We're Back! (Although we never really went away…)

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Gathering of London RDRF at the signing of the Road Danger Reduction Charter at the House of Lords in March 2009 by London Boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark. (list of attendees at bottom of article)

I’m pleased to introduce the new RDRF website after a quiet period of activity for us. Although we have kept our presence known (regular letters to the professional press, a presentation to the Transport Times road safety conference in October 2008, etc.) we haven’t been as active as we intend to be. Watch this space for our response to the Department for Transport’s Road Safety Strategy and our London RDRF September conference, and a regular set of posts on the site, as well as updated position papers.

 

Since we were founded in December 1993 (see About Us) there has been both bad news and good news for those us pursuing what we think is the civilised approach to safety on the road. This is Road Danger Reduction (RDR), which includes:

  • Concentrating principally on reducing danger at source – the source of danger is (motorised traffic). Those responsible for use of motor vehicles – whether highway authorities, vehicle manufacturers, Government departments or individual drivers – should be properly accountable.

  • Recognising that human beings adapt to their perceptions of risk (risk compensation or behavioural adaptation).

  • Placing safety in the context of support for sustainable transport policies addressing public health and local and global environmental issues.

  • Stating the fundamental moral difference between endangering or hurting/killing others on the one hand, and being endangered or hurt/killed on the other.

 So what’s got better, and what’s got worse over the last 15 years, and what do we intend to do about it?

 

First, The Good News

 A. The idea that people constantly adapt to changed perceptions of danger, as advanced by John Adams, Gerald Wilde, Robert Davis and in the practice of Hans Monderman has been increasingly difficult to deny. In practice this has led to some important developments, such as:  

Traffic engineering which breaks down physical separation of pedestrians from carriageway traffic by guard rails (so-called “naked streets” or shared space).

* Reducing the casualty rate – casualties per journey or distance travelled – by cyclists by supporting an increase in the numbers of cyclists. Justification for this is summarised in the CTC’s “Safety in Numbers” (SiN) campaign www.ctc.org.uk/safetyinnumbers  .

* Local authorities may justify speed reducing or other schemes with regard to factors such as the ease with which parents feel they can let their children walk or cycle, rather than simply rely on before and after casualty figures.

 B.  A number of organisations have lent their support to the idea of Road Danger Reduction, including the national cyclists’ organisation CTC, the Environmental Travel Association, London Cycling Campaign, the national road crash victim’s charity RoadPeace, Slower Speeds Initiative, as well as those local authorities who signed the Road Danger Reduction Charter

C.  The justifications for sustainable travel policies have become stronger with growing awareness of two main issues:

  1. Climate change, with implied advantages for less motorised travel.
  2. Health problems associated with sedentary travel, alleviated by “Active Travel” – walking and cycling.

And also, there remains continuing interest in the benefits of local community and concerns about matters such as dependence on oil supplies, the adverse effects of road building etc.

D.   The inadequacy as a performance indicator of aggregating reported casualties, even among specific road user groups, has been recognised in the Government’s new Road Safety Strategy, which calls for consideration of casualty rates (e.g. casualties among cyclists per journey or distance travelled) rather than total cyclist casualties.

E.   Local authorities have in some cases written Road Danger Reduction into their bidding documents (see Brent Local Implementation Plan)

 

 And Now, The Bad News

(see lettering above)

A. Despite common sense and volumes of research evidence, it is still difficult for the “road safety” establishment to accept that adaptive behaviour is a regular and persistent feature of road user behaviour.

  1. Support for schemes like Exhibition Road and Sloane Square is limited and contentious

  2. Despite the evidence from London and other places, Safety in Numbers does not (yet) have official Governmental approval.

 This issue is often confusing, with some supporters of shared space being part of the worst of the motoring lobby. RDRF has always stressed the power differences between different road user groups in terms of their potential to hurt or kill others – the political with a small “p”. Some of the “petrolhead” community have welcomed reduced lane markings, for example, as they see them as restrictions on motorists’ freedom: we see “naked streets” as a way of urging motorists to reduce speed and be more attentive to the rights of pedestrians and others outside their cars.

 The difference between these two approaches needs to be made clear. For the RDRF, in shared space the hierarchy of danger must be recognised and those more dangerous to others required to be particularly responsible for their greater potential lethality.

  B. The organisations which count in shaping policy – the official “road safety” organisations plus the various motoring bodies, continue with traditional agendas, which feature continued:

  1. Failure to address the issue of controlling danger at source.

  2. Commitment to “idiot-proofing” the vehicle (seat belts, air bags crumple zones, collapsible steering wheels, Side Impact Protection Systems, anti-lock braking etc.) and highway (anti-skid, crash barriers, cutting down road side trees etc.) environments with idiot-producing effect .

  3. Victim-blaming of so-called “vulnerable road users” – people not using motor vehicles – who tend to be seen as the problem where their safety is concerned. A “fear of cycling” culture creates the idea that cycling is inherently hazardous.

 C. In the early days of the RDRF we had the Road Traffic Reduction Act, with a commitment to reduce motor traffic, and the National Cycling Strategy with a commitment to quadruple the amount of cycling by 2012. Both have been abandoned.

On 6th June 1997 Transport Minister John Prescott said:

I will have failed if in five years time there are not many more people using public transport and far fewer journeys by car. It’s a tall order, but I urge you to hold me to it”

 Forecasts published by Prescott’s department for 2007 at the time of his 1997 statement, based on the assumption that there would be no real interventions to reduce or control rising motor traffic, such as effective methods of replacing car usage by alternatives such as public transport, walking or cycling were:

  * Registered motor vehicles +27% = +6.85 million

 *  Traffic (vehicle miles) +35%, (as average mileage per vehicle was set to increase as well as the increase in registered motor vehicles).

Over the following 10 years registered motor vehicle numbers and motor traffic have indeed gone up in accordance with the 1997 forecast. On May 16 2007 John Prescott said: “I had never envisaged we would have 7 million new cars. It has created real problems.

From 1997 to 2008 the costs of motoring as measured against the Retail Price Index (which does not include the cost of housing) fell by 13% while public transport costs increased.

 Transport policy (most obviously with aviation) appears to disregard any commitment towards significant greenhouse gas emission reduction.

 

D .There still continues to be official policy concentrating on aggregated reported casualties as the appropriate performance indicator. There is no differentiation between those who have killed/hurt themselves and those hurt/killed by others. Implicitly, a low number of pedestrians and cyclists can be seen to be good if a low aggregate of casualties results from this.  (As one of the many contradictions of “road safety” ideology, this does not extend to motorcycling – a mode with some 1% of journeys and 20% of Killed and Seriously Injured (KSI) casualties – which has been effectively supported by central and local Government).

 E. Plans are written with good intentions, but whether they are carried through against the traditions of “road safety” held by traditional highway engineers and transport planners is another question.

 

So…what can be done?

 Supporters of the RDR agenda continue to plug on. We note that while the scandal of lenient “punishment” for those who kill, maim or endanger others on the road continues, the chances of people being killed or hurt walking or cycling (particularly in London, which has seen a significant increase in cycling) is very low. We can carry on deploring the latter and the fact that road danger is still not really taken anything like as seriously as we would like it, while still promoting sustainable transport – as we do in our work in and for local authorities. It’s a paradox, but not a contradiction, to do so.

 Above all, we know from the experience of the last 15 years that promises of apparent moves in the right direction from central and local Government are often simply not going to result in the right kind of change. Our job is to guard against failure and notify colleagues of what can go wrong – and possible ways to get it right.

 We will be running conferences, updating our position papers, and getting news out in these postings.

 Please note that:

  1. The RDRF Committee members often have different views (unless a document comes as RDRF it is the view of the author only), and that these views may be different from those of the organisations that employ us.

  2. This site is not a debating ground for those who do not share our agenda – there are plenty of sites for bloggers to get their views across. But –

  3. If your organisation wishes to sign up the Road Danger Reduction Charter, do contact us at : RDRF, P.O. Box 2944, LONDON NW10 2AX

 

Dr. Robert Davis, Chair, Road Danger Reduction Forum, October 2009

 

PHOTO, left to right: Dr. Robert Davis, Chair RDRF; Cllr. Jeffery Hook,  LB Southwark, Lord Berkeley, President RDRF; Norma Fender, Road Danger Reduction Manager, LB Lambeth (first RDR Manager in the UK!); Cllr. Nigel haselden, LB Lambeth; Richard Ambler, Cycling officer, LB Lambeth, Eamon Doran, Road Safety and Sustainable Transport manager, LB Southwark, Colin McKenzie, Cycling Infrastructure Officer, LB Ealing.