Isn’t it time to end the Taliban approach to road safety?

Isn’t it time to end the Taliban approach to road safety?

Warning this is not a happy post, the writer is angry:

In Afghanistan it is considered dangerous for women to go out on the streets in case they are raped. The Taliban’s answer to this is to make all women there wear a burqa to “protect” them. If a woman is unfortunate enough to be raped, she is then at risk of being accused of adultery and stoned to death. The attitude is very much one of blaming the victim.

“But, what has this to do with road safety?” I hear you ask. Well, here in the UK, government funded road “safety” campaigns aimed at pedestrians and cyclists (especially those intended for children) take a clear stance of blaming the victim. They say to children, if you go out on the roads, not wearing “protective clothing”, you might get hurt and it will be all your own fault. There is no attempt to put the responsibility on those most capable of causing the harm. I mean, what sort of sick person came up with “Tales of the Road: What happens when it all goes wrong”. No wonder parents are frightened to let their children out on the roads. We have been using this approach for over 30 years, starting with the Tufty Club and the Green Cross Code, and over time the campaigns are steadily getting more extreme. This marketing of fear is not making our roads safer, it is just frightening people. Britain has one of the worst road safety records in Europe for child pedestrians and almost 20% of casualties occur on the way to or from school. This is not the way to change the situation! It is well known that drivers are responsible for over 85% of all road accidents crashes, so why does the Department for Transport choose not to deal with the real issue? Why is the UK one of only five countries in Europe which does not have a law of strict liability? We also has the lowest rates of active travel in Europe and the highest levels of child (and adult) obesity.

In a time of austerity, it is time to cut this cr@p! If we really wanted to save public money, we could take real action to reduce the harm done on our roads. Injuries caused by road accidents crashes cost the NHS £470m a year, and the cost to the wider economy is £8bn a year (from figures collated by RoSPA in 2007). If we want to reduce this cost, we need to change driver behaviour and place the blame on the guilty.

If you were to walk down the street with a shotgun and it were to accidentally discharge, then you as the person holding the shotgun would automatically be held liable, not anyone you hit. You can legally carry a shotgun down a street, so long as you hold a licence to own one and observe certain strict conditions. Likewise, you can legally drive a car along a road, as long as you have a driving licence and observe certain conditions. Sadly, the latter conditions are not so strictly observed or enforced.

A car driven at 20mph or above can easily do as much damage to the human body as the blast from a shotgun. Yet, no one suggests that we should all wear flack jackets as we walk and cycle, just in case someone is negligent enough to accidentally discharge a shotgun. Nor do we expect to have to keep out of the way of someone legally carrying a shotgun. Why is this? Both have an equal potential to cause harm. If you injure or kill someone by negligently discharging a firearm, you are looking at a prison sentence. Yet if you do damage to another person while driving a car, the penalty is likely to be a £200 fine and three points on your licence, for the same level of harm. Where is the difference between killing someone by negligently discharging a legally held firearm or hitting them with a car, the victim is dead. So why is it considered acceptable if the perpetrator is driving?

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15 thoughts on “Isn’t it time to end the Taliban approach to road safety?

    1. Yes comments are held until I have read them for new commenter’s, as I would preffer to have comments with discuss the post rather than just trying to advertised porn sites. *sigh*

  1. I have to say that while I agree on the problems with promoting the culture of fear surrounding cycling, the comparison with shotguns only holds up to a point.

    Yes, if someone were to accidentally discharge one they would be immediately responsible, and yes, negligence with a car should be treated the same way. But to question why there aren’t campaigns for people to wear flak jackets weakens your argument (I would respectfully contest) – I don’t think the reason there aren’t such campaigns is because we want to protect car drivers, but rather because there quite simply aren’t people walking down the streets carrying shotguns and having them go off on a regular basis. There ‘could’ be; but there aren’t. That single aspect of the comparison is more than a little stretched.

    The last thing I’d say is that I still think things like the Tufty Club have a place – I mean, I’m sure you do think that children should at least have ‘some’ road sense? That’s not victim blaming, just practicality surely? Because it’s not black and white – safety training for kids AND greater control/enforcement etc etc etc of drivers. You may disagree, so I’d ask, do you think children should have no road safety training at all?

    (sorry, this doesn’t ft in with everyone telling you you’re right – but most arguments are stronger if, when challenged, they can be defended – and I’ve been known to have my opinion changed by well-reasoned response).

    1. No analogy is perfect. So lets just imagine there what it would be like if cars were treated like shotguns and people didn’t have to worry about them as they walked down the street, what would that be like? Well Sweden has a policy of reducing road deaths to zero, why couldn’t we have such a thing here?

      You say that reason we don’t wear flak jackets because quite simply aren’t people walking down the streets carrying shotguns and having them go off on a regular basis. True, but why is that? Well we have regulation about who can have a shotgun and make very sure they know about the dangers and their responsibilities. Yes there is a need to teach children about the dangers of the roads, but at the same time we shouldn’t be blaming them, when adults don’t take their responsibilities seriously. In this country, there is a very real problem with drivers thinking they have a greater right to use the roads than other road users. Part of the reason for this belief is that they have been trained to keep out of the way of motor vehicles (yes there are other reasons too) and that motor vehicles have an absolute priority on the roads. This is not a healthy situation for not motorised road users, neither is it strictly true in law, as everyone has the right to use the road on foot, riding a bicycle or a horse (with the exception of a few roads). Driving a motor vehicle on the public highway is only permitted by licence, with that licence comes responsibilities. It would be a far better approach if we put more emphasis those responsibilities, rather than blaming the victims when things go wrong. Also see my post on The Sacred Driving Licence (http://www.kimharding.net/blog/?p=1666).

      Oh and no one is right all the time, not even lawyers… 😉

    2. “You say that reason we don’t wear flak jackets because quite simply aren’t people walking down the streets carrying shotguns and having them go off on a regular basis. True, but why is that? Well we have regulation about who can have a shotgun and make very sure they know about the dangers and their responsibilities. ”

      There are also a LOT less people with shotguns, and it’s harder to argue that you ‘need’ a shotgun to go to the shops; or take the kids to the swimming pool; or deliver an aged relative to the hospital.

      (note ”argue that you need’ I’m not saying the people int he cars DO actually ‘need’ to do all of the driving they do – but I don’t honestly think the reason millions of people aren’t walking down the streets carrying shotguns is down to regulation and understanding they are dangerous…)

      I agree with this wholeheartedly though:

      “This is not a healthy situation for not motorised road users, neither is it strictly true in law, as everyone has the right to use the road on foot, riding a bicycle or a horse (with the exception of a few roads). Driving a motor vehicle on the public highway is only permitted by licence, with that licence comes responsibilities. It would be a far better approach if we put more emphasis those responsibilities…”

  2. Thanks for this post. I’m German but have lived in Edinburgh for more than a decade now, so it was interesting to compare the situation in these countries.

    I have to say that I was really shocked by the “Tales of the Road” video. If you showed that to me without context, I would probably have thought that it is some kind of satirical Monty Python sketch making fun of cheap horror movies. But knowing that it is a serious education video left me puzzled and also angry.

    I was particularly confused by the intense accusation the “the boy couldn’t be bothered” to be careful.

    For me, there are two issues here. One is that this is just not the way to talk to a child. Of course we need to teach children to be careful, but threats are never a good teaching method, one needs positive model behaviour, and childrens brains are just not fully developed yet and you can’t expect them to be perfectly safety conscious.

    The second issue is, as you point out, that it’s not helpful to blame the victims but look at who’s causing the accidents.

    I don’t remember anything scary about my own traffic education at school, but that’s a while back, so I tried to find more current educational material from Germany (although I didn’t spend much time). One important site is:
    http://www.verkehrssicherheitsprogramme.de (in German, but perhaps you can pipe it through google translator and get the basic ideas?). It’s fairly official, supported by the Traffic ministry etc.

    Under “Kinder” (children), they actually start by saying: “younger chiildren cannot direct their attention very well … their ability to judge distances and speed is not developed ….” and so on. therefore, “parents and educators, drivers and city planners, indeed every adult, has to aim to improve childrens’ safety”.

    So they make it quite clear that you cannot blame the children and while you can teach them safety, the responsibility is not with them, because childrens’ abilities are different.

    I didn’t find an educational video for kids on that site. I found clips on a different site, a campaign “Inner city – living safely together” (http://www.innerorts-gemeinsam-sicher-leben.de/)0

    That is run by the German Council for Road Safety (http://www.dvr.de), which I think is an independent charity but supported by government and police.

    The “Inner city” campaign has videos and material for a number of things, a lot about safe car driving in residential areas and such, but also including how to use buses and trams safely I only watched the cycle video (http://jahresaktion.dvr.de/2009/inhalt/03_Fahrrad.wmv), and no scare story there. It goes something like “Cycling is really a nice way to get about in a city, and you can enjoy the wind in your hair and enjoy nature in a particularly wonderful way. But you have to make sure that your bicycle is in good condition and that you can rely on it, because you don’t have an airbag or other safety features.” Then it goes on to explain the details (check brakes, lights etc.).

    Not very scary, and clearly pointing out that cycling is really very positive.

    I do hope that Britain can become more positive towards cycling. We need it for the future, and as somebody who lives in Edinburgh I would very much like to see fewer cars and more space for pedestrians and bikes.

  3. I was pretty pissed when I heard about the DFTs new child scaremongering/behavioural conditioning website. So much so I actually emailed them. the response started
    “It is a fact of life that some drivers drive to fast for the conditions of the road, or are distracted. Our aim is to alert children to the dangers on the road and to change their behaviour, so they will be safer”
    To paraphrase
    Some idiots break the law but instead of bothering them we’ll concern ourselves with telling the victims to change THEIR behaviour.
    Lovely!

  4. I feel I should repost this comment I saw on the View From The Cycle Path blog a while back:

    I have a lot of difficulty understanding any of this. So far from how things are to me as a Dutch cyclist and driver.

    When I was taking lessons for my driver’s license in 1984, a road safety ad first appeared on Dutch TV. It ran for years and years! Even after all this time it is still very powerful and puts the blame of an accident entirely on the driver.

    This makes very clear how the Dutch were imprinted.

    Dutch Road Safety Ad
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_TEJ-Nm7sQ

    The final text in the ad: “children play; take that into consideration”.

    So yes of course we warn kids here to behave safely in traffic too. But we do not hesitate to put the responsibility where it should be: with the drivers. I thought this was universal…

    Adam

  5. agree 100%.

    who’s using the transportation that weighs 2 tons? not the cyclist, not the pedestrian. when you get in a car, it’s your responsibility to see everyone and everything. (of course, cyclists and pedestrians have a responsibility too, but those in vehicles shouldn’t automatically be favored in an incident)

  6. Pingback: Burqa On The Brain
  7. Hi Kim,

    Great post.

    I agree with your sentiments and I like the comparison of cars with loaded guns. I too use this anolgy when I talk to people about how some are literally getting away with murder on the streets.

    I have been trying to get this message across here in Australia – and fighting our archaic mandatory helmet laws. Here is a post on The Urban Country about another run-in with the police that I’ve had on this issue.

    Keep up the pressure on our elected representatives. It won’t be long before we’ll all be walking and cycling a lot more!

    Cheers!

  8. The answer is simple – whereas there isn’t a huge lobby of shotgun-wielding maniacs, there is a massive lobby of drivers. Since drivers make up a vast percentage of the voting population, it’s not in any single government’s interests to clamp down on this sort of behaviour.

    In any case, if jail sentences were handed out to drivers for those sorts of crimes, jail overcrowding would become even worse.

    Sadly I think it’ll take an actual, factual crisis to change the law sufficiently that cyclists/pedestrians will get the protection they need.

    1. Yes, but the whole voting population are pedestrians at some stage. The real problem is not so much the unthinking voters, more the media which tells them which way to vote. Pick up most news paper (and a all the comics posing as News papers) and look a the advertising they carry, count the number of car ads, then look at their editorial stance on “motoring issues”. One of the interesting things I noticed at the start of the “credit crunch” was that the level of motor advertising in one of my local papers dropped dramatically and shortly after their previously hard line anti cycling editorial stance started to soften.

      OK, so that is a wee bit simplistic, but there has been a change in public perception of cycling (and active travel in general) is starting to shift, driven in no small part by advertising, cycling is seen as cool by major Brands in their advertising campaigns. At the end of the day, anything that encourages more people to walk and cycle, has to be a good thing, as it makes walking and cycling safer for all. Maybe, just maybe, this is a time when it might be possible to change the political agenda, although the current minister for transport is a major blockage…

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