11.45 PM today is the deadline for responses to the UK Government Department for Transport’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy Safety Review call for evidence. Like a typical student, I left it until the last minute to do my assignment, but did submit it earlier today. I could have said a lot more, and I could have said what I did better, but here it is anyway. If you are reading this and the deadline has not yet passed, then please submit something if you haven’t already, and feel free to take anything from here and use it.
Question 1. Infrastructure and traffic signs. Do you have any suggestions on the way in which the current approach to development and maintenance of road signs and infrastructure impacts the safety of cyclists and other vulnerable road users? How could it be improved?
It is clear that behaviour change will not happen without infrastructure that protects cyclists from driving that is dangerous or feels dangerous. In urban areas, the ideal situation would be that any road that is or may be used by cyclists either has a fully protected cycle way, sufficiently wide to allow overtaking, including tricycles, cargo-cycles, trailers, etc. Roads that do not have such facilities should be limited to 20 miles-per-hour and have measures to limit traffic volumes, such as filtered permeability. Many main roads that currently do not have protected infrastructure and have a 30 mph speed limit could be reduced to 20 mph with little or no effect on actual overall journey times (average speeds) and throughput.
It is frequently the case that cyclists who ride assertively according to Bikeability training principles are subjected to aggression and driving that is designed to bully and intimidate such as tailgating and close passes. This is a daily occurrence for any regular cyclist. In many cases, this problem is exacerbated by the installation of very poor quality cycling infrastructure that, if used, either does not provide protection or negativel impacts on the safety of the cyclist, often by placing them in the wrong place on the carriageway to remain safe. Cyclists who correctly choose not to use such facilities are very frequently subjected to aggression and endangered by motorists. Such facilities need to be replaced with effective
cycle infrastructure or removed altogether. They do not encourage novices to cycle and make matters worse for those who already do.
It is important that cycle infrastructure is convenient and direct, otherwise cyclists will not use it, either choosing to cycle on the road or not to cycle at all. Shared footways are generally bad as they put cyclists and pedestrians against one another to the detriment of both, and again cause aggression towards cyclists who choose not to use them.
In general, on-street parking should be eliminated as it is a hazard for both cyclists and pedestrians. Where there is a genuine need to provide for on street parking along with cycle lanes, the standard should be that the parking is cirectly adjacent to the moving traffic and the cycle lane is placed between the parked cars and the footway, with protections to prevent drivers from parking in the cycle lane.
Far greater priority needs to be given to pedestrians on busy roads. Often pelican and similar crossings force pedestrians to wait for long periods after pressing the button for no clear reason, even when the crossing hasn’t been used for some time. This often causes pedestrians to take a chance and cross before the light changes in their favour, resulting in danger to them, and in drivers then having to wait at an empty crossing. In such cases, the motor signal should change to amber as soon as the pedestrian presses the button.
Question 2. The laws and rules of the road . Set out any areas where you consider the laws or rules relating to road safety and their enforcement, with particular reference to cyclists and pedestrians, could be used to support the government’s aim of improving cycling and walking safety whilst promoting more active travel.
There is a general attitude of entitlement amongst drivers, resulting in a very toxic culture on the roads. For example, exceeding speed limits seems to be considered the norm, to the extent that drivers who obey speed limits are regularly subjected to tailgating and bullying by drivers who wish to go faster. This situation will not change unless there is intervention. The police need to be resourced to address this, and much more needs to be done to educate drivers. Penalties for aggressive driving need to be much stiffer than they currently are if they are to act as a deterrent.
We now have, in some areas, police initiatives to accept online submission of video evidence of careless driving. Such intiatives need to be rolled out across all police forces. They need to be well publicised so that victims are aware of the service, and so that drivers are made aware that there may be consequences if they do not honour their obligation to take care, particularly around vulnerable road users. As part of this, it is important to gather and publish statistics on the numbers of cases that are being dealt with and the outcomes of those cases. It is also clear, at least in Greater Manchester Police’s “Operation Considerate”, that the degree of danger caused by a driver needs to be very severe indeed before action will be taken. Cases involving tailgating are rarely taken forward, and it is clear that officers making decisions are generally not aware of safe cycling practices taught in Bikeability. There is a need to provide specific training to officers regarding these matters.
There is a clear gap in the treatment by police of incidents that involve actual collisions. Whilst near misses can be dealt with through the online reporting systems (in some forces), cases involving actual collisions are generally not taken forward unless there is serious injury involved. The view of police is often that “this is just an insurance matter”, which may be appropriate in cases involving minor damage to motor vehicles, but is not appropriate when it is a vulnerable road user such as a cyclist or pedestrian involved.
In sections 2 and 3 of the Road Traffic Act, the definitions of careless, inconsiderate and dangerous driving are often said to be “objective”. In fact, they are nothing of the sort, relying totally on the subjective opinions of lay people to determine the thresholds for these offences. There needs to be objective guidance to establish norms for the standard of driving that are far higher than exist currently.
As an example, it is inexplicable that using a mobile phone whilst driving only results in points on the licence – effectively just a warning – rather than immediate disqualification from driving. There really is no excuse for such a deliberate act of negligence from someone who has supposedly demonstrated that they are qualified to drive a motor vehicle; indeed, such an act should be prima-facie evidence that the driver does not meet the standard required to hold a driving licence.
In civil law, it is currently necessary for vulnerable victims in road collisions to prove negligence on the part of the driver in order to gain redress. This is a grossly unfair situation, in which a vulnerable road user can be seriously injured by the driver of a motor vehicle and have to fight through the courts to gain compensation, often against well-funded legal teams of large insurance companies. In fact, the very act of taking a motor vehicle onto the road brings virtually all of the risk to the situation, so it would be reasonable for the person bringing that risk to be held liable for any damage that occurs to people who did not bring that risk: so-called presumed liabiility. The onus should then be on the driver to prove fault on the part of the vulnerable road user, against very stringent tests, before any of that liability can be transferred onto the vulnerable road user.
Parking on footways has now become a norm in most urban areas, which causes problems for people wishing to walk, and often causing serious damage to the footways themselves. It is currently illegal to drive onto a footway, but police are reluctant to enforce this law in general. There is a particular problem outside many schools, where drivers are driving on and off footways where there are large numbers of children walking at the time; a situation that is extremely dangerous. Parking on the footway should be made illegal across the country as it is in London.
Question 3. Training. Do you have any suggestions for improving the way road users are trained, with specific consideration to protecting cyclists and pedestrians?
Training and testing of drivers in relation to their obligations to take care is seriously lacking, resulting in a very careless attitude even amongst the average driver. In any other area of health and safety, there would be a requirement for periodic updating and re-testing of anyone operating dangerous machinery, particularly in a public place. There should be a requirement for all drivers to be re-tested, at least every ten years, in order to continue to hold a driving licence.
As part of the driver testing process, it should be a requirement that the candidate must undergo on-street cycle training themselves to give them an appreciation of the effects of their driving on vulnerable road users.
Question 4. Educating road users Do you have any suggestions on how we can improve road user education to help support more and safer walking and
I mentioned earlier that there is a toxic culture of entitlement on our roads amongst drivers. This situation will not change without intervention. The driving public need to be in no doubt that driving a potentially dangerous vehicle on the public highway is a privilege, not a right, and that they take on a grave responsibility when they do so. The “Think!” campaign has been very weak in regard to this. There needs to be far more emphasis on making people clearly aware of the consequences, both personal and legal, of failing to exercise due care and attention.
Question 5. Vehicles and equipment. Do you have any suggestions on how government policy on vehicles and equipment could improve safety of cyclists and pedestrians, whilst continuing to promote more walking and cycling?
We currently have a situation in which large vehicles such as HGVs and buses are allowed onto the road with dangerous blind spots around them, resulting in such vehicles killing or seriously injuring cyclists in disproprtionate numbers. The reaction to this currently is to place the onus on the vulnerable road user to keep themselves safe. This situation needs urgently to be addressed, with such vehicles removed from the road until they can be modified to enable their drivers to exercise due care. There should be no situation in which a driver of such a vehicle, in order to make progress, has to move into a space that they cannot easily see to be clear.
In the longer term, technology is now available that will make motor vehicles themselves aware of speed limits and restrict the speed of the vehicle accordingly. This ought to be made a legal requirement as soon as possible. This is particularly important in relation to 20 miles-per-hour zones, which cannot reasonably be policed using current methods.
6. Attitudes and public awareness. What can government do to support better understanding and awareness of different types of road user in relation to cycle use in particular?
We currently have a situation in which cyclists taking Bikeability training are taught to ride assertively, taking a road position in the centre of the traffic flow as a norm and only moving aside to allow overtaking when they feel it is safe to do so. Unfortunately, it is clear that nobody told the drivers about this, and consequently many drivers believe cyclists are doing this purely to annoy them. It is, furthemore, unfortunate that many among the police hold the same view, to the extent that they are prepared to accept such annoyance as an excuse for dangerous and inconsiderate driving. There is a clear need to put in place a wide ranging public education initiative with a very strong message, making it clear to drivers that they are required to respect the decisions of cyclists regarding their choice of road position, to exercise patience, and to drive with due care and attention. As part of this message, drivers should be made aware of the consequences that they face if they fail to do so, through statistics on the number of drivers prosecuted for offences of this nature.
Many drivers casually overtake cyclists leaving insufficient clearance and drive too close behind. As part of a public awareness intiatives, drivers need to be made aware of the expectations placed upon them, including that, when overtaking cyclists at 30 mph, they should be leaving 1.5 metres of clearance, and that they should slow down and wait until that is possible before starting to overtake; that they should be leaving an even greater clearance at higher speeds; and that they should maintain a gap of at least 2 seconds when driving behind a cyclist.
One of the greatest fears of many cyclists is that they may stop at a traffic light that has recently changed to amber or red and be hit from behind by a driver who fails to stop. Drivers need to be made very clear that, when following cyclists thorugh junctions they should leave a generous gap and that, should the lights change, they should assume the cyclist will stop and take action accordingly.