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It is time to stop the victim blaming!

It is time to stop the victim blaming!

Today we heard the sentencing of Gary McCourt, the driver who killed Audrey Fyfe in August 2011, and it has generated much anger. At the end of the trial it was announced that Audrey Fyfe was not the first person that he had killed. McCourt had previously been found guilty in 1986 of causing another cyclist’s death by reckless driving. After that offence he was jailed for two years, this time round he has been ordered to carry out 300 hours of community service and given a five year driving ban. There have already been a number of complaints that the sentence was unduly lenient, and that, at the very least, he should have been banned from driving for the rest of his life.

If this wasn’t enough, the Sheriff, James Scott, said that the collision between McCourt and Mrs Fyfe was caused because of a “momentary” loss of concentration. Then he went on to suggest that Mrs Fyfe contributed to her death by not wearing a “safety helmet”, so blaming the victim for her own demise. This sort of victim blaming should be totally unacceptable. Had Mrs Fyfe been walking across the road when she had been hit, there would have been no suggestion that she should have been wearing a pedestrian helmet. What if she had been pushing a pram and he had “clipped” that? Would it still be the victim’s fault? Just because she was cycling, why should she have been expected to wear a plastic hat to protect her? It is not as if it would have provided any protection or prevented her from being hit in the first place. Her death was solely due to McCourt’s actions and the jury convicted him of causing death by careless driving. Mr Scott’s comments are disgraceful and totally unacceptable. I am not the only one to feel this way:

One can only hope that there will be better training of Sheriffs in the future, there is a need to teach them why wearing cycle helmets isn’t compulsory. Lets face it, until the judiciary take safety on the roads seriously, the law will not offer protection to vulnerable road users. For this reason I urge you all to join the Pedal on Parliament protest ride on the 19th May, to call for safer roads for all!

Strict Liability and the Road Share campaign

Strict Liability and the Road Share campaign

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

Pedal on Parliament II, launched

Pedal on Parliament II, launched

While I was away skiing in Austria Pedal on Parliament 2 was officially launched with this video:

This year Pedal on Parliament is going to be bigger and better than ever, make a note in your diary to be on the Meadows in Edinburgh at 15:00 on Saturday the 18th of May 2013 and make sure you are there to be a part of history. Together we can make Scotland a cycle friendly Nation!

Pedal on Parliament, let’s do it again

Pedal on Parliament, let’s do it again

Last year I got involved in an event which turned out to be far bigger than any of us expected – the first Pedal on Parliament. Ever since, people have been asking if we could do it again. Well, the answer is yes! There will be a Pedal on Parliament II, on the 18th May 2013, and this time it is going to be even bigger and better.

Why is this important? Last year 3,000 people turned out to join the ride, and this has had a real impact in moving cycling up the political agenda,and not just cycling but active travel in general. This is where Pedal on Parliament is different, we are not just another cycling group, we have always said that we want to make the roads safer for everyone. When our eight point manifesto is fully implemented, Scotland will be a better place for everyone. As Alistair Gray put it, Work as if you are in the early days of a better nation. So the clock is ticking, tell all your friends to be there, come and be a part of Pedal on Parliament II and we will make Scotland a cycle friendly Nation.

Dutch cycle infrastructure and what we can learn

Dutch cycle infrastructure and what we can learn

As readers of this blog will know, I have had an interest in how to get more people to use bicycles as transport for some time now. So when I saw this film on the subject I knew it was something which I had to put on my blog.

The key lessons I take from this film are that a conscientious choice needs to be made for safe roads for all. This needs to be backed up with very deliberate decisions on design, policy and education, as “there is no better bang for the buck than investing in bicycling”. However, as I have pointed out before, the Dutch didn’t get their bike lanes without a struggle, and that is why we need to keep up the pressure for change. So, there will be another Pedal on Parliament, and change will come.

How much space should you give a cyclist when overtaking?

How much space should you give a cyclist when overtaking?

Some time back I wrote a post called Give cyclists room. I have noticed over the following years that this post gets regular traffic, from people coming with search terms such as “How much space should you give a cyclist when overtaking?”. So I thought, as an ex-driving instructor and a regular cyclist, this would be a subject worth revisiting.

Let’s start with the basics, as a driver you should first ask your self two questions before overtaking: “Do I need to overtake?” and then “Do I really need to overtake?” Many drivers don’t seem to have the ability to consider their journey as a whole, instead they merely concentrate on the next 100 metres of road (if that much). Let’s be realistic, yes that cyclist might be going slower than you, but is it really worth putting their life at risk to get to end of that queue of stationary traffic waiting at a red light 10 seconds earlier? Most of the time the cyclist will probably catch up, pass you while you are sitting waiting for the lights to change, so what have you gained?

Likewise, on a rural road that group of cyclists might only be travelling at 20 mph and you may have to wait behind them for a mile before you can find a safe place to pass them. But in terms of your overall journey time, it will probably delay you by less than a couple of minutes. Therefore, unless your journey is genuinely part of a life and death emergency, there is probably no real need to overtake at all. They have just as much right to use the road as you do, and yes they are allowed to ride two abreast. When riding as a group, it is generally safer for all concerned if cyclists ride two abreast than than be strung out in a long line. If the road is clear and it is safe to overtake, then treat them as if you were overtaking a large vehicle which can not move out of your way.

Having decided that you are going to overtake, it is very important that you make make sure that:

  • the road ahead is sufficiently clear
  • other road users are not about to overtake you, and that
  • there is a suitable gap in front of the road user you plan to overtake

This is all laid out in Rule 162 of the Highway Code, which then goes on to say in Rule 163 “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”

Give vulnerable road users space

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 users 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”. It is perhaps unfortunate that the Highway Code isn’t a bit firmer on this, but this is what we have, unless Parliament can be persuaded to change it.

Many drivers consider themselves “good drivers”, some even consider themselves to be “advanced drivers”. However, before we go any further, I would like to make it absolutely clear that driving fast or simply being a member of the “Institute of Advanced Motorists”, does not make you in any way an advanced driver (although some advanced drivers may do these things). Advanced Driving is about recognising hazards in good time and responding to them appropriately, which generally means slowing down. Rather than trying to explain how this would work in real life situations, I have found these videos which show clearly how it should be done.


At the end of the day, it is important to remember that roads are not for cars, but are for people, however they choose to travel. Holding a driving licence confers on the driver no more right to the road than that of any other road user, but does permit them to operate potentially lethal machinery in a public space. This is a privilege and not a right, and one that comes with responsibilities.

Addendum: This post was accidentally lost and recreated from Google’s cache.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims 2012

World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims 2012

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.

High-viz vests a must for cyclists?

High-viz vests a must for cyclists?

There was a letter in today’s Herald on “High-viz vests a must for cyclists” which went as follows:

There has been much debate recently about cycling safety, almost entirely about helmets, but I an amazed at the lack of emphasis on visibility.

Few will argue that helmets are not a good idea, but all roadway users – cyclists, walkers and runners – should be obliged to wear high-viz vests.

Given the impossibility of dramatically improving our old urban infrastructure and winding country roads to anything like the standard of the Danes or the Dutch, cyclists who perversely choose dull or black clothing or ride without lights are endangering themselves and others.

The law should be changed to make high-viz mandatory and the Scottish Government could win praise for common sense by handing out the vests free (buying them in big numbers will bring the cost down to pennies each).

Then the police will have no excuse for continuing to ignore the current cycling anarchy, which is set to become much worse as the popularity of the sport explodes post-Olympics.

David Roche,

1 Alder Grove,

Scone.

 

I felt this was so misanthropic I had to reply. I have reproduced my letter to the Editor here (just in case it doesn’t get published in The Herald):

Dear Editor,

I was saddened to read David Roche’s letter of the 8th Aug, while no doubt Mr Roche is well meaning, he is badly misinformed in so many ways.

His first assertion is that “Few will argue that helmets are not a good idea”, evidently he has never read the letters section of the British Medical Journal where there was a lengthy debate about the value of cycle helmets. Most of the correspondents with a public health background were against the promotion of cycle helmets as the overall effect on public health has been shown to be negative. Also the scientific literature has shown that high rates of helmet wearing in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, have not led to any significant reduction in serious injuries to cyclists. There are an increasingly large numbers of people who argue that the compulsory use of cycle helmets is a very bad idea.

There is no evidence that making cyclists and pedestrians wear Hi-viz reduces the prevalence of collisions on the roads. No amount of high visibility clothing can make drivers look and pay full attention to the road environment. Making people wear Hi-viz will have no positive effect and would simply alienate a large section of the population. We are all pedestrians at some stage. It would be far better to change our road environment to make it safer for all, applying the Dutch principles of Sustainable Safety (“Duurzaam veilig” in Dutch). It is notable that pedestrians and cyclists in the Netherlands are eight times less likely to be killed or seriously injured in road “accidents” (per Km travelled) than people in the UK. Let us not forget that the cost to the NHS from people involved in road collisions is in excess of £10Bn annually.

Mr Roche then asserts that it is impossible to improve our infrastructure to Dutch or Danish standards, on the grounds that we have country roads and old urban areas. I am sure that it would come as a great surprise to the Dutch and Danish people that their countries do not have country roads and old urban areas! It should also be noted that virtually all of their excellent cycling infrastructure was developed after 1980, there is no reason why we can not do the same. Nor does it have to take 30 years to achieve. We don’t need to experiment to find out what works, the Dutch have already done that for us! All we need to do is follow the lead of the Americans and import Dutch expertise and adapt it to local conditions. Many measures, such as reducing speed and volume of motor traffic can be applied quickly and cheaply, to the benefit of the whole population. There is demand for such measures, as shown by the 3,000 people who Pedalled on Parliament in April.

I for one would welcome a reduction of the Mr Toads on the roads, who take the approach that it is for everyone else to keep out of their way. Instead we should follow the Swedish “Vision Zero” policy that requires that fatalities and serious injurious are reduced to zero by 2020.

Kim Harding

Addendum: My letter above didn’t get published, for some reason, but this one from Ewan Grant (which is rather more pithy) did.

A few images of the “Quality Bike Corridor” Edinburgh

A few images of the “Quality Bike Corridor” Edinburgh

I my last post I gave a few thoughts on the “Quality Bike Corridor” in Edinburgh, but I forgot to add any images. So here are a few, just count the number of parked cars…

Quality Bike Corridor?
Note the way the cycle lane takes cyclists around the outside of the parked cars and down the left side of queuing traffic which may turn left at the lights. There is no way this can be considered to be best practice.

Quality Bike Corridor?

Quality Bike Corridor?

Quality Bike Corridor?

Note that only two of the motor vehicles shown above are parked legally, the one in the first picture and the yellow car.

The Quality Bike Corridor (QBiC) does have a 20mph speed limit along only a short section:

Southern end of the 20mph limit:
Edinburgh's new 20 mph Zone
^looking south (end of 20mph)
Edinburgh's new 20 mph Zone
^looking north (start of 20mph)

Northern end of the 20mph limit:
Edinburgh's new 20 mph Zone
^looking south (start of 20mph)
Edinburgh's new 20 mph Zone
^looking north (end of 20mph)

It is worth noting that at the northern end of the 20 mph zone stops short of an existing accident black sport, so not the best place to encourage drivers to accelerate.

Yet the roads with the highest rates of Road Traffic Accidents (RTAs) are not given 20mph speed limits:
RTAs south Edinburgh
From ITO road casualties UK.

Thoughts on the Quality Bike Corridor

Thoughts on the Quality Bike Corridor

This post first appeared on the STV Edinburgh website, as part of a series of articles for Bike Week. I have slightly rewritten and expanded it here.

As I have said before, cycling is a good thing, as it achieves so many policy objectives: it is clean, it is green, it reduces congestion, it can boost local economic activity. It is healthy – active people, such as regular cyclists, live longer and make fewer calls on the NHS. In addition, people who use active ways of travel to get to work are more productive, it is relatively cheap and therefore has great potential to save money (the future savings in health costs alone make worthwhile). Apart from all that, over distances of up to 10Km cycling is fast and efficient, it is also fun and increasingly fashionable. So it is no wonder that many people want to be able to use bicycles to make short journeys. Surveys have shown that up to 60% of ordinary people would like to be able cycle for transport on short journeys, at least some of the time. So what is stopping them? The answer is simple, they don’t feel it is safe to ride on the roads, and this is the major barrier to increasing cycling rates across Scotland.

When I first heard about the proposed Quality Bike Corridor between the King’s Buildings and George IV Bridge, I thought this was a great idea. I have been cycling in Edinburgh for nearly 20 years and must have ridden parts of this route thousands of times, starting from when I was a student at the King’s Buildings. Over the years I have noticed a number of changes around the city. In the early years there were the new, and then controversial, cycle lanes painted red at the side of the road, then the introduction of Advanced Stop Lines (ASL) at traffic lights. Over that same period, the annual counts of commuter cyclists carried out by the SPOKES Cycle Campaign, have risen steadily.

However, cycling as a share of all means of transport for all short journeys remains low. Why isn’t utility cycling taking off, when cycling is apparently booming and the City of Edinburgh Council has committed 5% of its transport budget to cycling? Part of the problem is the “dual network” approach. This is based on the idea that people will start off on the “family network” which is “catering for less confident cyclists” and then, as they gain confidence (and maybe have some training), they will “graduate” to using the “Quality Bike Corridors” as part of the “cycle-friendly city”. According to the council’s Active Travel Action Plan this is to “include on street cycle facilities such as cycle lanes, enhanced cycle parking/loading restrictions and marketing” [sic]. Here is the central flaw, this “cycle-friendly city” is aimed at “confident cyclists” who are happy to ride on the roads with the existing motor traffic. These are the people who are already cycling, not the ordinary people who want to cycle but don’t at present because they don’t feel safe. If the aim is to create a truly cycle-friendly city, then there would be no need for a “family network”, all areas of the city would be accessible by people riding bicycles, as almost all Dutch cities and many more cities across Europe are.

The section of the Active Travel Action Plan which deals with cycling recognises that “safety, and perceived safety, especially on busy roads” is a barrier to cycling. However, given the rising rates of pedestrians and cyclists injured on the roads across Scotland as a result of collisions with motor vehicles (Provisional results from Transport Scotland for 2011), it is time for a change in approach. We need to look to best practice internationally. In the Netherlands, where 25% of trips are by bicycle, the risk of being killed or seriously injured is over seven times lower than in the UK. The “dual network” approach does not in any way fit with the Dutch approach, which is based on the concept of Sustainable Safety. In order to make cycling as a means of transport attractive to the greatest number of people, the routes available need to be direct, pleasant and safe. It should not be required to make a choice between direct and safe, however this is implicit in the dual network approach. Only on the “family network” is there any form of separation or traffic calming (i.e., on quite back roads, which are quiet because they don’t offer direct easy access to anywhere). This is the central flaw to the “dual network” approach, that it is designed to avoid making any changes to the road environment which might “inconvenience” the motorist. For this reason, we have painted bike lanes which go around car parking bays on the “Quality Bike Corridor” (aka QBiC or QBC), rather than removing the parking on main roads. In Paris before introducing their Vélib cycle share scheme 7000 car parking spaces were removed and cycle lanes introduced, the world did not end, the city did not grind to a halt.

I am not alone in being disappointed that the first “Quality Bike Corridor” has made no attempt to provide a separated on-street cycle lane, or cycle priority junctions (no, ASLs just don’t cut it). Many of the 3,000 people who Pedalled on Parliament feel the same disappointed that a more ambition approach wasn’t tried. There are cities in the UK which are experimenting with separated cycle infrastructure, among them Birmingham, Manchester, London and even Glasgow! Although none of these have cycling rates approaching those of cycle-friendly cities on mainland Europe. No, the Edinburgh approach is simply not good enough, we need change, we need to move forward and learn from our near neighbours across the North Sea.

Addendum: I have added a new post with images from the “Quality Bike Corridor”.

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