Here in Scotland I recently discovered that there is a framework for road safety in Scotland, which was drawn up in 2009. As part of this framework there is a 0% casualty target for the year 2020. Sadly in Scotland over the last four years there has been a rise in the number of vulnerable road users killed or seriously injured, which suggests that the strategy currently in place is failing badly and needs to be revised.
Here are a few headlines from the last few days. This is not an extensive list, just a short snapshot:
Just in case you didn’t know today is World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims 2012. It is commemorated on the third Sunday of November each year – to remember the many millions killed and injured on the world’s roads, together with their families and many others also affected, as well as reflect on the tremendous burden and cost of this daily continuing disaster.
Why do we need such a day? Well death on the roads is now so common it doesn’t always get reported in the press and it is not taken seriously in our courts (a president set after the death of Bridget Driscoll in 1896). It has been estimated that over 1% of people alive today in England and Wales have lost a close family member in a fatal road traffic crash, since 1971. This includes 131,399 parents who had lost a child and 107,384 offspring who had lost a parent. The authors of the paper these figures came from concluded that “this may imply a greater public health burden of road traffic crashes than previously estimated”. Yet out elected leaders still don’t want to take it seriously. They could clamp down on driving offences, or take practical steps to make our roads safer, such as lowing and enforcing speed limits, and providing safer infrastructure. It is time we called an end to this carnage, we have to stop drivers getting away with murder, manslaughter, unlawful killing, or death by misadventure, these deaths are not mere “accidents”, that all tragedies.
One of the things which puts people off cycling on the road is the tendency of some drivers to pass far too close. So how much room should a driver give a cyclist or other vulnerable road user when overtaking? Well, the Highway Code in Rule 163 says “Overtake only when it is safe and legal to do so. You should: … give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car”
This is followed up in Rule 212 which states “When passing motorcyclists and cyclists, give them plenty of room (see Rules 162-167). If they look over their shoulder it could mean that they intend to pull out, turn right or change direction. Give them time and space to do so.” So the advice in the Highway Code is clear. However it is just that, advice, the Highway Code only tells drivers that they should give vulnerable road user space on the roads, not that they must. This is an important distinction, because where the Highway Code uses the word must, it is indicating the Rule is a legal requirement and there is a penalty if the Rule is disobeyed. Where the word should is used, failure to comply with the Rule “will not, in itself, cause a person to be prosecuted, but may be used in evidence in court proceedings to establish liability”.
Where does this leave vulnerable road users? Well it leaves them vulnerable without proper legal protection. In other countries, notable France and the USA (in 19 states) there are laws which require drivers to give cyclists road space, in the US at least 3 feet (0.9 m) and in France at least 1.5 m (4.9 ft). Shouldn’t it be the same in the UK? There is currently a petition to the Prime Minister to introduce legislation that would mean all motorists must allow a minimum of 3 feet in distance between their vehicle and any cyclist that they are driving past. If you would like to add your signature, you must do so before 06 January 2010.
Personally I would prefer that any legislation forthcoming apply to all vulnerable road users and follows the French model, requiring for a minimum distance of 1.5 m when overtaking. We all have an equal right to use the roads, drivers need to realise that they are not more equal than other road users. It is high time that we did something about the Sacred Bull in Society’s China Shop!
Let us all take a moments silence to remember Mrs Bridget Driscoll of Croydon who died 113 years ago today, in 1896, the first pedestrian to be knocked down and killed by a motor vehicle on a British road. She apparently froze in panic at seeing the oncoming vehicle, a witnesses said that the car, driven by Arthur Edsel, was travelling at a “reckless pace”. Apparently the car was being driven at 4 mph (although the car had a maximum speed was 8 miles per hour, the diver claimed it had been limited deliberately to 4 miles per hour) so why did the driver not stop or drive round her? Since then hundreds of thousands more have died on our roads (and that is undoubtedly an under estimate), which begs the questions: why do we continue to let drivers get away with it, and when will this carnage ever end?