About the Road Danger Reduction Forum
The RDRF was formed in December 1993 after the “Is it Safe?” Conference organised by Leeds City Council, itself prompted by the publication earlier in the year of “Death on the Streets: Cars and the mythology of road safety” by Dr. Robert Davis.
Those behind the RDRF were professionals working in local government as Road Safety Officers, highway and traffic engineers, officers working to promote sustainable transport, with support from Councillors in a number of local authorities. The thrust behind setting out the Road Danger Reduction (RDR) agenda was – and continues to be – dissatisfaction with various elements of the official “road safety” establishment, arguing that this is often very much part of the problem of danger on the road.
Some problems with “road safety”
The issues which trouble us include the following::
The definition of a “safe road”: The official definition of road safety, and targets based on it, is organised around the number of reported casualties, or “Road Traffic Accidents” (RTAs). Yet very often there may be a decline in, for example, child pedestrian casualties not because the road environment for children has become safer, but simply because of a decline in children’s walking. In fact apparent progress, as officially defined, precisely because of an increase in danger from motor traffic: one of the main reasons for parents prohibiting children from being independently mobile.
A key element of our Charter and the task of reducing danger at source is developing new measures to measure danger: we need to know whether (and why) progress is being made. This is discussed here.
The denial of adaptive behaviour/risk compensation: The kind of change in behaviour is a form of adaptive behaviour which all road users engage in. This spontaneous adaptation to changing perceptions of danger is sometimes called “risk compensation”, and is theorized in the work of John Adams and Gerald Wilde, as well as being put into practice by the engineers of “naked streets” and shared space, such as Hans Monderman. (Although we welcome the re-allocation of road space from private motor vehicles to the more benign modes, particularly cycling as with good quality “Space4Cycling projects as potentially beneficial).
We believe that this needs to be formally recognized by practitioners concerned with safety on the road. Sometimes risk compensation (RC) has negative effects, sometimes positive: we believe that these are not sufficiently recognized, but should be:
There is substantial evidence to suggest that “road safety” engineering of motor vehicles (seat belts, air bags crumple zones, collapsible steering wheels, Side Impact Protection Systems, anti-lock braking etc.) and highways (anti-skid, crash barriers, cutting down road side trees etc.) is a form “idiot-proofing” motorist environments with idiot-producing effect .
As in (1.) above, casualties can go down because users of the more benign forms of transport adapt to perceptions of increased danger and migrate from the road environment
Very often declines in casualties would have occurred anyway, yet are claimed as the result of official “road safety” interventions when properly scientific analysis would deny this.
Sometimes simply making motorists more aware of the presence of pedestrians by traffic engineering which breaks down physical separation of pedestrians from carriageway traffic by guard rails (so-called “naked streets” or shared space) – the opposite of traditional “road safety” engineering does not lead to increases in casualties, as well as creating a more benign public realm.
There is evidence that increasing the amount of cycling in London and elsewhere has been the principal cause of a reduction in the casualty rate – casualties per journey or distance travelled – of cyclists. (See in the CTC’s “Safety in Numbers” (SiN) campaign) (It should be noted that SiN is not in any way enough to reduce danger to cyclists sufficiently – simply that there is a SiN effect).
All of the above indicates that human beings have the potential to change. The issue is where we see the problem. This leads to:
A. What/Who is “Dangerous”? (Or “Who Kills Whom?”). For us there is a fundamental moral difference between killing, hurting or endangering other road users, and being killed, hurt or endangered by others. We think there is a constant need to stress the difference between the two (the transitive and intransitive meanings of “dangerous”, to be pedantic). This difference is glossed over by the pseudo-scientific language of “road safety”, where quite different kinds of incident are lumped together. This is ultimately a political (with a small “p”) issue of who has power over whom in the road environment and we think it should be addressed in an equitable way. This means reducing danger at source, namely.
B. Safety on the road compared to other safety regimes. There is a good case to be made for saying that contemporary society is overly obsessed with safety. By contrast, danger from motor traffic – particularly to the non-motorised – is characterised by official tolerance. While we don’t see custodial sentencing as appropriate in most cases of casualties caused by rule or law breaking drivers, we do see law enforcement and sentencing policy for the majority of rule and law breaking driving as non-existent or lenient. Compared to Health and Safety at work, maritime safety, aviation safety or rail safety, regulation of danger on the road is much more likely to be based on a “voluntary code” which involves accepting behaviour which endangers other road users. It is less likely to do what other safety regimes do, namely concentrate on reducing danger at source. We accept that all road users have responsibilities, but we believe in focussing primarily on motor traffic because that is where danger comes from.
C.“Road safety” as part of non-sustainability and car culture. While some efforts, such as speed calming in urban areas, have tried to address the needs of pedestrians and other non-motorised modes, “road safety” is generally institutionally linked to the transport policies of an increasingly car-dependent society.
Who we are…
The RDRF Committee and the RDRF London Group are all professionals who work in or for local authorities in transport planning, promotion of cycling and walking, urban designer and safety Education, Training and Publicity (ETP). The first Road Danger Reduction Manager was appointed in 2009 by London Borough of Lambeth.
(as from November 2017)
President: Lord Berkeley
National Committee: Dr. Robert Davis (Chair)
Ken Spence (Secretary)
Brenda Puech (Treasurer)
…and what we do
Supporters of RDRF are those who support the ideas and principles of Road Danger Reduction as set out in the Road Danger Reduction Charter, and originally put forward in the publication “Is It Safe?”. Over the years some 35 local authorities have signed the Charter.
These are presented in our regular posts on this website, letters to the press, Press Releases, at seminars and conferences (see Events), and responses to consultations etc.
We also try to form partnerships with organisations that support the RDR, or “real road safety” agenda, such as the national cyclists’ organisation Cycling UK, the Environmental Travel Association, London Cycling Campaign, the national road crash victim’s charity RoadPeace, 20s Plenty, Living Streets, etc.
If your organisation wishes to sign the Road Danger Reduction Charter