Road Safety Week 2014: What was wrong with it?

Our last post is one of the most well-read and commented on since went live, with particular support on social media from supporters of cycling and sustainable transport. We’re aware that many people with good intentions feel that supporting Road Safety Week (RSW) is worthwhile. We don’t. As I concluded after a debate with Brake at the end of the post:

“…a generally “fluffy” approach appealing to people to try to be nice if they feel like it is exactly what has not worked to reduce danger on the roads – whatever the feelings of people involved (and I should add that these feelings are frequently highly commendable). Wanting people to be less dangerous and telling this to whoever wants to listen is not only not enough, unless you address important obstacles – often represented by your partners – it can become part of the problem.”

Brake initially responded by accusing us of insulting those bereaved by road crashes – which we strongly deny and bitterly resent – and then took the trouble to engage in responses to our concerns. We’re happy to continue the debate. To repeat: “I raise these issues because I hope they can assist people in developing and supporting programmes for road danger reduction: real road safety, Safer Roads for All.”

What has been happening in Road Safety Week?

Let’s look at some of the events in RSW that Brake has drawn attention to on social media. We think some clarification is needed on what Brake’s message is.

Pushing cycle helmets…

Philip Goose (Brake Senior Community Engagement Officer) claims (Twitter Nov 20th)that he supports the position of the CTC: Many people ask me why I think what I do on cycle helmets. I agree with the @CTC_Cyclists POV: …

But Brake is a long term supporter of campaigns for compulsory bicycle crash helmet wear . It both denies relevant evidence and replicates helmet mythology.

In RSW Brake supported an initiative to auction bicycle crash helmets signed by celebrities (such as the stars of  Strictly Come Dancing) , including the rugby player Danny Care. In 2012 Care was banned for drink-driving, arrested a few hours after tweeting “…Earn respect. Earn the shirt. Set the example.” Interestingly, the media noted this as one of Care’s three offences involving alcohol at the time. We are more interested in the fact that this supposed role model already had three points on his licence for texting on his mobile phone while driving, and six points for speeding.

Then there’s Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, and Southern Car Buyers, who seem to think cycle helmets have been mandatory in the UK for the last ten years…

…and Hi-Viz

Our last post refers to our concerns about advocacy of wearing hi-viz feeding into “Sorry mate I Didn’t See You” (SMIDSY) victim-blaming. Although Philip Goose tries to assure us that Brake is opposed to such victim-blaming (“quite the contrary”), an awful lot of RSW seems to be about hi-viz.

It could be the hi-viz vests given out by their co-sponsors Bridgestone tyres, RSW partners Specsavers orBristol specsavers

the RSA Group. We noted  that Co-op Funeralcare (who work with Brake on child “road safety”) produced a video  which tells school children to wear the reflective yellow badges they were given (160,000 given out so far), and which tells parents that they can ”ensure your child stays safe by following a few simple steps…” such as not playing near a road, and walking on the side of the pavement furthest away from the road. And wearing the badges. Then there are the hi-viz wristbands handed out by North Ayrshire Police and hi-viz vests designed by Jet Petrol NorthAyrshirePolice



A launch with the Minister…

RSW was launched by the Road Safety Minister Robert Goodwill MP, and Brake’s Julie Townsend

Goodwill and Townsend

As readers of know, one of our main problems with the official “road safety” establishment is the idea that genuine safety on the road can be measured by totting up aggregate numbers of road deaths and dividing them by the population, (see the piece here )

Sure enough, the Minister started his launch speech with “Britain has some of the safest roads in the world …”. RSW was also the occasion when a story appeared in which the Minister dismissed the provision of cycle infrastructure ” because there aren’t enough cyclists“, using a recycled extract from an earlier letter .

This all takes place against a background of the Government failing to allocate the funding required for the provision advocated in the “Get Britain Cycling” report (although the opposition are no better). Although Brake spokespeople may say they want this kind of funding, how do they square this with being paid by the Department for Transport to organise RSW?


…and the Police.

Although she was not present at the launch, Brake’s Press Release gave  prominence to Chief Constable Suzette Davenport, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ national lead for roads policing,  who is quoted as saying: “Our officers and staff do a vital job in enforcing important safety laws and protecting the public on the roads…”

But that’s the point: as we have pointed out here, here ,  and here we do not have the level and kind of traffic law enforcement we deserve.  Does Brake point this out to its partners in the police forces it works with in the UK? What we do get from Brake is a Press Release which claims that it’s survey “reveals the extent of selfish driving in the UK”. This surveys headline statistic is that there are:

Two fixed penalties for ‘careless driving’ or speeding issued every minute in the UK

This is broken down by region, e.g. LONDON: A fixed penalty for ‘careless driving’ or speeding is issued in London every seven minutes. 73,804 fixed penalty notices were issued for ‘careless driving’ and speeding offences in London in 2013 – one every seven minutes. 71,529 were for speeding, and 2,275 for careless driving (a fixed penalty newly introduced in August 2013).

So do these figures “reveal the extent of selfish driving” in the UK (or London)? Just taking London, we can assume at least some 3 million drivers are on its roads on a typical day…> It’s tricky to get exact figures: there are some 2.6 million cars registered in London, more come in from outside, and then there are the motorcycles, lorries, vans, buses  and taxis to consider, so 3 million is a conservative figure for the number of motor vehicle drivers on London’s roads on a typical day. We know that approximately 40% of drivers break speed limits when they can, and that more than half claim to do so from time to time. That would bring the annual number of potential speeding offences in London to hundreds of millions, not just over 70,000.

That leaves us with careless driving. Are Brake seriously suggesting that a proportion of less than one in a thousand London motorists drives carelessly just once in a year?   Is that the “extent of selfish driving”?

What was Road Safety Week actually about?

The dominant impression of RSW we have, particularly after Philip Goose’s contacts with us, is of a variety of different and often conflicting messages. During this week I discussed RSW with colleagues, with two conversations standing out. One view was that simply saying “road safety” is somehow seen as giving carte blanche to any view on how to achieve whatever anybody may think “road safety” actually is.  Similarly, a former Road Safety Officer commented that Brake and its partners throw together a hotchpotch of views that may be considered “road safety”. These views are expressed with or without evidence, blaming victims or not, or locating a problem without any real strategy to deal with it. For us that is not good enough.

Let’s take one example: Rhondda Cynon Taf CouncilRCT

Here are Alaw Primary pupils suitably decked out during RSW. Questioned by Bike Commuter  @BikeCommuter2 about whether they had been required to wear this clothing, and how danger from drivers was going to be addressed the answer is:

We did! They always wear hi vis when out. It’s health and safety and, yes, it’s as well as ensuring drivers are considerate.

But that is simply wishful thinking. RCT Council do not ensure safe driving on their roads.

During RSW, Brake introduced road crash victims and those bereaved by road crashes to speak at events. In Rhondda Cynon Taf, a lady spoke movingly about her husband being killed while crossing the road on a signalled crossing by an 86-year-old driver, who then received the “punishment” of a one-year driving ban.

Our reason for criticising Brake and Road Safety Week is that it does not actually engage in a programme which could address the danger leading to such events. The cultural change required to achieve Safer Roads for All is undermined as much as it may be facilitated.

We do not insult road crash victims. In fact we believe that features of RSW add insult to the harm of so many road crashes, both to those immediately affected and to those at risk from road danger. In case Brake are really prepared to work for a programme of real road safety with Safer Roads for All: one based on the principles of Road Danger Reduction (of reducing danger at source), we’re happy to advise.

5 thoughts on “Road Safety Week 2014: What was wrong with it?

  1. fonant

    A cynic might suggest that those High-Viz jackets aren’t about road safety at all, they’re about turning school children into advertisements for SpecSavers and JET. Road Safety Week is a chance for some large organisations to show some “corporate responsibility”, while carrying out some high profile advertising, in a very cheap way.

    I quite agree with your points. Any “safety” effort that completely ignores the source of the danger is doomed to fail. We need speed limit enforcement like the Germans have (high risk of fine if you’re any more than 2 mph over the posted limit) and street and road design like the Dutch have (their “sustainable safety” principles are excellent).

    Ideally the HSE should be responsible for road safety as much as they are for railway and workplace safety. Then we’d see well-proven safety principles put into action.

    1. rdrf Post author

      Thanks for this. My posts were in Autumn 2014 and were obviously about the Brake one. I will be doing more about next year’s one(s)- by Brake or others – if they contradict the aims and objectives of road danger reduction.
      If we got funding, RDRF and our colleagues in other organisations would love to do a Road Danger Reduction day/week.


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