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Thoughts on the Ghost Bikes

Thoughts on the Ghost Bikes

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 What we didn’t know at the time of the press call was that the tally on the tombstone had become out of date already.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?

Onus should be on the cyclists?

Onus should be on the cyclists?

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.

It’s not far, so leave the car…

It’s not far, so leave the car…

Almost three years ago I wrote a post called Say no to ridiculous car trips in which I pointed out that there has been a steady decline in the number of journeys which people are taking by active means. Scarily enough 20% of people said they take walks of 20 minutes less than once a year or never, which goes a long way to explaining why in the UK an estimated 60.8 per cent of adults and 31.1 per cent of children are overweight. This of course comes at a cost, in the cast of the NHS more than £5bn every year and the wider economy more than £2bn a year in lost productivity.

One obvious solution to this is get people more active, this is where active travel has a role to play, so I was please to hear that the Scottish Government was finally going to take some action. Sadly it turned only this 40 second video and not anything substantial such as putting real funding into active travel or seriously trying to make the roads safer (I have a few suggestions of how to do that).

OK, so it is a start, but is not enough and that is why I will be joining the second Pedal on Parliament protest ride on Sunday.

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

Proposed parking experiment in Edinburgh

Proposed parking experiment in Edinburgh

Dear Councillors,

Following on from the future of local transport debate the other evening, I would like to propose a simple parking experiment. It would not cost much and should be fairly straight forward to carry out.

I suggest that the council gets four or five Car Bike Ports, puts them in parking bays around the city, and then monitor what happens. If you were to leave them in a single bay for no more than a few months at a time, you would only have to use Temporary Traffic Regulation Orders (TTROs). Or you could have them moved between bays on the same street every few days, so that you would even need to bother with the TTROs.

As it is purely short term experiment there should be to much planning needed and as the Car Bike Ports were originally commissioned by the London Festival of Architecture, the Street Scape people shouldn’t have a problem. The Car Bike Ports could even be rented to keep the cost down. Although I suspect that by the end of the experiment there would be a clamour from the local trader for keeping them.

So are you wiling to give it a go?

Kim

It would be great to see something like this in Edinburgh:

Car Bike port

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