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What Transport for London needs to do for lorry safety

21 July, 2015 - 12:30

Our last post questioned the current effectiveness of the Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme (FORS) of Transport for London (TfL). Below we put forward what we hope will be seen as constructive suggestions that TfL can pursue.

The context

This year (we are just over half way through it) eight cyclists have been killed on London’s roads, of whom no less than seven were killed under the wheels of Heavy Goods Vehicles. Six months’ figures are not a basis for transport policy initiatives, but the point is that about half the cyclists killed on London’s roads for the last couple of decades and more have been killed in this manner. A roughly similar number of pedestrians have been killed under the wheels of lorries. I have represented the Road Danger Reduction Forum, the London Boroughs Cycling Officers’ Group and the London Cycling Campaign (at different times) since the early 1990s in attempts with TfL, the Department for Transport and others to address this issue.

While TfL has made significant efforts in this area through CLoCS and otherwise, we don’t think anything like enough has been done. See our recent posts here and here.


Our approach…

The Road Danger Reduction approach is to reduce danger at source, i.e. from motor vehicular traffic. As with Health and Safety regimes in aviation, maritime and rail safety, and safety at work, the primary objective has to be an adequately safe environment, before placing demands on the potential victims of unsafe practices. In this area this means focusing on the danger posed by HGVs towards other road users – in London primarily cyclists and pedestrians. Car and lorry occupants are also at risk on roads with higher-speed traffic.


…and a word of caution.

Cyclist deaths involving lorries are front page news in London’s main daily newspaper, and crop up in conversations whenever cycling in London is mentioned. I have worked to address this problem because it is urgent and many of the solutions are easy to implement. Any Mayor of London will have a particular interest in bringing these numbers down, so it is an obviously necessary target for transport and road danger reduction professionals to work on. Of all the casualty figures published, it is reasonable to look at deaths first, and to remember that serious injuries where HGVs are involved are particularly likely to be life-changing – and that the feelings of fear from manoeuvres like close overtaking are especially high with HGVs.

But it has to be remembered that only about 5% of killed and seriously injured cyclists in London have been in a collision involving an HGV. The proportion where a construction industry HGV is involved, though significant compared to their share of lorry traffic, is even lower. The same applies to the (less statistically reliable) category of slight injuries. The proportion of pedestrians killed with HGVs involved is far lower than for cyclists. (See 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])

What all this means is that lorry danger is an extremely important issue to tackle, but not one which we can allow to divert us from the principal source of road danger, which comes from other motor vehicles, particularly cars. It may seem cynical, but sometimes one might be forgiven for thinking that media concentration on this issue allows ordinary motorists to feel that the problem of road danger lies elsewhere. For us, lorry danger needs to be tackled not just because of its high profile, but as just one type of road danger which can and should be addressed properly.


The programme
  1. Retro-fitted or new design Safer Lorries

The simple facts of lorry design are that (a) Drivers find it difficult to see around them with traditionally designed high cabs and (b) There are large gaps between the vehicle body and tarmac which facilitate cyclists, other two-wheeler users and pedestrians being pulled under the wheels, leading to particularly severe crushing injuries.

Our view here is simply that such vehicles are not fit for purpose on urban roads where they are anywhere in the vicinity of pedestrians and cyclists. The answer is that only vehicles without these design flaws should be on London’s streets.

We now have a new generation of HGVs that don’t have such problems


O’Donovan Waste                                                           Mercedes Benz

As the new generation will not be on the streets instantly, the alternative requirement to make is that existing lorries have retro-fitted (a) transparent door panels (b) infra-red alerting systems performing like LB Ealing’s Cycle Safety Shield which allow drivers awareness of their surroundings, and (c) deeper guards around the front and sides of HGVs to prevent people being so easily pulled under the wheels.

Our understanding is that the cost of measures such as retro-fitting transparent doors , and installing more effective side-guards and alerting systems, can be largely met by reductions in the insurance premiums of the operators.

From 1 September 2015 the Mayor’s Safer Lorry scheme will come into force. In our view – while a step in the right direction – this does not go far enough. It will require HGVs to have basic safety equipment, which most lorries on London’s roads already do. We spent many years getting extra mirrors on to lorries, but these have limited benefits. Proper use of all mirrors is time-consuming (up to 5 seconds to use all properly at each junction and turn) and as a result often does not happen.

At a meeting showcasing better design this year the (now outgoing) Commissioner of Transport for London said:

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.”

We suggest that this point has been reached, and no GLA/TfL construction site should allow HGVs on it if it does not have direct vision (which may include infra-red sensors of the right type) and proper side guards.

And why shouldn’t such restrictions apply to ALL construction sites in London, brought in by agreement between the Boroughs and GLA/TfL? This then rolls onto ALL HGVs in London by extending the Mayor’s Safer Lorry scheme.

We see this element as the priority. Naturally the freight industry wants “incentives” (e.g. additional funding) to bring in such measures, which as we have noted could be self-financing. However, if necessary, financial support could be provided by TfL diverting a few million pounds from unnecessary road building schemes like the Silvertown Tunnel.

We also note that in the concluding comments to the conference by CLoCS chairman Brian Weatherly (do read the full post ) where 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.”

Another way to speed up introduction of safer lorries is to exempt them from:

  1. A morning rush hour lorry ban

40% of cycling fatalities involving lorries occur in the morning rush hour. A ban on all lorries over 7.5 tonnes between 8am and 9.30am would allow cycle commuters not to have to share space with lorries. There is a strong argument for moving construction vehicle movements out of the rush hour. Time-based bans exist in other cities, and the night-time London lorry ban has been successfully in place for years.

The problem with this idea (which has been suggested by campaigners for many years) is that it is a muck-shifting exercise which means that other (albeit fewer) cyclists will have the same problems at other times of day. It should not be there as a media-friendly “quick win” to distract attention from the more important measures. Nevertheless, it could be on the cards, particularly if it is used as a way of pushing for the safer lorries which might be exempted from this ban.


  1. Stronger enforcement A. Rogue operators.

There is a serious problem with the worst elements of the freight industry: unlicensed, uninsured, untrained lorry drivers, and unsafe vehicles failing numerous requirements – such as unsafe loads or incorrectly recorded driver hours – for safe operation. Trained police officers can spot signs of non-compliance and in well-reported crackdowns have taken dozens of illegally used lorries off the road.

B. “Normal” rule breaking

In freight use, as with other motor vehicle use, it is always important not to over-focus on the worst extremes of behaviour. Indeed, as already said, we see problems associated with HGVs as something of an iceberg tip of road danger. Behaviours by HGV drivers which endanger others, particularly over-close overtaking of cyclists, should be addressed in new versions of “Operation Safeway” and other road traffic policing.

C. Regulation in general

Our previous post criticised the current “softly-softly” approach of TfL’s Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme. There needs to be a shake-up, and increased rigour in the management of lorry operators, drivers and vehicle fleets. Existing best practice standards set up by FORS and CLOCS need to be extended in the future (for example, by investigation of black box technology and devices like pedestrian activated automatic braking systems). For the moment they should be seen as mandatory under a new Safe Lorries Scheme.

Our suggestion is that GLA/TfL can work with Boroughs to require them to pursue the same objectives as TfL has claimed it intends to do with construction projects, possibly making Local Implementation Funding conditional on this.

To be fair to TfL, there are limitations on what it can do. The Traffic Commissioners and Health & Safety Executive need to be given greater powers and resources if we are to have an adequately safe freight industry. Taking unsafe HGVs off the road is of limited value if rogue operators can re-introduce them and continue unsafe practices soon afterwards.

There have been well publicised cases of deaths caused by HGV drivers with histories of persistent and serious driving offences. A key issue is allowing operators access to the records of such cases Potential clients of operators should also be able to have information about lorry operators’ safety records, which are at present confidential and known only to operators themselves.

4. Highway engineering

The highway environment can frequently be engineered so that lorries do not come close to pedestrians or cyclists and any injury is avoided. Also, there is the advantage of protection not just from lorries, but also from other motor vehicles.

We won’t go into the potential disadvantages of segregationist engineering here – difficulty in achieving changed driver behaviour at junctions or inflating the idea that cyclists don’t belong on the road – although there are limitations in potential. (See the discussion here  including my comments as rdrf). The RDRF is happy to welcome good quality “Space 4 Cycling” approaches, while voicing concerns about possible disbenefits. Indeed, highway engineering is a key element in reducing road danger for all road users.

Unlike traditional “road safety” engineering based on targeting places characterised by numbers of reported collisions, engineering should be based on other ways of assessing danger . A location like Staples Corner poses similar road danger to cyclists as one like Bow Roundabout, where there have been more cyclist deaths. The reason for the lack of incidents may just be the relative absence of cyclists – often precisely because of the high level of danger presented to them.


5. Training.

Drivers. In our professional work, members of the RDRF Committee e have been involved in the promotion of the Safer Urban Driving module for lorry drivers’ Certificate of Professional Competence. However, we are the first to admit that this training comes low on the list of measures to reduce lorry danger.

Cyclists. Similarly, we have a long record of supporting confidence building cycle training, some of which informs trainees of the problems of cycling near high-sided vehicles in general and HGVs in particular.

However, we do not believe in an “even-stevens” approach, which ignores the difference in potential danger to others of different modes. In this case it makes far more sense to target some 50,000 drivers likely to be behind the wheel of a typical number of some 30,000 HGVs in London daily, rather than about ¼ million daily cyclists out of up to a million people who may cycle in London in a given year. We also doubt that publicity posters – which we have supported as a small element of an overall programme – are of themselves likely to have a significant effect.

Also, even well-trained cyclists make mistakes. They don’t deserve serious injury or death as a penalty for this. After all, highway and motor vehicle engineering has often been based on accommodating rule- or law-breaking driving – with potentially far more negative consequences than accommodating cyclist or pedestrian error.

The first years of this century showed a decline in the chances of London cyclists being hurt or killed in incidents involving lorries. We think this was largely due to a “Safety in Numbers” effect, which can occur because of the increased visible volume of cyclists in parts of London, and which can be assisted by the right kind of cycle training.

However, the benefits of SiN are limited, and a proper programme of addressing the problems involved where cyclists and pedestrians may be hurt in collisions with HGVs has to prioritise measures: 1 (HGV design); 3 (Enforcement) and 4 (Highway engineering).



We have argued at TfL that a Standing Committee on HGV safety should be set up to push through the programme outlined above. Such an overseeing management structure should be introduced by the new Mayor – if it can’t be a legacy of Mayor Johnson. It could lead to a dramatic decline in the cyclist death rate in London – although it mustn’t be left at that.

In order to address what lies behind the vast majority of cyclist (and pedestrian) casualties and the danger presented to them and other road users, we need to extend measures such as those outlined above to all the other sources of road danger. That means moving beyond HGVs to the operation of other fleet vehicles: buses – and above all cars.

Categories: Views

What Transport for London is still getting wrong on fleet and lorry safety

20 July, 2015 - 12:18

Firstly, don’t panic! You may feel like losing the will to live when reading the words “TfL and Cyclists stay back stickers”, but it won’t hurt, I promise. It’s just that there are serious issues about Transport for London and its Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme (FORS) in their approach to fleet safety in general, and lorry safety – specifically for pedestrians and cyclists in London – in particular.

The latest episode in the saga of “Cyclists stay back” and other warning stickers shows TfL continuing its long refusal to behave responsibly on this issue, as well as failing to work co-operatively with its cycling partners. Above all, it raises worrying questions about Tfl’s commitment towards the headline issue of lorry safety in London.

A brief timeline

Let’s summarise this as swiftly as possible to avoid tedium.

July 2013: First direct complaints to TfL about Cyclists stay back stickers. No substantive response until October

December 2013: We in the Road Danger Reduction Forum raise concerns about the use of “Cyclists stay back” stickers.

February 2014: We come together in a coalition with the London Cycling Campaign, CTC (National cyclists’ charity), TABS (The Association of Bikeability Schemes), RoadPeace (The national road crash victims’ charity). At other times in this sage we are joined by the London Boroughs Cycling Officers’ Group to work out a solution with Transport for London (TfL) and its Fleet operators Recognition Scheme (FORS).

April 2014: TfL reply in an unjustifiably negative way and we respond back accordingly

May 2014: TfL show a (we try to be polite) unhelpful response to our offer.

June 2014: Hooray! TfL invite us in for a meeting and we sort out solutions

Sticker wordings on buses and HGVs are to be changed (and this has since happened with buses, and in many cases with HGVs). TfL agree that any kind of warning stickers on vehicles under 3.5 tonnes: small lorries, cars and vans which don’t have a “blind spot” issue and where drivers can see cyclists with wing mirrors, will be removed from FORS members’ vehicles. A web site page will have information on why this is the case, and non-FORS members can be informed by members of the public that TfL/FORS are against this and why.

So partnership works and everything is settled.

Except it wasn’t.

February 2015: Things didn’t seem to be progressing after all, as we show here

March 2015: We comment on the lack of progress and more general issues about lorry safety and why it’s important for cyclists and pedestrians in London

(Note: if you read these last two posts you should get a good idea about all the important points about HGV safety in London, including its position in the overall road danger picture)

March 2015: And then, just to show that we are trying to be constructive, we explained to concerned individuals how they could complain to FORS using official channels to help resolve problems . Nobody could accuse us of not trying to be helpful, but…

May 2015. It now appears that FORS is NOT prepared to take any action against its members using stickers on cars, vans and small lorries without blind spots. We explain (again) what’s wrong and (see postscript) write to TfL again requesting action, or at least a meeting to discuss ways of resolving this apparently interminable problem

(June 2015: All of this takes place in the context of other lorry safety issues such as this )

June 2015. We get a response from Leon Daniels of Transport for London (see APPENDIX below for full text). Frankly, all the organisations involved were – being polite again – very disappointed to see that no action seems to be taken to ensure that FORS members do not display stickers on the wrong vehicles.

I’ll summarise the RDRF view of Daniels’ reply before doing what’s really important – putting it in the overall context of TfL/FORS attitude towards fleet and lorry safety.

The June 2015 response from TfL’s Leon Daniels.

The key sentences in his letter are:

We are concerned that by continuing to focus disproportionately on this single issue we risk the credibility of FORS and potentially undermine the way fleet operators view the scheme. This could ultimately lead to some operators leaving the scheme and choosing not to invest in cyclist safety, something neither of us wants.”

In a brief response to Leon Daniels, I wrote:

We all believe that FORS ensuring its requirements are met in this area would strengthen its effectiveness, rather than “risking its credibility”. We are also all fully aware of TfL/FORS’ various initiatives and efforts in the area of HGV safety: we are not interested solely in the warning stickers issue or believe we are focusing “disproportionately on this single issue”. Finally, we are disappointed that you are unable to agree to our suggestion for a meeting to discuss this matter.”

So, after a good year and a half of communication with their partners (or at least stakeholders) TfL simply can’t make a small effort to enforce a simple requirement on members of its scheme, which they have already been informed of.


How important is all this?

Our objection (supposedly accepted by TfL) is that stickers on vehicles where drivers can see cyclists through using their near side wing mirrors have adverse effects:

  • It works against Highway Code Rules 159, 161, 163, 169, 180, 182, 184, and 202 reminding drivers of an important obligation (interestingly, at a time when the AA ran a campaign highlighting this requirement).
  • It facilitates – and is experienced as – an aggressive attitude by some drivers of these vehicles.
  • We believe that the plethora of all manner of signs of this nature may lead to cyclists ignoring the advice where it matters, namely cycling up the near side of HGVs with blind spots – the original justification for warning stickers.

But how much does it really matter? There are plenty of more important issues to be dealt with regarding HGV safety – we will detail these in our next post. But we believe this episode is important in telling us about TfL’s attitude to its stakeholders, the length of time taken over a simple issue, and indeed the role of FORS.

Sometimes relatively minor issues can be revealing.


What is FORS for?

Take a look at the photo of a vehicle (taken in July 2015) belonging to a FORS member. It shouldn’t have any cyclist warning sticker.

The van belongs to A-Plant who have:

“…also recently become the first plant, tool and equipment rental company in the UK to achieve Whole Fleet Accreditation (WFA) under Transport for London’s Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS). The firm is only the second company in the whole country to secure nationwide accreditation which applies across A-Plant’s 135-strong Service Centre network and its entire transport fleet. The process involved a stringent audit of A-Plant’s 1,475 vehicle fleet, comprising cars, vans and HGV’s. The purpose of FORS is to raise the level of quality within fleet operations and to demonstrate which operators are achieving best practice in terms of safety, fuel efficiency, driver training and reducing vehicle emissions.”(My emphases)

A-Plant has scooped two major awards at the inaugural London Construction Awards.

Here is a van belonging to FORS Silver standard member JC Decaux (July 2015)

and although the photo below was taken last year, J Murphy and Sons (FORS Gold standard) still have vans carrying cyclist warning stickers.

Would it really be so hard to ask these FORS high flyers to remove stickers the next time their vehicles are being cleaned?

Do we have an “All shall have prizes” culture in FORS in which accreditation is awarded but where compliance with “achieving best practice in terms of safety…” may not be checked up on?

We hope not. Indeed, TfL sometimes seem to be giving out a different message to the one given to the coalition of cyclist and road danger reduction organisations.  This year Darren Johnson MLA asked this question at the London Mayor’s Question Time:

Inappropriate use of cyclist warning stickers: Question No: 2015/1512

Thank you for your answer to question 2015/0852. What steps are TfL taking specifically to get all Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) registered vehicles below 3.5 tonnes such as small lorries, vans and cars which do not have a blind spot to remove ‘cyclist stay back’ stickers?

Written response from the Mayor

The Highway Code’s Rule 159 describes how vehicles of all sizes have blind spots and describes them as the areas around the vehicle which a driver is unable to see either directly or by using mirrors. Vehicle blindspots increase the risks to other road users, particularly cyclists and pedestrians  The FORS standard require fleet operators to fit approved blind spot warning signage to vehicles over 3.5 tonne gross vehicle weight, as these vehicles have larger blind spots. FORS guidance on approved blind spot warning signage is very clear and has been communicated to all FORS accredited operators via e-news bulletins, the FORS website and in FORS training and toolkits.   FORS has distributed around 65,000 approved blind spot warning signs and these are sent out with guidance on how they are to be used.  This and further guidance on signage requirements is now available on the FORS website and can be viewed here:  The FORS audit process checks that approved blind spot warning signage is fitted to vehicles over 3.5 tonne gross vehicle weight. It marks down operators that use non-approved or badly placed stickers or where this signage is fitted to smaller vehicles.(My emphasis)  Since my response to 2015/0852, TfL has made several communications to FORS operators on appropriate signage making clear that blind spot stickers should not be applied to smaller vehicles  and the FORS accreditation criteria has been updated to reflect the new advice. (My emphasis)  Operators who are not accredited to FORS may choose to use a range of styles of hazard warning signage. TfL is working with the industry to promote the use of consistent signage by operators. (My emphasis)  

This is all very puzzling. If TfL/FORS indeed “marks down operators…where…signage is fitted to smaller vehicles” why are they giving the highest grades to members who are doing just that and – more importantly – why are they telling us that to do so would “risk the credibility of FORS”? Why are London Boroughs claiming to be supporting the Mayor’s Cycling Vision applying for even higher grades of FORS membership (LB Islington applying for an upgrade from bronze to silver, to take just one example) getting away with flouting such a simple requirement?

The coalition of cyclists and road danger reduction organisations has suggested for TfL/FORS for a year now that , although FORS has no responsibility for non-members, it could explain on its website in ways which could be communicated to them what the problems with cyclist warning stickers are. We have tried to work with FORS on this issue, without response. We now hear that “TfL is working with the industry to promote the use of consistent signage by operators”, which would be good, but we haven’t seen any evidence of this process.


An aside: Pedestrian warning stickers

Last year we also pointed out that a number of pedestrian warning stickers ordering people to – presumably – not walk down the pavement if “anywhere near” many vehicles may have problems. This has been picked up in a recent issue of the transport professionals fortnightly, Local Transport Today (26/06/2015):

If the vehicle belongs to a FORS member, surely the point is not where the sign comes from, but whether FORS members should be using them?


Why do companies join FORS?

Membership of FORS is increasingly necessary for contractors to fulfil the procurement requirements of their potential clients. While having good procurement criteria and a scheme to supervise them is necessary and a step forward in accountability in the freight industry, there is an obvious problem here. To be blunt: many transport professionals believe that some freight operators join FORS in order to secure work, without necessarily having any interest in implementing high (or even necessary) standards of practice.

Of course, many freight operators have an obvious commitment towards better standards of safety, as well as other areas such as fuel efficiency. There is no doubting their commitment, whether through a simple desire to behave as well as possible, or plain good business sense. The point is that such commitments may not exist for all freight operators in London. Our thoughts are that more rigorous accreditation processes are required for a regime which functions effectively – along with other measures such as policing – to reduce lorry danger properly

What the stickers issue has raised is a general concern about FORS. Has TfL been reluctant to act on our calls over the misuse of stickers because of threats to their credibility? We remain sceptical. Or is it that FORS members would simply continue to break this – and maybe other – criteria, forcing FORS to spend time and resources demoting companies in London and elsewhere?


What FORS could have been doing

As TfL constantly remind us, it has pushed initiatives for cyclist safety focusing on changes in the operation of HGVs in London. Indeed, until changes in highway infrastructure come into place soon, this has been the one area where there has been significant work by TfL for cyclist safety. But over the last two years or so this appears to have gone off the boil.

For example, LB Ealing promoted a system (Cycle Safety Shield) which has already been through a thorough six month independent trial (with LCC amongst others acting as independent testers). It has successfully rolled this out to their entire contractor fleet, saving them fuel costs, improving driver behaviour, and avoiding lots of potential collisions. (I don’t have any links any more with LB Ealing, nor does RDRF have any links with CSS). Given that proven collision avoidance technology clearly exists, why is TfL not rolling this out on its own fleet and actively encouraging others to do so, when organisations such as Ealing Council have already done so and are reaping the benefits?

The wider point raised by all of this is:

How is FORS membership audited? How do we know that operators are not just applying just to win work, but don’t implement FORS criteria?

Our next post looks at the kind of programme TFL could support for HGV safety in London. We think that a key element – which should be organised by the incoming Mayor in 2016 – is a more rigorously effective and transparent FORS regime.


APPENDIX: Letter from Leon Daniels

Apologies for poor image – click on image for more detail


Categories: Views

REVIEW: “Urban Transport: Without the Hot Air”

14 June, 2015 - 18:20


As someone who has tried to demythologise beliefs held not just by the general public, but transport professionals and not a few campaigners, I welcome Steve Melia’s addition to the debunking literature.

Let’s take a look at some of the common – and seriously obfuscating – myths tackled in this book:

  • “There has been a war on the motorist”.

Melia points out what has actually happened to the cost of motoring. This has been a key theme for RDRF – it still fascinates us how little is said about how it has become cheaper duringa time of austerity with items like housing becoming more expensive. Naturally we would have liked a discussion about the idea/myth/prejudice that motorists are constantly harried by the police – a key element in the wannabe victimhood of too many drivers, and which is restricted here to a brief discussion about speed cameras .


  • “Car ownership isn’t a problem – only car use”.

This was one of John Prescott’s favourite themes, supposedly based on the German experience. The author takes a look at the evidence from Germany – and comes to the opposite conclusion.


  • “Roads and airports benefit the economy”.

Melia whips through induced demand (and a little on the other side of the coin, traffic evaporation), movement of economic activity from one area to another caused by road building rather than increased overall economic activity, and the sins of cost-benefit analysis.


  • ”We are building too many flats”.

A necessary chapter on land use planning, often missed out in public debate. But professionals too can get things wrong. Melia avoids the simplistic: he shows how “The relationship between employment, housing and travel to work is complex: putting jobs next to housing doesn’t necessarily reduce travel distances”. Oh yes, and flats are only 20% of British housing stock, and only 19% of households are a couple with one or more children.


  • All we need is better public transport”.

How many times do you hear this from people – including transport professionals? If you think that, you need to read Chapter 5.


It’s seeing how a simplistic “solution” can fail that is a key strength of this book. To extend the critique of “just spend money on public transport” further, a key section is the author’s research on three European cities that have tried to reduce car use through support for public transport ,and also cycling and walking. The work on Freiburg, Lyon and Groningen shows – and this is my favourite quote of many from the book – that:

A combination of measures was key to the success of all three cities. If just one measure is taken, public transport, cycling or walking may substitute for each other instead of reducing car driving. Or people may simply choose to travel more. This can be avoided if all three are supported at the same time and car driving is restrained in some way.”(Page 147)

A question of adaptation

Melia has a sensitive scepticism to claims of certainty, no doubt based on his studies which show how people adapt their behaviours to changes in circumstances. I’d have liked more of this to come through in the discussion of shared space by discussing risk compensation, as I think the debate has moved on somewhat since the kind of arguments aired here (and also on cycling and the Netherlands).

Part of the problem is that brevity in this book doesn’t allow for the kind of depth I would have liked to see: my view is that we need to have more extensive discussion of issues like cost-benefit analysis, such as in the work of John Adams . The virtue of this book is its brevity and concision – giving an ability to swiftly demolish a common myth. But that concision is also its failing: for some of us there is the need for more in depth work. Still, that can come from other sources.

But he doesn’t let anybody get away from the truths of modern transport. Look again at how Dutch people have adapted – and here I’m not talking about cycling with its massive modal share. I’m talking about what has happened where motoring has been provided for with the Dutch motorway network. This is shown in Figure 11.9 and pages 120 -122. Yes, you’ll have to see for yourself! But don’t worry, that graph and its explanation are worth the price of the book alone.



There are inevitably some weak areas of the book. I think the chapter on London is overly optimistic and praiseworthy of its transport administration since 2000. Also, Melia’s s chief concern is climate change and he has an awareness of non-urban transport, so it would have been nice to have a look at rural and suburban solutions.

But this highly readable book demonstrates again and again how the problems caused by the rise and continuing extension of motorisation cannot be solved by piecemeal “solutions”. They need to be properly described and addressed with a coherent approach – one which is going to inevitably challenge myths and prejudices held by many professionals and much of the public alike. For those committed to a sustainable transport policy and its implementation, this book is a good start on the journey.

Categories: Views

Scania trucks’ “Keeping children safe”? What’s going on here?

4 June, 2015 - 20:47

A construction industry truck currently sold by Scania. Note gap between vehicle body and lack of diver visibility in high cab

Amongst the deluge of unquestioned “road safety” press releases from the “road safety” industry, one recent one grabs our attention. Time for us to question this initiative from truck manufacturers Scania – and one from Volvo – with another bit of recent publicity on the same matter.

The Scania/RSGB initiative

Released at the recent trade show by Scania in partnership with the official “road safety” practitioners’ organisation RSGB, the programme is outlined here.

Essentially it is based on telling primary school children not to cycle near the nearside of lorries, and not to stand on the footway (pavement) near corners. Do look at the material here.

Launch of initiative: representatives of Transport for London’s Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme (TfL/FORS); Road Safety Great Britain (RSGB) and Scania   How about safer lorries?

Remember this sorry story of the blocking of the introduction safer lorries in Europe? (Also read this in The Times.) Essentially, under pressure from lorry manufacturers, the French and Swedish governments blocked manufacturers from implementing more aerodynamic lorry designs. The manufacturers generally referred to were (for France) Renault and (for Sweden) Scania and Volvo, although Scania are 80% owned by Volkswagen, and Volvo are now largely under Chinese ownership.

The redesign which was delayed was primarily there for the benefit of operators wishing to save fuel by having greater vehicle aerodynamics from peripheral “skirts”. This also benefits cyclist and pedestrian safety by providing lower cabs with more driver visibility, and skirting and/or lower vehicle and cab bodies to reduce chances of being dragged under lorry wheels.

The principle of Road Danger Reduction – as opposed to traditional “road safety” – is to reduce danger at source. In this case this means controlling the design and operation of lorries, enforcing laws to control lorry driver behaviour, and engineering the highway to prevent lorries from coming close to cyclists and pedestrians. What we have here is something which should only be considered when these options have been properly implemented.

The next two sections have been reproduced from an earlier post – but are worth repeating:


 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 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.


“Keeping children safe”

 Forgive the emphasis on use of language – we are keen on this at RDRF. The first point is that we focus on danger in terms of danger to others. In this sense, aside from rare examples of child pedestrians knocking over cyclists, child cyclists on pavements troubling elderly pedestrians etc., children are very safe.

But let’s look at what happens when primary school children are subject to the ETP (Education, Training and Publicity) of the “road safety” industry. For decades it has been known that relentless campaigns exhorting children of primary school age to get out of the way of drivers have little impact on their behaviour. They are not, however, totally ineffective.

In my view they have a subtle background effect – people have memories of being instructed in “road safety”, even if there was no actual change in their behaviour, years afterwards. Essentially a message does get through – that it is right and necessary to defer to those more threatening than you are. A might-is-right ideology is transmitted to the most impressionable in society.

Let’s look at the two messages here in more detail: The first, about not cycling up the nearside of large vehicles is communicated in effective Bikeability cycle training as one of numerous elements. But good quality Bikeability training promotes cycling, and results in more people developing confidence and abilities for a variety of situations on the road, and also makes people aware of their rights as equal road users when cycling. It isn’t about scare tactics or disassociated from the business of getting around. Children taking part may even have to un-learn what they have previously been taught about always getting out of the way of motor traffic.

The second is telling children that the pavement is often not a place where pedestrians should be. What effect will this have when – as seems likely – they become motorists some years later? It won’t have a noticeable effect on changing the behaviour of primary school children – as said above, these programmes tend not to. And anyway, how many primary schoolchildren are actually hit on street corners by HGVs when standing there?


What is Scania doing for lorry safety?

 Why are Scania still selling construction vehicles like the one below, with poor visibility for drivers and a large gap between vehicle body and tarmac for cyclists and pedestrians to go into?

Construction industry HGV (from Scania web site)

 Our contact at Tip-Ex (the trade show where the initiative was launched) notes that Scania has been offering a service to retro-fit glazed panels to the lower part of nearside cab doors, but they weren’t clear about the extent to which that had been taken up. This kind of retro-fitting (in this case to give some proper visibility to HGV drivers) is one of the many pieces of re-engineering that should be implemented as soon as possible.


Operators and local highway authorities like Transport for London should press strongly for this until “blind-spots” are eliminated and there is no large space for pedestrians and cyclists to enter and be crushed in.


And “Road Safety GB”?

 What are “Road Safety Great Britain” doing to support enforcement of laws, engineer highways and vehicles to reduce the danger to cyclists and pedestrians of all ages, and oppose attempts to delay introduction of safer lorries, etc. etc?

VOLVO: “Stop, look, wave – a few good tips could save children’s’ lives”.

Do look at Volvo’s programme here. 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.

We note that in the concluding comments to the recent TfL/CLOCS 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.” Since re-engineered lorries will not now be on the roads until after 2020, and many lorries that are already on the roads will, one does rather wonder about Volvo’s Vision 2020.

So when we saw the release about trucks, children’s lives being saved and Volvo, we thought it only fair to let you know.

Everything we have said above about HGVs applies in this case as well.

Also, (a minor point on the eye contact question. Establishing eye contact is good practice – although don’t forget what happens with visually impaired pedestrians. But:

“To make sure you have gained the driver’s attention, WAVE and wait for the driver to wave back. Now you can cross the street. “

“Always Stop, Look and Wave before crossing a street to prevent an accident.”

What happens when the driver doesn’t wave back?

For a moderate and sensible approach to dealing with the issues around lorry danger look at the work of the cycle campaign groups, particularly London Cycling campaign (most recently, see this and the latest issue of its London Cyclist.


Categories: Views

What is the driving test for? : Notes on its social function at the 80th anniversary

27 May, 2015 - 20:53

Churchill in 1911 (Photo: Daily Mail) “Few accidents arise… from ignorance of how to drive, and a much more frequent cause of disaster is undue proficiency leading to excessive adventure”. Winston Churchill, then Home Secretary, responding to a 1911 TUC delegation demanding the introduction of a driving test.

As we approach the 80th anniversary of the compulsory driving test in the UK, there will be some discussion of how there could be modifications of the current driving test. There will be calls for a ”graduated driving test” and possibly even the argument that drivers should retake “the test”.

I take a different approach. I argue that, however much it has been modified or tweaked, the role of the “test” is actually to boost the sense of entitlement of drivers – encouraging the sense of “undue proficiency” that Churchill perceptively noticed. Whatever benefits it may have are thus diminished, and I doubt whether it has a significant – or indeed perhaps any – overall function as a means of controlling road danger.

Saying this is rather taboo, but I think that this taboo needs to be broken. Let’s see how the compulsory driving test for motorists is in many ways part of the problem of danger on the roads. Below I enclose what I wrote about “the test” in 1992 (fully referenced version here)Page 108 – 111, and then I see whether anything has changed since then.

Congratulatory cards: What is “the great achievement”? From: “Death on the Streets: cars and the mythology of road safety” Safety and “the test”
  1. The struggle for “the test”

The driving test which British motorists must pass in order to possess a valid driving licence was brought in only after prolonged campaigning, against bitter opposition. As early as 1903, debate in Parliament and elsewhere had mentioned the need for a means of testing people before they could be entrusted with a motorcar.’° Along with associated demands from a public increasingly concerned about a rising total of road deaths for measures such as speed limits, compulsory insurance, law enforcement, licensing and the registration and numbering of vehicles, its introduction was fought with tenacity by the motoring organisations. As one account of this battle, which is not unsympathetic to the motorists’ cause, states: “What they had to overcome in order to get the necessary legislation on the statute books was the determined, articulate and well-financed opposition of the powerful car lobby.” Considering the road and vehicle conditions of the 1930s, the campaigners’ case for a test seems irrefutable, and the opposition to it an example of how ruthless the motorists’ lobby could be.

Yet there was a good deal of humility in the approach of the campaigners, whether in organisations such as the Pedestrians’ Association for Road Safety or leader writers reflecting public horror at a road toll which had reached an all-time high in 1934, the year before the introduction of “the test”. There was no basic opposition to mass motoring as such from the campaigners. Despite the fact that a minority of road users had completely transformed the road environment in less than two decades, their demands were moderate, to say the least. The call for a 30 mph speed limit, for example, has to be seen in the context of poor and unreliable braking capacity, less reliable road surfaces and road layouts far more difficult to negotiate than now.

Private motoring was exclusively a middle- and upper-class pursuit, cycling a predominantly working class one; but the issue was rarely seen as one of class politics) The campaign for “the test” was, then, a request for motorists to become a little more responsible, rather than a serious attempt at control. Part of a humble and placid approach, it was typified by those campaigners who tried to achieve their ends, like cycling and pedestrian safety campaigners today, by friendly persuasion using their own driving behaviour as an example.

If they could drive with care and respect for other road users, why couldn’t other motorists? Like other approaches skirting the fundamental problems of road danger, the campaign was always going to have limited or even negative results. The dangers of the driving test – so accurately perceived by Churchill were not (and are still not) appreciated. Instead the RAC complained that it would be wrong to demand a test for a driving licence when one was not required for a dog licence. In the event, driving tests became compulsory for new licence holders from June 1935. It was a double-edged victory. Benefits are not only inadequate in terms of screening out incompetent drivers or providing proper training, but are absorbed by encouraging feelings of pride and supposed fulfilment of responsibility.

2. The nature of “the test”

After a period of instruction, learner drivers are required to drive for about half an hour showing knowledge of the Highway Code and the ability to carry out basic manoeuvres. This is probably the last time that many drivers seriously attempt to obey the Highway Code. Roadside observation indicates frequent and regular rule breaking by many, if not most, motorists. And spot checks reveal that most motorists are ignorant of basic elements of knowledge of driving that they may be examined on in “the test”, such as ability to recognise basic road signs.’

The chances of being caught for behaviour which flouts the Highway Code is, as shown in Chapter 7 of this book, minimal, even for those potentially dangerous behaviours which can be seen. if there is no attempt to ensure that people obey the laws they are supposed to follow, why get them to display knowledge of them? Also, as the existence of so-called advance driver training indicates, why test at such a low level? And why the implicit assumption that unlike for any other semi-skilled task people’s ability will not decrease over time (with ‘the test’ occurring once in a lifetime if driving)

There is a defence of “the test” against these charges. It is that about half of those taking it fail, and that therefore it must be a stringent examination of driving skills. The Department of Transport does not bother to compile figures dealing with long term chances of passing. My impression is that those who are determined to gain a driving licence find it quite easy to pass “the test” by taking it again and again, without necessarily acquiring more skills. I would argue that a real indicator of chances of passing for those prepared to take a test, for example, five times, would be nearer 80 to 95 per cent. These are not new criticisms. It should be obvious that taking “the test” is of little value in preventing motorists from being dangerous. Despite this it is still thought of as an important commitment, or even concession, made by motorists which cyclists (or even pedestrians) get away with not making.’

Even a difficult, regularly repeated test would not close the gap in the potential to break regulations or inflict damage that exists between motorists and the benign road user groups. Not only is “the test” a weak control, then, its social function is largely to provide a defence against accusations of antisocial behaviour, whether it actually minimises the likelihood of antisocial behaviour or not. The reason for putting inverted commas around the phrase “the test” is partly to cast doubt on its supposed function as a genuine restriction of dangerous behaviour. It also needs to be seen as an element in the successful completion of a rite of passage. Its role is to confer on the person who passes the idea that they have become a responsible road user, superior to others who have not. In this sense “the test” is dangerous anybody seriously committed to a career of careful driving needs a sense of humility, rather than the pride associated with passing. It is arguable that its existence does more harm than good.

Nearly 60 years after its introduction, initial results were published of research on whether drivers who had passed “the test” would be able to pass it within the following two years. In a survey of 400 such motorists, just under half were unable to pass it. The main reason given for their failure was overconfidence.’

3. A proper test?

To meet the criticisms of inadequate training and testing, and that testing should occur after the driver has some experience of driving alone, various forms of advanced driver training have been introduced. They are also open to criticism. First, there is doubt about the levels of effectiveness of the various tests for those who take them. Particularly at the level of the less sophisticated defensive driver training, there may be no benefit in terms of reduced tendency to become involved in accidents.’

There is, however, evidence that people who pass an advanced driver test will have better accident records afterwards than those who fail it. The most frequently quoted is a 1972 TRRL study of the difference between successful and unsuccessful Institute of Advanced Motorists (JAM) test candidates. Those passing had 25 per cent fewer accidents over a three-year period after the test than those failing. The JAM claims a conviction rate among its motorists of 1.9 per cent as against a national average of 10.4 per cent, although this is not corrected for age and other variables – those who want to take the lAM test may in the first place already be less likely to have accidents than a national average. For this reason the possibility of making such a test compulsory has been raised since at least the late 1960s. It has been opposed successfully on the grounds that “the cost of introducing and maintaining such a test is… unacceptably high.

But this is only part of the story. Training which would teach people how to drive carefully is time-consuming, particularly if regularly repeated. Besides, a substantial proportion of the current licence holders at present on the road would lose their licences if regular testing at a proficient level were required. It is estimated that if the RoSPA advanced drivers test were to be compulsory for licence holders, some 30 to 40 per cent of current drivers would lose their licences, even after being offered appropriate training. The motoring organisations are unlikely to support a measure which would sizeably reduce their membership, revenue and power.

More demanding training and testing are limited for the same reasons that limit all attempts to control the dangers which motorists present to others – namely the unwillingness of motorists to accept them. At present the membership of the 1AM constitutes some 90,000, or about 0.45 per cent of all licensed motorists, with a smaller number of motorists having passed other similar tests. This tiny minority are a self-selected group prepared to admit that their skills might possibly be deficient. Central to the ideology of the motorist is the idea that driving is a personal, private matter. When added to notions of prestige and pride, this is hardly likely to lead to the kind of humility and self-criticism required to accept repeated rigorous training and testing.


So what has happened since I wrote the above over twenty years ago?

A current subject for “road safety” practitioners is “graduated licensing” for new drivers, as those drivers who have most recently passed their test are still the riskiest group on the road, prompting concern that the current testing system is outdated and irrelevant”.

Of course, part of the reason for recent graduates being “still the riskiest group” is precisely the fact that they have passed the driving test and taken on the pride and over-confidence that this means – something which won’t be addressed by graduated licensing. Probably the main reason this group is “still the riskiest group” is that it is composed of young – generally higher risk-taking – people. That would only be changed by restricting to driving to people over the age of 21 (or perhaps higher), but that isn’t on the cards.

Another perennial issue is that of drivers in their old age. The transport planner John Dales has suggested that it is a mark of “how low we have sunk” that people only have to take a driving test once, and can then drive for decades without being re-tested. During that time highway and car environments have changed, and reaction times and psycho-motor reflexes slow. So it would make sense to have another driving test for elderly people, or one every five years or so, to weed out those who become incompetent.

However, a “road safety” organisation advocating this stresses that it “would be voluntary and ‘non-threatening’. Last year I gave an example of a collision I witnessed (Case 4 here) where a “driver education course” was an alternative to the trivial “punishment” likely to follow a careless driving prosecution, with the elderly driver who had injured somebody ending up paying less (from an increased insurance premium following conviction) as well as avoiding a fine and a few penalty points.

Even a mandatory test for elderly drivers would be unlikely to address problems of fatigue and physical decline, as the test could be carefully prepared for. Anything which acted to control danger from drivers, elderly or otherwise, is, again, not on the cards.

Or there is the question of pass rates. The authorities proudly show how many fail the different parts of the test on each try. But how many people have you ever come across who were genuinely committed to getting a driving license who simply found the business of “passing the test” too arduous? Leaving aside some people with learning difficulties and a few outliers, I would say very few at all. Any weeding out which occurs is quite minimal, and more than outweighed by the sense of pride and entitlement – the great achievement shown in the congratulatory card above – resulting from passing. Of course the test could be repeated, but that might involve disqualifying some drivers – so it is not on the cards. The best of all would be to examine drivers without them being aware of scrutiny (through on-board cameras etc). No, that too is not on the cards – how many people would be able to avoid being banned from driving if their everyday driving failed to follow the standards of their behaviour on the one occasion where they have to drive properly?


The social function of the test

All this points towards asking why the test is there in the first place. I find I have to restate the conclusions I arrived at a couple of decades ago: the compulsory driving test is there as part of the structure of a society organised around a culture which is not just characterised by dependence on car usage, but by dependence on more dependence on car usage, and uncritical rejection of any real attempt to address the disbenefits of such a society. It is in thrall to a belief system where motorists can aspire to drive where, when and how they want, for whatever reason, with minimal restriction. Then there is the built-in sense of entitlement and wounded victimhood.

One particularly unpleasant aspect of this is the rampant prejudice against cyclists. Today (26/05/2015) BBC Radio 4 ran a programme asking listeners to submit problems they had had as pedestrians where their safety had been compromised. This referred not to the vast majority of such incidents, where motor vehicles are involved, but instead to the tiny minority where cyclists are. Despite evidence showing the relative lack of threat to pedestrians or others, such mystification myth-creation proceeds apace, while road danger created by motor vehicle users is apparently accepted. And one of the ways it has come to be accepted is by the mistaken notion that drivers have fulfilled their responsibilities by “taking a test”.

This has important implications for those concerned about displays of bigotry from the official national broadcasting organisation. And professionals and campaigners concerned with safety on the road should be concerned – not least since we are told that drivers need all sorts of highway and vehicle engineering because of their propensity to crash, and negative views towards other road users who are their potential victims are the last thing needed and a very real problem. A basic reaction is to argue that it is motorists who need proper regulation and accountability, rather than cyclists.

But this, as with much “road safety” ideology, is a case of getting hold of the wrong end of the stick, not once, but twice over. What is required apart from pointing in the right direction (towards the motorised) is a realisation that “passing a test” – one of the supposed solutions to the supposed problem of mass danger from errant cyclists – is that the driving test is itself part of the problem.


Categories: Views

“Not thought to be suspicious”: What makes the society we live in nothing less than fundamentally uncivilised.

22 May, 2015 - 18:25


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

Photo: @Ventureresi

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:

Nether Edge SNT ‏@netheredgesnt 2 hrs2 hours ago @CHAIRRDRF not my patch, but my colleagues attended. No injuries or charges; just a very unfortunate accident due to ice, snow and steep hill.

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:

BCH Road Policing ‏@roadpoliceBCH Feb 22

Well done @FenCops. What policing is all about. am – 22 Feb 2015 · Details


@roadpoliceBCH @Road_Safety_GB @FenCops What was she or other drivers charged with? Since we are talking about “what policing is all about”.

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

Two people are temporarily trapped inside a Cafe Nero shop in a Buckinghamshire village after a car crashes through the 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” ideology

 Incident 4 Elephant and Castle , London 30 July 2014

 Photo: Evening Standard

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.

Even worse, it has been known for decades that this tendency exacerbates tendencies to carelessness among drivers.


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



Categories: Views

Cyclist warning stickers: Is Transport for London doing what it can to get wrongly used ones removed?

6 May, 2015 - 19:29

Is this FORS member saying: “I have a wing mirror but I can’t be bothered to use it, so ….”?

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 ( 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:


    1. After a period of time, it removes FORS accreditation from any FORS operators who have these stickers and who have NOT provided evidence that they are contractually bound to have these them. However it would exempt any FORS operators who had produced evidence of a contractual requirement to have these stickers – at least for the time being. But they would be warned that they should not sign further contracts with these conditions, as this could lead to their FORS accreditation.
    2.  Specifically contact every London Borough explaining that all stickers must be removed from all small vehicles. They and TfL should also ensure none of their contracts require signage on small vehicles. They should also monitor compliance among both their own and contractors fleets.
    3.  Make it clear to FORS operators that it regards the inappropriate use of these signs as being contrary to (rather than supportive of) the health and safety responsibilities of the operators And that it should therefore urge all FORS operators EITHER to remove these stickers OR to provide evidence of a contractual requirement as to why they cannot do so. (And that way, TfL will find out how many FORS operators are subject to these contractual conditions.)
    4.  The advice presented on the fors-online website is welcome but we suggest that the penultimate paragraph be strengthened to say something like:“FORS specifically prescribes that warning signage should only be fitted to vehicles over 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight. Our guidance is that blind sport warning signage is not required on vehicles under 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight. Such signs on small vehicles are counterproductive and can induce less careful driving around cyclists and pedestrians. They should be removed at the first opportunity. If there are contractual difficulties in removing signs immediately the operator should seek a variation of the contract to bring it in line with current best practice.”
    5.  Meet with the cyclist and road danger reduction organisations involved, who want to engage constructively with TfL/FORS to come up with a solution, and request such a meeting to discuss its’ proposals, and/or any alternative that TfL might wish to explore.

(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







Categories: Views

What do the Conservatives say they will do about cycling?

29 April, 2015 - 21:15

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.

So what do the Conservatives say? Here is their response to Chris Boardman. (His back to it is referred to here )

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.


8. Cycle-proofing

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:

  • A commitment towards law enforcement and deterrent sentencing for the safety of cyclists – as well as other road users
  • A commitment towards the non-highway elements of cycle provision. These can include residential cycle parking, access (particularly for those on low incomes) to roadworthy bicycles, maintenance and accessories. Cycle training has to be about empowering and building confidence for potential cyclists, not just a programme based on schools, and one which is
  • Training and associated support based on evidence rather than hi-viz and helmets dogma. Has traditional “road safety” helped or hindered the take up of cycling?
  • Assessment of danger based on just that – danger to cyclists rather than totting up the totals of cyclist casualties.

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.






Categories: Views