Resistance to the cheek of the Automobile Association

It’s nice to see there were justifiably indignant responses to the AAs dreadful stunt recently. It’s worthwhile to see who reacted and how – and who didn’t.

  • The CTC got a nice polite response in, with a useful counter-stunt reminding motorists of their obligations (see photo above).
  •  One of my favourite responses were the people who took the lids and sold them on E-bay, and explained why they did so.
  •  Velorution got in on the analogy game with a rival to mine: “This is like Qadhafi giving bullet-proof vests to the citizens of Misrata and then showering them with cluster bombs.”
  • Cycling Weekly, traditionally the club cyclists’ magazine and with a strong motorist readership, had a very good editorial which I reproduce in full below:

It’s not AA-OK: motoring publicity stunt doesn’t benefit bikers

 “The AA giving out 5,000 free helmets to London cyclists is another example of an organisation missing the point when it comes to road safety. The motoring organisation’s misguided gimmick sends the message that cycling is dangerous and the onus is on cyclists to protect themselves, rather than on drivers not to endanger cyclists.

 Let me be clear, I’m not anti-helmet. I wear one when I’m riding and agree that when you’re racing/competing or riding off-road you really should wear one. But here’s the thing, when you’re simply riding your bike around, there is no need to wear one.

 It’s very rare that people fall off bikes. It’s rarer still for them to hit their heads when they do. So why does someone riding round London need to wear a helmet? The answer for most is in case they get hit by a car, and there’s two major issues with this.

 Firstly, if the answer to the problems of cyclists being hit by cars is to make cyclists wear helmets we are living in a messed up world. Secondly, helmets do very little to protect cyclists who get hit by a car.

The situation we need to get to is one like in the Netherlands, where hundreds of thousands of cyclists ride around without any threat to their safety, drivers look out for cyclists and helmet use is barely a consideration.

 Stunts like this one by the AA chip away at both the perception of cycling and the responsibility of drivers.

And to think they’re sponsoring this year’s Tour of Britain as well.” Simon Richardson, Deputy Editor, Cycling Weekly Thursday April 28th 2011.

There are some minor criticisms: benefits of helmets are questionable even in the circumstances referred to, and there is a possible association with helmet wearing and more careless cycling associated when off-roading and cycle racing.  And it’s millions, not hundreds of thousands, of cyclists in the Netherlands. But these are minor points,

Then there are those who didn’t manage to complain. The London Cycling Campaign didn’t react, presumably because of inadequate resources rather than approval. Cyclenation (the Cycle Campaign Network) just reported the stunt.

So let’s remind ourselves of what was so offensive about the stunt. This is the role of the AA (and the other main motorist organisation, the RAC) in – at best – failing to acknowledge the danger posed by motorised transport to all other road users. Of course, dealing with this danger would inconvenience many of it’s members, not to mention banning many of them from driving in the first place, so it is only to be expected.

Nevertheless, we should constantly point out that these organisations are implicated in massive irresponsibility in failing to address danger on the roads, or even conniving with it. Of course, much of this is simply an echo of what the official “road safety” establishment is up to. Not least is the refusal to ask “Who kills – or hurts or endangers – whom?” which characterises so much of “road safety”. This glossing over of the difference in potential to hurt or kill between different types of road users is typical of “road safety” – the AA/RAC are just an extreme example.

So when AA President Edmund King opposed measures for driver liability, saying “Simple changes in the law that assume one party is in the wrong because of what they drive will not help harmony on the roads.”  He was not just refusing to recognise the difference in potential – and actual lethality – of the different modes, he was echoing the official ideology of “road safety”. By the way, Mr King, I don’t drive my bicycle or my feet when I’m walking…

In the last post we mentioned how the AA had an official policy of interfering with police attempts to make motorists drive legally. Here are a couple of other examples:

  1. Misinformation on 20 miles per hour
  2. In 2004 in London the police caved in over enforcing speed limits with the 665 fixed cameras in place only 260 were to be loaded with film and in a second retreat, the number of sites at which mobile speed cameras were to be used by police cut from 127 to about 25. The move was welcomed by Edmund King (then executive director of the RAC Foundation as “…an enlightened and pragmatic approach to road safety”.

More on the AA and its road safetywash in the next post.