“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
As someone who has tried to demythologise beliefs held not just by the general public, but transport professionals and not a few campaigners, I welcome Steve Melia’s addition to the debunking literature.
Let’s take a look at some of the common – and seriously obfuscating – myths tackled in this book:
Melia points out what has actually happened to the cost of motoring. This has been a key theme for RDRF – it still fascinates us how little is said about how it has become cheaper duringa time of austerity with items like housing becoming more expensive. Naturally we would have liked a discussion about the idea/myth/prejudice that motorists are constantly harried by the police – a key element in the wannabe victimhood of too many drivers, and which is restricted here to a brief discussion about speed cameras .
This was one of John Prescott’s favourite themes, supposedly based on the German experience. The author takes a look at the evidence from Germany – and comes to the opposite conclusion.
Melia whips through induced demand (and a little on the other side of the coin, traffic evaporation), movement of economic activity from one area to another caused by road building rather than increased overall economic activity, and the sins of cost-benefit analysis.
A necessary chapter on land use planning, often missed out in public debate. But professionals too can get things wrong. Melia avoids the simplistic: he shows how “The relationship between employment, housing and travel to work is complex: putting jobs next to housing doesn’t necessarily reduce travel distances”. Oh yes, and flats are only 20% of British housing stock, and only 19% of households are a couple with one or more children.
How many times do you hear this from people – including transport professionals? If you think that, you need to read Chapter 5.
It’s seeing how a simplistic “solution” can fail that is a key strength of this book. To extend the critique of “just spend money on public transport” further, a key section is the author’s research on three European cities that have tried to reduce car use through support for public transport ,and also cycling and walking. The work on Freiburg, Lyon and Groningen shows – and this is my favourite quote of many from the book – that:
“A combination of measures was key to the success of all three cities. If just one measure is taken, public transport, cycling or walking may substitute for each other instead of reducing car driving. Or people may simply choose to travel more. This can be avoided if all three are supported at the same time and car driving is restrained in some way.”(Page 147)A question of adaptation
Melia has a sensitive scepticism to claims of certainty, no doubt based on his studies which show how people adapt their behaviours to changes in circumstances. I’d have liked more of this to come through in the discussion of shared space by discussing risk compensation, as I think the debate has moved on somewhat since the kind of arguments aired here (and also on cycling and the Netherlands).
Part of the problem is that brevity in this book doesn’t allow for the kind of depth I would have liked to see: my view is that we need to have more extensive discussion of issues like cost-benefit analysis, such as in the work of John Adams . The virtue of this book is its brevity and concision – giving an ability to swiftly demolish a common myth. But that concision is also its failing: for some of us there is the need for more in depth work. Still, that can come from other sources.
But he doesn’t let anybody get away from the truths of modern transport. Look again at how Dutch people have adapted – and here I’m not talking about cycling with its massive modal share. I’m talking about what has happened where motoring has been provided for with the Dutch motorway network. This is shown in Figure 11.9 and pages 120 -122. Yes, you’ll have to see for yourself! But don’t worry, that graph and its explanation are worth the price of the book alone.
There are inevitably some weak areas of the book. I think the chapter on London is overly optimistic and praiseworthy of its transport administration since 2000. Also, Melia’s s chief concern is climate change and he has an awareness of non-urban transport, so it would have been nice to have a look at rural and suburban solutions.
But this highly readable book demonstrates again and again how the problems caused by the rise and continuing extension of motorisation cannot be solved by piecemeal “solutions”. They need to be properly described and addressed with a coherent approach – one which is going to inevitably challenge myths and prejudices held by many professionals and much of the public alike. For those committed to a sustainable transport policy and its implementation, this book is a good start on the journey.
Amongst the deluge of unquestioned “road safety” press releases from the “road safety” industry, one recent one grabs our attention. Time for us to question this initiative from truck manufacturers Scania – and one from Volvo – with another bit of recent publicity on the same matter.The Scania/RSGB initiative
Released at the recent trade show by Scania in partnership with the official “road safety” practitioners’ organisation RSGB, the programme is outlined here.
Essentially it is based on telling primary school children not to cycle near the nearside of lorries, and not to stand on the footway (pavement) near corners. Do look at the material here.Launch of initiative: representatives of Transport for London’s Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme (TfL/FORS); Road Safety Great Britain (RSGB) and Scania How about safer lorries?
Remember this sorry story of the blocking of the introduction safer lorries in Europe? (Also read this in The Times.) Essentially, under pressure from lorry manufacturers, the French and Swedish governments blocked manufacturers from implementing more aerodynamic lorry designs. The manufacturers generally referred to were (for France) Renault and (for Sweden) Scania and Volvo, although Scania are 80% owned by Volkswagen, and Volvo are now largely under Chinese ownership.
The redesign which was delayed was primarily there for the benefit of operators wishing to save fuel by having greater vehicle aerodynamics from peripheral “skirts”. This also benefits cyclist and pedestrian safety by providing lower cabs with more driver visibility, and skirting and/or lower vehicle and cab bodies to reduce chances of being dragged under lorry wheels.
The principle of Road Danger Reduction – as opposed to traditional “road safety” – is to reduce danger at source. In this case this means controlling the design and operation of lorries, enforcing laws to control lorry driver behaviour, and engineering the highway to prevent lorries from coming close to cyclists and pedestrians. What we have here is something which should only be considered when these options have been properly implemented.
The next two sections have been reproduced from an earlier post – but are worth repeating:
An aside: The recent history of lorry design
At this point I should refer to a meeting I had at Transport for London (with my colleague from the London Boroughs Cycling Officers Group). This was at a time (I think 2002) before The Times started pushing for cyclist safety, when we had to fight hard to get anybody to take notice of the HGVs/Cyclists issue. We were met by, among others, a freight industry representative, who explained the 10-year cycle of lorry design, manufacture, sale and use.
Now, it was a while ago, and I may have got the details wrong (and they may have been inaccurately conveyed to us) but my understanding was this: Lorry manufacturers take about ten years to design, implement and manufacture a model, and this will then be bought and used by operators for another ten years before they buy the next model. We were told – as I recall – that the next design/manufacture cycle would start in 2010. New models would come in then, and by 2020 almost all HGVs would have the safer and more aerodynamic characteristics shown above.
But they didn’t. The episode recounted above – where RDRF joined others to lobby the EU to allow (that is just allow, let alone make mandatory) safer lorry design – indicates that the cycle we are now in ignored all the evidence about the importance of lorry design for cyclist and pedestrian safety in the 1990s and early 2000s, as well as the desire of operators to have more fuel-efficient vehicles.The HGV problem in context
We have been working on the safety issue for cyclists and pedestrians posed by HGVs, specifically in cities, since the early 1990s. There is a range of solutions which require implementing, namely:
Highway engineering which could eliminate potential collisions of all severities, and also do so with collisions involving all motor vehicles and create safer space. This is restricted to specific locations, and is less relevant for pedestrians, so attention is also needed to engineering HGVs so that drivers can be aware of who and what is around them. HGVs should also be engineered so that it becomes far more difficult (or impossible) for pedestrians or cyclists to be crushed, by skirting HGVs or otherwise reducing the gap between road surface and the body of the vehicle. Safety standards on HGVs can also be enforced by the police. Swift and high quality post-crash investigation, and the threat of deterrent sentencing for unsafe HGV operation are required. Construction sites and operators can be subject to appropriate procurement procedures to push forward relevant measures. Additional technologies such as black box recorders and pedestrian/cyclist-activated vehicle braking systems should be introduced.
HGV driver training is necessary, although low down the list of priorities. We are believers in cycle training, but the essential issue is reducing danger at source – from HGVs (particularly construction industry HGVs) which are currently unfit for purpose in a city. Not all of the million people who sometimes cycle in London can be reached or – even if experienced and careful – expected to avoid HGVs that hit them from behind or overtake and turn left. Even where a cyclist or pedestrian is careless or ignorant (as we all are on occasion) they do not deserve to be punished with death or serious injury. After all, motorists have their carelessness accommodated by highway and vehicle engineering – why shouldn’t cyclists or pedestrians?
For further discussion see the post by Bill Chidley here with RDRF comments below.
“Keeping children safe”
Forgive the emphasis on use of language – we are keen on this at RDRF. The first point is that we focus on danger in terms of danger to others. In this sense, aside from rare examples of child pedestrians knocking over cyclists, child cyclists on pavements troubling elderly pedestrians etc., children are very safe.
But let’s look at what happens when primary school children are subject to the ETP (Education, Training and Publicity) of the “road safety” industry. For decades it has been known that relentless campaigns exhorting children of primary school age to get out of the way of drivers have little impact on their behaviour. They are not, however, totally ineffective.
In my view they have a subtle background effect – people have memories of being instructed in “road safety”, even if there was no actual change in their behaviour, years afterwards. Essentially a message does get through – that it is right and necessary to defer to those more threatening than you are. A might-is-right ideology is transmitted to the most impressionable in society.
Let’s look at the two messages here in more detail: The first, about not cycling up the nearside of large vehicles is communicated in effective Bikeability cycle training as one of numerous elements. But good quality Bikeability training promotes cycling, and results in more people developing confidence and abilities for a variety of situations on the road, and also makes people aware of their rights as equal road users when cycling. It isn’t about scare tactics or disassociated from the business of getting around. Children taking part may even have to un-learn what they have previously been taught about always getting out of the way of motor traffic.
The second is telling children that the pavement is often not a place where pedestrians should be. What effect will this have when – as seems likely – they become motorists some years later? It won’t have a noticeable effect on changing the behaviour of primary school children – as said above, these programmes tend not to. And anyway, how many primary schoolchildren are actually hit on street corners by HGVs when standing there?
What is Scania doing for lorry safety?
Why are Scania still selling construction vehicles like the one below, with poor visibility for drivers and a large gap between vehicle body and tarmac for cyclists and pedestrians to go into?
Our contact at Tip-Ex (the trade show where the initiative was launched) notes that Scania has been offering a service to retro-fit glazed panels to the lower part of nearside cab doors, but they weren’t clear about the extent to which that had been taken up. This kind of retro-fitting (in this case to give some proper visibility to HGV drivers) is one of the many pieces of re-engineering that should be implemented as soon as possible.
Operators and local highway authorities like Transport for London should press strongly for this until “blind-spots” are eliminated and there is no large space for pedestrians and cyclists to enter and be crushed in.
And “Road Safety GB”?
What are “Road Safety Great Britain” doing to support enforcement of laws, engineer highways and vehicles to reduce the danger to cyclists and pedestrians of all ages, and oppose attempts to delay introduction of safer lorries, etc. etc?VOLVO: “Stop, look, wave – a few good tips could save children’s’ lives”.
Do look at Volvo’s programme here. Here at RDRF we have something of a general problem with Volvo. We point out the adverse effects on other road users of drivers feeling that they have to less to worry about because of increased crashworthiness of their vehicle. And Volvo have historically been synonymous with greater car crashworthiness.
We note that in the concluding comments to the recent TfL/CLOCS conference by CLOCS chairman Brian Weatherly, he said, “When will CLOCS’ work be completed? Volvo has Vision 2020 – no one will be killed by a Volvo HGV in 2020. It would be an excellent goal for everyone in CLOCS to adopt. If we could achieve that we would know CLOCS has done its job.” Since re-engineered lorries will not now be on the roads until after 2020, and many lorries that are already on the roads will, one does rather wonder about Volvo’s Vision 2020.
So when we saw the release about trucks, children’s lives being saved and Volvo, we thought it only fair to let you know.
Everything we have said above about HGVs applies in this case as well.
Also, (a minor point on the eye contact question. Establishing eye contact is good practice – although don’t forget what happens with visually impaired pedestrians. But:
“To make sure you have gained the driver’s attention, WAVE and wait for the driver to wave back. Now you can cross the street. “
“Always Stop, Look and Wave before crossing a street to prevent an accident.”
What happens when the driver doesn’t wave back?
For a moderate and sensible approach to dealing with the issues around lorry danger look at the work of the cycle campaign groups, particularly London Cycling campaign (most recently, see this http://lcc.org.uk/articles/safer-lorry-for-cyclists-on-show-and-in-use-in-london and the latest issue of its London Cyclist.
As we approach the 80th anniversary of the compulsory driving test in the UK, there will be some discussion of how there could be modifications of the current driving test. There will be calls for a ”graduated driving test” and possibly even the argument that drivers should retake “the test”.
I take a different approach. I argue that, however much it has been modified or tweaked, the role of the “test” is actually to boost the sense of entitlement of drivers – encouraging the sense of “undue proficiency” that Churchill perceptively noticed. Whatever benefits it may have are thus diminished, and I doubt whether it has a significant – or indeed perhaps any – overall function as a means of controlling road danger.
Saying this is rather taboo, but I think that this taboo needs to be broken. Let’s see how the compulsory driving test for motorists is in many ways part of the problem of danger on the roads. Below I enclose what I wrote about “the test” in 1992 (fully referenced version here)Page 108 – 111, and then I see whether anything has changed since then.Congratulatory cards: What is “the great achievement”? From: “Death on the Streets: cars and the mythology of road safety” Safety and “the test”
The driving test which British motorists must pass in order to possess a valid driving licence was brought in only after prolonged campaigning, against bitter opposition. As early as 1903, debate in Parliament and elsewhere had mentioned the need for a means of testing people before they could be entrusted with a motorcar.’° Along with associated demands from a public increasingly concerned about a rising total of road deaths for measures such as speed limits, compulsory insurance, law enforcement, licensing and the registration and numbering of vehicles, its introduction was fought with tenacity by the motoring organisations. As one account of this battle, which is not unsympathetic to the motorists’ cause, states: “What they had to overcome in order to get the necessary legislation on the statute books was the determined, articulate and well-financed opposition of the powerful car lobby.” Considering the road and vehicle conditions of the 1930s, the campaigners’ case for a test seems irrefutable, and the opposition to it an example of how ruthless the motorists’ lobby could be.
Yet there was a good deal of humility in the approach of the campaigners, whether in organisations such as the Pedestrians’ Association for Road Safety or leader writers reflecting public horror at a road toll which had reached an all-time high in 1934, the year before the introduction of “the test”. There was no basic opposition to mass motoring as such from the campaigners. Despite the fact that a minority of road users had completely transformed the road environment in less than two decades, their demands were moderate, to say the least. The call for a 30 mph speed limit, for example, has to be seen in the context of poor and unreliable braking capacity, less reliable road surfaces and road layouts far more difficult to negotiate than now.
Private motoring was exclusively a middle- and upper-class pursuit, cycling a predominantly working class one; but the issue was rarely seen as one of class politics) The campaign for “the test” was, then, a request for motorists to become a little more responsible, rather than a serious attempt at control. Part of a humble and placid approach, it was typified by those campaigners who tried to achieve their ends, like cycling and pedestrian safety campaigners today, by friendly persuasion using their own driving behaviour as an example.
If they could drive with care and respect for other road users, why couldn’t other motorists? Like other approaches skirting the fundamental problems of road danger, the campaign was always going to have limited or even negative results. The dangers of the driving test – so accurately perceived by Churchill were not (and are still not) appreciated. Instead the RAC complained that it would be wrong to demand a test for a driving licence when one was not required for a dog licence. In the event, driving tests became compulsory for new licence holders from June 1935. It was a double-edged victory. Benefits are not only inadequate in terms of screening out incompetent drivers or providing proper training, but are absorbed by encouraging feelings of pride and supposed fulfilment of responsibility.2. The nature of “the test”
After a period of instruction, learner drivers are required to drive for about half an hour showing knowledge of the Highway Code and the ability to carry out basic manoeuvres. This is probably the last time that many drivers seriously attempt to obey the Highway Code. Roadside observation indicates frequent and regular rule breaking by many, if not most, motorists. And spot checks reveal that most motorists are ignorant of basic elements of knowledge of driving that they may be examined on in “the test”, such as ability to recognise basic road signs.’
The chances of being caught for behaviour which flouts the Highway Code is, as shown in Chapter 7 of this book, minimal, even for those potentially dangerous behaviours which can be seen. if there is no attempt to ensure that people obey the laws they are supposed to follow, why get them to display knowledge of them? Also, as the existence of so-called advance driver training indicates, why test at such a low level? And why the implicit assumption that unlike for any other semi-skilled task people’s ability will not decrease over time (with ‘the test’ occurring once in a lifetime if driving)
There is a defence of “the test” against these charges. It is that about half of those taking it fail, and that therefore it must be a stringent examination of driving skills. The Department of Transport does not bother to compile figures dealing with long term chances of passing. My impression is that those who are determined to gain a driving licence find it quite easy to pass “the test” by taking it again and again, without necessarily acquiring more skills. I would argue that a real indicator of chances of passing for those prepared to take a test, for example, five times, would be nearer 80 to 95 per cent. These are not new criticisms. It should be obvious that taking “the test” is of little value in preventing motorists from being dangerous. Despite this it is still thought of as an important commitment, or even concession, made by motorists which cyclists (or even pedestrians) get away with not making.’
Even a difficult, regularly repeated test would not close the gap in the potential to break regulations or inflict damage that exists between motorists and the benign road user groups. Not only is “the test” a weak control, then, its social function is largely to provide a defence against accusations of antisocial behaviour, whether it actually minimises the likelihood of antisocial behaviour or not. The reason for putting inverted commas around the phrase “the test” is partly to cast doubt on its supposed function as a genuine restriction of dangerous behaviour. It also needs to be seen as an element in the successful completion of a rite of passage. Its role is to confer on the person who passes the idea that they have become a responsible road user, superior to others who have not. In this sense “the test” is dangerous anybody seriously committed to a career of careful driving needs a sense of humility, rather than the pride associated with passing. It is arguable that its existence does more harm than good.
Nearly 60 years after its introduction, initial results were published of research on whether drivers who had passed “the test” would be able to pass it within the following two years. In a survey of 400 such motorists, just under half were unable to pass it. The main reason given for their failure was overconfidence.’3. A proper test?
To meet the criticisms of inadequate training and testing, and that testing should occur after the driver has some experience of driving alone, various forms of advanced driver training have been introduced. They are also open to criticism. First, there is doubt about the levels of effectiveness of the various tests for those who take them. Particularly at the level of the less sophisticated defensive driver training, there may be no benefit in terms of reduced tendency to become involved in accidents.’
There is, however, evidence that people who pass an advanced driver test will have better accident records afterwards than those who fail it. The most frequently quoted is a 1972 TRRL study of the difference between successful and unsuccessful Institute of Advanced Motorists (JAM) test candidates. Those passing had 25 per cent fewer accidents over a three-year period after the test than those failing. The JAM claims a conviction rate among its motorists of 1.9 per cent as against a national average of 10.4 per cent, although this is not corrected for age and other variables – those who want to take the lAM test may in the first place already be less likely to have accidents than a national average. For this reason the possibility of making such a test compulsory has been raised since at least the late 1960s. It has been opposed successfully on the grounds that “the cost of introducing and maintaining such a test is… unacceptably high.
But this is only part of the story. Training which would teach people how to drive carefully is time-consuming, particularly if regularly repeated. Besides, a substantial proportion of the current licence holders at present on the road would lose their licences if regular testing at a proficient level were required. It is estimated that if the RoSPA advanced drivers test were to be compulsory for licence holders, some 30 to 40 per cent of current drivers would lose their licences, even after being offered appropriate training. The motoring organisations are unlikely to support a measure which would sizeably reduce their membership, revenue and power.
More demanding training and testing are limited for the same reasons that limit all attempts to control the dangers which motorists present to others – namely the unwillingness of motorists to accept them. At present the membership of the 1AM constitutes some 90,000, or about 0.45 per cent of all licensed motorists, with a smaller number of motorists having passed other similar tests. This tiny minority are a self-selected group prepared to admit that their skills might possibly be deficient. Central to the ideology of the motorist is the idea that driving is a personal, private matter. When added to notions of prestige and pride, this is hardly likely to lead to the kind of humility and self-criticism required to accept repeated rigorous training and testing.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++So what has happened since I wrote the above over twenty years ago?
A current subject for “road safety” practitioners is “graduated licensing” for new drivers, as “those drivers who have most recently passed their test are still the riskiest group on the road, prompting concern that the current testing system is outdated and irrelevant”.
Of course, part of the reason for recent graduates being “still the riskiest group” is precisely the fact that they have passed the driving test and taken on the pride and over-confidence that this means – something which won’t be addressed by graduated licensing. Probably the main reason this group is “still the riskiest group” is that it is composed of young – generally higher risk-taking – people. That would only be changed by restricting to driving to people over the age of 21 (or perhaps higher), but that isn’t on the cards.
Another perennial issue is that of drivers in their old age. The transport planner John Dales has suggested that it is a mark of “how low we have sunk” that people only have to take a driving test once, and can then drive for decades without being re-tested. During that time highway and car environments have changed, and reaction times and psycho-motor reflexes slow. So it would make sense to have another driving test for elderly people, or one every five years or so, to weed out those who become incompetent.
However, a “road safety” organisation advocating this stresses that it “would be voluntary and ‘non-threatening’. Last year I gave an example of a collision I witnessed (Case 4 here) where a “driver education course” was an alternative to the trivial “punishment” likely to follow a careless driving prosecution, with the elderly driver who had injured somebody ending up paying less (from an increased insurance premium following conviction) as well as avoiding a fine and a few penalty points.
Even a mandatory test for elderly drivers would be unlikely to address problems of fatigue and physical decline, as the test could be carefully prepared for. Anything which acted to control danger from drivers, elderly or otherwise, is, again, not on the cards.
Or there is the question of pass rates. The authorities proudly show how many fail the different parts of the test on each try. But how many people have you ever come across who were genuinely committed to getting a driving license who simply found the business of “passing the test” too arduous? Leaving aside some people with learning difficulties and a few outliers, I would say very few at all. Any weeding out which occurs is quite minimal, and more than outweighed by the sense of pride and entitlement – the great achievement shown in the congratulatory card above – resulting from passing. Of course the test could be repeated, but that might involve disqualifying some drivers – so it is not on the cards. The best of all would be to examine drivers without them being aware of scrutiny (through on-board cameras etc). No, that too is not on the cards – how many people would be able to avoid being banned from driving if their everyday driving failed to follow the standards of their behaviour on the one occasion where they have to drive properly?
The social function of the test
All this points towards asking why the test is there in the first place. I find I have to restate the conclusions I arrived at a couple of decades ago: the compulsory driving test is there as part of the structure of a society organised around a culture which is not just characterised by dependence on car usage, but by dependence on more dependence on car usage, and uncritical rejection of any real attempt to address the disbenefits of such a society. It is in thrall to a belief system where motorists can aspire to drive where, when and how they want, for whatever reason, with minimal restriction. Then there is the built-in sense of entitlement and wounded victimhood.
One particularly unpleasant aspect of this is the rampant prejudice against cyclists. Today (26/05/2015) BBC Radio 4 ran a programme asking listeners to submit problems they had had as pedestrians where their safety had been compromised. This referred not to the vast majority of such incidents, where motor vehicles are involved, but instead to the tiny minority where cyclists are. Despite evidence showing the relative lack of threat to pedestrians or others, such mystification myth-creation proceeds apace, while road danger created by motor vehicle users is apparently accepted. And one of the ways it has come to be accepted is by the mistaken notion that drivers have fulfilled their responsibilities by “taking a test”.
This has important implications for those concerned about displays of bigotry from the official national broadcasting organisation. And professionals and campaigners concerned with safety on the road should be concerned – not least since we are told that drivers need all sorts of highway and vehicle engineering because of their propensity to crash, and negative views towards other road users who are their potential victims are the last thing needed and a very real problem. A basic reaction is to argue that it is motorists who need proper regulation and accountability, rather than cyclists.
But this, as with much “road safety” ideology, is a case of getting hold of the wrong end of the stick, not once, but twice over. What is required apart from pointing in the right direction (towards the motorised) is a realisation that “passing a test” – one of the supposed solutions to the supposed problem of mass danger from errant cyclists – is that the driving test is itself part of the problem.
A Porsche has been driven over the footway and into the Gerrards Cross branch of Cafe Nero, temporarily trapping two customers. No charge has been made by Thames Valley police, who are quoted as saying that the incident is “not thought to be suspicious”.
In this essay I examine this and a few similar incidents to see how the authorities accept and tolerate obvious rule and law breaking by motorists. As well as the Police services involved, the official “road safety” authorities in highway engineering collude and connive with this sort of violent behaviour. There is little comment on these incidents to challenge what appears to be the dominant narrative of tolerance of this behaviour, not least the type of language involved.
I challenge that narrative below, and argue against the dominant approach to these incidents, as well as the tolerance of them by the authorities. I think it indicates that in a crucial respect – the apparent acceptance of rule and law breaking by people simply because they have chosen to drive – this society is fundamentally uncivilised.
I am choosing seven different incidents which I have picked up in the last few months to illustrate my case. I am used to reading of similar cases on a regular basis: nothing about them is, in my view, exceptional or atypical.Incident 1: Sheffield, reported 21st January 2015
According to the Guardian: “In Sheffield, a car careered through the front window of a house after losing control in the treacherous conditions. It was pictured by passers-by after it mounted the kerb, drove through the garden wall and into the property.”
The issue here is apparently one of an inanimate object which manages to “lose(s) control” (presumably this is a loss of self-control), and power itself (“mount”, “drive”) with no human agency involved.
If I may continue to examine the language used: the one occasion where pejorative words are employed again relates to the inanimate, this time the weather conditions. These are said to be nothing less than “treacherous”. The implication is that unsuspecting drivers have been betrayed by what many of us have assumed to be a normal occurrence, namely snow falling in Yorkshire in the winter.
The Yorkshire Post uses the same language regarding the inanimate object: “The red Ford lost control and mounted the curb, before ploughing into the front window of the property on the residential street”.
I contacted the local police through Twitter to find:
I don’t want to get pompous about this, but it fascinates me that everything other than the driver is blamed. I’m sure that car-dependent Sheffield residents have all sorts of problems to contend with, but surely they should be aware that (a) Sheffield is hilly and (b) when it has been snowing the road surface is likely to be icy?Incident 2: Whittlesey, A605, reported 21st February 2015.
The account on the Facebook page of Policing Whittlesey describes the incident:Policing Whittlesey
Officers on patrol in Whittlesey witnessed a vehicle roll several times on the A605, landing upside down in a water filled ditch, a lone female was trapped inside the car full of icy water, the quick thinking officers put themselves at risk to rescue the the lady working tirelessly to prise the door open and pull her to safety, the lady is currently in hospital and on the road to recovery! If it wasn’t for these officers being in the right place at the right time it could of been a very different story. The roads are going to be icy of the next few days, please drive safely
I should make one point very clear: along with the commenters on the Facebook page, I applaud the police officers for their selflessness and commitment to assisting any member of the public in distress; however they came to be in the situation described.
I do have a problem though. In fact, I think the story as described by Police officers (and those commenting) is fascinating for what it leaves out. In fact, I think the Police and others commenting have the problem.
As indicated in my exchange on Twitter with Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Roads Police:
At no point in the accounts and Facebook comments is there the suggestion that the driver who overturned her car had committed any kind of offence or done anything wrong. Indeed, the driver is only seen as a victim, for example in one comment that the Council may have not put enough grit on the roads. Another comment argues that the task of rescuing errant drivers is what the Police are for, and not just catching criminals. Or charging any careless driver?Incident 3: Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire: 16th May 2015.
According to the local newspaper :Porsche Smashes Through Coffee Shop Window
A Thames Valley Police spokesman said: “The incident involved one vehicle and resulted in minor injuries to a woman who was the only person in the car. Two people, a man and a woman, were also temporarily trapped inside the building but were released. The road has since been reopened.”
Police said the incident was not thought to be suspicious.(My emphasis)
As in other cases, there were some comments to the effect that the inanimate object – a car – was assumed to be the problem, rather than the person legally in charge of it. The other comment is the one I use in the heading of this piece, namely that there is “nothing suspicious” about driving a high-powered car across the footway of a busy street and into a coffee shop, in a Home Counties town on a Saturday afternoon.
The Fire Brigade (who attended the scene) tweeted :
Bucks and MK Fire @Bucksfire · May 16 . So glad it wasn’t worse. Must have been terrifying for everyone.
Note the equivalence between the suffering of people sitting in the coffee shop and the driver. Neutralising the difference between those endangering others and those who are endangered by motor vehicles is a staple feature of “road safety” ideologyIncident 4 Elephant and Castle , London 30 July 2014
In this case where the two car occupants had minor injuries, police said they were investigating and that no arrests had been made. (It may be the case that the vehicle was forced off the road by a third party, but this possibility could be easily investigated through use of the CCTV cameras at the roundabout). Elephant and Castle is known as a site where the Metropolitan Police Service regularly stop and issue fines to cyclists who have gone over the stop line when signals are on red, an infraction rather less likely to hurt or kill other road users than whatever happened in this incident.Incident 5 Blackheath, London 17th March 2015
The lorry “overturned”. One minor injury. No reports of any arrests made.Incident 6 28 October 2014 Wandsworth Road, London.
In one account: “A Waitrose truck flips over”. In another “A driver has escaped uninjured but is ‘shaken’ after his lorry overturned”. As in the previous incident the drivers seem to have had nothing to do with the inanimate objects’ behaviour. No arrests mentioned.Incident 7 Staffordshire, 26th October 2014
This time the driver does seem to have done something wrong – he “overturned his vehicle”, and then shortly after it crashes into a house, apparently as it was left on a slope without the hand brake on. He is, however, described sympathetically as “Britain’s unluckiest HGV driver” No mention of an arrest.
I stated above that there is nothing atypical about these crashes – both in the way they are reported and the way police respond to them. The only reason why some of them reach the national media is because they feature dramatic images: they involve large vehicles and roads being closed, or something peculiar (a car in a coffee shop). Indeed, we should look at what is going on with all the normal car crashes which occur on the roads of Britain.
To get a rough idea of these “normal” incidents: approximately 4 million insurance claims are made by British motorists annually. The majority of crashes (between 75 – 90%) involving motor vehicles do not involve personal injury, and thus do not even require reporting to the Police. Ultimately this normality leads to Police and the media thinking that “nothing suspicious” has occurred, even when a high-powered car ends up in a coffee shop.
Normal crashes and the “road safety” industry
It isn’t just the Police who are implicated in tolerating and accepting this. Despite persistent anodyne requests from the publicity wing of the “road safety” movement for drivers to try to be careful, the main thrust of “road safety” has in fact been to accommodate rule and law breaking driving. Indeed, I argue that “road safety” has colluded and connived with careless, negligent, dangerous driving.
After all, billions of pounds has been spent by highway engineers on creating a road environment designed around the needs of careless, dangerous etc. driving. Cutting down and removing road side trees ; installing crash proof barriers and central reservations; placing shock absorbing structures around bridge supports and other solid structures; making lamp posts which break, so occupants of vehicles which crash into them are protected; laying anti-skid where drivers have crashed after going too fast; placing rumble strips to assist inattentive drivers etc. All of these and similar measures have been staples of highway engineering for decades.
On top of this, straightening sight lines and similar measures are based on implicitly ignoring the age-old requirement for drivers to “always drive in such a way that you can stop within visible distance”. Of course, sometimes engineers have defended these practices to me on the basis that innocent motorists may be protected from dangerous drivers (for example, those driving across the centre–line by a crash barrier). That’s true – not all these measures are to directly protect the rule or law breaking driver, as they may be protecting their victims. Nevertheless, many of them (the typical roadside tree removal) are, and all are based on accommodating rule/law-breaking driving.…and vehicle engineering
Similarly most motor vehicle “road safety” engineering is about producing more crashworthy cars to accommodate behaviour which threatens other road users. Collapsible steering wheels, seat belts, air bags, crumple zones, side impact protection systems, roll bars etc.: all are based on an assumption that motorists are inherently likely to crash and/or be crashed into by their fellow motorists.
So where does this take us?
I am suggesting that there is a widespread evasion of responsibility throughout our culture in general, and among those authorities supposedly responsible for safety on the road in particular. We are up against a belief system based on a sense of entitlement among motorists, which impedes both moves towards sustainable transport policy implementation in general, and reduction in road danger in particular – and the institutions and practices of official “road safety” are part of this.
That doesn’t mean we should despair. Some of us stress the low risks of travel by the benign modes, and the ways we might move forward. But what it does mean is that if this society has accepted “normal” crashes in the ways illustrated, we can and should base our demands accordingly.
For a start, although the level and extent of motorist incompetence and unwillingness to obey rules and laws may be exaggerated, it is organisations representing motorists – and those of the “road safety” industry – that are claiming that driving is inherently dangerous. Why else do drivers need the plethora of safety aids (seat belts, air bags etc.) in cars, and the enormous sums spent of engineering the highway (cutting down roadside trees, installing crash barriers and anti-skid etc.) . That means we can demand forms of driver liability in collisions where cyclists or pedestrians are involved, at least in civil law, accordingly.
It means we can argue that enforcement exercises like Operation Safeway should stop being biased towards the rule/law-breaking which is less dangerous to others, namely that by cyclists .
(At our conference on law enforcement last year an officer in the MPS’ Cycle Task Force stated that he saw no problem in arresting law-breaking cyclists if the law is enforced for errant motorists. The point is that it isn’t).
It means that highway engineers (as well as individual drivers) should accept the likelihood of pedestrians and cyclists making mistakes: Accommodating this is less anti-social than accommodating driver rule and law breaking..
It means that vehicle engineering should be based on controls on the potential of drivers to hurt or kill others. At the very least “black box” systems to monitor crash causation should be on the agenda.Interventions and the dominant culture
As a general rule we need to recognise that any specific intervention occurs within the culture which is car-centred and discriminatory against the non-car modes in general, and against non-motorised modes in particular.
Consider two commonly discussed areas of intervention: calls for forceful changes in law enforcement and sentencing policy, or the re-organisation of the highway to take space away from general traffic and re-allocate it specifically to cycling, are fine in themselves, but have to be assessed in the context of the surrounding dominant culture. As theorists of risk compensation have argued, unless there is an underlying change in the extent and kind of risk taking in society, official interventions can simply press down on the problem in one area while it pops up somewhere else. In these cases, unless the reasons for cracking down on forms of driver behaviour are carefully explained in terms of the obligations and duties of care owed by the motorised towards others, in the case of law enforcement and sentencing changes we may get resentment and a lack of willingness to support other forms of road danger reduction. Re-allocation of road space to cyclists may increase the unwillingness of drivers to behave properly in highway environments where drivers will have to be in close proximity to, and sharing space with, cyclists.
Now, this does not mean that we never engage in any kind of programme of danger reduction measures, such as those above, 20 mph areas, motor traffic reduction measures, etc. But it does mean that we have to be aware of the knock-on effects of these moves, and how they are affected by – and also affect – widely held beliefs about the kind of risk taking that is acceptable in the highway environment. Whatever the success of a specific intervention, it always has to be seen in the context of the car-centred (I have elsewhere called it “car supremacist”) culture we live in. And, regrettably, despite the best efforts of many individual professionals, the institutions of “road safety” are very much part of this culture.
Motor danger has been nornalised in the car-centred society we live in, not least by the agencies who should be dealing with it. But understanding this can allow us to move towards an alternative based on reducing danger at source and making those responsible for it accountable. This can come about by specific programmes being implemented as part of an overall cultural change towards a society where car usage – and specifically, the ways in which cars are driven – is seen in a more critical way. If we don’t achieve this, we will indeed be living in a fundamentally uncivilised society.
5:12 pm – 22 Feb 2015 · Details