What could be wrong with a campaign like this?. Well, quite a lot actually…
The core message of Road Safety Week 2014…
Run by Brake, it is supported by large numbers of “road safety” professionals and members of organisations with an official remit concerned with safety on the road: (schools, local authorities, police forces, emergency services) and various motoring organisations. This year’s theme is : “Look out for each other”. Let’s look in detail at the core message: (My numbering)
“We all use roads to get around and most of us use them in different ways: often a mix of walking, catching the bus or driving, and maybe cycling, running or skating too. Of course, however we use roads, we are all people underneath just trying to get about, but some road users are especially vulnerable and need protecting by those of us in charge of vehicles. (1)
Yet sometimes it can feel like roads are angry places where different road users are in different tribes and competing for space and priority.(2) A simple lack of consideration and care can have awful consequences. (3) It can mean people feel less able to get out and about and less likely to choose walking and cycling: kids not being allowed to walk to school, commuters not feeling able to cycle, families being more inclined to always use the car. It can also lead to tragedy: people suffering horrific injuries or even being killed because of someone going too fast, too close or not looking out.
Wouldn’t it be better if, instead of being stressful and risky, streets were places where everyone looked out for and protected each other, particularly the most vulnerable?(1)
In this year’s Road Safety Week (17-23 November 2014), we’re asking everyone to look out for each other on roads, because being selfish can easily lead to tragedy. We’ll be particularly calling on drivers to protect people on foot and bike by slowing down to 20 in communities, looking longer and taking it slow at junctions and bends,(4) and giving people plenty of room. We’ll also call on everyone to put safety first and be considerate to one another,(3) encouraging people on foot and bike to never take chances (5), and make sure they can be seen (6).”
We’ll be appealing to everyone to show their commitment to care and compassion on roads by making and sharing Brake’s Pledge.
…and what’s wrong with it
1. This is essentially patronising . Also, the idea that rule or law breaking which intimidates, hurts or kills can be dealt with by a polite request to “look out” for potential victims is rather strange. Can you imagine a Health and Safety regime in industry, aviation, the railways or sea travel which relied on such polite requests? Indeed, following the central theme of the “road safety” industry since it was founded in the 1920s, the fundamental difference in potential lethality between Primary Road Users (cyclists and pedestrians) and the motorised, is neutralised. We are all, as the saying goes, “in it together”. (“…we are all people underneath just trying to get about”). Of course we are. It’s just that some (the motorised) have far more potential to endanger others than those that are not.
This view is that the people who get about outside cars (incidentally, the majority of people in the world) are seen by definition as “vulnerable” and to be “protected” by those who have the potential to hurt or kill them. How about the idea that those with far more potential to hurt, kill or just intimidate (the motorised) are Dangerous Road Users to be seen as the problem?
2. “Different tribes”. As above, the point is exactly that there is a difference between people when they are using different forms of transport. The fact that people may also walk or (less likely) cycle does not mean that they pose no problem for pedestrians or cyclist safety when they drive.
3. For whom? Again, the fundamental difference between endangering others and endangering yourself is glossed over. And anyway, people have quite different ideas about what constitutes appropriate care and consideration.
4. The central rule of careful driving is: “Never drive in such a way that you cannot stop within visible distance” – which can include “…slowing down to 20 in communities, looking longer and taking it slow at junctions and bends”. But decades of “road safety” highway engineering based on lengthening sight lines, more powerful street and car lights and “road safety” vehicle engineering with more powerful brakes, anti-skid etc. have worked against this. Shifting the burden of responsibility to “be seen” on to pedestrians and cyclists actually makes it more difficult to achieve this basic requirement for safer driving.
5. What is meant here by “taking a chance”? And how on earth are we supposed to live in a world where we don’t ever take any kind of risk? Highways and cars have been engineered to accommodate “taking chances” – or to be more precise, rule and law breaking – by motorists for decades. Even without consideration of how this collusion and connivance with ”taking chances” has exacerbated bad driving behaviour, if we are to assume that drivers require a forgiving environment, why can’t pedestrians and cyclists have one?
6. This needs to be mentioned again as it is key to so much “road safety” ideology. The picture below of the ideal pedestrian presented to children trickles into the collective imagination of how we should behave when travelling is on the web site of one of Brake’s partners,
This slots into a belief system where responsibility from drivers is reduced and transferred on to their potential (or actual) victims. For cyclists and pedestrians to really “be seen” we need a reversal of this belief system, with enforcement, car and highway engineering which is based on a cultural shift to place responsibility back where it belongs.
Genuine “mutual respect” means leaving behind the “Evens Stevens” campaigns and reducing danger at source. Not threatening each other’s lives is the only real mutual respect.
Bridgestone and sustainability
(An aside: A case of how a safety benefit is consumed as a performance benefit.
Taking a look at the twitter account of one of Brake’s partners, Bridgestone, I note their commitment towards motorcycle racing. The photograph below is a classic example of how “safe” technology (in tyre design and construction) allows people to take additional risk –
After all, could you corner at speed like this on a normal motorcycle tyre?)
Brake mentions a commitment towards sustainable transport. Indeed, one of the promises made in their Pledge is to drive less. But what actually works? A voluntary pledge which a tiny minority of motorists make while Government (funding Road Safety Week through the “Think!” campaign) plans more road building for more cars? While even a very large number of committed pledgers would be offset by far more who simply don’t want to drive less and are facilitated in driving more?
And do we think that the world’s largest tyre manufacturer would finance a campaign likely to result in less motoring?
Brake and cycle helmets
Brake is long term supporters of campaigns for compulsory bicycle crash helmet wear . It both denies relevant evidence and replicates helmet mythology. Of course, Brake claim to be campaigning to create a “safer environment for cyclists” – but what do we actually get?
What we get is not a “safer environment for cyclists” – whether through law enforcement, highway or vehicle engineering – and I suggest that any efforts which may be made in these directions are the results of others than Brake. What we have had is a relentless push to make pedestrians and cyclists wear hi-viz, and cyclists war crash helmets.
Brake is very effective at public relations and getting corporate sponsors on board. Some of the funding gained goes towards providing road crash victims support services. In our experience our friends in RoadPeace provide a more in-depth victim support service, with detailed study of the post-collision processes, and of course a commitment towards road danger reduction.
So, if you want to get involved with activities at this time, we would suggest supporting RoadPeace with the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims with its campaign to reduce motor traffic speed
Or consider joining the National Funeral for the Unknown Victim of Traffic Violence with its demands
Safety for all road users with a more sustainable transport system requires shifts in culture and attitudes to support (and be supported by) specific interventions. That means focusing on reducing danger at source – danger from motorised vehicular traffic. Brake consistently fails to do this, obscuring differences in the potential lethality of different modes of transport and regurgitating the (non-evidence based) mythology of hi-viz and cycle helmets.
We think that Brake and its partners are very much part of the problem of danger on the road.
ADDENDUM: Thursday 13th November: Reply to Brake’s defence
Following disquiet amongst cycling groups, re-tweeting of this web site link (thanks everybody, especially @Copenhagenize ), BikeBiz contacted Brake who responded here : See also Brake’s comment in the comments section below.
Here is the BikeBiz interview: our comments on Brake’s answers to BikeBiz are in blue font
BikeBiz: We asked Brake’s own senior community engagement officer Philip Goose to respond…
BikeBiz: So, is Road Safety Week putting the emphasis on road safety solely on vulnerable road users like cyclists and pedestrians? Philip Goose: Our Road Safety Week campaign is quite the opposite – we recognise that 4% of miles travelled in the UK are made on foot or bike, but vulnerable road users make up almost half of road deaths. Up to 95% of crashes are caused by driver error, so it is therefore vital that drivers take responsibility to protect themselves and everyone around them.
- We remark above why we don’t like the term “Vulnerable Road User”.
- Obviously people outside cars are more at risk from motor danger, but what exactly do these “4%” and “almost half…” figures mean? That pedestrians and cyclists are a problem for being outside cars? Or not – or what? What have these figures got to do with anything?
- You can put “driver error” as down for whatever proportion of casualties you like. (Actually, where there are crashes with pedestrians and cyclists, the “road safety industry” will give a much lower figure). If we live in a society where roadside trees are felled because errant drivers go off the road into them, then we could see the proximity of motor vehicles to pedestrians and cyclists as the problem – whoever is legally at fault. Does it really matter whether danger from motor vehicle use is reduced by drivers behaving better, cars being engineered or the highway engineered? It is “vital” that drivers take responsibility – through any of these means – whatever the proportion quoted.
- “…to protect themselves and everyone around them”. Protecting yourself through idiot-proofing of the highway and car environments is one of the reasons for the amount of idiocy. The prime responsibility is towards the safety of others you may endanger. Reducing danger at source will protect all road users anyway.
- BB: What would you say to people who think Road Safety Week should be more focused on things like infrastructure and better cycle lanes, etc? PG: Firstly, behavioural change is an important step. With 75% of cyclist collisions occurring at or near junctions, it is vital that drivers are literally ‘looking out for each other’ and always checking whether a cyclist may be there and not assuming it is safe to turn.
- Again, what’s with these numbers? Does it matter whether it is 75% or 40%? Are motorists not supposed to watch out for cyclists (and pedestrians) away from junctions? Unless drivers have fully automated Google-type cars, obviously their behaviour is important. Really, does this statement actually mean anything at all?
PG: As part of Road Safety Week we are also campaigning for 20mph limits as the default urban speed limit. It is proven that every 1mph reduction in average speeds causes on average a 5% reduction in crash rates – and that is only one benefit.
- 20 mph is actually a quite normal practice in urban northern Europe, and even Buchanan (architect of post-60s car-centric planning) was in favour of 20 mph as the urban default speed limit. How have Brake actually contributed to achieving 20 mph areas? Or zones, or whatever they want?
PG: We are also fully behind increased funding for infrastructure to make sustainable transport safer and more attractive. Through two of our recent surveys we know that three in four schoolchildren wanted to walk or cycle more, and another showed that a third of non-cyclists would cycle if routes were safer.
- What kind of infrastructure? Shared space or fully segregated cycle tracks? Re-the latter: What are your views on: potential cyclist/pedestrian conflict at cycle tracks in general and bus bypasses in particular? What is to be done on the majority of roads which are without segregated tracks? The expectation that cyclists have no right to be near motor vehicles? Re-the former: What about the problems for cyclists in shared space schemes like Poynton and other places where road danger does not seem to be reduced for them? If segregated infrastructure schemes reduce highway capacity for motor vehicles, will you support them? And will your partners like Jet petrol, Bridgestone Tyres, not to mention the numerous Highway Authorities responsible for highway infrastructure, support them?
- BB: What’s your message to cyclists weighing up whether to get behind Road Safety Week?
- PG: We would love everyone who cycles to get behind Road Safety Week, whether you cycle to work or to the shops, whether you like touring around the countryside with your family, or racing or taking part in sportives with your local club. ‘Look out for each other’ is all about how we can do more to stop the five deaths and 61 serious injuries every day on UK roads. Drivers have a particular part to play in this, and as cyclists many of us drive, or know people that do, and we can all play a part in .influencing driver behaviour. We can also as individuals all call on our local politicians to implement 20mph urban speed limits and safer infrastructure for all road users. s part of Road Safety Week we will be revealing statistics showing the shocking number of drivers risking lives by flouting traffic laws. Keep an eye out for these on 17 November!”
- As explained on numerous occasions (the latest here ), the daily recorded aggregate casualty figures are not a measure of how safe the roads are.
In summary, BikeBiz wasted an opportunity to question Brake about the key issues we raised. In particular, the “Evens Stevens” approach of “Look Out for Each Other” was not questioned. Nor were the lack of evidence behind, or general implications of, Brake’s campaigns for cyclist and pedestrian hi-viz wearing and cyclist helmet wearing.
www.rdrf.org.uk has had one of its busiest days ever due to visits to this page. We intend to carry on criticising the “road safety” industry for failing to work towards the civilised approach to road safety we require to achieve “Safe Roads for All”: Road Danger Reduction, reducing danger on the road at source.
Dr. Robert Davis, Chair, RDRF