What "treachery" of snow and ice?

This might surprise you, particularly as we read of collisons involving road users on icy roads. And for those who will really have to travel by road, yes, we sympathise.


But I submit that the word “treacherous” employed to describe difficult conditions is misplaced – and looking at this (ab)use of language tells us a lot about travel on the road, and not just the safety of it. For us at RDRF, speaking English, rather than “road safetyese” is very important. “Treachery” in  the current discussion implies an immutable right to drive as far as is desired, when, how and for whatever reason – and that if the environment does not allow you to do that with convenience and safety, it has “betrayed” you.


For a superb discussion of how a hypermobile, car-based society views the weather conditions that are an inevitable fact of life, we suggest you read Simon Jenkins in the Guardian on http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/dec/22/blame-for-winter-travel-chaos 

Simon Jenkins has, in my view, made an admirable (but flawed) contribution to debate on transport and “road safety”. He is a fine exponent of the work of John Adams: the critique of “hypermobility”, risk compensation (particularly with regard to bicycle crash helmets and shared space), Jane Jacobs and others with a commitment to civilised urban space. The flaw is when he neglects to do – well, what we believe in doing, which is to emphasise the need to reduce danger at source. For us, the limitations of speed cameras are not a reason for not trying to reduce speed, but for more emphasis on the need to reduce speed and danger to road users, particularly those outside motor vehicles.


Looking at the adaptive behaviour of road users is something that can be done to highlight how “road safety” interventions have shifted danger on to the most benign road users. It can also, very positively, show how a “critical mass” of cyclists can lead to reduced cyclist casualty rates by forcing an adaptation in motorist behaviour, or how shared spaces can do the same thing for pedestrians. But stressing adaptive behviour can also be (mis)used to minimise the benfits of measures reducing danger at source, namely from motor traffic  – and we worrythat Simon Jenkins is tempted down that route.


Where he comes into his own is in articles like http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/dec/22/blame-for-winter-travel-chaos . Of course, as I cycle gingerly along icy streets, my first thoughts are how nice it would be if the ice wasn’t there. I will be even more inconvenienced when it comes to transporting the disabled and frail members of my family on journeys which I feel have become neccessary, and which can only be done by cars or taxis.

But I have cut out most of the kind of journeys made by motorised transport by the typical UK citizen (particularly by car)  for myself. And I try to help others do the same.


Have you?