I nearly threw my lunch up in response to this gruesome bit of victim-blaming – so do prepare yourselves before viewing it. A natural reaction of any civilised person concerned with safety on the road would be outrage, and that’s entirely appropriate. I have to say that there is also plenty of justification for just expressing that outrage and refusing to go any further – many will feel that addressing elements of this message might dignify it as part of a responsible discourse on the subject.
Nevertheless, we will do so because, if nothing else, we can show how the ideology of traditional “road safety” allows those who endanger others to try and justify themselves. Critically analysing this garbage should help us in dealing with the problem of danger on the roads in general, and not just from the RHA. So, have your sick-bags at the ready and here we go…
Some of us have been campaigning for over 20 years about the situation where freight is carried on roads used by pedestrians and cyclists in vehicles which are not fit for purpose. After much campaigning, the industry has finally installed mirrors on HGVs enabling drivers to see where pedestrians and cyclists might be. We have to ask, how have we got into a situation where it’s seen as acceptable for large vehicles to move into space that their drivers cannot see?
Some operators consider electronic surveillance devices. Some have delivery of cyclist awareness courses like Safe Urban Driving as part of the legally required Certificate of Professional Competence. But they don’t push for all vehicles to have the latest electronic surveillance linked to black box recorders, or to have devices closing the gap between the vehicle body and road surface (which is how pedestrians and cyclists come to be crushed when hit). A range of practices would be seen in other industries as basic health and safety requirements – but not here. In fact, even the emphasis on the “blind-spot” forgets that the basic requirement should be on the potentially dangerous to be able to see, rather than on their potential victims to be seen (“Never drive in such a way that you cannot stop within visible distance”).
After plenty of campaigning from cycling groups and others, the Mayor of London has recently been making more of an effort to enforce requirements on basic safety equipment in parts of London – to which parts of the freight industry have reacted angrily .
We have a (limited) move towards some basic law enforcement on dangerous lorry use. That’s the reason for the rubbish from the Freight Transport Association, and now the RHA.
“Roads can be dangerous and it’s up to cyclists and drivers to take responsibility for their own safety”.
- No, “roads” aren’t dangerous, but some road users with the potential to hurt and kill others are. These road users are generally drivers, with those in charge of bigger vehicles more likely to be a problem
- No, cyclists and drivers don’t have the equal responsibility implied in lumping them together. When cyclists make mistakes they are far less of a danger to others than drivers are. (Note the way that pedestrians are absent from the discussion here: as many pedestrians as cyclists are killed in crashes involving HGVs in London – but they don’t get considered.)
- No, the prime responsibility is for those whose actions can endanger others to fulfil their duty of care to these other road users. The people who are failing in their responsibility here are the lorry drivers, not the cyclists or pedestrians.
2. “The Road Haulage Association frequently reminds drivers of heavy goods vehicles to be aware of cyclists and give them plenty of space”.
Cue hysterical laughter.
- No health and safety programme of any validity is based on polite reminders to those endangering others to “be aware” of the potential victims of their law breaking.
- Has the RHA campaigned for the restrictions on lorry movements in cities that other European cities have? There are next to no cyclist fatalities caused by HGVs in Paris, where cycling conditions are otherwise similar to London. For law enforcement (which, whenever it occurs, seems to result in a high proportion of HGVs being found wanting in the fulfilment of their operators’ legal obligations)? For re-engineering of the highway to reduce the chances of HGVs hitting cyclists?
3. “Our advice to cyclists…”
Well, how dare you? But that’s the point: the culture generated by official “road safety” ideology allows the dangerous to present themselves as partners with their actual or potential victims. The difference between endangering others and being endangered is neutralised as if we are indeed, “all in it together”.
- Take just one example: the advice to wear helmets. What good do you think a bicycle crash helmet is going to do for someone crushed under the wheels of a lorry? But that’s the point: by now we have moved beyond any rational consideration of safety because we are in the weird world of “road safety”. Once you allow the dangerous to upbraid their actual or potential victims, anything is possible. (Since we ‘re at it, helmet advocacy in general is a red herring without adequate evidence – see www.cyclehelmets.org )
- Oh all right, one other: “Use cycle paths where they exist…” the CTC had a successful campaign some time ago against this “advice” with Daniel Cadden. And there’s good evidence that cycle paths make you less safe at junctions, where most HGV-cyclist collisions happen. See this , if you’re interested in cyclists’ safety and cycle paths. Not that the RHA will be.
THE WAY FORWARD
The key issue is to show how “road safety” ideology allows evasion of key responsibilities – if you allow it. That’s why we constantly analyses and criticise it.
But more needs to be done here. There needs to be some serious questioning of the viability of partnership working of cyclists and other groups – and bodies like Transport for London – with the FTA and RHA if they carry on behaving like this.
The current issue of Private Eye (no 1349, p.12) quotes the FTA’s EU affairs manager describing how – due to cutbacks in DfT staff in London – he sometimes represents the Department for Transport in EU meetings. “…recently FTA defeated the European parliament” on proposals to make small goods vehicles carry digital devices to record speed and driving hours.
The RHA is a key collaborator in the activities of Fair Fuel UK . Apart from the environmental destruction inevitably associated with not increasing the cost of petrol, these efforts are a central part of the belief system that motorists have “paid their way” or “paid for the road” – with inevitable hostility towards the non-motorised.