What A Nerve!: How dare the AA lecture cyclists on safety!

The Automobile Association (and the other organisation for irresponsible motorists, the Royal Automobile Club) has a long history being part of danger on the road. Take a look at this clip to show how it proudly flouted road traffic law:This Motoring . The current, particularly grotesque, example of the AA offloading its responsibilities on to the actual or potential victims of rule and law breaking by AA members (and other motorists protected from proper regulation and controls by the AAs refusal to support real road safety)

The latest episode is simply part of this tradition. Of course, it is par for the course in a world where “road safety” is often about victim-blaming and avoiding motorist responsibility, despite lack of evidence for supposed benefits: it can be telling your potential victims to get out of the way – for their own good, of course. But that’s no reason to accept this nonsense, as it is part and parcel of maintaining unacceptable levels of danger on the road.The AA President Edmund King (and former head man at the RAC – there is little difference between the two organisations) says that: “Cycling has always been a part of the AA’s history.”, because the first AA patrols rode bicycles. This has been drawn attention to by pro-cyclists like BikeBiz, who should know better. As the clip shows, these patrols functioned to “trap the trappers” – to help law-breaking motorists get away with it. So some people riding bicycles helped to promote law-breaking motoring – hardly pro-cycling. In fact, the official history of the AA proudly describes how the scouts would warn motorists of “speed traps” set by the police – a move which led a senior Home Office official of the time as “like an association of burglars employing scouts to warn them which houses are and which are not watched by the police”. ( “Death on the Streets: cars and the mythology of road safety” Robert Davis, 1992 , p.240).

We largely agree with Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize.com, quoted by BikeBiz “as an arch opponent of helmet promotions, especially from motoring organisations. He said:

“While it’s great that the AA president is also a cyclist, this is merely another case of placing the responsibility on the vulnerable traffic users instead of tackling the rampant bull in our society – the automobile. It also sends dangerous signals that bicycle helmets are effective in collisions with cars, which they’re not. They’re not even designed for that kind of impact.If the AA wants to be taken seriously, it should consider promoting motoring helmets and, for example, fight for strict liability and back initiatives like the Dutch one of making external airbags on cars to protect pedestrians and cyclists a standard accessory.”

Of course, we assume Mikael is being ironic about motorist helmets: while the excellent cyclehelmets.org site shows how they would be more relevant for those concerned with head injuries among people hurt in road crashes, we wouldn’t want motorists to wear them – drivers become less careful with all manner of “safety aids” and we wouldn’t want it even worse. Also, I don’t think the RDRF really gives a hoot whether the head of the AA rides a bike or not – the RAC in the 1930s always used to argue that it could not possibly be threatening the safety of pedestrians because its members were also pedestrians!

Let’s take a look at some of the comments by Mr.King:

*  “Bicycles are part of the ‘two-wheeled’ strategy at the AA, following the reintroduction of motorbikes to tackle congestion and emissions in London.”. Motorcycles and bicycles are completely different forms of transport, with motrcycling far more dangerous to others, inherently hazardous, polluting and unhealthy to its users compared to cycling.

* “The use of cycle helmets and vests by all cyclists could significantly reduce the number and severity of injuries that occur each year” . No. Take a look at the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation site www.cyclehelmets.org to see why this is not the case for helmets. There is also no published peer-reviewed evidence that hi-viz can reduce the chances of cyclists being hurt or killed – particularly when it slots in to the Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You (SMIDSY) culture of motorists not watching out which is backed up by hi-viz promotion.

*”We also hope that AA engaging more with cyclists may help to break down some of the ‘them and us’ barriers that still exist but shouldn’t.” The RDRF constantly stresses – against much of official “road safety” ideology that there is a fundamental difference between rule-and law-breaking by cyclists or pedestrians on the one hand, and the drivers of motorised transport on the other.  The former have little potential to endanger, hurt or kill , the latter a lot. this should be obvious, but is constantly glossed over, neutralised, cooled out and frozen out of discussion by the “road safety” establishment. The motorised habitually pose a threat to all other road users in a way which cyclists tend not to – quite apart from being more likely to suffer from this threat.

And that is without the other health and environmental problems posed by the motorised, and the solution to them which cycling provides. If that means a “them and us” attitude, then that’s exactly what we need. Of course, a large proportion of cyclists are also motorists. That is even more of a reason to stress that – although they are the same person – they need to think of themselves as a problem when driving and far less so when cycling.

But never mind the evidence – this is just the latest red herring in a long history of motorists avoiding responsibility.

So what should a motorists’ organisation be promoting?

If the AA/RAC are serious about safety on the road, they need to get hold of the right end of the stick, not the wrong one.  We note that the RAC’s “Road Safety Foundation” (both the AA and RAC have tax-avoiding wings with benign sounding names) has called for road engineering to be more “forgiving” (i.e. to connive with motorists who can’t or won’t drive properly) in a recent report. Changing this worn-end-of-the-stickery means accepting responsibility for the danger created by motorists,  for the benefit of all road users.

What would that look like? Pretty much the opposite of what the AA/RAC spend their time effectively lobbying for, and highly unlikely to happen. Not least would be the effect of proper enforcement of the law – even with the current lenient sentencing for careless and dangerous driving, the AA and RAC would lose an awful lot of their members. But still, there are some things we can ask them to consider:

1. Explode theRoad Tax” myth .A crucial part of anti-cyclist prejudice here: tell your members that they DO NOT pay for the road, and that the external costs they incurr are far higher than they pay for. Also, the costs of motoring have got lower, so stop complaining about the rise in fuel prices, which can easily be accommodated by more fuel-efficient driving, let alone more careful driving, let alone some sensible use of alternatives to your travel patterns. Cyclists are costing LESS than you are.

2. SMIDSY. If you didn’t see a cyclist the odds are you’re driving too fast or not watching out. the crucial rule in the Highway Code is “Always drive in such a way that you can stop within visible distance”. the AA/RAC could also campaign to have the 0.5 million – 1.5 million drivers who can’t pass the existing eyesight test banned from driving.

3. You’re worse than you think you are.There is a  long history of surveys showing that most motorists think they are above average in their driving behaviour. So remember, on average, you are worse! A substantial proportion of motorists break laws like that on speed as a matter of course – these laws are important and should not be broken. Remember that your third party insurance is dozens of times higher than that which those cyclists who wish to have it will pay through their organisations, which shows that motoring is far, far more dangerous to other people and property than cycling is. And that’s got to be one of the most important things about your mode of transport. So:

4. Watch out and back off  from cyclists. Do the things that you should be doing: Expect cyclists to take the primary position and NEVER hoot or harass them if they do so or other things they are entitled to do; use your wing and other mirrors, give the right amount of room as specified in the Highway Code when overtaking (you don’t know? – try reading the Highway Code); watch out for cyclists when coming out of or going into junctions; expect cyclists to swerve to avoid other road users or faulty road surfaces etc.

5. Obey the law and the recommendations of the Highway Code in general. Blimey, I’m going a bit crazy here, but let’s go for it!  Yes, and that means you , not other road users. Of course, if the RAC/AA and the “road safety” lobby treated safety on the road in the same way that safety is treated in aviation, maritime , workplace or railway safety regimes, they would be calling for police to have random crack downs on visible examples of rule and law breaking (without warning) on use of phones. speeding, unregistered vehicles and those involved in car crashes. They could also have random testing on the less visible problems of drink and drug taking, Alzheimers and visual impairment. And re-taking the driving test every few years.

Will the RAC/AA go down this path of civilsed behaviour? I don’t think so, or at least not very far – even though a lot of their members wouldn’t mind some of the recommendations. That’s why, if you’re a motorist and want roadside assistance, consider the superior Environmental Transport Association .

You couldn’t make it up

A few decades ago the AA giving out helmets to cyclists would have been more likely to be seen – correctly - as a sick joke. What analogy could we use to illustrate it? The “association of burglars” telling householders to use more (ineffective) locks on their homes? The representatives of gangs of violent thugs telling passers-by to wear body armour? That may be pushing it: but partly because the perpetrators of these crimes would be more likely to end up arrested than law breaking motorists, and the “safety measures” advocated more likely to give protection.

Of course, the antics of the AA are in many ways just part of “road safety” ideology – which is why it should be opposed and replaced with Road Danger Reduction.