, was quite correct in pointing out that this concentration of half the annual toll of London cyclist deaths into two weeks was highly unusual – but not an indicator that the death rate was increasing. It wasn’t.
“In the first half of 2013, only three cyclists died in London – one every two months. In the recent spate, it was every two days. Are these same streets 30 times more dangerous than just a few months ago?”
Unfortunately, Gilligan has since played the game he correctly criticises in assessing Operation Safeway. Earlier this year he said: “This operation has been hugely valuable … In the last eight weeks we have not seen one cyclist killed on London’s roads and dangerous behaviour has clearly dropped”.But it is quite expected that no cyclists are killed in two winter months. And where was the evidence that “dangerous behaviour has clearly dropped”?The evidence on the effect of Operation Safeway: the picture now
The figures quoted by the Mayor, TfL and Gilligan yesterday are interesting. Essentially they point to a reduction in cyclist KSIs per journey in 2013. But:
(a) The 2013 reduction over 2012 cannot be due to Operation Safeway, which would only effect the last month of the year. Mayor Johnson claims of an effect due to “great work done by the police” are unfounded.
(b) Do we have good figures on the numbers of cyclist journeys taken in 2013 yet? It might be the case that there was a reduction in cyclist journeys in 2013, affected by a reduction the early months associated with the unusually cold weather in early 2013.
Both these points have been made clearly by our colleague Charlie Lloyd of the LCC.The longer term evidence
Gilligan refers to a trend of reduced cyclist KSIs per cyclist journey in London over the last decade. We think he is right to point this out. He is also correct to point out that this has occurred simply due to the greater physical presence of cyclists, – an effect of adaptive behaviour (risk compensation) by motorists, sometimes referred to as “Safety in Numbers”.
(a) This is a long term trend starting from the increase in cycling from the beginning fo the century – it is not something which explains an alleged decline in KSI rate in 2013. You cannot seize on a figure for one year, even if it is correct. One year’s data done not indicate a trend.
(b) Gilligan refers to the very high cyclist death rate in 1989. As a somewhat long in the tooth transport professional I recall when the late John Devenport of the then London Accident Analysis Unit was required to analyse this particularly large figure. It was very high figure – which went down in the years immediately afterwards. Avoid cherry picking figures…
(c) There are other reasons for casualties of all types going down – such as a tendency towards lower levels of societal risk taking associated with an economic downturn.
(d) Advocates of highlighting the effects of risk compensation (behavioural adaptation) such as ourselves do NOT suggest that increasing the numbers of people cycling is enough for cyclist safety. We require a change in culture which supports reduction in danger at source – from motor vehicular traffic – for the benefit of the safety of all road users. That has not happened in London.
(e) Advocates of highlighting the effects of risk compensation (behavioural adaptation) such as ourselves are pointing out the effects of spontaneous behavioural change. Beneficial changes have not been due to official “road safety” efforts: whether publicity campaigns, highway engineering (of which little for cyclists’ benefit has occurred), or indeed the limited policing which has happened.
(f) For Gilligan: “The presence of mass cycling on London’s roads has changed drivers’ behaviour.” That risk compensation ‘/ behavioral adaptation effect we think is true to some extent – but while there has been a significant increase in inner London (and not really “mass cycling” in a European sense – it has not happened in outer London. This could be one of the reasons why there is a differential between outer and inner London cyclist KSIs after Operation Safeway.
To repeat, we are supporters of law enforcement programmes. But they have to be based on the right evidence and the right objectives. We do not think that Operation Safeway was indeed a “blitz” on unsafe driving. We do not think that there was a thorough programme of “getting dangerous drivers off the road”. As our next post shows, we think it was ill-informed and discriminatory.
We think that a very good and clear programme of what the MPS and TfL should do has been laid out by the London Cycling Campaign here , and we have suggested what we think should be happening here : real road safety, for the safety of cyclists and all road users.
My latest contribution to a continuing debate in Local Transport Today (see my last letter) comes in response to letters from two (I think) extreme advocates of motorisation in issue 646 here*:
My response is in issue 647 as published below:The Oxford English Dictionary definition of “fanatic” refers to “excessive and mistaken enthusiasm”. I believe it is accurate to use this word to describe the adherents of the car culture dominating the thoughts and actions of the politicians and civil servants dominating transport policy, as I did in my first letter (LTT 643). I don’t think it is in the least discourteous to describe Mr. Peat, and now Mr. Francis (LTT 646), as being on the extreme wing of this belief system.
Mr. Peat’s argument seems to be that there is a lot of car use in contemporary society, and that therefore that it must be necessary and good. We can, however, live in a less car dependent society and should aspire to do so in order to mitigate the numerous adverse effects of mass car use I referred to. The history of post-war transport in many European conurbations is often one of resisting the temptation to rip out traditional city centres and insert new roads and facilities for car use, going for walking, cycling and public transport instead. All this happens in fairly conventional capitalist, consumerist 20th and now 21st century societies on the same continent as us.
The precise mechanisms for reducing car dependence should actually be up to motorists and their organisations as part of accepting responsibility for their activities, but here are a few suggestions:
1. Enforcing existing road traffic law. Mr. Francis thinks that there is no exemption from the law for drivers. If some 40 – 50% of drivers break the law on speed with impunity in almost all cases, generally ONLY with the exception of enforcement at well-advertised sites, then they are indeed effectively exempt from the law. Just consider enforcing laws on speed, and the extreme cases of illegal behaviour: driving under the influence of drink or drugs, when blind, demented or simply unregistered. There is a problem here in that most offences are committed by the mainstream of typical motorists, which needs to be taken into account with any regime of enforcement focusing on the very worst. But the point is that some motor vehicle use (5%? 10%?) would be reduced by rudimentary enforcement of road traffic law. Then there are simple attempts at a civilised approach to traffic law, such as John Dales suggestion of re-taking “the test” from time to time (Street Talk, LTT 04 Apr), and the current debate on driver liability in civil law in collisions with pedestrians and cyclists to bring us into line with European and other societies (‘Accident liability debated’, LTT 02 May)
2. Re-allocating road space to non-motorised modes and public transport. From filtered permeability and gyratory removal through to basic traffic management techniques, these methods are on the agenda in London and elsewhere in the UK.
3. Paying a reasonable amount. Even conventional cost-benefit analyses – normally used to perpetuate the status quo – indicate substantial underpayment with regard to what economists call the external costs of motoring. Basic costs of living have risen over the last few years, with the costs of housing having risen dramatically over the last few decades – yet the costs of motoring have stayed the same or declined since New Labour came to power in 1997. Increasing fuel prices will be necessary anyway to encourage more fuel efficient cars as well as to avoid losing (inadequate) revenue from motoring.
These measures are justified anyway as part of living in a more civilised society, but would have the effect of reducing car use and dependence. This does not mean that there should be no cars about anywhere; it just means we are aware of the problems associated with mass car use and try to address them.
A key problem as shown by Peat and Francis is that the slightest questioning of motorist privilege leads to a panic stricken assumption that nobody will ever be allowed to drive a car ever again: For Mr. Peat “What are the alternatives? A society based on man-power? Or maybe the horse?” They really do need to stop equating their basic identity with the “right” to drive wherever and however they may want – while identifying themselves as an oppressed minority deserving of special treatment, subsidy and exemption from the law.
Dr Robert Davis, Chair, Road Danger Reduction Forum
* As stated before, rather than read my scans, the best thing is to subscribe to Local Transport Today in print or online.
Regrettably, Transport for London’s draft Pedestrian Safety Action Plan (PSAP)
fails from the start. Despite a rough attempt to consider what is meant by the term “pedestrian risk”, it is not clear about what it thinks pedestrian safety is. Having a well formulated set of approaches to the problem – which it doesn’t seem to have anyway – is not really going to be possible if we can’t be certain what the problem is in the first place.
Consultation on the draft finishes on May 9th. Below are our basic objections.What is pedestrian safety and how do we measure it? 1. The casualty rate question
The basic problem with the draft PSAP is that it has not properly articulated what is meant by pedestrian risk. This involves some way of measuring it, so that we can see whether its level has increased or decreased. The questions involved in doing this are set out here – although the focus is specifically on cyclists’ safety in this article, the issues are the same for pedestrians.
Traditional “road safety” measures the problem for pedestrians as the aggregate number of pedestrians reported as “Killed and Seriously Injured” (KSI) – irrespective of the number of walking journeys, time spent walking, or distance covered by foot. This allows the “road safety” lobby to claim success when overall casualties go down, even if the casualty rate (per distance, journey walked or time spent walking) stays the same or goes up.
To be fair, TfL now do refer to measures of exposure. It is worth quoting this in full:
“This puts understanding risk at the heart of road safety assessment, to target resources where they will be most effective. By looking at KSI casualty figures alongside other data, such as trips, population, journeys and time and distance travelled, we can gain a greater understanding of the risk posed to different road users. This allows us to focus on improving pedestrian safety for those at highest risk, to better identify interventions and focus resources in order to gain the greatest improvements to pedestrian safety.
The risk analysis was undertaken by combining collision and casualty data from
STATS193 with detailed journey data from the London Travel Demand Survey
(LTDS). LTDS is a rolling sample survey of travel by households in London, with an
annual sample size of 8,000 households. It provides accurate quantitative data representative of the diversity of both people and places in London that, over time,
builds up to provide a comprehensive and detailed picture of the travel behaviour of
This allows a full and robust profiling of the nature of trips by Londoners – where and
when they travel, by which methods of transport, which combinations of modes… “(PSAP p.9.)
Having said this, the claim to being “robust” is unwarranted. For example, a good way of assessing changes in casualty rate is to look at the data at specific locations which have been re-engineered (“treated”) with pedestrian safety in mind. It should now be easy to measure pedestrian flows in detail at such locations, as well as considering other factors, such as whether there has been additional ease in crossing without having to worry about particular sources of danger, e.g. with increased crossing times at signalled junctions. Instead, the depiction of casualty rates is much cruder, as this heat map (Figure 4) shows. By depicting pedestrian KSIs per billion kilometres walked per Borough, are we actually learning anything?
We would, for example, expect pedestrian casualties to be more serious in areas where motor vehicle speeds are higher, which could be why the rate is higher in at least some of the Outer London Boroughs, where there are roads with higher vehicle speeds than in Inner London. But walking trips may well be made on roads in town centres with congested conditions where vehicles are travelling slower and both drivers and pedestrians watching out more: maybe, for example, there are more of these kinds of trip being walked in Bromley than in neighbouring Bexley, accounting for the distance. We can’t really tell.
But even if we do have a more accurate account of pedestrian casualty rates, it is still not clear if TfL actually want to break out of the traditional “road safety” paradigm. So we see that a central aim is:
“A significant reduction in the number of pedestrians killed and seriously injured is central…”p.7
…which can be achieved by having fewer pedestrian trips, particularly those made by elderly or disabled people, who are most likely to become KSIs in collisions because of greater frailty.
Now, TfL do say:
“The challenge is to meet the demands of more walking and simultaneously reduce
the total number of pedestrians that are involved in collisions when using our streets”.p.6
But which is more important? If the number of walking journeys doubled, and the total number of pedestrian KSIs stay the same, or increase by, say, 20%, we could say that the chances of being hurt or killed on a given journey appear to have dramatically decreased. Most of us walking about would think that a step forward (pun intended). But would TfL?
2. More danger can lead to fewer casualties
The Road Danger Reduction Forum and our predecessors have spent years pointing out that locations where motor vehicles pose particularly high levels of danger to people walking and cycling can lead to people being less likely to cycle, walk (or allow their children to walk or cycle there). This leads to low numbers of cyclist/pedestrian casualties: this is traditionally an indicator for the “road safety” lobby of less of a safety problem when in fact there is more danger.
Now, TfL do say:
“Roads that are perceived to be busy and unsafe may deter people from making a journey on foot.” P.12
There are other issues – these locations may be deterring walking because of noise pollution, the visual intrusion of motor traffic and noxious emissions. However, there is danger and it is often not just a “perception”, these roads – or to be more precise, the use or abuse of the motor vehicles on them – are indeed particularly unsafe.
“A high number of pedestrian collisions at a particular location may indicate that there is a specific problem that needs adressing to improve safety” p.13
But a low number may indicate a particular problem. No recognition of that.
There is a question as to how we might measure the levels of danger posed at such locations, although, as Basil Fawlty might have said, it is often “bleedin’ obvious”. But are TfL actually attempting to do this? As far as I can see, the only measures being used in “Extensive data analysis… (to)… identify the places where pedestrians are at greatest risk in London ” p.3. are still KSI based, rather than on actual danger.3. Different groups
Newcomers to the world of road safety statistics may be interested by items such as Figure 3. Risk path showing pedestrian risk and KSI numbers by age group which shows that 20 – 29 year olds are the age group with the highest number of KSIs, yet a risk per distance walked about one-third of the 75+ group, who have about half as many KSIs as the 20 -0 29 year olds. The explanation is that 20 -29 year olds are far more likely to be walking (more KSIs), while the 75+ group are far more frail and likely to be reported as KSI when they are hit.
The thing is: so what? How exactly does this help us in an attempt to do what we should be doing? Allegedly this is about targeting scarce resources. Actually what it is likely to mean is the production of publicity initiatives aimed at these different groups which is at best ineffective and at worst victim-blaming – and which may only “work” by scaring the “targets” away, such as in a recent TfL campaign.What are we actually going to do about it?
All the above relates to the central point of what we are all supposed to do to achieve pedestrian safety – even if we know how to define what it is, which so far is up for debate. (Again, consider the discussion about the aims of achieving safety in a civilised society here http://rdrf.org.uk/2013/11/15/if-we-want-safer-roads-for-cycling-we-have-to-change-how-we-measure-road-safety/ ).1. An example: Speed
“…the significant majority of collisions took place on roads with a 30mph limit. Almost half of the vehicles involved were exceeding the limit, and where the limit was exceeded, this was sometimes by very substantial margins”. PSAP p.16. There is discussion in PSAP about further introduction of 20 mph (but not about how to achieve compliance with 20 mph in these areas) and some about replacing defective speed cameras. None of the discussion mentions that speed cameras are only located where a threshold of incidents has been recorded – again, focussing on the collisions rather than the background danger. Nor that a substantial proportion of those found on speed cameras are not prosecuted because their vehicles are unregistered.
None of this augurs well for an effective speed control strategy.2. Not just pedestrians.
What this leads on to is how addressing speed issues for pedestrians (and the issue of unregistered drivers, and not just because they can avoid speed camera detection) would be of benefit for the safety of all road users. The problem is that a “road safety” analysis of the PSAP type, by being victim based, tends to divert attention away from danger reduction – from reducing danger at source, namely from the (often inappropriate, rule or law breaking) use of motor vehicles. Even without a degree of victim-blaming, it simply misses out on what would be desirable for all road users.3. What “works”.
A crucial issue is that the “road safety” approach does not recognise that many reductions in road collision casualties have occurred because of changes in general levels of risk taking in society, changes in the quality of medical care, or other factors which have nothing to do with “road safety” initiatives – as well as the declines in walking and cycling mentioned above.
But ultimately the issue of deciding what programme to pursue depends on what we are trying to achieve – we won’t know whether something has worked or not until we agree on this. So far this is not clear in PSAP.
We humbly suggest that an approach based on a more rational discussion of what safety on the road is, and the commitment towards reducing danger at source as the civilised way of achieving it, is the way forward.
In February 2014 the Road Danger Reduction Forum, along with the London Cycling Campaign; CTC: the national cycling charity; RoadPeace: the national charity for road crash victims; and TABS: the Association of Bikeability Schemes came together to explain our concerns to, and ask for action from, Transport for London. Last week we received a reply from TfL (see below). Because we think that this reply misunderstood the basis of our concerns, our organisations sent a reply today repeating them and suggesting ways forward, as follows:
and here is the TfL response we are replying to:
The RDRF view is that a sensible initiative – the warning to cyclists to avoid overtaking and being the nearside of lorries about to move or turn left – has been mishandled in the ways the organisations above have described. Hopefully TfL will listen to these concerns now. As important, we hope TfL will consult with its partners and stakeholders who have a concern with danger reduction and think properly through future schemes.
In response to my letter in Local Tansport Today 643 , LTT published a letter (issue 644) from a particularly extreme motoring advocate. I politely responded as follows: “I am not sure that there is any possibility of meaningful, reasoned, debate with the more extreme car fanatics such as Mr Peat (Road Danger Reduction Forum can’t accept car-based reality, LTT 4 April), but he does question me and I was brought up to be courteous, so here’s a try.
“Nothing operates without the private car now”. Oh dear. To take an example, London has about two thirds of its journeys not by private car. It is quite possible to have a functioning society with far more use of the non-car modes. In fact, the history of post-war transport in many European conurbations is often one of resisting the temptation to rip out traditional city centres and insert new roads and facilities for car use, going for walking, cycling and public transport instead. All this happens in fairly conventional capitalist, consumerist 20th and now 21st century societies on the same continent as us.
This does not mean that there should be no cars about anywhere; it just means we are aware of the problems associated with mass car use that I referred to in my letter, and try to address them. It is an interesting feature of car fanaticism that the slightest questioning of motorist privilege leads to a panic stricken assumption that nobody will ever be allowed to drive a car ever again. The fanatics really do need to stop equating their basic identity with the “right” to drive wherever and however they may want – while identifying themselves as an oppressed minority deserving of special treatment, subsidy and exemption from the law.
Similarly: “...how can roads carrying large, essential, fast-moving machinery ever be safe places to be?”. Oh dear, again. Never mind the “essential” – exactly who decides what is “essential”, and to whom? – again there are plenty of possibilities for increasing safety shown both here and abroad. It may surprise the extremists, but plenty of normal motorists are actually prepared to obey speed limits and – wait for it – as in large areas of Europe, actually have lower ones. Watching out for other road users and accepting your responsibilities towards them is often accepted by many motorists as a basic duty for them, although you may have to go other countries to see this manifested to a reasonable extent.
The issue is reducing danger (there will always be some) and making those responsible for it – whether individual drivers, or highway or vehicle engineers – accountable. To many of us that seems to be natural justice and a requirement of a civilised society, quite apart from addressing issues of noxious and greenhouse gas emissions, local environmental damage, loss of local community, the health disbenefits of driving etc.
Dr Robert Davis, Chair, Road Danger Reduction Forum
(NOTE: Writers of letters don’t choose the bylines they are given: although in this case it seems to be appropriate: RD)
We have discussed this giveaway before, but it appears that we underestimated the extent of this additional subsidy to motoring. What makes it worse is the justification for this policy given by the Treasury (and HMRC) this week: “Analysis of the dynamic effects of fuel duty reductions”
This policy has been appalling for the prospects of sustainable transport in Britain. I list problems with the report below:1. The justification is politically motivated, ideological, drivel.
I urge you to read Simon Jenkins (despite him being something of a petrolhead he does make some useful comments from time to time) in full, and present the main comments here:
“ On Monday, Osborne issued a revelatory document. It purported to show the success of his 2010 freeze on the fuel tax escalator, a device to raise the tax on petrol each year by inflation plus 1p per litre. The aim was to avoid the political unpopularity of raising it in each budget. Osborne reversed this objective and courted popularity by abolishing the escalator altogether. The cost over five years has been a staggering £22bn. He likewise began to reduce corporation tax from 28% to 21%. From an austere chancellor such giveaways to drivers and corporations were reckless.
Osborne now tries to rebut the charge by claiming his Treasury witches have stirred eye of newt and toe of frog – “behavioural economics and detailed modelling” – in the pot to prove the giveaways so boosted private spending that they earned enough in VAT and income tax to make up half the lost revenue. That gets back £11bn. This would give the economy a boost of up to 0.5% of GDP. These figures do not add up. They suggest that cutting petrol duty was indeed a big giveaway.”
Of course, “ Analysis of the dynamic effects of fuel duty reductions” states that “The model has been peer-reviewed by leading academics in the relevant field, who found that ‘The basic design of the HMRC model for the UK economy meets at large the key requirements for state-of-the-art applied tax policy analysis’. Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? There is a central question raised that this kind of modelling, whether on fuel duty or corporation tax: is it not ideological and unscientific, produced by a political view on who should pay taxes and receive subsidy?
So let’s get detailed:
2. The language
“The Government will have eased the burden (my emphasis) on motorists by £22.5 billion over this Parliament to 2015-16. “. We have commented before on the language used to portray motorists as victims . In fact, the costs of motoring have often declined over the last couple of decades (depending on which time scale is being looked at),. Certainly, in comparison to other costs recently – such as in more important areas like housing – motorists have had it easy3. It is a hand-out from Government, not money back to it.
As Jenkins argues above, for all the waffle about (alleged) GDP increases due to “easing the burden on motorists”, this move is a hand-out, because there is a net loss to the Exchequer.
4. It impedes the prospects for more fuel-efficient motoring.
For all the discussion about elasticity, the report fails to consider how long-term increases in the cost of fuel could lead to more careful and more fuel-efficient driving techniques. More importantly, it misses out entirely on the question of the new generation (either already on the market or in prototype) of cars which are two or more times as fuel efficient as typical cars now. In fact, fuel prices would have to double in order to maintain current levels of revenue to the Exchequer and not make motoring even cheaper, were such cars to become the norm.
5. The “externalities” question.
When considering Cost-Benefit analysis, there is as serious moral concern about putting monetary values on the adverse effects of motorisation. How do you put a price on the loss of children’s independent mobility, disappearance of a much loved local environment, or any of the other myriad forms of damage caused by mass car use?
But since economists like doing this kind of thing, let’s look at what they call “externalities”.
6. When you do cost external costs.
In November 2009, the four relevant Government Departments (Health, Transport, Environment, Communities and Local Government) and the Cabinet Office published “ The wider costs of transport in English urban areas in 2009” The graph below indicates the supposed external costs of motring in urban areas.
All this indicates that motorists were already being subsidised – even before the Osborne “burden easing” . And that is assuming these costs can easily be monetised. Fore xample, if climate change threatens thew rold economy, the imperative is for a Government to make a genuine commitment to reducing emissions which will be convincing in the international processes required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If you sabotage the prospects of presenting a genuine commitment by proceeding in the opposite direction on motor transport emissions, then the costs are likely to be a lot more than “£1.2 – 3.7 billion per year”.
7. The Treasury model and externalities.
“Analysis of the dynamic effects of fuel duty reductions” says:
Goods which when consumed impose costs on others (“negative externalities”) are over-consumed because households and firms fail to take these effects fully into account, since these costs are not reflected in the market price. Congestion and air pollution as a result of vehicle use are both examples of negative externalities. Taxes can be used to correct for these externalities by increasing the market price to reflect the cost of the damage caused by them. “
Fuel duty plays an important role in supporting sustainable public finances and internalising the externalities associated with road transport, in particular greenhouse gas emissions. “
But: “ There are studies that consider the effect of fuel duties on externalities. The CGE modelling presented below is not intended to capture the impact of a reduction in fuel duty through externalities “
So apart from a reference to congestion, which is not expected to be affected by the giveaway, forget the external costs.
So much for “Analysis of the dynamic effects of fuel duty reductions” The policy it underpins is a disaster for the possibilities of sustainable transport. Public transport suffers by comparison, and despite the nominal commitment towards cycling, the necessary type of amount of money required (a good £600 million to kick off with) – trivial by comparison to.
It is therefore fascinating how nobody is saying much about it. While small bodies like Sustrans and the Campaign for Better Transport make objections, the supposed Parliamentary opposition is silent. (Of course, I may have missed some objections, but then they must have been pretty quiet ones). the £4.5 billion annually in the giveaway, let alone other subsidy – is absent.
(Thanks to Richard Hebditch for reminder of the 2009 report)
Below is the text of a letter published in Local Transport Today 644 in response to a long letter from Professor Oliver Carsten in the previous issue showing how the UK’s “road safety record” is presented in an undeservedly “sunny” light. I state that the way he points this out is welcome, but needs to go a lot further…Oliver Carsten’s demolition of “our” “road safety performance” (Letters, LTT 643) is a welcome first step by a senior academic to catch up with what the Road Danger Reduction (RDR) movement has been saying for decades. But stating the very obvious should be just that only – a first step.
Carsten makes the obvious point that some people (the “vulnerable road users”, so called because – like most travelers on the planet – they happen to be outside motor vehicles) are more prone to being hurt when collisions occur. He could have included elderly people and then children, but let’s go one small step at a time.
So let’s suggest some further steps for Professor Carsten and others who may be interested in a civilised approach to the subject to consider in a civilised assessment of safety on the road.
The basic strategy is to get the language right: do try and speak English and not “roadsafetyese”. A good way of introducing the English language into the discussion is with this word “danger”. Generally “road safety” (RS) professionals use this word intransitively – with regard to danger being done to somebody. So an elderly pedestrian is doing something “dangerous” whereas the Volvo driver threatening him and others on the road is “safe”. The RDR movement thinks we need to invert this, and concentrate on seeing those with more lethal potential – essentially the motorised of various types – as being the “DRUs” (dangerous road users).
To take another language example from the letter, it is not “our” road safety record. Some people have chosen modes of transport more potentially lethal than others. Some people are more careful than others. Some people reduce the chances of their children being hurt by not allowing them to walk or cycle (while having a far higher chance of premature death because, as Carsten says, of the morbidity and mortality associated with non-active travel), etc. I don’t think that “we” should all be lumped in it together in terms of responsibility for “our” record.
Here’s another one: sometimes there are few pedestrian or cyclist casualties at a location – such as a rural road with high speed motor traffic or a busy gyratory system – precisely because there is high amount of danger from motor traffic. These locations (or to be more precise, since we are talking about the importance of language, those responsible for the motor vehicles involved) are more dangerous, not less.
Try some thought exercises: Professor Carsten says that “travel on foot or by bicycle is far more dangerous than travel in a car”. As explained above, if we take a more civilised approach which concentrates on responsibility towards others, we should base our approach on the fact that walking and cycling pose far less of a threat than using a car does. Working out how to use the words properly can help turn road safety into road danger reduction, moving from accepting danger on the road with its attendant victim blaming into a more civilised approach to safety on the road. Luckily, for most professionals this can be easy as it will often be a case of simply inverting previous thought.
The last misuse of a word I will look at now is “road safety performance”. As he suggests, the official way of assessing this is deeply flawed. I described similar points, restricted to cycling and walking but more extensively, in my LTT 635 (15th November 2013) Comment piece on how to measure safety on the road.
Now it becomes a bit harder. Everyone knows that adaptive behaviour to perceptions of risk (risk compensation) is a fact of life. This will be hard for RS practitioners unwilling to accept that increased crashworthiness of vehicles and more forgiving highway environments has reduced care taken by drivers. Ultimately the move towards RDR from RS means having to accept the evidence and that your profession has had – at the very least – a flawed approach.
Finally, there is of course a sense in which looking at aggregated road traffic fatalities over time does make a lot of sense. This is the work done by John Adams in interpreting Reuben Smeed’s descriptions of deaths in different countries related to levels of car ownership: it shows changes which occur irrespective of road safety interventions occurring.
In other words, RS professionals have to consider that apparently positive changes may actually conceal (enforced) reduction in more benign mode use – and they also have to consider that what positive changes that have happened may well have happened anyway. Insofar as official interventions have a responsibility for change, improvement could have occurred by following the central aim of the RDR movement. This is reducing danger at source – from the ways in which motor traffic is used – for the benefit of all road users and as part of a sustainable transport policy. This will be emotionally hard for traditional practitioners in this area. Are they up to it?
Road Danger Reduction Forum