Entries tagged with “road safety”.

For 6,000 years the street was a place where people met and talked, they traded and did business, above all they could walk where they liked. The street was a democratic space which belonged to no one group or form of transport. This all ended in the 20th Century with the arrival of the motorists who demanded that they had a greater “right” to use the road than anyone else. Pedestrians were forced to the sides and restricted in where they could cross, cyclists were barely tolerated and expected to keep out of the way. How did all this come about?

When the car first arrived, they were few in number and tightly controlled as it was recognised that motor vehicles were a danger to all. However, as the people who owned cars were wealthy and powerful these measures were soon being watered down. First off, the 1865 “Red Flag Act” was replaced by the Highways Act 1896 which set a limit of speed limit to 14mph (23km/h). This change is still commemorated each year by the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. Then in turn this speed limit was replaced by the Motor Car Act 1903, which raised the limit again, this time to 20mph (32km/h), which is where the speed limit in built up areas should have stayed.

However, after a great deal of pressure from the motoring lobby, all speed limits for cars and motorbikes were removed by the Road Traffic Act 1930. It is very telling that Lord Buckmaster’s opinion at the time was that the speed limit was removed because “the existing speed limit was so universally disobeyed that its maintenance brought the law into contempt”. It is also worth noting that the AA was founded in 1905 to help motorists avoid police speed traps, and the RAC also has a long history of lobbying against speed restrictions.

At this time there were relatively few cars on the roads but the death rate was considerable. Data on road deaths in Great Britain were first collected in 1926, in that year there were 4,886 recorded deaths. The result of the removal of all speed limits for cars meant that in 1931 the death rate hit a new high of 7,343 deaths and 231,603 serious injuries. As a consequence, the new Minister of Transport, Leslie Hore-Belisha, described it as “mass murder” and reintroduced a speed limit for cars at 30 mph in built-up areas (defined in Scotland as areas where the lighting columns are spaced at 185m or less).

But is 30mph an appropriate speed for motor vehicles in a built up area? Well no, as this infographic from Pedal on Parliament [http://pedalonparliament.org] clearly shows:

Speed & Fatalities

As speed increases so the survivability of a collision declines. Why would this be?

It’s a simple matter of physics, if streets have large amounts of kinetic (movement) energy moving along them they are more hazardous places to be. Kinetic energy can be shown by the equation Ek = 1/2mv2, where Ek is the amount of kinetic energy (usually given in Joules), m is mass or weight of the vehicle (usually given in Kg), and v2 is velocity or speed which is squared (usually given in meters per second). But what does this mean in reality? Let’s look at the kinetic energy of a small car, these weigh about one tonne (1,000Kg) travelling at 20mph (8.9m/s), so Ek = 0.5 x 1,000 x 8.92 = 39,969J (39.97kJ).

This also tells us that as speed increases, because velocity is squared, the amount of energy increases exponentially. If the vehicle speed doubles, then its kinetic energy quadruples, so at 40mph a one tonne car will now have a kinetic energy of 159.88 kJ. It also tells us that heavier cars are more lethal than lighter ones, so a big 4×4 which can weigh about three tonnes, will have a kinetic energy of 119.91kJ at 20mph and 479.63kJ at 40mph. Just to put all this into context, the kinetic/muzzle energy of a 12 bore shotgun is 4.45kJ. OK so there are some differences is the area over which the kinetic energy would be transferred, but it shows just how lethal cars can be.

Before I move on, just a quick note on the data source for the infographic above. When Donald was drawing it up, we at PoP had a discussion about which paper to take the data from and why. There are a couple of newer papers which appear to give higher survival rates at 30 mph. However, when you read the original source material, you find that the most vulnerable groups, children under 15 years and adults over 70 years, have been excluded from the analysis. No reason is given for this exclusion of data and the reader is left to draw their own conclusions, so we chose to use Aston & McKay 1979. We have received a certain amount of criticism for using “old” data, but as I have shown above, the laws of physics haven’t changed. People say that cars have changed, and yes they have, they have gotten bigger and heavier. A small car in 1979 would have weighed 500-750Kg, now 1,000 Kg, and there were very few 4×4 SUVs. The levels of kinetic energy on our roads for the same speeds are greater than they were before.

Of course the level of kinetic energy is not the only factor that makes lower speed limits safer in built up areas. There are other things to think about too, such as stopping distances, here again the same laws of physics come into play. There is the relationship between driving speed and braking distance. The kinetic energy of a vehicle is proportional to the square of its increased speed, this means that as the driving speed is doubled the braking distance quadruples. Of course there will be those who say the brakes on modern vehicles are better than they used to be. But they are not (as some drivers imagine them to be) magic, they can not overcome the laws of physics. Anti-lock brakes do not significantly reduce braking distance on a dry road, they merely reduce the risk of skidding out of control. Of course braking distance is only one component of Stopping Distance, the other part is thinking distance.

The speed with which the human brain can think hasn’t changed in well over 3 million years, no matter how much some people might want to think otherwise. (Insert your own joke here about Neanderthal taxi drivers). For an alert driver the average time between seeing a hazard and applying the brakes is 1.5 seconds. This means that at 20mph (32Km/h) the driver travels 13m while still thinking, this compares with 20m at 30mph (48Km/h) and 27m at 40mph (64Km/h). Remember this is for an alert driver, increasingly drivers are increasingly distracted by things like mobile phones and satnav systems. This can be the difference between life and death for a pedestrian or a cyclist using the same road.

As speed rises so the amount of time the driver has available to look around for hazards reduces and so does their peripheral vision.

peripheral vision image

In a busy environment there is a need for the driver to be more aware of what is going on around them. In less busy environments, i.e. motorways where the traffic is all moving in the same direction and there are fewer hazards coming from the sides, allowing the driver to focus more on what is happening in the distance. This is why motorways are generally considered to be safer than urban roads, even though motorways have higher speeds. As any trained advanced driver can tell you, driving at any speed requires constant attention and observation.

Aside from the clear safety benefits of 20mph speed limits for all road users, there are also other benefits to keeping the speed of motor vehicles below 20mph in built up areas. These include reductions in air pollution and noise pollution, both of which have an impact of human health.

There is increasing evidence that air pollution is shortening all our lives. Reducing motor vehicle speeds reduces levels of air pollution at source, so this has to be a good thing. There are some who claim that there are modelling studies suggesting that 20mph speed limits would increase pollution levels. However, there are no measurement studies I can find that bear this out. Models are only as good as the data and assumptions on which they are based, if they can’t be validated by real world data, they are worthless.

By reducing speeds by 10mph, traffic noise is reduced by about 3dB (depending on road surface). High levels of traffic noise cause stress and discourage active travel – who wants to walk along a noisy urban street? This not only bad for the health of people living in urban areas (and the majority of people do now live in urban areas), it is also bad for the local economy as it makes local shopping less attractive. “High street” businesses rely on footfall, not drive past. A study in the UK showed that people who walked to town centres spent an average of £91 per week on shopping, while motorists would spent £64 per week. Edinburgh’s bold move to bring in an almost blanket 20mph speed limit (excluding major roads), will help to make the whole city more vibrant.

The introduction of the 20mph speed limit in Edinburgh has been a long process, first we had the Southside trial. Then there was a two year consultation which showed there is significant support for 20mph speed limits. There was also cross-party support within the council with only the Tories objecting (and one of them called for more roads at 20mph in his ward, after he had voted against the city wide limit). The local chip wrapper did try to play up the “mass protest march” against 20mph, however this turned out to be 47 people organised by a taxi business. The police didn’t need to estimate the numbers which the organiser would then claim to be double. They just did a head count, as did an independent observer who said there were only 43.

Despite this evidence the politicians keep saying that reducing the national speed limit in built up areas to 20mph is unpopular with the electorate, so the question is, is 20mph so unpopular? In a recent poll commissioned by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, found that 58% of Britons “support reducing the national speed limit in built up areas to 20mph to attempt to reduce deaths from road traffic accidents”. The RCPCH recommend that we should: “Encourage physical activity for all children and young people – with and without disabilities – by creating more cycle lanes and promoting 20mph speed limits” and “Reduce the national speed limit in built up areas to 20mph to reduce the number of deaths by road traffic accidents”.

Edinburgh has now committed to doing something which Graz in Austria managed to do 23 years ago. Now if we could just get just Edinburgh to pick up a few other ideas from cities across Europe, maybe Zurich’s policy of one car out, one car in? But then that would need the City of Edinburgh Council to have the ambition to make Edinburgh a world class city.

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You might not realise it, but today is the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, which takes place on the third Sunday in November every year as the appropriate acknowledgement of victims of road traffic crashes and the victims’ families. It is estimated, worldwide, that 1.2 million people are killed in road crashes each year and as many as 50 million are injured. I was going to list all the people I have personally known who have died on the roads, members of my extended family, friends and acquaintances. But by the time I had got to 20, I was finding it all too depressing and so abandoned the idea. Too much loss, too much pain.

The theme for this year is “Speed kills – design out speeding”

For some years now, along with the Pedal on Parliament campaign group, I have been advocating the idea that the statutory speed limit for built up areas in Scotland should be lowered from 30mph to 20mph. This would undoubtedly save lives and make Scotland a better place to live. Not only would it be relatively cheap to do, but it is also within the gift of the Scottish Parliament. The power to vary speed limits was devolved, along with the power to vary the drink-driving limits, as part of the Scotland Act (2012). The Scottish Parliament has exercised the power to change the drink-drive limit, from 5th December 2014 the permitted blood alcohol limit for drivers will be cut from 80mg to 50mg in every 100ml of blood. This has to be a good thing. However, the powers to vary speed limits has, so far, only been used to raise the speed limit for heavy goods vehicles using the A9. This is a retrograde step as Holyrood does not have the power to change the Laws of Physics, and therefore this will in no way make the A9 a safer road.

As I have said elsewhere, it has been known for well over 30 years that, as traffic speed increases, so does the risk to pedestrians:

  • Hit by a car at 20 mph, 3% of pedestrians will be killed – 97% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 30 mph, 20% of pedestrians will be killed – 80% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 35 mph, 50% of pedestrians will be killed – 50% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 40 mph, 90% of pedestrians will be killed – 10% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 50 mph, >99% of pedestrians will be killed – <1% will survive
At 20mph just 3% of pedestrians or cyclists are killed

The difference just a few miles per hour makes

Many drivers don’t think about the fact that at 30 mph, a vehicle travels 44ft (roughly three car lengths) every second and at 20mph a vehicle travels 29.3ft (roughly two car lengths). The average reaction time of drivers is between 1 and 1.5 seconds. Then it takes time to actually stop, and to stop safely drivers have to think ahead rather than just try to react to the situation. Lowering the speed limit allows drivers more time to think and therefore reduces the frequency of accidents collisions. There are people out there who think that they are a good drivers and that it wouldn’t happen to them – I would suggest that they read about the experiences of this Hertfordshire GP, who used to think it wouldn’t happen to him.

Once again, I call on the Scottish Government to lower the statutory speed limit in built up areas from 30mph to 20mph, this will save lives. If you agree with me write to your MSPs today and tell them so.

This post also appears on the Pedal on Parliament website, in a slightly modified form.

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Hardly a week goes by without another victim blaming letter to the papers, the latest was entitled Cyclists must help themselves (quoted below in full):

Wearing a helmet while cycling may be a “peripheral issue”, according to W Henderson (Promote cycling, not use of helmets, Letters, July 27).

However, surely it is highly desirable in urban traffic? We do not enjoy the excellent traffic segregation and social cohesion of “Denmark and The Netherlands”, nor are we ever likely to. The antiquated and cramped fabric of our towns and cities and our unwillingness to think, and spend, boldly – it’s the British way after all – have seen to that.

No-one disagrees that cycling is good for you and should be encouraged and funded more, but if the increasingly shrill cycling lobby insist on their right not to do everything reasonable to be seen and be safe, then “strict liability” – the proposal that in the event of a collision the motorist is presumed to be at fault – cannot be seriously entertained. In particular, the perverse refusal to use high-visibility accoutrements, good lights and a warning bell is unacceptable and stupid. Legislation is the only way.


I am saddened by the knee jerk victim blaming attitude expressed in this letter. Repeated studies have failed to find evidence that wearing “Hi-visibility” clothing make any significant difference to the frequency of cyclist or pedestrian road casualties. It is important to note that the UK has one of the worst records in Europe for pedestrian safety. Before anyone said that the numbers of pedestrians killed or seriously injured on our roads is declining, this is entirely due to the fact that people are walking less, once that is taken in to account pedestrian KSI rates are rising.

The evidence from repeated studies of collisions involving motor vehicles and vulnerable road users, that in over 85% of cases it was the drivers that was solely at fault. In under 15% of cases was there joint liability between drivers and vulnerable road users, and in only about 1% of cases was the vulnerable road user solely at fault for the collision.

It really is time that we learned from other countries that there is a better way. All but five countries in Europe (those being the UK, Cyprus, Malta, Romania and Ireland) have some form of “strict liability”. Why is it that the opponents of the current campaign for introduction presumed liability in Scots civil law, are not holding up Romania as a beacon of freedom and liberty?

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The following letter was published in The Herald on Monday 28 July 2014 from a Mr Stewart of Cumbernauld:

I NOTE with interest your report on the sentencing of drivers convicted of killing cyclists (“Motorists who kill cyclists let off lightly“, The Herald, July 22.)

Whilst many of us would agree that sentences for a wide spectrum of offences are inadequate, a figure in the article represent what might be expected: in 54 per cent of cases where a cyclist was killed by a motorist, the driver was charged. Simple statistics would predict a 50/50 ratio of culpability where two individuals were involved; that is, a cyclist and a driver. The law would take its course after an individual was charged and the result would depend on the evidence given in court.

In the article Chris Boardman was quoted as saying “our legal system doesn’t support fully enough the more vulnerable road user and it doesn’t reflect the responsibility people have when they drive a car”. Road users could be said to be more responsible than cyclists in that they have to pass a rigorous driving test and carry third-party insurance. We would all agree that this does not guarantee responsibility, but it is a grounding.

Cyclists, however, are largely not insured and do not have to pass a test of any sort. I can vouch as a driver that many cyclists do not respect, assuming they have read, the Highway Code. Some may have personal accident insurance but what about third party insurance? Can someone tell me why both insurance and a test are not mandatory for cyclists? They, after all, are road users who can err and cause an accident.

Of course cyclists are more vulnerable; what may be a simple bump between cars can easily mean a death where a cyclist is involved. There is equal onus on both to be careful and to abide by the Highway Code. Cyclists freely undercut motorists between vehicles and the kerb. This is one of the major causes of accidents and should not be allowed – except, of course, where there is a cycle lane.

Drivers have a horn, the purpose of which is to let other road users know you are there in circumstance where another may be unaware. In my experience many cyclists do not have a bell and if they do they do not use it appropriately. A bell is not adequate to alert other drivers.

There has been comment recently about presumed liability of drivers involved in cycling accidents, where there is inconclusive evidence. There should be presumed liability of all parties until the evidence or lack of it indicates otherwise, and to prejudice drivers is wrong.


This letter is wrong on so many points, but does tell us something about the attitudes which has lead to the lack of justice for vulnerable road users. The first error is the statement that “Simple statistics would predict a 50/50 ratio of culpability where two individuals were involved; that is, a cyclist and a driver”. This statement suggest that both are equally vulnerable which is clearly not the case and there is no evidence to support it. When was the last time you heard of a driver being harmed when in collision with a cyclist or pedestrian? There have been a number of research studies which have shown that in over 80% of cases the driver is wholly responsible for collisions with more vulnerable road users. In less than 20% of cases is there construable negligence by the cyclist or pedestrian, and even in these cases in less than 1% was the cyclist or pedestrian shown to wholly responsible.

Then we have the “cyclists don’t have to take a test and have third party insurance” argument, no consideration as to why that is. The reason the people are required to hold a licence, take a test and has compulsory insurance is because driving is funereally dangerous. That is not to say that cycling is completely safe, on rare occasions pedestrians are killed by cyclists, however, these cases account for only 0.4% of all fatal collision and in all cased the cyclists were prosecuted.

The reason that cyclists don’t have to take a test and have insurance, is because they do very little harm. This can be seen in the premiums which cyclist who do have third party insurance. Members of British Cycling and the CTC have 3rd party insurance cover up to £10m as part of their membership, which cost just £24 or £41 annual respectively. Also a number of household insurance policies offer similar levels of third party cover as part of the bundle, this show clearly that actuaries in the insurance industry believe that cycling poses very little risk to other.

On the other hand the cost of collisions involving motor vehicles in the exceeds £18bn every year. Therefore, society recognises that large, heavy objects travelling at high speeds represent a high degree of danger, and in an attempt to mitigate this all people wishes to use a motor vehicles in public places are required to have compulsory insurance. We are all human and prone to human error, the difference between someone in control of a bicycle weighing <15 Kg and a motor vehicle weighing>1 tonne, is the scale of damage which can be done to others.

While I am about it I might as well deal with the other common comment that cyclists are a danger to other because they ride on pavements and jump red lights. An analysis of police data involving collisions with pedestrians shows that 4% of injuries to pedestrians at red lights were attributed to cyclists, with 96% being attributed to motorists. The same report found that only 2% of injuries to pedestrians on the pavement could be attributed to cyclists, the other 98% were caused directly by motorists.

Then we have statement that “one of the major causes of accidents” is cyclists filtering through traffic, however, there no evidence to support this claim. There are large proportion of collision leading to death or serious injury which take at road junctions, but analysis of police data show that in almost 90% of case the motorist was at fault. Further more the only thing that the Highway Code has to say about filtering through slow-moving traffic, is “take care and keep your speed low” (Rule 88). Also, Rule 211 which tells motorists to “look out for cyclists or motorcyclists on the inside of the traffic you are crossing. Be especially careful when turning, and when changing direction or lane. Be sure to check mirrors and blind spots carefully.”

Finally there is a comment about presumed liability in where he suggests it should be presumed all parties should be equally liable, this is patently wrong, as I have shown above all road users are not equal and vulnerable road users need to be protected by the law. The UK is one of only five countries in Europe which does not have some form of Presumed Liability, the others being Cyprus, Malta, Romania and Ireland. Why aren’t those who oppose the introduction of Presumed Liability pointing to Romania as a shining beacon of liberty and freedom?

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In the past I have written a number of posts about Strict Liability, It is something which I strongly feel is important as evidence from cycling groups on the Continent show stricter liability to be an integral part of cycle safety, increasing mutual respect between motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. The UK is only one of a small number of EU countries, along with Cyprus, Malta, Romania and Ireland that does not operate a Strict Liability system for road users.

In 1982 Lord Denning stated that:

In the present state of motor traffic, I am persuaded the any civilized system of law should require, as a matter of principal, that the person who uses this dangerous instrument on the road – dealing death and destruction all round – should be liable to make compensation to anyone who is killed or injured in consequence of the use of it. There should be liability without proof of fault.

To require an injured person to prove fault results in the gravest injustice to many innocent persons who have not the wherewithal to prove it.


Thirty two years on this state of injustice remains on our roads, it is time for change!

Below is a press release sent on behalf of the Road Share Campaign for presumed liability, if you would like to show your support for introducing a member’s bill for presumed liability between motorists,cyclists and pedestrians please sign this petition.

New research says cycling is not dangerous; a minority of bad drivers are responsible for road traffic collisions.
Commissioned by Cycle Law Scotland (CLS), the legal firm behind the Road Share campaign for presumed liability on Scotland’s roads, the research compares case data with publicly available statistics to provide a greater understanding of the causes and severity of road traffic collisions.
CLS then asked its own community of cyclists about their own ‘near misses’ to help paint a clearer picture of cycling on today’s roads.
The research found that out of the 151 cases handled by CLS between June 2011 and August 2013, incidents were dominated by drivers’ incompetent turning manoeuvres. Almost half of the incidents were due to drivers turning off the road of travel, or pulling on to it, or U-turning. If roundabouts are added, the proportion rises to 61% of the CLS incidents. Further analysis of statistics from the Department of Transport (DfT) and City of Edinburgh Council revealed very similar patterns.
Cyclist actions were a minority factor making up about a third of the DfT study of urban casualties and less than a fifth in the data available from Transport Scotland.

According to official figures released by Transport Scotland, in 2012, there were 9 deaths, 167 serious injuries and 901 total accidents involving pedal cyclists.
Malcolm Wardlaw, who carried out the analysis of the all the data available concluded that the main risk of collision is at junction, at least on urban roads. At junctions, vehicles turning off the road of travel are just as much a risk as those pulling out from side roads.
The evening rush hour period incurs a higher risk to cyclists than the morning peak period.

He said:

Whilst most drivers are safe and courteous, one of the striking observations that can be drawn from the CLS and public data available is that most cyclist casualties in road traffic collisions are due to errors by drivers. Cyclists are primarily the victims of bad driving and inflict negligible harm on others.


Founder of Cycle Law Scotland, Brenda Mitchell has 25 years’ experience as a personal injuries lawyer. She said:

We constantly see cases where the driver blames the cyclist, but when it is put to the test, it is bad driving that is to blame. If we seriously want to make Scotland a cycle-friendly nation, we have to start by understanding that good driving standards are fundamental.
My strongly held belief is that if we introduce a system of presumed liability in civil law, drivers will change their mindset towards cyclists on the road.


Concerned by the findings, Cycle Law Scotland carried out a survey of cyclists experiencing “near misses”.
Its research found that of the 137 people questioned in December 2013, 70% reported having experienced a ‘near miss’ within the previous four weeks.
The most common scenario was found to have occurred when a vehicle passed too close and clipped the bike. Once again, the most ‘at risk’ period was the evening rush hour and on roads where the speed limit is below 30mph, with junctions and roundabouts highlighted as particular blackspots.
Brenda adds:

I am concerned that the degree of danger facing cyclists on Scotland’s roads is not sufficiently understood. Bad drivers are the exception, but they can cause serious injury.
I am a massive supporter of cycling and want the right safety measures put in place. But while we don’t have – or accept – the full picture of cycling conditions and risks on our roads, the safety measures will never be sufficient.


So far, more than 5,350 people have signed a petition to see the introduction of presumed liability regime into Scots Civil Law. If adopted, it will mean that following a collision between a motorist and a cyclist or pedestrian, the motorist would be presumed to be liable for injury, damages or loss, unless they can prove otherwise, thereby shifting the burden of proof from the vulnerable (as it is currently) to the powerful.
Key findings from Malcolm Wardlaw’s research into CLS and public data:

  • Most cyclist casualties in collisions are due to errors by drivers.
  • he main risk of collision is at junctions, at least on urban roads.
  • 83% of cyclists involved in collisions recorded by Cycle Law Scotland were male. This dataset matches the national profile of cycling participation. The National Travel Survey reports males account for 80% of distance travelled by bicycle in the UK.
  • In 66% of all cases recorded by Cycle Law Scotland’s data the cyclist was wearing a helmet.
  • At junctions, vehicles turning off the road of travel are just as much of a risk to cyclists as those pulling out from side roads.
  • 75% of the accidents recorded took place on roads with a speed limit of 20-30mph.
  • In 35% of Cycle Law Scotland’s cases the cyclist was wearing bright, hi vis, fluorescent, reflective, light, yellow, lights or bright clothing. 32% wore other clothing and 33% recorded no information about their clothing.
  • Cyclists and pedestrians inflict negligible harm on each other.


If you would like to show your support for the introduction of a member’s bill for presumed liability between motorists,cyclists and pedestrians, into the Scottish Parliament: please sign this petition

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