We ask the new Mayor to support our calls for reducing danger at source, for the safety of all road users as part of implementing a sustainable transport system:
NOTES FOR EDITORS AND MAYORAL CANDIDATES:
“We need to go further than highway engineering to look at law enforcement and other ways of reducing danger at source, ” says Lord Berkeley, RDRF President, ”We also need to have a new way of measuring road danger, and include the other threats to human well-being from road traffic as part of the Mayor’s commitment to a healthy and civilised transport system”.
“Mobility measured crudely in terms of how many kilometres we move around every day has nothing whatsoever to do with quality of life, rich human interaction, satisfaction, happiness and a detailed knowledge and familiarity with places and the things we chose to do in those places.”Our roles as transport professionals or campaigners are always related to the assumption – however unstated that assumption may be – that mobility is, in itself, inherently desirable. It is, like all background assumptions or cultural themes, so deeply seated that only careful analysis will suffice in assisting us in understanding what modern transport thinking is about. And when I say “transport thinking” I mean not just that of transport professionals (highway engineers, transport planners, road safety professionals, land use planners etc.). Indeed, the current assumptions we have about mobility are so wide reaching that they impact on just about every corner of modern life.
This important and necessary book is exactly what we need to help put questions probing so many areas of modern society, as well as those immediately concerning transport professionals. Why, for example, has the cutting of the fuel tax accelerator (at massive cost to the exchequer) gone without opposition in parliament or any real public debate? If we are really supposed to be concerned about climate change, why has a level of motorisation in this country been accepted which, if universalised, would mean no prospect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions with any existing or likely technology? Do we really value local community? Are we able to even talk about all the various depredations of contemporary car culture?
In modern society, actually questioning the sense of entitlement to largely unhindered car usage is highly unusual. Some of us have tried to do so. John Adams has used the concept of “hypermobility”. With Adams and Mayer Hillman, Whitelegg carried out the key work on the loss of children’s’ independent mobility over just a short period of modern time: “One False Move”. But this kind of questioning has had little impact on actual practice, particularly in the UK.
Indeed, this questioning of assumptions – I find myself using that word again and again because it is the key one – is discouraged by those in the “Smarter Travel” movement and elsewhere as unhelpful. I disagree. Stating what is wrong with car culture and the worship of mobility is necessary. The public, as well as professionals, can benefit from being made aware of the numerous ramifications of contemporary transport and associated policies.
Biting this bullet is exactly what Whitelegg does here: I would argue that the Introduction and first two short chapters of the book are a “must read” for all transport professionals. In fact, it should be required reading for first year students on not just transport related university courses, but social science courses as the implications are so widespread. This is easily recommended because of the books concise nature and low cost as an e-book.
Of course, concision means the arguments against the villains of the piece (Air pollution; Death and injury on the roads; Energy consumption; Climate Change; Obesity and related health impacts; Community disruption; Equality and social justice; Fiscal burdens) each of which gets a chapter, are necessarily brief.
I would also argue against danger being treated in terms of the end product of death and injury. Whitelegg is a fan of the “Vision Zero” approach. Some of us are deeply sceptical of this idea, simply because death and injuries can and have been reduced precisely because of the decline of walking and cycling along with most processes of motorisation. (Whitelegg acknowledges this, but I think that he is not fully aware of how the “casualty reduction” trope has worked against reducing danger on the roads.)
Nevertheless, each chapter is worth reading, if only to provide a basis for further study. Above all, this book sets down an alternative framework for us. It is”…intended to promote the abandonment of the mobility paradigm and its replacement by something that maximises benefits to all sections of society locally and globally and minimises disbenefits. For convenience this is referred to as the accessibility paradigm.” A New Urban Design and Transport Planning Philosophy for a Sustainable Future: indeed.
The following essay is based on a review of “Is it safe in numbers?” by Christie and Pike (in Injury Prevention August 2015 Vol 21 No. 4 276-277 – see the reference to it here ) . It indicates certain attitudes and beliefs about human behaviour amongst “road safety” researchers and professionals – attitudes and beliefs which we think it important to criticise.What is “Safety in Numbers”?
The “Safety in Numbers” (SiN) thesis is associated with Jacobsen, and argues that, as Christie and Pike note:
“Based on data from the Netherlands, Denmark, USA and UK, Jacobsen’s paper in 2003 1 identiﬁed the non-linearity between the number of cyclists and pedestrians and the risk of injury from being hit by a motor vehicle. In other words, the more people walked and cycled, the fewer the number and rate of trafﬁc collisions and injuries experienced by cyclists and pedestrians—a non-linear relationship. Jacobsen, termed this relationship, ‘Safety in Numbers’ (SIN), which was shown at different levels of scale, whether at an intersection, a city or a country. More recent work has since shown SIN to occur in other countries such as Australia” (*)
I am not here restricting myself to, or defending, the work of Jacobsen. I am, however, defending the idea that people adapt to perceptions of risk (risk compensation, henceforth RC) and that SiN is a manifestation of this. In fact, a reduction in casualty rate per motor vehicle at a roundabout with the increase in flow of motor vehicles through it was noted in 1962 in a paper quoted by the father of road safety studies, Reuben Smeed, shortly afterwards. For his and other illustrations of what RC is about, see Chapter 2 here and of course the work of John Adams , particularly “Risk and Freedom” and “Risk” downloadable from his site.
RC is the causative mechanism for numerous phenomena. Some of these are the effects of “road safety” interventions which have adverse effects on those of us outside cars: the iconic case of seat belts, for example: . In presentations I often refer to the comments of Alec Issigonis about the lack of “safety features” in his Mini Minor: “If I had wanted to build a safe car, I would have put nails in the dashboard”, generally to be greeted with laughter. The effects of the use of more crashworthy cars on those outside them have been anything but laughable.
Sometimes there are beneficial types of adaptive behaviour to changes in the transport mix – albeit not ones created by “road safety” or other transport interventions. These are the ones referred to by Christie and Pike (increased numbers of people walking and cycling). Consider the following two cases. Firstly the case of an increase in cycling in the first decade of the current administration of London’s transport affairs through the GLA and TfL:Cycling in London 2000 – 2010
Looking at the annual reports by Transport for London for the first decade of his century, we see a decline in reported Killed and Seriously Injured (the most reliable casualty statistics) cyclists, moving back up to around the 2000 level in 2009. Over this time cycling approximately doubled in London, indicating something like a 40% cut in the KSI rate for the average cyclist.
What’s the explanation for this? There have been similar casualty rate declines for other modes, but these are claimed to be due to highway and vehicle engineering. There has been little of engineering with significant benefit for cyclists – the much-vaunted segregated cycle tracks promised in the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling are only being completed now, in mid-2015. Policing of London’s drivers is minimal at best, with a flurry of activity occurring at the end of 2013 after a spate of cyclist deaths.
There has been an increase in cyclist training, with some evidence that recipients are less likely to be involved in collisions – but the vast majority of London’s cyclists have not had this training. There have been advertising and publicity campaigns asking cyclists and drivers to behave in certain ways: this form of “road safety” intervention is the least proven of all types.
There is one possible area where some interventions by Transport for London may have been effective: collisions where cyclists are killed under the wheels of lorries (HGVs). While the Killed statistic is the most reliable of all casualty statistics, in London it is difficult to use, as it is small for cyclists – the annual number is typically between 9 and 18 and is difficult to use in statistical analysis. Nevertheless, the number of cyclists killed in this way stayed more or less the same during the first decade of this century despite there being an increase in lorry traffic (and even more so in the construction industry, whose vehicles are particularly implicated) in the areas where most London cycling occurs – inner and central London. Even more striking, the increase in cycling in inner London was greater than the London average: other things being equal, one might have expected the number of cyclists killed in this way to be 3 – 4 times higher than it was in this decade. (Of course, as will be pointed out below, this is not any reason for complacency – the lorries issue is one which should be addressed forcefully, as we argue here ).
What’s the reason for this? TfL during this decade made efforts to alert lorry drivers, a small fraction of cyclists have been warned not to undertake lorries, and operators were urged to use additional mirrors. But would these efforts have resulted in a massive cut in the death rate amongst cyclists? My argument would be that there has been substantial publicity (particularly in London’s Evening Standard and the London BBC and ITV news programmes), and likely informal discussion among the lorry driver community.
It is crucial to remember that this need not involve what is often referred to as “respect” for cyclists – as in so-called “mutual respect” advertising campaigns – but simple awareness of cyclists. Lorry drivers may still (or even more so) regard cyclists as a hazard or menace: the point is that they appear to be more willing to watch out for them.
Of course, outside the community of professional lorry drivers, we would expect the SiN effect to be less, as indeed it appears to be with a less dramatic fall in the cyclist casualty rate.
Of other explanations the main one raised is of course cycle helmet wearing, with use apparently increasing during this time period. On this I would refer to the work by the Cyclists’ Touring Club and other evidence collected by the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation.
In addition, we have to ask what the beneficial effect of cycle helmets would be on the Serious Injury figures. (As already noted, the annual number of cyclist deaths is difficult to use in statistical analysis, and the majority of these either involve lorries or high speed collisions with motor vehicles where helmets will have little benefit).
Even where a helmet may have had a beneficial effect after a collision, the collision should still be analysed as a Serious Injury (SI) for reporting (on the STATS 19 form) purposes. One reason for this is that where the helmet liner has been damaged (supposedly preventing a head injury from being Serious rather than Slight) the injured person should still be under observation, and thus more likely to be recorded as a Serious Injury. Another is that other injuries may fulfil the SI criteria. All of this applies even without any adaptive (risk compensatory) behaviour by either helmeted cyclists or other road users towards them.Removal of pedestrian guard railings in London
This is the second case: For the evidence see the debate with John Adams in Local Transport Today 26/08/2011. Essentially, the pressure put on motorists to have to watch out for crossing pedestrians and be more careful has had some beneficial effect. Of course, there are always other factors – like having sufficiently slow speeds – but there is still the sort of effect that SiN is all about.What we think of SiN
Our reading of SiN as a form of adaptive behaviour/RC is, like RC, something which we think of as a plausible reason for some phenomena. It is important to state what we DON’T think about it.
Firstly: “Implied in the SIN concept is that cyclists and pedestrians travel in proximity with each other and that the protective effect is similar to the protective effect of animal herds”. We have no evidence of this assumption. The “critical mass” sometimes referred to in discussions about SiN is the effect of increasing numbers impressing greater awareness on other road users, specifically drivers.
Secondly, it is not sufficient to argue that all we have to do is to increase the numbers of people walking and cycling – nor has anybody ever suggested this to be the case. The road danger reduction agenda argues that we require a shift in our everyday assumptions about transport and safety. This may be manifested through technological changes (as in highway and vehicle engineering, or in aids to law enforcement) or simply in the ways people behave.
UK cyclists riding in in countries like France and Spain point out significantly different driver behaviour towards them: the idea that UK drivers (with basically similar genetic make-up) could not change, albeit over some time, to behave the same way is nonsense. That does not mean that the usual publicity campaigns will be effective, or that relying on drivers to change their behaviour because they have also cycled will be effective. It just means that change occurs – often entirely irrespective of any official “road safety” intervention.
SiN is at least a partial explanation for some beneficial changes, and can be part of wider moves to reduce danger at source.
By contrast, the reaction of some such as Christie and Pike is hyperbolic. The attention of public health promoters was apparently “grabbed” by the concept of SiN, allowing them to make “clarion calls” resulting in :
“… a paradigm shift among planners and engineers who could think about pedestrian and bicycle safety in a different way and not be so fearful that by encouraging increases in walking and cycling they would see an increase in trafﬁc collisions and causalities”.
I doubt that there has been a “paradigm shift” except in terms of increased verbal “support” for walking and cycling, with an exception being in London – (mainly) characterised by segregating, rather than integrating cyclists with the general traffic flow. Public health professionals have been pointing out the benefits of walking and cycling for over twenty-five years, showing that the benefits of cycling in particular far outweighed the dangers even in then existing conditions (which were not to be tolerated anyway).
Christie and Pike are particularly concerned about criticism of helmet advocacy which draws attention to the adverse effects on cycling levels. Given the adverse effects of compulsion http://rdrf.org.uk/2013/12/17/the-effects-of-new-zealands-cycle-helmet-law/ , this is hardly surprising.(no comment is made by Christie and Pike about this evidence, nor the likely reasons for a lack of effect of mandation http://rdrf.org.uk/2013/12/27/the-effects-of-new-zealands-cycle-helmet-law-the-evidence-and-what-it-means/ .)
There is an alternative source of concern about SiN, namely from the new wave of cycle campaigners pushing for full y segregated cycle tracks as the key feature of a pro-cycling programme. Their argument is that such provision creates safe conditions to cycle, which then supports mass cycling. The consensus in RDRF is that while we’re happy to go along with the current push for “Space4Cycling” in the UK and London in particular, we have reservations about specific issues (driver behaviour at junctions, potential conflict with pedestrians at bus bypasses and on segregated cycle tracks), the lack of relevance on rural roads and more generally the possible adverse effects on the majority of streets where cyclists will travel in proximity to motor vehicles.
However, we are fully in agreement with the idea that cycling must be supported as an everyday form of basic transport carried out ordinary people wearing ordinary clothes, as opposed to a specialised athletic pursuit (although that can also be accommodated). Our main difference is a concern about “dangerising” existing cycling, and arguing for support for those people already cycling, as well as the full range of measures required for reducing danger at source for cyclists and others, whether highway engineering or other methods: vehicle technologies, law enforcement etc.
Our view is that high cycling rates and low cycling casualty rates per journey are achieved when cycling is regarded as a normal form of transport where special clothing and helmets are not seen as required. This appears to be at odds with Christie and Pike.
Why the panic?
There has traditionally been hostility towards increasing the numbers of people walking and cycling among “road safety” professionals, as “vulnerable road users” outside cars they are particularly prone to injury and death after collisions and not to be encouraged. (This opposition does not extend to a significant proportion of the “road safety” industry that advocates the far more hazardous form of transport that is motorcycling). Cycling, in particular, is seen as problematic.
One way this manifests itself is the way the problem is measured. For us this is critical, and requires a fundamental transformation in the way we conceptualise safety on the road. For traditional “road safety” professionals, it is the aggregate number of KSIs, or at least the aggregate number of a road user group KSIs. So, Christie and Pike mention: “…the relative high risk of injury among pedestrians and cyclists from deprived areas, where we know people walk more because there is less access to a car?” as a counter to SiN. But is there this “high risk of injury”?
What we know from such neighbourhoods is that there is indeed far more walking and street play. Taking into account this level of exposure, such pedestrians may in fact have quite a low level of risk – a low rate of injury per hour spent walking or playing in the street. But then an exposure based measure is not what the “road safety industry” is interested in.
Another indication of a scared reaction to prospects of increased cycling is: “… that 8 out of 10 injured cyclists result from single crashes not involving a collision with a motor vehicle”. Of course, as with all road crashes, there is the question of under-reporting. But there is no reason to think that there has been any change in the proportion of cyclist casualties that are under-reported: in terms of a trend, the picture is the same. Also, how serious are these collisions that might involve children playing (often off-road) on bicycles?
More importantly, is it really helpful to suggest that danger from the (ab)use of motor vehicles is not the problem? Is that what the “road safety” professionals want us to think?
The conceptualising of cycling as, we think, a key element in helmet advocacy.??? Sure enough, one of the authors mentions cycle helmet wearing as one of his two key points to consider when taking to the roads in this video . (The other is seat belt wearing which we would think of as grimly ironic in this context given the adverse effects of seat belt laws on cyclists and pedestrians) .And they ignore unreported pedestrian falls, which probably mean that figures for the relative danger of walking and cycling make cycling look worse than it is.
Christie and Pike do acknowledge that there is some sort of possible SiN effect, and call – as academics are so wont to – for further research. We would also agree with them that good quality highway engineering is required for cyclists and pedestrians.
But we need to point out the flaws in a belief system that has stood in the way of the more benign modes for far too long, and indeed been part of the problem for walkers and cyclists. If new research is indeed forthcoming, it has to take into account two features constantly highlighted by the road danger reduction movement. Firstly the hierarchy of danger in a car-centric society with discrimination against non-car modes, specifically, cycling as key. Secondly, that people constantly adapt to their perceptions of risk. Otherwise we will get nowhere.
NOTE* Linearity is the wrong word. The null hypothesis is that the risk does not change with cyclist numbers.
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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 MayorThe 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: http://www.fors-online.org.uk/cms/warning-signage. 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