Entries tagged with “cycling safety”.


OK so its not the snappiest of titles, but this post has a serious point, I have long been in favour of a law of stricter liability being included in the Scottish legal code. When Brenda Mitchell started her campaign for stricter liability I welcomed it on this blog. Now Alison Johnstone MSP has introduced a motion to the Scottish Parliament (Motion S4M-07934) calling for debate on a stricter liability. In order trying and encourage other MSPs to sign the motion I sent them the following letter:

I am writing to you to ask you to support Motion S4M-07934.

In a civilised country the function of the law should be to protect the vulnerable, currently in Scotland we situation on the roads where bulling of vulnerable road users is endemic. With the recent release of the 2012 statistics for reported road casualties in Scotland showed that the number of cycling deaths increased by 22% and pedestrian deaths increased by 33%. It is worth noting that while there may have been a small rise in the number of people cycling, about 2%, walking as a means of transport is continuing to decline. Therefore, it is clear that the current laws are failing to protect vulnerable road users. For this reason I ask you to support Motion S4M-07934. The introduction of stricter liability would bring Scotland into line with other European countries which have far higher levels of active travel and lower death rates for vulnerable road users.

Obviously stricter liability by its self is not going to be enough to bring about a safer environment, but it is an important part of the package. Scotland should be looking towards a sustainable safety approach, and consider a “Vision Zero” policy that requires that fatalities and serious injuries are reduced to zero by 2030, as an increasing number of countries around the world are doing. Let make Scotland a better place to live.

Yours sincerely,

Kim Harding, BSc, MPhil

 

I will of course up date this post with their replies (should they respond) as I receive them. I would urge others to write to their MSPs to ask them to support this motion.

Replies in the order which they have arrived:-

Neil Findlay MSP:

Neil has asked me to thank you for your email and to let you know that he is a member of the Cross Party Group on Cycling and has an interest in this issue.

Neil hopes to attend the debate, parliamentary business permitting.

 

Sarah Boyack MSP:

Thank you for your email on your support for Alison Johnstone MSP’s forthcoming debate in the Scottish Parliament and the information you have provided, setting out your position.

On behalf of the Lothian Labour team, I hope that it will prove helpful that as the Deputy Convenor of the Cross Party Group on Cycling I have an active interest and I will be there on the 29th and intend to take part in the proceedings that afternoon.

 

Kezia Dugdale MSP:

Kezia would like to thank you for taking the time to write to her on this issued.

Kezia has signed this motion and is looking forward to the debate tomorrow afternoon.

Kezia and the Scottish Labour Party remained open minded to the proposal and she looks forward to sharing your views in tomorrow’s debate.

 

Notably, Marco Biagi MSP, Gavin Brown MSP, Cameron Buchanan MSP and Margo MacDonald MSP, didn’t bothered to reply or even acknowledge my e-mail.

The motion was debated on the 29th October 2013, a full transcript can be found here. It shows a range of social attitudes, the usual dribble about cyclists on the pavements (make the roads safer and people won’t feel the need to cycle on the pavements, on the mainland of Europe this is not an issue), a certain amount of macho bullshit someone who famously failed to complete the 2012 Pedal of Scotland ride (even though 5 year old did), and an interesting number of comments on the need for more and better quality cycle infrastructure.

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I was among the “key stakeholders” who were consulted on the Nice Way Code advertising campaign, I strongly advised against the approach taken and tried to warn them that it was likely to result in a backlash from many ordinary people. However, my advice was ignored (I should add that I was not alone in expressing unease at the tone and message being sent by the Ad campaign). It was clear from the outset that it was never going to create a “culture of tolerance” on Scotland’s roads, after all this sort of respect approach has been around for 100 years, and there is no evidence that any such campaign has worked so far.

Sally Hinchcliffe, one of the organisers of Pedal on Parliament, who helped draft the letter, said: “I’ve never seen such anger online – and this was in response to what should have been an innocuous campaign asking people to get along. Instead, we’ve felt we were being demonised for running red lights, treated as though we’re a separate species, and told to ‘grow up’ for cycling on pavements. The tone was really misjudged and seemed, if anything, to make out that it would be our fault if we were hit by a car – even though statistics show that when people are knocked off their bikes it’s far more likely to have been the driver at fault than the cyclist. I’m a law-abiding cyclist, like everyone else I know who rides a bike, and to have our own government seemingly pandering to this stereotype of cyclists as lawless and a danger to themselves is really galling.” It also has to be remembered that this campaign has been launched at a time when the number of people being killed on the roads while riding a bicycle is rising (as are the number of pedestrian fatalities). This is something which Cycling Scotland would rather not talk about, prefering to state that the total number of deaths on the roads is down (this is due to reduced numbers of fatalities among car occupants, at a time when people are driving less distance and at lower top speeds due to the recession).

The Nice Way Code was launched by the Scottish Transport Minister Keith Brown MSP on the 5th August 2013, and was immediately met with large scale derision. Many people, across Scotland and beyond, feel that is it a massive waste of public money and as a result they have joined forces to write an open letter to the Scottish Government, asking for the Nice Way Code campaign to be scrapped. The campaign, which was intended to promote ‘mutual respect’ among road users, has triggered widespread anger among cyclists who feel that the adverts – particularly one showing a cyclist running a red light. The adverts have attracted controversy on social media with thousands of negative comments, blogs and tweets (and spoof twitter accounts) coming from cyclists and non cyclists alike, far beyond Scotland. The letter immediately garnered dozens of signatures as soon as it was posted on Facebook and tweeted, with over 80 people signed up in just over 24 hours. This letter has now been sent to a wide range of Scottish newspapers, the First Minster Alex Salmond MSP and cc’d to Keith Brown MSP.

The letter reads:

The Nice Way Code is failing in its own terms

At the launch of the Nice Way Code, Transport Minister Keith Brown said, “The Nice Way Code campaign seeks to build a culture of tolerance and patience between cyclists, motorists, pedestrians and all other road users across Scotland.” However, everything that has come out of this campaign – which was paid for out of the Active Travel budget – seems likely instead to create conflict, reinforcing divisions between people based merely on their mode of transport. One advert encourages cyclists not to run red lights simply in order not to give other cyclists a bad name (and not because it’s dangerous and discourteous, not least to pedestrians) – lumping all cyclists together and implying bad behaviour by a tiny minority justifies hostility to everyone who chooses to ride a bike.

As cyclists we are used to hearing from a few uninformed drivers that ‘all’ cyclists run red lights, ride on the pavement, hold up traffic and generally deserve to be treated like obstacles on the road. But we never expected our own government to run adverts saying the same thing. As nine cyclists have died on Scotland’s roads already this year, it’s unsurprising that this campaign seems to have angered almost everyone who regularly rides a bike.

Safer roads will not come from lecturing people and pandering to stereotypes. We believe they will come from rethinking our current emphasis on designing roads purely for motor traffic and redesigning them to remove the sort of conflicts these adverts reflect. Pending that, it’s clear that many people who don’t ride bikes themselves are unaware of the needs of cyclists on the road. A campaign that really aimed to build a culture of patience and tolerance could have helped to educate them about these things, and to get cyclists, drivers and pedestrians to see things from each others’ point of view. Calling cyclists names is not it.

We urge the Scottish government to recognise that it has made a mistake and to pull this campaign before it ramps up tensions on the road even further. We suggest that it takes this opportunity to start a real dialogue between road users about how we can recognise that we are all people, and behave accordingly.

Signatories

Adrian Roberts, Dalkeith
Alan Munro, Pedal on Parliament, Glasgow
Andrew Lamberton, Edinburgh EH6
Andrew W.D. Smith
Andy Lulham, Crawley
Andy Preece, Glasgow
Anthony Robson, Edinburgh, EH15
Barnaby Dellar, EH15
Barry O’Rourke EH23
Ben Cooper, Kinetics, Glasgow
Bill Kennedy, Currie, Edinburgh
Bill Telfer, Langholm
Brian Mackenzie, Inverness
Bruce MacDonald, Edinburgh, EH11
C.A. Looby, Edinburgh
Chris Byrne, Edinburgh
Chris Hill, CityCyclingEdinburgh.info
Christine Helliwell, Edinburgh
Colin Davidson,
Colin Lindsay, Edinburgh
Dave du Feu, Linlithgow
Dave Holladay, Glasgow, G3
David Brennan, Pedal on Parliament, Glasgow
David Edgar, Glasgow
David Gardiner, Laid Back Bikes, Edinburgh
David Hembrow, Assen, The Netherlands
David McKeever, Glasgow
David Monaghan, Edinburgh, EH10
David Morrison, Edinburgh, EH6
David Wilcox, Bristol
Davie Park, Edinburgh, EH11
Denise Marshall, Falkirk
Diana Laing, Edinburgh
Diane Adams, Edinburgh, EH10
Dougie Overbars, Edinburgh
Duncan MacLaren, Edinburgh
Duncan Wallace, Edinburgh, EH11
Eva Viktoria Ballin, Edinburgh
Fran Henderson
Garry Dawes, South Shields
Graeme Hart, Hart’s Cyclery, Edinburgh
Grant Mason, Edinburgh
Heidi Docherty, Edinburgh
Henry Whaley, Edinburgh, EH12
Hugh Thomas, Pedal on Parliament, Edinburgh
Ian Bruce, Edinburgh
James Thomson, Kinross
Jemma Smith
Jenny Wilson, Edinburgh
John and Rosie Rutherford, Dumfries
Karen Sutherland, Gorgie, Edinburgh
Keith Walters, Dumfries
Ken Murray, Edinburgh
Keridwen Jones, Edinburgh, Spokes member
Kim Harding, Pedal on Parliament, Edinburgh
Lee Kindness, Edinburgh, EH15
Lynne and Ian McNicoll, Edinburgh
Mark Macrae, Edinburgh
Mark Treasure, Chair, Cycling Embassy of Great Britain
Martyn Wells, Edinburgh, EH10
Neil Bowie, Carse of Gowrie, Perth
Niall Anderson, Edinburgh
Nigel Shoosmith
Paul Jakma, Glasgow
Paul Milne, Dunbar
Philip Ward
Richard Pelling, Fyvie, Aberdeenshire
Robert Gormley, Edinburgh
Ronald Brunton, Edinburgh
Rory Fitzpatrick, EH11
Ros Gasson, Edinburgh
Ruari Wilson
Ruth Kirk, East Kilbride
Sally Hinchcliffe, Pedal on Parliament & Cycling Dumfries, Dumfries
Sara Dorman, Pedal on Parliament
Scott Hutchinson, Edinburgh
Scott Simpson
Sean Allan, Edinburgh EH8
Shan Parfitt, Aberdeen
Shaun McDonald, Edinburgh / Ipswich
Stephan Matthiesen, Edinburgh
Sweyn Hunter, Kirkwall, Orkney
Tom Orr, Edinburgh EH21
Tom Russell EH15
Tony Stuart KY11
Ulli Harding, Edinburgh
Verity Leigh, Edinburgh

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Yesterday I was at Holyrood for the placing of two Ghost Bikes outside the Scottish Parliament. There was also a Tombstone showing the numbers of people who have been killed while riding a bicycle on Scotland’s roads over the last five years (the tally on the Tombstone showed 35 deaths). Following the press call, the tombstone was moved to the Meadows, as this is probably the busiest cycle path in Edinburgh. What we didn’t know at the time of the press call was that the tally on the tombstone had become out of date already. Another person had died, bringing the total for this year to nine, which equals the total for 2012, and it’s only July. As a consequence, the following press coverage was sombre. However, it wasn’t long before the usual voices started blithely blaming the victims, rather than the real issues on our roads.

It should be remembered that changing mode of transport doesn’t necessarily make people more or less careful, but it does change the amount of damage that they can do to others. When you are in control of heavy and dangerous machinery , a moment’s inattention can be fatal, but not necessarily for the operator. One of the paradox effects of modern car safety design has been to convince drivers that they are invulnerable, and this has increased the risk to others.

The solution to this is to take a harm reduction approach: A) restrict speed (and therefore the risk of harm to others) where motor vehicles and more vulnerable road users are mixed (and enforce speed limits). B) provide safe space for vulnerable road users, separated from motor vehicles where speed and volume of motor vehicles can not be reduced. C) place the responsibility for safety on those most capable of doing harm and hold them responsible when they do harm. This third point is a very real problem, there is a grim joke that if you want to get away with murder, use a car. Of course most deaths on the roads are not premeditated, but a report by the insurance company AXA has calculated that there are over 800 deaths a year on British roads due to “disrespectful driving”.

If our roads are to be made safer, we have to change the culture of driving. This CAN be done, just look at France. Twenty years ago French drivers where notorious for their driving habits, and yet today ask anyone who has cycled in France recently, and you will hear glowing reports about safe driving. What brought about this change? The use of the legal system to change driver behaviour, the introduction of the strictest Strict Liability laws in Europe (note: the UK is one of only five countries not to have such a law), a law requiring drivers to give cyclists road space, and strict enforcement of the speed limits. All of this has combined to make France a major destination for cycle tourism (although not all cyclists think that French drivers are that safe).

Culture is something that can change and something we have to change to make the roads safer. There is also the suggestion that we can’t have mass cycling here because we don’t have a “cycling culture”, but there is no reason why we could not have a “cycling culture” here, we just need a safer road environment. This is not just good for “cyclists”, it is good for pedestrians too, and we are all pedestrians at some point.

Until this happens we are, sadly, going to see more Ghost Bikes appearing on our streets.

The nine cyclists who have died on Scotland’s roads so far this year are:

  • Alastair Dudgeon, 51, Kincardine (A985) 6th January
  • Alistair MacBean, 74, Inverness (A82) 22nd January
  • Charles Aimer, 42, Errol (A90) 17th March
  • Craig Tetshill, 21, Gorthleck (unclassified road) 16th May
  • Kyle Allan, 8, Aberdeen (Great Northern Road) 21st May
  • David Wallace, 52, Perth (West Mains Avenue) 12th June
  • Douglas Brown, 79, West Lothian (B9080), 11th July
  • Connor Shields, 14, Ellon (A975), 17th July
  • Mary Brook, 59, Drumnadrochit (A831), 22nd July

When will this madness end?

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Following the death of yet another cyclist on Scotland roads I was deeply saddened to see the following letter in The Herald newspaper:

Onus should be on the cyclists
Tuesday 23 July 2013

ONCE again the strict liability law is being peddled with the aim of protecting cyclists and pedestrians (Agenda, The Herald, July 19).

The writer, Brenda Mitchell, states “our goal is to change the culture among road users”.

As a pedestrian and former cyclist I would suggest that rather than attempting to change the law and further burdening other road users the only culture that needs changing is that of the cyclist.

Among the initiatives they may consider adopting are wearing suitable clothing and protective equipment (for head and hands) and obeying the current motor traffic laws – and not riding upon the footpath.

Perhaps it is also time for legislators to require all cyclists to fit, and sound, a suitable warning device in order to alert unsuspecting pedestrians to their presence.

In short, the public at large would be better protected if cyclists obeyed the law as it stands rather than seeking to introduce legislation that would be nothing more than another impost upon the motoring public who, after all, already pay to use the road.

Ian F Mackay,

5 Smillie Place,

Kilmarnock.

 

Lets just take a closer look, Mr Mackay starts by asserting that he is a “pedestrian and former cyclist”. Why does he feel the need to do this? We are all pedestrians at some point, and why is he a “former cyclist”? Oddly he doesn’t tell us, he also doesn’t let us know whether or not he is a driver (although it is implied), again why? Could it be that he is embarrassed to admit to being a driver, when he goes on to complain about “further burdening other road users” before going on to suggest that the only problem is with cyclists. Which other road users would this be? Are pedestrians and horse riders going to feel that a strict liability law is going to burden them? Or would the more vulnerable users of public space feel that a law making the operators of dangerous and heavy machinery being used that space liable (under civil law) for their actions, giving the most vulnerable greater protection? After all, this has been shown to be effective in the workplace where there is a strict liability on employers to ensure safe working practices.

He suggests that cyclists “may consider adopting wearing suitable clothing and protective equipment (for head and hands)” – is this for the protection of other roads user? Or merely trying to pass the blame when cyclists are injured by negligent actions of other road users? To use the workplace analogy again, the use of “safety equipment” is not a substitute for operating potentially dangerous machinery in a safe manner.

Then comes “obeying the current motor traffic laws – and not riding upon the footpath”. Hum, are cyclists “motor traffic”? Certainly they are traffic, as are pedestrians (the origin of the word traffic is from the Arabic word taraffaqa, which means ‘to walk along slowly together’, only in the late 20th century did it become “to drive along slowly together”, we needn’t go into the origin of the word “jam”). However, according to Mr Mackay, it is the failure of cyclists to obey laws which is the cause of all the harm to roads users. This fails to explain why not a single one of the 54 pedestrians killed on Scotland’s roads last year were killed by a person riding bicycle, all where killed as a result of being hit by motor vehicles.

Next, we come to “Perhaps it is also time for legislators to require all cyclists to fit, and sound, a suitable warning device in order to alert unsuspecting pedestrians to their presence.” How exactly will this help to deal with the problem of 54 pedestrians killed on Scotland’s roads? Some of those were mown down by motor vehicles driven on the foot way, others killed while crossing the road at pedestrian crossings by motorists jumping the lights. Oh, but of course, Mr Mackay isn’t concerned with the real issue of people being killed or the roads being too dangerous for many people to ride a bike on. He has given no thought as to why shared use paths are over crowded and how we might go about dealing with this issue, such as making the roads safer and providing a fairer allocation of space to non-motorists. He is more worried that bad drivers might actually be held to account for the injuries and deaths they cause, which is what would happen if we were to “introduce legislation that would be nothing more than another impost upon the motoring public” (although the version I have proposed would also apply to cyclists).

Instead, according Mr Mackay bad driving is apparently OK and should continue to tolerated, on the grounds that “the motoring public who, after all, already pay to use the road.” So there we have it, we shouldn’t do anything to hold bad drivers to account, because they pay “road tax”. Of course there is a major flaw in this argument, there is no such thing as “road tax” , we all pay for the roads, and we should all have the right to be safe from harm by others whilst using those roads.

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For some time now, I have been in favour of a law of Strict Liability. This defines who is liable when collisions occur on the roads. So I was pleased to learn that a Peebles lawyer, Brenda Mitchell, had started a campaign for Strict Liability called Road Share. This is a very welcome move, Brenda has done a lot of research on this issue and makes a very clear case for including Strict Liability as part of our civil law, in the same way as the majority of European countries have done (see map below).

Why it is that Scotland hasn’t made this change yet is unclear, it is not as if the concept of strict liability does not already exist under Scots law, as it underpins much of the Health and Safety legislation. For example, if you are felling a tree with a chainsaw, and a third party walks into the line of fall of the tree, it is the person operating the chainsaw that is held to be liable if there is injury to the third party. Likewise, if you fire a firearm, you are automatically held liable under civil law if you hit someone accidentally, and liable under the criminal law if you shoot them deliberately. This is an important distinction and one that is often missed by critics of Strict Liability. This new campaign to apply the principles of strict liability to road traffic collisions is about changing the civil law code, not the criminal law, where the central principle is (and will remain) that the accused will remain innocent until proven guilty. Strict liability is solely about who has the greater duty of care, and that should clearly be the person who is in the position to do the most harm.

Taking the firearm analogy above, we allow people to own and use firearms strictly under licence, because firearms are fundamentally dangerous. Similarly, we only permit motor vehicles to be driven on the public highway under licence because motor vehicles are fundamentally dangerous: a moment’s inattention can be fatal, and not necessarily only to the driver. For this reason, any suggestion that pedestrians or cyclists owe a duty of care to motorists is absurd, as in the event of a car hitting a pedestrian, the driver is very rarely, if ever, the one that is hurt.

Similarly, a case can be made that cyclists do owe a duty of care to pedestrians, and this would be covered as part of the hierarchy of strict liability. This, however, would not lead to the need for cyclists to take out compulsory third party insurance. Many cyclists already have third party insurance (although they might not realise it), in my case it is bundled in with my household insurance. The thing about insurance is that it is priced according to risk, with riding a bicycle for transport or leisure being a low risk activity such for causing harm to others (sports cycling maybe excluded). As the risk of a claim is so low for the insurance companies, they feel that they can bundle it in with other insurance packages for free, as incentive to buy. This is not the case with motoring insurance, where premiums are higher because the risk of a claim is very much higher. It is because driving is inherently dangerous that is a legal requirement for all drivers to carry third party insurance, if the risk to others was as low as that posed by cyclists, then there would be not legal compunction.

A law of strict liability would also have an impact on motoring insurance premiums, and the good news for drivers is that it would result in lower premiums. The main reason for this is that the UK is one of the most expensive countries for motor insurance BECAUSE it doesn’t have a law of strict liability. Therefore, in the event of a collision involving a motorist and a vulnerable road user resulting in injury to the vulnerable road user, that person often has little choice but to sue the motorist to gain compensation from the motorist’s insurance company. Often the insurance company will try to reduce the payout by making claims of “contributory negligence”, which is often a way of blaming the victim for being hit and has nothing to do with fairness. The only people to really gain from this type of litigation are the lawyers.

Given that there are so many obvious advantages to having a law of strict liability, it seems strange that there is so much opposition to it. Part of this is due to a failure understand that it benefits everyone in some way. Another reason is the mistaken belief that there is some sort of right to drive motor vehicles which there isn’t – driving is only permitted under licence and that licence comes with responsibilities. If you are a safe and considerate driver, you have nothing to fear and much to gain from a law of strict liability. It is time that we, as a society, vigorously challenge the Mr Toad’s attitude to driving. Strict liability is not a panacea, it can not by itself make our roads safer, but it is a part of the solution.

No_Strict_Liability_Map_reduced

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