One million wing-mirror stickers are being sent out by the AA to remind drivers to watch out for two-wheelers on the road. The campaign is based on a poll for the AA showing that nine out of ten motorists admit that when driving, “it is sometimes hard to see cyclists”, with 55 percent of motorists claiming that they are often “surprised when a cyclist appears from nowhere.” It’s nice to see AA president Edmund King say that: “The AA Think Bikes campaign is definitely needed when half of drivers are often surprised when a cyclist or motorcyclist ‘appears from nowhere’. Those on two wheels never appear from nowhere (our emphasis) so as drivers we need to be more alert to other road users and this is where our stickers act as a daily reminder”.
So is this an unequivocal step forward? The main feature of this, as with so many other similar campaigns, is what it tells us about the beliefs underlying what passes for “road safety” – beliefs which we have to challenge.
So let’s take a look at the campaign and what underlies it in some detail:
What should be happening with wing mirrors?
Let me quote one of the commenters on this road.cc post :
If, on your driving test, you failed to check your left door mirror, before turning left you would not pass your test and couldn’t drive unaccompanied (by an experienced licence holding driver) on the road. How come once you pass you never need check a mirror again? (Unless you have a stupid sticker to remind you). If you need that then you shouldn’t be driving on the road as you are dangerous to other road users.
Now, that may seem a bit perfectionist. But it is what is required in terms of drivers’ obligations to the safety of cyclists and motorcyclists. It is stated clearly in the Highway Code in Rules 159,161,163, 169, 179, 180, 182, 184, and 202. It is simply what should be happening. As the Institute of Advanced Motorists spokesman said
”The IAM welcomes any campaign which raises awareness of how vulnerable cyclists can be around motor vehicles. Reminders can be useful but the best drivers should already be looking out for cyclists at all times.(my emphasis)” And why just “the best”?
Would we accept this with other types of safety regime?
Let us pause briefly and think of what we would expect from other types of safety regime. Consider Health and Safety at Work regimes operating in workplaces. Or safety under maritime safety regulations. Or with aviation safety regulations. Or safety on the railways.
Let’s say that third parties have their lives regularly put at risk by operators of machinery in the workplace (or airplanes, ships or trains) because they fail to engage in an operation as simple as using their mirrors, in a manner which they have been required to do (and tested on) when they start their careers (in the workplace or on airplanes etc.). We think the issue has to be the extent to which this unsafe behaviour happens irrespective of the numbers of cyclists and motorcyclists hurt or killed by this malpractice. But the fact remains that it is substantial. For example, in the TfL Cycle Safety Action Plan (2010) we see that a large part of the biggest type of conflict (close proximity conflict) leading to cyclist Killed and Seriously injured casualties is the following:
o Cycle and other vehicle travelling alongside each other (12%)
o Other vehicle turns left across the path of cycle (9%)
o Other vehicle changes lane to the left across the path of cycle (3%)
o Cycle and other vehicle collide when both turning left (2%)
(percentages are of all cyclist KSIs).
Plainly non-use of nearside wing mirrors has some relevance here in these cases.
So, if such unwillingness or inability to follow the regulations, with such actual or potential consequences for the safety of others, were to occur under these other regimes, would we be satisfied with a campaign like this? One which is essentially just a polite reminder to the operators of dangerous equipment or practices by a sticker placed on the equipment which was not being used?
My suggestion is: No, we wouldn’t.
What might the effects of this campaign actually be?
The reason for my scepticism is not simply one of principle, but one based on a concern about its likely lack of effect. Some, like Chris Boardman, appear to think that “This campaign will undoubtedly contribute to promoting safer driving habits on the road.” Undoubtedly?
What we have is some 4% of the UK driving public being presented with stickers. There is no evidence that placing the stickers will actually lead to previous non-users becoming users of wing mirrors. Then, as always with road user safety, those most likely to change habits will be those most willing to do so in the first place. Is the behavioural change actually likely to be anything more than minimal at best?
One of the reasons why it is unlikely to be more than minimal – if that – is the background set of beliefs underlying it.All in it together? The mythology of “One Tribe”.
The key theme expressed by the AA and British Cycling is the idea that lots of cyclists also drive cars, and vice versa, and that recognising this will lead to reduced casualties. My view is that this is a dangerously misleading approach to safety on the road.
It conceals the fact that when people are using different modes of transport, they have markedly different potential to endanger, hurt or kill others. The fact that they use more than one form of transport is at best irrelevant. Indeed, the fact that the same people are both far more likely to endanger, hurt or kill when they are driving than when they are cycling is part of the problem. Cyclists are more unlikely to see themselves as part of the problem when they drive precisely because they are also cyclists.
One way of looking at this is to consider pedestrians instead. Most motorists know that they also walk, as indeed they do. Has this led to no danger being presented to pedestrians by motorists?
The central theme of Road Danger Reduction is that there is a fundamental difference between use of those modes which have a significant potential to endanger, hurt or kill (essentially the motorised ones) than those (essentially cycling or walking) which have a far lower potential to endanger, hurt or kill. The “Evens Stevens” approach is based on denying this.
Underlying this “Evens Stevens” approach is a fundamentally patronising attitude. According to the AA’s chief executive, Chris Jansen,cyclists have to “recognise when they have been well looked after on Britain’s roads by motorists” – as if drivers are doing them a big favour by not threatening their lives by rule or law breaking behaviour. A duty of care becomes “looking after”.(This is the “New Deal” on safety which the AA offer cyclists)What could work?
There is a definite need for drivers to use their wing mirrors as part of their driving activity. It is a timely reminder with TfL’s encouragement of doing exactly the opposite here with its “Cyclists stay back” stickers It is also good to see the AA oppose a SMIDSY excuse by stating that “Those on two wheels never appear from nowhere”. And as Chris Boardman says: “Looking left and giving way to cyclists is a crucial part of improving safety on the roads. This is what happens on the continent and it should become part of our culture too. Of course, this rule is already written into the Highway Code – we just need to ensure that people are following it.”
But the crucial issue is whether this actually changes driver behaviour or not, fitting into a programme of genuine accountability of those responsible for actually and potentially endangering, hurting or killing others. Such “road safety” initiatives will fail if they are simply polite requests to a minority of drivers who may or may not choose to follow them, particularly if they are embedded in a culture which is based on the “Evens Stevens” school of obscuring the differences in potential lethality between different road user groups. While the AA are being less arrogant than in previous initiatives, they still have a historywhich makes them dubious supporters of real road safety.
As Roger Geffen of the CTC puts it: “CTC absolutely agrees that this is the right approach, but this doesn’t mean cyclists should be doffing their caps to drivers when drivers behave responsibly – responsible behaviour should be the norm.” And the CTC point out: “…experience shows that awareness campaigns work best when supported by related enforcement activity. (Successful) campaigns…strengthen public support for enforcement activity, while the related enforcement activity re-enforces the impact of the campaign by punishing irresponsible drivers who ignore the message”.
We borrow the phrase from the CPRE campaign and its opposition to the National Networks National Policy Statement which is out to consultation. CPRE have a helpful page for those of you (like , regrettably, us) who have let this one slip by. Essentially the NNNP statement is based on Department for Transport thinking which we commented on last year. Below is what we sent in – do try and send in a reply by the end of 26th February 2014.
Dear Department for Transport,
I am writing to you because the Road Danger Reduction Forum opposes the draft National Networks National Policy Statement you are consulting on. You are:
• Making official forecasts of traffic increasing by 46% by 2040 unchallengeable, even though traffic has stabilised at 2003 levels. More importantly, the urgent need is to REDUCE motor vehicle traffic rather than assume it will increase.
• Your return to what CPRE and others call “Roman-style road building with roads that plough straight through Green Belts, nationally treasured landscapes, ancient woodland and wildlife sites” etc. will generate more motor vehicular traffic and exacerbate any attempts to control problems of mass motor vehicular use such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, noxious emissions, danger, community severance, visual intrusion, loss of local community, children’s independent mobility, healthy travel etc.
While this proposal is a terrible threat to public health, local and global environments etc., this document, the first national road and rail policy, is a fantastic opportunity to plan transport better. Instead we would like the policy to:
• Commit to extending the rural rail network and improve its resilience.
• Require better facilities on the main road network to get new bus and coach services moving and, for shorter distances, to make cycling and walking safer and easier.
• Roll out nationally the measures used so successfully at the 2012 Olympics to prevent congestion by reducing the need to travel and demand for road space. These would be particularly effective to manage growth of van traffic.
* Commit to increasing costs of motor vehicular use and levels of road traffic law enforcement which, while valuable and necessary in their own right, would reduce the amount of motor vehicular traffic and the supposed need for more road building.
Dr. Robert Davis, Chair, Road Danger Reduction Forum
Following the initial concerns raised on our website before Xmas 2013, the Road Danger Reduction Forum has come together with other organisations to explain our concerns to, and ask for action from, Transport for London. Along with the RDRF they are the London Cycling Campaign; CTC: the national cycling charity; RoadPeace: the national charity for road crash victims; and TABS: the Association of Bikeability Schemes:
The organisations that have signed this document have agreed the following statements about stickers aimed at cyclists on the rear of commercial vehicles in London.
(1) The ‘cyclists stay back’ wording is not acceptable for use on any vehicle, because of its implication that cyclists are second-class road users who should defer to motor vehicle users. It also undermines the responsibility of drivers of such vehicles to use their nearside mirrors as required by the Highway Code in Rules 159,161,163, 169, 179, 180, 182, 184, and 202. Non-use of nearside mirrors is associated with a significant proportion of incidents where cyclists are hit by motor vehicles.
(2) It is not appropriate to have stickers aimed at cyclists on the back of any vehicle smaller than a heavy goods vehicle.
(3) Stickers are appropriate on the rear of high-cab lorries, because of these vehicles’ blind areas, and the resultant danger to other road users.
(4) Stickers on lorries should be worded as warnings rather than commands, with appropriate graphics. A suitable graphic is attached
Accordingly, we ask for the following to be done immediately:
(1) FORS to instruct their members to remove ‘cyclists stay back’ stickers from all vehicles except high-cab heavy goods vehicles, by the end of March.
(2) London Buses to instruct operators to remove ‘cyclists stay back’ stickers from all buses, until such time as a more appropriate design and wording is agreed with cycling organisations, by the end of March.
(3) TfL to inform all other vehicle operators, such as Hackney carriages (LTDA etc.) that TfL do not want such stickers to be used on their vehicles, by the end of March.
(4) TfL to develop and produce a more appropriate sticker for heavy goods vehicles, similar to the one attached to this statement, and agree the design and wording with cycling organisations, by the end of May.
(5) TfL to supply the new sticker to freight operators, with instructions only to use it on high-cab lorries. This should be in widespread use by the end of August, with no ‘cyclists stay back’ stickers remaining after this date.
(6) TfL to invest in designing and promoting use of lorries that do not have blind spots around the cab. Stickers are, literally, a sticking-plaster solution. The long-term solution includes designing out the source of the danger by engineering lorries to reduce or eliminate the possibility of cyclists and pedestrians being crushed in collisions with them, engineering the highway to reduce potential conflict, eliminating lorry driver “blind spots”, and by training drivers to check their mirrors properly when turning or changing lane.
(signed)for CTC, Roger Geffen for LCC, Charlie Lloyd for RDRF, Dr Robert Davis for Roadpeace, Amy Aeron-Thomas for TABS (The Association of Bikeability Schemes) David Dansky
Halfords, as well as being a large car parts and servicing business, is a major cycle retail business and operates a “Cycle to Work” government approved initiative to enable employees to use a bike and accessories to cycle to work. We think the extract from their “cycle2work” leaflet sends out the wrong message about cycling. Here’s why:
· Wear a comfortable, well-fitting helmet.Cycling, even in contemporary conditions is low risk – comparable to walking, and even more so car journeys over longer distances, for which helmets are never recommended. Cycle helmets are – and can only be – designed to withstand low impact forces, equivalent to falling of a bike from a stationary riding position. They are not designed for impacts with motor vehicles, especially not heavy vehicles or those moving at speed. This means that they can’t be relied on to give any protection in life-threatening impacts. The injuries they can reduce are generally minor and easily survivable. Factor in the adaptive behaviour of other road users to helmeted cyclists - and the adaptive behaviour of helmeted cyclists themselves – and you see why there is no evidence of any safety benefit over a population over time for their effect.
· Be seen – wear bright clothes and something reflective. Again, an absence of evidence, and a victim-blaming slant which takes attention away from the responsibilities of motorists. “Being seen” means pressuring drivers to look where they are going: “Never drive in such a way that you cannot stop within visible distance”. Are Halfords well known for effective attempts at promoting this? And is the cyclist in the photo – not in the kind of position recommended by “Bikeability” National Standards cycle training – positioning himself so that he is more likely to “be seen”?
· “Stop at junctions and look, look and look again. If you’re not sure, wait”. Hardly a description of a confident and assertive cyclist, is it? Where do you look and what are you waiting for? None of the “Top Tips” includes developing cycling confidence through Bikeability training. Of course, on the other side of the leaflet they do refer to cycle training delivered by the Institute of Advanced Motorists. Will this be empowering, and provide knowledge of cyclists’ rights as well as responsibilities?
· “Carry emergency contact details with you”. You’re probably going to die! At this point we have to draw breath and remind people of the paradox of road safety. Cycling is not inherently hazardous. Even in current conditions casualty rates are low. You are probably NOT going to die. This DOES NOT mean that what many motorists (the source of road danger) are up to is in any way at all acceptable. It shouldn’t be difficult to see that this is an apparent contradiction (or paradox) and not an actual one. The point is to understand the level of risk and to deal with danger at source – for all road users.
· “If going on a long bike ride let someone know when you expect to return and the route you’ll take.” Infantilising and “dangerising” cycling. This is exactly the right way to put people off cycling. It feeds in to the “fear of cycling”.
· “Keep tyres inflated: it makes for a smoother ride, means less effort to pedal and makes the bike easier to handle.” Something which actually makes sense. A big problem in the UK is that since the loss of cycling as a normal form of everyday transport since the 1950s, basic knowledge of what is actually needed to cycle has been lost. Are Halfords actually helping to create a cycle culture?
· “If you are riding at dusk or in the dark make sure your bike has lights”. A legal requirement, but how important is it on the scale of things you might need to know about cycling? And how much will your safety be improved?
· “Use hand signals to show where you are going. Help drivers to help you.” Hand signals are taught as part of Bikeability training – but look at the wording here. It betrays an interestingly patronising attitude: Is rule and law obeying motoring something which is about “helping” your potential victims? Isn’t it about doing what you are required to do by law and your basic obligations to the well-being of others to whom you have a duty of care?
Unlike some commentators, we don’t believe that achieving significant modal shift to cycling is simply a question of mimicking some features of countries where there are better cycling modal shares. But we do think that moving towards a larger share of journeys by bicycle means: Seeing cycling as a normal, everyday form of transport carried out by normal people in normal, everyday clothes. Whatever the reason given for a larger share of journeys by bicycle by other societies, present or past, it is always based on this idea of cycling being done by normal people in normal clothes just getting about and not engaged in a danger sport, and with society reacting to cycling accordingly.
Look at the people below:Somewhere in the Netherlands Amsterdam Ghent, Belgium Seville, Spain
Halfords may think these people are doing something wrong and asking for trouble. We would disagree.
Health warnings on car ads?
First, the good news. The idiotic ruling of the ASA described here has been withdrawn following a veritable storm of protest. It is good to see that a diverse (and normally often disunited) community of cyclists and others concerned about a civilised approach to cycling and safety on the road can swiftly summon up good quality arguments and have an effect.
But this is just the start. This matter is far from being resolved, and it may well be that the outcome is a quite unsatisfactory judgement about the portrayal of cycling. We need to examine the issues regarding ASA judgements on matters of safety on the road in more detail.Where we are now:
The ASA has in effect admitted that it was wrong to object to Cycling Scotland’s video presentation of the position of the woman cyclist. Since this is the position recommended by National Standards cycle training they could do nothing else. However, on the matter of a helmet and the normal clothing of the cyclist (without “safety aids”) we do not yet know what decision the so far unspecified “independent review” to be set up by the ASA on this matter will make.
Supposedly, decisions by the ASA on matters such as these are based on the Highway Code. On that basis, the CTC has raised the issue of advertisements which show pedestrians not wearing hi-visibility clothing in the dark: after all, the Highway Code requires that, so why shouldn’t the ASA censure such advertisements? It’s an interesting issue to raise as it suggests some absurdity about the ASA’s methods.
The politics of it all
But we need to go rather further than this. To start off with, let’s look at the rules in the Highway Code. In our opinion there is no adequate evidence base for either the cycle helmets or the pedestrian hi-viz recommendations.
What this suggests is that the problem lies with some of the recommendations in the Highway Code. That is certainly the case, but it also raises the issues of Highway Code rules (and the law) as they relate to the behaviour of motorists. That is where it gets interesting. You might wish to consult a copy of the Highway Code as it relates to driving.
What becomes apparent is that the rules – including the more important laws, on matters such as speed – are broken as a matter of course. Typical driving involves infringing the recommendations of the Highway Code. Otherwise you would not have some four million motor insurance claims annually. Car occupants would not want to wear seat belts (and that’s even without going into the effects of the use of these “safety aids”) .
Now, I am not one to exaggerate the dangers posed by motoring in a way which might put people off cycling and walking. I am just saying that rule and law breaking by drivers is so commonplace and is regarded as such by the powers that be to such an extent that motorists feel the need to be protected from it.
So, take 4.1 and 4.4 of the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code ), namely that “Advertisements must contain nothing that could cause physical, mental, moral or social harm to persons under the age of 18” (rule 4.1) and “Advertisements must not include material that is likely to condone or encourage behaviour that prejudices health or safety” (rule 4.4).
Now, there is an argument for “Health Warnings” such as these on car advertisements
Or the one at the top of this post. But I am not referring to the environmental issues about car use: at present it is legal to pollute, congest, and cause widespread environmental destruction, poor health etc. by regular use of the cars that are advertised or shown in advertisements. The point is that even without such “behaviour that prejudices health or safety”, just in terms of the recommendations of the Highway Code, typical driving which we know will be done in cars shown in advertisements will indeed be “behaviour that prejudices health or safety”.What is the ASA for?
My view is that the ASA is basically a self-regulating body set up by the advertising industry. A large part of the advertising is, of course, for motor vehicles. These vehicles will inevitably be used on UK roads in ways which damage people’s health and safety through breaking of the rules and laws pertaining to legal motoring. Is there any real possibility that the ASA will take any effective measures to prevent the advertising of these vehicles? In that sense, the blogger who says “The Advertising Standards Authority – not fit for purpose“ is wrong. The problem is exactly that the ASA is fit for the purpose of facilitating car advertising.
That doesn’t mean that advertising of cars should be stopped, although the idea of health warnings may be an interesting way of raising consciousness Also, it may seem a little unfair for the ASA to have to mediate in matters of safety on the road. As the fortnightly transport professionals’ magazine Local Transport Today (7/20 Feb 2014) suggests “When asked to think of influential organisations in the transport debate, the Advertising Standards Authority wouldn’t be at the front of most people’s minds”. Ultimately we need to be looking at the recommendations in the Highway Code as the source of the problem. But the ASA is in it now, and as LTT say “…the ASA should be prepared for criticism…”.
In the meantime…
There is a lot at stake here for cycling and sustainable transport. If every organisation (including commercial advertisers) is effectively forced to ensure that all cyclists in adverts (other than ‘fantastical’ adverts) are wearing helmets, this would really undermine the ability of advertisers to use smart-looking cyclists to epitomise free-thinking, healthy, independent-minded individuality. A source of positive promotion for the image of cycling would be denied to us. We really need to take this very seriously indeed.
It could be worthwhile getting the cycle industry to understand the potentially negative long term effects of portraying cyclists in the way the forthcoming London Bike Show does:
Of course, the ASA codes do not refer to online and print advertising, but the principle is important.
A piece of idiocy by the ASA has caused justified anger among cycling groups and others concerned with a civilised approach to danger on the road.
The RDRF objects to the ASA’s decision on the basis that:
1. It does not understand that the positioning of the cyclist is absolutely correct in terms of the advice given by Bikeability (National Standards) cycle training. RDRF committee member Ken Spence points out:
As an author of most of the Bikeability curriculum I can say that the cyclist in question is not cycling in the “middle” of the lane. She’s actually exactly where I would tell her to be in the circumstances. The road itself is an extremely wide single carriageway and the fact that the car can overtake her at a wide berth without crossing the central markings proves my point about her position. To be pedantic the middle of the lane in question would be considerably further out. She’s actually more in a secondary position given that there is a half metre drainage strip at the edge of the carriageway moving the effective running carriageway edge a half metre out. The ASA are quite wrong in their adjudication. A minimum of 0.5 metre does not mean exactly 0.5 metres.
2. Although the Highway Code at present recommends helmet wearing, there is a lack of evidence that this can reduce cyclist casualty (even cyclist head injury) rates. See the evidence on www.cyclehelmets.org.
3. If the ASA is going to oppose representation of anybody who is not apparently obeying all the recommendations of the Highway Code, it would have to ban advertisements featuring such behaviours as pedestrians walking about at night without hi-viz clothing.
4. Of course, the ASA could take note of the fact that typical driving tends to involve not just infringing Highway Code recommendations but the law, for example on breaking speed limits. The fact that this behaviour may not be explicit or even visible (as with driving when fatigued) does not excuse condoning such behaviour.
Taking this seriously would involve not just restricting a large proportion of all car advertisements, but representations of typical motor traffic in any advertising. Take a look at (and contribute to) the CTC’s site here.
We are not suggesting that most advertisements featuring examples of typical driver behaviour which may, or are likely, to be infringing the rules and recommendations of the Highway Code should be banned - too many would have to be restricted. But that would be more fruitful than focussing on supposedly rule or recommendation breaking behaviour by those much less likely to endanger others – even if the recommendation was based on sound evidence, which helmet wearing is not.
Organisations such as the CTC are writing to the ASA, you may wish to sign this petition on Change.org as well as contacting the ASA directly trough their complaints arbiter Sir Hayden Phillips whose receiving e-mail is email@example.com .
Along with others such as the CTC we made a submission in January 2013. Here it is:
INTRODUCTION:The Road Danger Reduction Forum www.rdrf.org.uk was formed in 1993 to promote the idea that the civilised approach to safety on the road is to reduce danger on the road at source, namely from inappropriate use of motor vehicles, as part of the promotion of a sustainable transport policy. Support for RDRF is from local authorities that have signed the Road Danger Reduction Charter and bodies representing cyclists, pedestrians and proponents of road danger reduction. Supporting cycling safety has been a key plank of the programme of the RDRF.
Dr. Robert Davis, Chair RDRF 13th January 2014 CONTACT: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
· Cycling is in an inherently safe mode of transport with a low casualty rate. However, there is significant danger from use of motor vehicles towards cyclists – and other road users – which should be properly addressed as a basic requirement of a civilised society.
· There is a need for a fundamental cultural change towards seeing inappropriate use of motor vehicles towards others as the key problem for cyclists and all other road users – one which has never been properly addressed. Emphasising the relative lack of danger from cyclists towards others – the real “cyclist safety” issue – is key towards doing this.
· Cycling as a form of basic, inherently safe transport (with a low casualty rate) engaged in by normal citizens wearing everyday clothing should be supported by whatever means are necessary, including provision of appropriate highway and off-road infrastructure, home cycle parking and accessible accessories etc.
· Existing road traffic law relating to danger from drivers of all kinds should be massively increased for the good of all road users’ safety. Law and rule infractions should be assessed in terms of their association with the potential to harm others and prioritised accordingly.
· Law enforcement will require appropriately deterrent sentencing, based primarily of licence endorsement and loss.
· Highways and off-road environments can be re-engineered to reduce danger towards cyclists. This should be vigorously pursued at locations such as large gyratory systems. However, it should be understood that drivers must expect to be in the vicinity of cyclists on the vast majority of roads and streets, and for their potential danger to be regulated and controlled accordingly.
· A variety of methods to reduce danger from HGVs can and should be employed, whether engineering the vehicle or its environment. As with everything else, the central issue is a cultural change towards focussing on problems arising from the danger from (inappropriate) motor vehicle use/ Technological changes are of secondary importance to this, and cannot anyway be introduced properly unless this is understood.
2. Is cycling safe, particularly in towns and cities?
2.1. The safety question – a paradox: We believe there is an apparent, but not actual, contradiction at work here.
2.2. On the one hand, cyclists are at risk from a wide variety of law- and rule-breaking behaviour by motorised road users. Much of this has been exacerbated by accommodating these behaviours in traditional forms of highway design and also motor vehicle design. This kind of danger should be seen as simply intolerable and unacceptable. This should be based not just on the fact that people are dissuaded from cycling by danger – although this does occur – but because it is simply wrong: the behaviours concerned are often illegal and frequently endanger other road users as well.
2.3. On the other hand, it is important to stress that cyclists in the UK, and particularly in urban areas, have very low chances of being seriously injured, and even lower ones of being killed. Overemphasising the chances of being hurt distorts the picture of cycling, not least in inhibiting people who wish to cycle from doing so – denying them health benefits due to fear of danger. A feature of an anti-cycling culture is the persistent tendency to see cycling as “the problem”. Part of this is the “dangerising” of cycling, seeing it as an activity which is inherently hazardous, particularly if there are any motor vehicles anywhere nearby.
2.4. It is absolutely central to any successful strategy that this state of affairs is seen as the paradox it is. Cycling, particularly in the areas where there is a lot of cycling already, should be seen as the low-risk activity it is. This should not, however, detract from promoting a step change in reducing danger to cyclists from motor vehicular traffic, by whatever means – law enforcement and sentencing, training, highway and infrastructure engineering – are necessary.
2.5. The safety question – Safety in Numbers (SiN): We think that the experience of London, with a dramatic reduction in cyclist KSIs per journey in the last decade, shows that change has been achieved through SiN. For example, approximately the same number of cyclists is killed in collisions with lorries, with at least a doubling of the amount of cycling in the areas where most deaths occur, and an increase in lorry use. Denying this mechanism denies an important positive step forward, and unnecessarily dissuades people from cycling: stopping them from cycling can have a deleterious effect not just on their health but on the safety of other cyclists. However:
(a) This does not mean that SiN on its own will deliver enough of a decline in danger
(b) SiN is particularly unlikely to be effective on roads with very few cyclists and high speed limits, as well as with particularly incompetent drivers or drivers unwilling to drive properly.
(c) Those responsible for danger – whether highway authorities, individual motorists, motor manufacturers or others – should still be held accountable. Danger should be seen as unacceptable whether or not a collision occurs.
2.6. The safety question – measuring danger: An aggregate measure of cyclist casualties or casualties per head of the population is at best useless, and at worst misleading. The measures to be used are:
A. Cyclist KSIs per journey or distance travelled – this is the minimum acceptable measure.
B. Ideally this measure should be refined to consider the proportion of cases where a third party is at fault – there is a qualitative difference between cases where this happens (e.g. the result of careless driving) and where a cyclist is clearly at fault (e.g. being intoxicated and falling off a bicycle)
C. Objective measures of danger. Some locations, such as multi-lane junctions with high-speed motor traffic, have obvious high levels of hazard. These locations can be assessed by measures such as the Cycle Skills Network Audit, where locations are assessed in terms of the level of Bikeability skills required to cycle there.
2.7. Finally, there is an ambiguity in the use of the words “safe” and “dangerous”. We believe that attention should be directed towards dealing with danger at its source – from the inappropriate use of motor vehicles. It should be emphasised that although there is some degree of danger from cycling towards pedestrians and other cyclists, ti is minimal compared to that from motor vehicular traffic. Cycling, in that sense, is a very safe mode of transport.
3. What can central and local Government do to improve cycling safety?
3.1. Traffic law and enforcement:
3.1.1. This is the key element missing from cycle safety strategies such as The Times campaign.
3.1.2. There should be a massive increase in the amount of law enforcement, focusing on behaviours that lead to predominant causes of cyclist KSIs: Overly close overtaking; careless opening of car doors, not watching out for cyclists in general and at junctions in particular, and generally poor standards of driving. Most collisions involve typical motorists, rather than the minority of extremely bad drivers, although enforcement should also be applied here, backed up by deterrent sentencing.
3.1.3. While misbehaviour by cyclists, such as failing to obey traffic signals, should be addressed, enforcement should focus on behaviours most likely to endanger others – namely from rule- and law-breaking motoring – which will be of general benefit to the safety of all road users.
3.1.4. Although we do not have the space to describe the moral and legal basis for this here, it will be necessary to consider stricter liability for motorists involved in collisions with cyclists and with pedestrians, to back up law enforcement.
3.2. Highways and off-road infrastructure.
3.2.1. It is likely that most cycling will continue to be in proximity to motorists on the public highway, who should expect cyclists to be sharing the road with them.
3.2.2. However, some features such as one-way gyratory systems and roundabouts and inherently inimical to cycling safety. The aim should be to remove such features of the highway environment, or at least to provide safe and convenient alternatives for cyclists in those areas. Reduction of motor vehicular capacity of the network in such situations is fully justified, if it is the only way to reduce danger to cyclists and support cycling.
3.3. Cycle Training
3.3.1. RDRF supporter Councils in York, LBs Lambeth and Ealing have been foremost in the “new wave” of cycle training starting in the late 1990s and designed to build cyclist confidence in real world conditions. The right kind of empowering cycle training can, we believe, increase amounts of cycling and reduce cyclist casualty rates through a Safety in Numbers effect. However, we are concerned that much supposed training does not conform to the spirit of National Standards (now “Bikeability”) cycle training and does not create confidence and an awareness of cyclists’ rights as well as responsibilities.
3.3.2. Due to a continuation of the kind of beliefs prevalent under old style “cycle proficiency”, trainees may be presented with dubious ideas about supposed inherent dangers of cycling and incorrect advice about equipment such as hi-viz and cycle helmets. We believe it is essential to show that campaigns to promote cycle helmet and hi-viz use evade and confuse the issues which should be concentrated, as well as having a dubious or absent evidence base.
3.4. Motorist training and cultural change.
3.4.1. We believe that cyclist safety is just one part of the issues stemming from inappropriate motor vehicle use. The problem is just one part of the problem of road danger. As such, changing motorist behaviour is of benefit not just to cyclists but to all other road users.
3.4.2. Motorist training has to change from being a confidence booster building unjustified feeling of pride, to one of awareness of responsibilities towards to other road users.
3.4.3. Compulsory re-testing of drivers every five to ten years should be a requirement for general road danger reduction. An absolutely fundamental requirement is to achieve a cultural change where motorists realise their obligation towards cyclists as human beings with as much – if not more – right to use the road. Rarely regarded as of significance by transport professionals, we believe it is worthwhile examining prejudice and bigotry about, and displayed to, actual or potential cyclists. Negative attitudes among motorists can exacerbate the potential to endanger cyclists or other road users, as well as putting off potential cyclists from cycling.
3.4.4. Negative attitudes and abuse towards cyclists should be countered. These can include those with regard to “paying road tax”, or the supposed superiority of driving as a transport mode due to motorists having passed a driving test. As with other elements in this programme, there is a need to address more general transport policy issues than just those immediately relating to cycling.
3.5. Other support for cycling.
3.5.1. Because of the low casualty rate, massive health benefits towards cyclists and others, reduction in environmental and other problems, cycling as a form of everyday transport should be properly supported.
3.5.2. In addition, as explained in 2 above, increasing the amount of cycling is part of dealing with the issue of danger towards cyclists.
3.5.3. This should include not just provision of attractive highway and off-road environments, but also the realisation that inappropriate behaviour towards cyclists will become less socially tolerable.
3.5.4. It should also include:
3.5.5. Programmes to address other issues limiting take up of cycling, such as inadequate secure and convenient home cycle parking,
3.5.6. Difficulty in accessing affordable bicycles and cycle accessories.
3.5.7. This has been partly addressed by programmes associated with cycle training, such as London Borough of Ealing’s Direct Support for Cycling programme.
4. Goods vehicles and professional drivers.
4.1. In London a combination of cyclist Safety in Numbers and pressure on a group of motorists (HGV drivers) has resulted in significant reduction of the chances of cyclists being hurt or killed.
4.2. However, this process needs to be accelerated by
· Retro-fitting design features on lorries which reduce the chances of cyclists and pedestrians going between the lorry body and tarmac. Such devices have not yet been properly considered.
· Installing infra-red or other sensors as the best form of technology to allow drivers to be aware of cyclists. Such devices should be linked to black box devices to be used in criminal and civil proceedings after collisions.
· Installing cyclist-activated braking systems to sensors to provide real safety.
4.3. Extension of existing provisions to limit use of HGVs in urban areas during rush hours should be considered ,although this is of minor significance compared to other measures referred to.
4.4. In the absence of such features it will be necessary to massively increase law enforcement and raise sentences for HGV drivers who break the law.
4.5. Ultimately the freight issue, although 50% of cyclist deaths in London (and a large proportion outside) involve lorries, is still a small part of the overall danger to cyclists. The problems ultimately come back to the behaviour of the person in charge of the vehicle posing more of a threat to others, whether a lorry driver, or in most cases the driver of another motor vehicle. Changing their behaviour has proved to be the most effective way of increasing cyclist safety.
(i) Give fuller references to the evidence.
(ii) Suggest the reason for the observed changes (particularly the apparent adverse effects on cyclist casualty rates).
(i) Look at helmet advocacy in the context of a car dominated “road safety” culture.
1. Specifically on New Zealand (and also for the similar case of Australia which also has a mandatory cycle helmet law), peer reviewed scientific analysis is provided by Dorothy Robinson in “Head Injuries and Helmet Laws in Australia and New Zealand”
2. The main collection of evidence for New Zealand is in “Mandatory bicycle helmet law in New Zealand” ,to be found on Chris Gilham’s web site “Mandatory bicycle helmet law in Western Australia” .
3. On cycle helmets generally, the main site to visit is cyclehelmets.org , which is administered by the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation (BHRF), an incorporated body with an international membership, the object of which is: “to undertake, encourage, and spread the scientific study of the use of bicycle helmets, in the context of risk compensation and sustainable transport”. BHRF also considers the effect of the promotion and use of helmets (whether on a voluntary or mandatory basis) on the perception of cycling in terms of risk; and the contribution and potential of cycling towards maintaining physical and mental health.
4. Also take a look at the CTC’s “Cycle helmets: An overview of the evidence”
What happened in New Zealand and why?
The graph shown indicates that the mandatory cycle helmet law is associated both with a decline in cycling, and an increase in cyclist casualty rates. The evidence points to this occurring because:
1. 1. The helmet law put people off cycling, both because of the inconvenience of wearing helmet, but also by dangerising cycling – seeing it as something which is inherently hazardous.
So much for the decline in cycling. Although other factors associated in a car-dominated transport system may be at fault as well, the law was associated in reducing the numbers of people engaged in a healthy activity, and one which is also quite low risk. But also:
2. Safety in Numbers: The decline in cycling is itself associated with an increase in cyclist casualty rates. A reason for this is often known as “Safety in Numbers” (SiN), but is actually a phenomenon known about in studies of road casualties for some time. Essentially it is a version of behavioural adaptation or risk compensation. In this case, the implication is that other road users become more used to the presence of cyclists the more of them there are and take more care.
SiN does not mean that all that has to be done for the safety cyclists is to increase their numbers, nor does it imply that it will always work – there is normally a critical level at which other road users reach the increased awareness level. But it does mean that casualty rates for cyclists will increase with a decline in cycling.
3. 3. Risk compensation: Risk compensation (RC) is the big open secret of academic research on safety on the road. Everybody knows it occurs (at the very least, the idea that people do not adapt to perceived danger is highly improbable). In this case we are dealing with the adaptive behaviour of helmet wearers – RC by people when they wear a helmet compared to when they don’t. To a lesser extent RC also means the possible changes in behaviour by other road users towards those who are now considered to be less vulnerable.
4. Helmet effectiveness: In addition, there are doubts about the potential effectiveness of cycle helmets against likely impacts on the head, as well as the relative importance of other impacts on the body for which helmets are not supposed to have effectiveness.
All of the above refer specifically to the effects of a law, but 2 – 4 apply to cycle helmet wearing without legal compulsion.
In analysing helmet wearing the importance of a law, such as those in new Zealand or Australia, is that the effects of helmet wearing across most of the population (of cyclists) can be observed. There are, as always, issues about interpretation of the evidence. In particular, casualty rates have to be looked at in the context of general changes in the safety of road users of all types: possible benefits from helmet law’s may be claimed by helmet advocates when in fact other factors are at work to explain possible declines in casualty rates.
Helmet advocacy in context
Along with points 2 – 4 above, there is another fundamental problem with helmet advocacy. As well as short term risk compensation, there is the question of a longer term adaptation to the wearing of cycle helmets. This is a question of cultural change in which the issue is about the wider meanings of cycle helmet use: why is it assumed that cyclists should consider wearing them in the first place?
These are the group of questions which have been raised by sceptics of helmet advocacy – and not just about compulsion. ( See our posts here for just some). Why should cyclists be expected to wear helmets, and not car occupants, certainly for longer journeys? Wouldn’t it be more sensible and civilised to reduce danger at source, for the benefit of all road users? If cyclist responsibility is to expected, why shouldn’t this come in the form of supporting responsible cycling behaviour, particularly with regard to pedestrians? Apart from the Safety in Numbers effect, why don’t we look at countries which regard cycling as a normal everyday behaviour – done in normal clothes and rarely in helmets – and have both high levels of cycling and lower casualty rates? And why, when official “road safety” initiatives are supposed to be based on evidence, should it be pursued with minimal, zero, or even negative effects shown after at least 35 years of helmet advocacy?
These questions build up into an accusation against helmet advocacy – one which explains the bitterness of discussions about helmets. They lead to the conclusion that helmet advocacy is getting hold of the wrong end of the stick, is victim-blaming and a major red herring which draws attention away from what should be done for cyclists’ (and other road users’) safety.
Road safety theory and politics
Ultimately the importance of debate about cycle helmets is of great importance because it draws attention to major issues of safety on the road. Risk compensation suggests that iconic “road safety “initiatives and ideology have:
1. A. Transferred risk from the most dangerous to others to those least dangerous to others and most vulnerable, as with seat belts, more crashworthy cars and highway environments more forgiving to careless driving. In the first instance, this may lead to larger numbers of pedestrians – and to some extent cyclists – being hurt or killed as a consequence.
2. B. When the move of pedestrians and cyclists (particularly the young, elderly and disabled) away from the road environment and the resultant reduction of cyclist/pedestrian traffic has led to reduced casualties among these groups, this has been regarded by the “road safety” lobby as progress.
3. C. Reductions in road deaths related to levels of motorisation have occurred at different times in a variety of different societies irrespective of the kind of official “road safety” interventions that have been applied.
Naturally, “road safety” personnel – whether highway engineers, road safety officers, or doctors, police officers, etc. – are unwilling to fully accept this. Yet most accept the truth of risk compensation to some extent. The debate about helmets inevitably results in discussion about risk compensation, evidence based policy, and the responsibilities of different kinds of road users.
And I would argue that this debate should be pursued, as it leads to a greater understanding of the way safety on the road is thought of. In particular, we need to criticise the “road safety” lobby’s neutralising of the difference between the obligations of those with greatest potential to endanger others and that of those endangered by this behaviour. That is probably as, or more, important than whether individual cyclists wear helmets.
If that sounds overly political, the fact is that this is political: it deals with the relative destructive power of different groups of road user, as well as the official politics of government. It deals with ideology: however much the evidence needs to be presented, ultimately that has only some effect on what people will do – the issue is about culture and what constitutes acceptable behaviour.
And it has to be worked through, for the safety of cyclists and other road users.
If you cycle in London, you’ve almost certainly seen these yellow stickers over the last few months. They’re on the back of most buses, many vans, and a few HGVs.
What can they mean?
“Cyclists stay back – I get priority as I pay road tax / am bigger / faster / more important than you“?
“Cyclists stay back – I can’t be bothered to check my mirrors before turning, stopping or pulling out, so if I run into you it’s your fault“?
Most people reading this will know that there’s a major safety issue for cyclists and pedestrians that HGV drivers can’t see all round their vehicles, and often drive into roadspace without knowing if anyone is already in it. As a result, around 50% of cyclist fatalities in London involve HGVs. (This is often referred to as the “blindspot” issue)
But what does that have to do with vans and buses? And how many of those seeing the sign on a van or bus make the connection?
A couple of problems arise immediately:
2. Do the signs mean that cyclists should never overtake? On either side?
It may be coincidence, but I think the behaviour of some van and bus drivers around cyclists has got worse since these signs became common. That’s not a surprise – the signs aren’t exactly self-explanatory, and it’s very tempting to assume one of the meanings I suggested at the top.
Do these signs benefit anyone? Inexperienced cyclists, at whom they’re presumably aimed, may not know about the special dangers of overtaking HGVs on the inside. Being told not to overtake any commercial vehicle is not going to teach them about this. And when they see other cyclists happily passing any vehicle they can, on whichever side has more space, they’re going to learn to ignore the signs pretty fast.
Some HGVs have more understandable signs on the back, typically reading ‘Beware of passing this vehicle on the inside’ (such as the one on the Murphy van above). That’s a lot clearer. But we now have no suggestion that this is any more dangerous than passing a van or bus which may well have a stronger message on the back.
It was a good idea to try warning signs on the back of HGVs, to help teach cyclists about a real risk. But putting signs on the back of vans and buses, which pose no special risk, is counterproductive. And making those signs so blunt and unclear is plain stupid. It misleads cyclists, and encourages bad driving. They need to go, and TfL have been told so. Yet again, a well-meaning attempt to help cyclists actually makes things worse – and is far harder to reverse than it was to implement.
If you agree, why not email TfL, Boris, or your London Assembly member now?
Colin McKenzie (as RDRF Committee member)
Below is the graph produced by the University of Otago Injury Prevention Research Unit. Look at levels of cycling and the cyclist injury rate.
My last post argues in favour of the potential benefits from traffic policing, but that – unlike the apparent bias underlying Operation Safeway – it needs to be done differently. The key point is to prioritise law and rule breaking done by those with greater potential to endanger other road users. Otherwise the bias, which is not so much against law breaking cyclists as in favour of law and rule breaking motorists, will continue. So here are some ideas:
Some of these areas are related specifically to cycling, but others have a more general relevance – which should make them more attractive. Some are referring specifically to law breaking, whereas others refer to infringements of the Highway Code only – although this can be mentioned in the kind of roadside talks the MPS has been having with cyclists about issues such as hi-vis wearing which are not legal requirements.
According to Baroness Jenny Jones MLA: “The Met now take over 40,000 uninsured vehicles off the road every year, but a 2008 estimate by the vehicle insurers body, thought there were 400,000 uninsured vehicles in London alone. “
“By 2011, around 68 people were still being injured or killed every week in collisions involving hit and runs.(failing to stop/report:RD) One of my big concerns about hit and runs is the way that it disproportionately impacts on cyclists and pedestrians. In 2010, cyclists accounted for nearly a fifth of casualties arising from hit and runs even though they account for only 2% of trips on our roads.”
A crack down using ANPR technology could push this a lot further and be popular among motorists who don’t like being hit by uninsured drivers. A crack down would also lead to more revenue from an increase in payment of Vehicle Excise Duty which would justify extra policing in this area.
On the downside, this is just dealing with an extreme minority an taking attention away from the majority responsible for most driver law and rule breaking. It can also back up the common prejudice that third party insurance paid by motorists (at least at 100%) is fulfilling a responsibility rather than insuring against responsibility.2. Other extreme bad behaviours
Motorists who can’t see where they are going (recently one in three drivers in Poole failed an eyesight test) ; drive under the influence of drugs and drink; have Alzheimer’s or other debilitating medical conditions; while banned etc., etc.
The same proviso as in 1 above applies – these are just iceberg tips of illegal driving. But maybe the Police would get more respect if, for example, they tackle drivers who can’t see before advising cyclists (and presumably pedestrians) to wear hi-vis without any legal or evidence base.
There are issues about how to identify offenders, but my experience is that they are revealed during routine legally justified stops by officers. And if there are problems in locating such individuals, they need to be resolved.3. Lorries
On the first day of the operation 20 HGVs were stopped and 60 offences were found to be committed, including vehicles in dangerous condition and drivers who had been working too long. About 30,000 HGVs are in use in London every day. Is it reasonable to suggest that a few hundred or so are stopped every day? Every time there are crack downs on illegal HGVs high levels of infractions seem to be revealed. The threat of being delayed, let alone losing drivers, should focus the minds of operators. Perhaps this is why the prospect of law enforcement in this area turns some of them into victim-blamers.4 . Speeding
I won’t give a specific reference here. Suffice it to say that approximately 60% of drivers admit to breaking sped limits, and the proportions exceeding 30 mph vary from about 35% to 50% at the times when lack of congestion allows them to break this law. With 20 mph areas becoming prevalent in London, and with constant debate with the MPS about gaining compliance, this is surely a key area where resources could be deployed – for the benefit of pedestrians as well as cyclists5. Close proximity issues
Here is a bit of evidence. If you read the 2008 Cycle Safety Action Plan you can see this kind of evidence.
Pages16-17: Conflict type 2: Close proximity collision between cyclist and vehicle Collisions arising from a close proximity collision between cyclist and vehicle caused 37% (121) of serious injuries and 47% (7) of deaths of cyclists. all seven of the fatalities involved a goods vehicle. This category includes the following manoeuvres (listed by frequency of cyclist killed or seriously injured):
o Cycle and other vehicle travelling alongside each other (12%)
o Other vehicle turns left across the path of cycle (9%)
o Other vehicle changes lane to the left across the path of cycle (3%)
o Cycle and other vehicle collide when both turning left (2%)
o Other vehicle starts off or pulls out into path of bicycle (2%)
o Other vehicle changes lane to right across path of cycle (1%)
o Cycle performs overtaking manoeuvre into path of right turning vehicle (1%)
o Cycle changes lane to right/left across path of other vehicle (<1% each)
This analysis reveals one of the key complaints from cyclists: drivers constantly overtake without giving enough room. Some of this can be solved by segregation, but since this is not going to be on most roads in London ( and would take a while to install anyway even if desired) there is clearly scope for addressing the issue.
“give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car (see Rules 211 to 213 and 214 to 215).”. Lengthy discussion with MPS officers indicate that there are problems in addressing this without specific distances given, but there is apparently precedent with regard to cyclist “wobble-room” being required when overtaking.
Is it really too much to expect some sort of police activity in this key area when officers have been giving (nmisguided) advice to cyclists on helmets etc. in Operation Safeway?
To be addressed by highway engineering and good quality cycle training: but opening doors without looking will still be a rule breaking threat to motorcyclists and cyclists. Section 42 of Road Traffic Act 1988 states that a person who fails to comply with the Regulations is guilty of an offence. In this case, the Regulations are Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, IS 1986 No.1078, reg 105, “No person shall open or cause or permit to be opened any door of a motor vehicle or trailer on a road so as to cause injury or danger to any person”.7. Failing to obey ATS (Red Light Jumping)
Not just cyclists. See the interesting discussion on motorists doing this here.8. Post collision investigation
Our colleagues in RoadPeace and the CTC have long argued that there is a serious problem with inadequate post-collision investigation involving injured cyclists and pedestrians.9. Car Crashes?
Here’s a radical one. How about investigating car crashes? One or more drivers is likely to have been breaking rules or laws in order to crash. The vast majority of collisions do not require reporting to the police because they do not involve reported injury – but that doesn’t mean that they don’t involve rule or law infractions. More activity here?10. Do not restrict policing to locations where collisions have occurred.
Proper assessments of danger are going to involve looking at places where people may have not been hurt or killed. By restricting policing to in this case to areas where they have a large proportion of endangering behaviour is missed out. This may be partly why a high proportion of the Fixed Penalty Notices (some 35%) have been given to cyclists.
Obviously speeding motorists are not going to be caught at heavily congested locations in inner London in the rush hour. That doesn’t mean that speeding is not a general safety problem. Indeed it may well be a particular problem for cyclists in 20 mph zones or in outer London where cycling levels are low. Just because there are few cyclists out there – often precisely because of their perceptions of danger from motorists – does not mean that this and other forms of motorist law- breaking are not problems.11. Not from a fixed position.
Use bodies like the (enlarged and changed) Cycle Task Force more to police from within the traffic.12. More of it. A lot more.
As Baroness Jones has pointed out, traffic policing has been massively diminished over the last couple of decades. It needs to have its levels reinstated – but it has to be targeted in the right areas.Institutionalised discrimination?
From the unfortunate comments by the Metropolitan Police commissioner and other cases the approach of the MPS to traffic policing has – correctly in my view – not met with a good response from cyclists. Nor has it from those of us concerned with the wellbeing of cyclists and pedestrians as part of a programme of having safe roads for all in London.
The term “institutionalised discrimination” has been used. For those of us who have been brought up in local authorities and elsewhere in public service, the equal opportunities approaches used to address discrimination in so many areas do, I believe, have relevance here.
The point is precisely that this is not about personal malevolence or bigotry. Indeed, discussing these issues in terms of background beliefs should actually assist our discussions with the police into how a productive approach to traffic policing can be developed.
The police services have made absolutely fundamental changes in their attitudes to women, disability etc. over the last couple of decades. Many police officers are passionately committed towards reducing danger at source. Is it too much to ask that the MPS (and other forces) accept that they may have a culture which impedes progress by being improperly biased away from dealing with rule and law breaking behaviour which endangers others?
Hopefully this piece can help us all towards a more satisfactory traffic policing programme.
After a spate of cyclist deaths in London, cyclist safety is on the national agenda. For some, getting cyclist safety in the public eye is inherently good – we’re not so sure. The key issue is, after all, to do the right things for the safety of cyclists. Last week we were told that there is a “new zero-tolerance approach” with a “huge escalation” in policing involving “stopping lorries and cars and where there is unsafe driving they will be taken off the road.”
But is a blitz on unsafe driving – under what is called “Operation Safeway” in London – actually happening? We don’t think so. So what exactly is going on?Some Background: Andrew Gilligan’s response to the spate of cyclist deaths
Cycling Commissioner Andrew Gilligan has responded to the reaction to the spate of cyclist deaths in London in an intelligent and well-argued piece :
(a) Fundamental re-engineering of HGVs. There should be no gaps between the body of the vehicle and the ground that pedestrians or cyclists can easily be pulled into. This is particularly relevant for construction lorries, industrial equipment allowed onto streets full of pedestrians and cyclists in a way no other type of device would be. Even more fundamental, the drivers should be able to detect any pedestrians or cyclists close to their vehicle, on all sides.
(b) Law enforcement with regard to numerous types of law infringement.
(c) Appropriate sentencing, using black boxes on vehicles and based on deterring rule- and law-breaking drivers and freight operators.
(d) Highway engineering
are of more importance, both for cyclists and – don’t forget – pedestrians:
2. The spate of deaths does not necessarily indicate that conditions in London have got worse. “In the first half of 2013, only three cyclists died in London – one every two months. In the recent spate, it was every two days. Are these same streets 30 times more dangerous than just a few months ago?” Exactly.
3. The rate of reported Serious Injuries is no worse than ten years ago. And SIs are a more reliable statistical indicator in London than deaths. That rate does appear to have got worse over the last few years, but it’s too early to say if this is a short- or long-term trend.
4. “The chief executive of the London Cycling Campaign wrote last week: “We want to know when the dying will stop.” Well, we can, and we do, promise to improve safety. But we cannot, and do not, promise to eliminate cyclist deaths. If that is the test the cycling lobby sets us, we, and every large city on Earth, will fail.” Good point. It is vital to measure cycling safety in a way which is different from the present convention of totting up the total number of cycling deaths. Gilligan is absolutely correct to argue for a careful way of discussing cyclist safety. Working out alternative measures of safety has been a key commitment of RDRF since our inception.
5. “I fear the furore is aiding those who say we shouldn’t encourage cycling. I’m afraid it’s scaring cyclists away.” Unlike some of the new wave of bloggers, I disagree that highlighting each incident will help us move towards reducing danger. These bursts of attention can easily be reduced to victim-blaming and false “solutions” to the problems of the safety of cyclists and others on the road.
6. “…we can’t simply slap in panic changes”. Exactly. Although this does rather contradict what seems to be happening with the policing “blitz”. (And by the way, what is supposed to “make cyclists safer at the expense of other people’s safety.”?)Some more background: Unfortunate comments by the Mayor
For some of the bloggers, the problem is essentially one of the Mayor not installing the right infrastructure, or not doing it quickly enough – points which Gilligan has made a reasoned response to.
What I think we need to look at now – with London Cycling Campaign organising a mass “die–in” today - at the end of the first week of “Operation Safeway”, is to ask some questions about the attitudes underlying traffic policing. Whatever kind of infrastructure is in place for cyclists, there will still be danger on the roads for them and other road users. The Police are a key part of the apparatus charged with responsibility for safety on the road. Their approach – and understanding what it is and how it links in with the rest of the “road safety” establishment – is absolutely key to achieving safe roads for all.
Traffic policing: Are we all in it together?
After the latest apparent problem with London’s traffic policing (a quota supposedly being set for arresting errant cyclists) British Cycling policy advisor, Chris Boardman, said that the police should be concentrating their efforts on larger vehicles.
“If you don’t have the resources to prosecute everyone who breaks the law, then it makes sense to start with the people who can cause the most harm and work down from there.”
“The bigger and heavier the vehicle you have got, the more damage you are going to do. I certainly would not let law-breaking cyclists off the hook, but they wouldn’t be top of my list.”
That pretty much sums up what a civilised approach to traffic law enforcement should be. But that is not what it has been. As we have continually pointed out , the approach taken has been to attempt to neutralise the difference between endangering others and being endangered. As with numerous “Share the Road” campaigns, there is a tendency to slot into appeasing the prejudices of those who are endangering cyclists and others. For a good current example and critique go here:Evidence
A crucial theme in “road safety” ideology is that programmes – such as law enforcement – are based on evidence. Let’s have a look at what has been happening so far in London:
According to Chief-Superintendent Glyn Jones, who is in charge of the current operation, “If you’re going to cycle in London, wear a helmet, wear high-vis, make sure your bike has the right lights, don’t wear headphones and obey the rules of the road. That way you will be a lot safer.”
The first four of these recommendations either have no or minimal evidence to back up the assertion that you will be “safer” (only one is required by law) as follows:
Headphones: no research has been done;
Lights: legally required but – according to analysis of STATS 19 reporting forms, the last annual Borough reports I looked at had the relevant code (506) as implicated in under 1% of cyclist casualties. (STATS 19 forms in London are completed by officers the Metropolitan Police).
“Rules of the road” is vague, and presumably refers to red light running – although even this seems to be implicated in a small minority of cyclist casualties. There is evidence which was gathered for the Mayor’s Cycle Safety Action Plan – which in a former role I had a part in contributing to – and it is not referred to as a base for policing in the “blitz” we are supposed to be having. There is no reference to acquiring confidence from assertiveness learned in good quality cycle training: perhaps the Met is not interested in having more of such people on the road?But should we be surprised?
If we were to follow such evidence we would be referring mainly to what motorists get up to, and risk offending the sensibilities of the Great British Motorists (or at least what these are feared to be – the reality may indicate that law enforcement would go down quite well with many motorists). Discussing this matter with traffic police officers I have been told that, as the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Robert Mark said: “Policing must be by consent” – which in this context means going along with the prejudices of those who are far more likely to endanger others than cyclists are, namely ordinary motorists.
And it is ordinary motorists who are committing most of the rule and law infractions on the road. While an extreme minority of rogue law-breakers are far worse than the average motorist, and far more likely to be involved in collisions, they are just that – a minority. This leaves us with a problem: as John Adams and others have argued, the nature of human risk-taking is such that there are always problems with road safety interventions unless there is a background cultural change. Actually having an effect on danger from motorists will require more than a “blitz”, however well targeted it is.
However, my suggestion is that part of getting the cultural change required could well involve law enforcement. It is just that it has to be properly targeted – at those most likely to endanger others, and for the benefit of safety for cyclists and other road users endangered by rule- and law-breaking. The next post gives some ideas as to what that policing could be.