Tag Archives: dangerous driving

Insults, injuries and incompetence

Boris shouldn’t just apologise for blaming cyclists for getting injured. He should correct the policies that are based on this mistake.

It will come as news to nobody that making a journey by bicycle on Britain’s roads means exposing yourself to a considerable number of people who are operating potentially lethal machinery despite having neither the skills nor the temperament for the task. The fact that a significant proportion of the people society has allowed to drive on the public highway are simply not competent behind the wheel is far from a new phenomenon. Indeed, it was one of the inspirations for starting this blog two and half years ago.

Over those years the blog has strayed off into all sorts of other areas, like designing out the need to deal with incompetent drivers entirely, but the original issue has been back at the top of my mind — partly due to the other thing I’ve been working on. Mostly, though, I think it’s because of the forceful reminder of the fact that comes from moving to SW17, just off Cycle Superhighway 7. Perhaps I’m just imagining it, or perhaps it’s simply the psychological bias towards to the recent, but after a New Cross-Bloomsbury commute, the roads between Tooting and South Kensington seem to have more than their fair share of the sort of motor vehicle operators who demonstrate a screaming lack of the aptitude and/or attitude that the activity requires.

It’s particularly highlighted in south west London by the near zero speed limit compliance around CS7 between Kennington and Clapham outside of the rush hour congestion, and the folk using the bus and cycle lanes to pass already speeding traffic as they try to get their high-powered cars — which I’ve always presumed must be stolen from the West End — back to Stockwell and Streatham. Or the few folk who still insist on commuting to the City by car, desperately seeking a ratrun back to the Surrey suburbs and not allowing any of LB Wandsworth’s traffic calming to slow them down as they slalom in and out of cycle lanes on residential streets like Burntwood Lane…

Burntwood Lane, LB Wandsworth

Morons in South West London just see traffic calmed residential streets with schools on them as the next level up in the game. Few of the bollards shown remain in situ.

And yet there is one person to whom this blindingly obvious problem might have come as news, at least until recently: Boris Johnson. During his successful campaign for re-election in the spring, the famously carefree with facts Mayor made the absurd claim that two thirds of cyclists who had been injured and killed on the city’s roads were breaking the law when they were injured. After months of pretending that he was trying to remember what the evidence for the obviously fictional factoid was, he finally retracted it — once the election had long passed.

Last month, Jenny Jones MLA asked the mayor to apologise:

In your response to question 2450/2012, you admit that Transport for London’s statistics and research completely disprove your previous claim that two thirds of cyclists who have suffered serious injuries were breaching the rules of the road at the time. Will you now apologise for wrongly blaming cyclists who have been killed or injured on London’s roads through no fault of their own?

The mayor instead decided to send a great big “fuck you” to victims:

Please refer to my response to MQ 2450 /2012.

But it seems to me that Boris has much more to make amends for than merely insulting the victims of bad driving and the way we operate our streets, and he needs to take far more substantial action than making an apology.

Because Boris is responsible for the problem, and if he really has been labouring under the delusion that it is cyclists who are responsible for the carnage on the capital’s streets then his mistake would at least explain why his policies have so far failed to do anything to address the problem.

The office of Mayor of London has always incorporated the role that in the rest of England and Wales is now played by the recently introduced Police and Crime Commissioners. Policing priorities are therefore ultimately Boris’s responsibility. And there is no remotely realistic policy in place for tackling the problems of life-threatening incompetence, aggressive anti-social behaviour, and barefaced criminality amongst operators of motor vehicles that is on near constant display every evening along Cycle Superhighway 7 and the residential streets of south west London. Boris has allowed deadly dangerous driving to carry on as the norm, apparently because he was oblivious to it, preferring to pursue policies targeted at changing cycling behaviour.

He has added insult to injury and he needs to apologise for both.

Unskilled and unaware of it (re-post)

It was pointed out to me that I haven’t posted anything for weeks. It will be a few more before the project that has been taking up my time is out of the way. Here, then, is something I wrote way back in November 2010, which seemed relevant given the latest Department for Transport “please play nice on the roads” marketing campaign. If I were writing it today, I’d mention a million other things, and probably do away with the sarcastic transport mode tribalism that amused me so when this blog was young. But I’m not.

In the War Bulletin this week I mentioned a study that found drivers to be at fault in 87% of car/bicycle collisions.  According to the press release and coverage, the study included (but was not limited to) giving cyclists in Melbourne helmetcams, and analysing the footage of 54 “events”, including 2 collisions.  It sounds like the study has a number of limitations — it’s difficult to draw general conclusions about collisions from only 2 of them, and the results were only ever going to apply to the helmet-law and vehicular-cycling environment of Melbourne, and even then only to experienced cyclists who (presumably) were aware that that their own behaviour was being recorded.

The study was conducted by the Monash University Accident Research Centre, who I am sure did a good job.  But unfortunately nothing resembling it appears in their reports and publications, and I can find no evidence that the original research has been made public yet.  (Allowing the world’s media to uncritically churn your press release without being able to see the actual details of the work — and perhaps more importantly, before your fellow academics are allowed to review what you have done — is rather bad form.)  So there’s not really anything more we can say until we can see the study itself, and we may yet find that everything that has been said was wrong.

But the reported findings do fit with what we already know about accident causes and driver behaviour.

The Motorist attitude to their own collisions and near-collisions is a particularly interesting field.  When one suggests that speed cameras might be a good thing, for example, somebody will always pop up to declare that they have been driving at 90mph for decades and never caused a single accident, because they are a perfect driver who knows exactly when speed is appropriate. And it might be true: some people are good drivers and some people are bad drivers.  Trouble is, the driver himself can never know which he is: all drivers believe themselves to be above average.  Everybody is seeing bad driving, but nobody admits to doing it.

In Traffic, Tom Vanderbilt documents the details of the phenomenon of drivers unable to recognise their own lack of skill.  A large part of it he puts down to a lack of feedback.  For example, in the Monash helmetcam study, there were a mere 2 collisions, but there were 6 near-collisions and 46 “other incidents” (the classic Heinrich triangle).  These “other incidents” correspond to those situations where we notice people driving badly.  They occur because the driver failed to spot a hazard or failed to recognise as a hazard something that they did see.  By definition, if they did not see or did not recognise, the driver will never have been aware of the situation.  They will reach their destination assuming that they had done a great job, oblivious to the bad driving that had been recorded.  That’s probably what happened in 52 out of the Monash group’s 54 “events”.

And when the driver does finally notice that they have just been in a near collision, they can congratulate themselves for having the skill to have avoided an actual collision.

Thus reassured of their own driving skills, on the few occasions when they do get some feedback, they find ways to dismiss it.  That horn honk wasn’t aimed at me, or if it was, it must be because the other driver is an impatient egotistical bad driver who wouldn’t recognise good driving like mine.  The police pulled me over because they have a quota to fill, or because they’re anti-Motorist, not because I was driving dangerously.  After all, I already know that I am not a dangerous driver.

And then they crash, and it was an accident, bad luck, a momentary loss of concentration, beyond one’s control.  They couldn’t have caused it, because they already know from their experience and their long record of not causing accidents that they must be a good driver.

The evidence from driving simulation experiments shows that drivers can’t accurately remember what was happening in the lead up to the crash — what they saw and heard, who else was on the road and where and which order and when they appeared; what they were thinking and where they were looking and when they last checked their mirrors.  So they can unconsciously fill in these details with whatever makes them feel the least uncomfortable.

When drivers are shown videos of their driving (from helmetcams, or, as Vanderbilt discusses, Drivecam), most of them are surprised to discover that they have many more bad habits than they were aware of.  And that can create some uncomfortable cognitive dissonance for them, with attempts to deny or justify their behaviour, or, as with speeding, attempts to redefine it as safe.

It’s important to know these things about driver psychology if you’re trying to create a marketing campaign to make drivers be nice, or design ways to rehabilitate careless and dangerous drivers (how does sending a dangerous driver on their way with a £60 fine help anybody when the driver doesn’t have the skills to figure out what they are doing wrong?), or wondering whether to send your helmetcam footage to Roadsafe to be passed on to the offending driver.

And it’s important to know these things about driver psychology when deciding whether motor vehicles can ever share nicely with vulnerable road users.

An inconvenient driving ban

On the launch of the UN decade of action on road safety (which I wrote about here), Kim Harding questioned the choice of frontmen for the campaign: a pair of racing drivers with numerous convictions for driving offences.  Exploring further the British method of treating bad driving with driving license “endorsements and penalty points”, Kim noted a news article claiming that hundreds of motorists were still on the road despite having more than the magic number of 12 penalty points on their license.  It turns out that a motorist only needs to go before a judge to cry that a driving ban would cause “exceptional hardship” and the judge will happily discard everybody else’s right to safety in their streets in favour of a proven bad driver’s right to carry on driving.

Initially I was outraged.  Who are these people?  Why isn’t there a national register so that I can find out if my neighbourhood is safe?  Aren’t they even banned from going near schools?  Won’t anyone please think of the children?

But then I remembered that I don’t actually really know anything about penalty points, not having ever bothered to acquire the necessary paperwork to start collecting them myself.  I vaguely knew that 12 was the magic number that triggered a ban, but never had any reason to find out, for example, that it is only 12 points in a three year period that triggers an automatic ban.  But, Wikipedia tells me, points remain as a stain on your license for at least four years before “expiring” — more for the really serious kinds of dangerous driving.  So, given the system that we have, it’s actually perfectly possible to accumulate more than 12 points in, say, a four year period, without triggering the automatic ban.  I’m not saying the system is morally right, only that the existence of people allowed to drive despite having more than 12 points is not, if Wikipedia is correct, evidence of judges letting dangerous drivers free on the streets.

What is evidence of that is the FOI that reader Amoeba published in the comments on Kim’s piece.  In addition to the many thousands of people still driving despite having more than twelve points, fourteen are still on the road with 25 or more points — something that it really is impossible to do without triggering the automatic ban and having to cry to a judge.  Some people are on the roads with up to 36 active points.

The least awful thing that these people could be doing is driving without insurance (6-8pts), repeatedly getting caught for it, but being allowed to carry on.

The next least awful thing is that they are nicking other people’s cars — at least three of them — driving them very cautiously, and then torching them (thus making the theft count as “aggravated”) somewhere safe (3-11pts).  I’m sure that happens, right?  And a judge would let a repeat car thief carry on driving, right?

Alternatively, and I guess most likely, people have committed thirteen (or more) “minor” offences (2-3pts) in four years — speeding, jumping lights or otherwise disregarding the instructions, driving a poorly maintained vehicle, driving without glasses if required, etc.  (Of course, multiple instances of some of these could apply in a single go — e.g. four bald tires and faulty brakes would make a nice stack of points all in one go.)  This means that they have triggered an automatic ban probably eight or more times and every time they have gone begging to a judge and every time the judge has bought their story.  Which really does raise the question of what the points system is for if we don’t actually think people who have been caught driving badly and putting lives in danger thirteen times in four years need to be removed from the roads.  The points system already has massive generosity and forgiveness built into it.  The system gives you not just a second chance but a third and a fourth.  Apparently you can cry to a judge and get an infinite number of chances.

The worst option is that people have committed three or more of the worst offences — the 11 pointers: vehicular murder or manslaughter, causing death by dangerous driving, motor racing on public roads, drink driving, and so on.  Offences that normally carry an automatic ban regardless of the totting up of points.  And having done this thrice, the judge has decided that it’s fine for you to carry on driving.

I hope it’s not that last one, but then, none of the options reflect very well on any of the people involved.

If you’re angry about the injustice of how we deal with death on the streets, come along to Street Talks at the Yorkshire Grey, Theobalds Road, London, Tomorrow, Tues 5th, at 7ish for a talk by Amy Aeron-Thomas from RoadPeace.

Business models

I’m just off the Deerstalker, having spent a few days trying out the new second-hand-but-unused Dawes Galaxy on the hills.  Thanks to the generosity of the Scottish taxpayers the long-distance train ride back, with bed in comfortable single-occupancy cabin and breakfast tea in a spacious lounge and lots of bicycle space, cost £19 when booked several weeks in advance.  One side of the political spectrum would argue that we should allow the sleeper trains to “fail”: that subsidy is an indication that the business model has failed and the business should go with it.  That there is no place for services that don’t make money.

I just rode over from Euston to Look Mum No Hands for extra breakfast and laptop charge.  On Gordon Street a couple of private hire cars were stopped half on the pavement, engines idling, drivers looking bored.  A BMW driver sped up to the junction at Woburn Place, abruptly stopped in the junction, looking at the bicycle paths and contemplating the “no left turn” signs for a few seconds, before screeching into a left turn across the cycle paths.  At Exmouth Market, a white van was parked blocking the street, just beyond the “no motor vehicles” sign.  At Skinner street, where there are proper with-flow kerb-separated bicycle paths (perhaps the only example of such in London?) I stopped for a picture to add to the CEGB flickr pool, and a cab, #68625, promptly pulled in at a gap in the kerb and parked in the bike path across a driveway (or, more likely in central London, a fire access route).  I pointed out what he had done, and that several cyclists had already had to either swerve out into the road, or squeeze past: “it’s OK, I’ll only be a minute, I’ve got to pick someone up.”

Outside Look Mum No Hands, two vans are parked in the bus stop: V185 OUG and a “tree management” van FY59 VDT (using his hazards exempts).  Opposite, another van, S619 BTC is parked on the pavement and pedestrian-crossing table and straddling double-yellows at the Domingo Street junction, delivering a package to Sandwich Box.  No, that van has now been replaced by Cafe Deli Wholesale YF59 YTY, parked in the same place and using his hazards exempts.  He’s delivering bottled drinks to… Look Mum No Hands.  Printflow van EX60 KKE has driven up and along the pavement in order to get past on the narrow street.

Four plain white vans, including DK05 WOD, are driven past on Old Street by people using handheld mobile phones. A City Sprint driver is on his phone, a Kier van driver looks like he’s texting.  I’ve lost count of the number of private cars driven by people using their phones.  Interestingly, a Mitsubishi Barbarian(!) driver is texting, a Mitsubishi Warrior driver is on the phone, and a Mitsubishi Shogun driver is drinking from a thermos.  Mitsubishi pickup truck drivers almost overtake Range Rover drivers in the chart of law breakers, but the woman driving the black Range Rover W6 PSW with tinted windows scores an equaliser by using her hand-held mobile phone.  A G-Wiz driver demonstrates that it’s just as easy driving electric cars while using your mobile phone.  The driver of an empty minibus with a schoolbus sign on the back, KX56 BVW, is driving one handed while drinking; the Casa Flenghi van driver is reading his directions or itinerary while rolling through the heavy traffic; behind him, the driver of Clockwork logistics T6 CWK is more interested in watching LMNH and in his cigarette than on the road space he is driving into.  The driver of a large JSM dump truck is taking big bites of his sandwich while closely overtaking a pack of cyclists at speed.  A motorbike races down the queue for the lights by using the advisory bike lane, forcing cyclists to an emergency stop as he cuts in.  A taxi follows, half on the pavement.  Another taxi stops the traffic for a U-turn, neatly avoiding the bike stands as she mounts the pavement.  Keltbray, GBN, Kilnbridge, McGrath, and countless other large skip lorries appear to have only the bare legal minimum of mirrors.

Each time I look up, at least one in ten of the passing drivers is doing something at least dubious — careless, discourteous, dangerous — if not flagrantly illegal.  They know they can get away with it.  The police don’t have time to deal with traffic offenses, and they know that if they hit a pedestrian or cyclist, the CPS and judge will be sympathetic and understand the unfortunate fact that pedestrians and cyclists do tend to just come from nowhere.

Many hundreds of cyclists have gone past.  Just one rides (slowly, carefully) along the pavement opposite.  I wonder why he doesn’t want to use his right to the road?

Countless business models in our cities are based on moving goods around, and are borderline-profitable, relying on a mix of illegal and legal-but-immoral practices — speeding; parking in bus stops, bike lanes, buildouts, clearways and footways; red light running and no-entry ignoring; eating and phoning and fiddling with satnavs while on the move — to stay in the black.  Others are very healthy businesses, using lawbreaking to boost their already ample profits just because they can.  Businesses have built themselves into a dependency on bad driving and law breaking.  Our cities could easily survive without the deliveries of bottled water and bagged ice cubes; with fewer disposable spoons and paper cups; with hotels doing their laundry in-house; with a few more parking places converted to loading bays; and with employers sacrificing a tiny little bit of profit to allow their delivery drivers the extra time they need to keep to the speed limit, park up to take calls, and walk the few extra yards from legal loading bays.  We could even manage with fewer taxis — if they made fewer dangerous and illegal moves, they might not look so competitive compared to public transport or hire bikes.  If the road rules were properly enforced, businesses would soon innovate; discover new and legal means of moving things around — or that things don’t really need to be moved around at all.

And a few would fail — because they have invested too heavily in a business model that depends on breaking the law.  And they would be replaced by something else — something unburdened by that investment.  And that would be fine.  We should stop propping up business models based on breaking the law.  We should let those businesses fail, if necessary.

My laptop has finished charging.

Unskilled and unaware of it

In the War Bulletin this week I mentioned a study that found drivers to be at fault in 87% of car/bicycle collisions.  According to the press release and coverage, the study included (but was not limited to) giving cyclists in Melbourne helmetcams, and analyzing the footage of 54 “events”, including 2 collisions.  It sounds like the study has a number of limitations — it’s difficult to draw general conclusions about collisions from only 2 of them, and the results were only ever going to apply to the helmet-law and vehicular-cycling environment of Melbourne, and even then only to experienced cyclists who (presumably) were aware that that their own behaviour was being recorded.

The study was conducted by the Monash University Accident Research Centre, who I am sure did a good job.  But unfortunately nothing resembling it appears in their reports and publications, and I can find no evidence that the original research has been made public yet.  (Allowing the world’s media to uncritically churn your press release without being able to see the actual details of the work — and perhaps more importantly, before your fellow academics are allowed to review what you have done — is rather bad form.)  So there’s not really anything more we can say until we can see the study itself, and we may yet find that everything that has been said was wrong.

But the reported findings do fit with what we already know about accident causes and driver behaviour.

The Motorist attitude to their own collisions and near-collisions is a particularly interesting field.  When one suggests that speed cameras might be a good thing, for example, somebody will always pop up to declare that they have been driving at 90mph for decades and never caused a single accident, because they are a perfect driver who knows exactly when speed is appropriate. And it might be true: some people are good drivers and some people are bad drivers.  Trouble is, the driver himself can never know which he is: all drivers believe themselves to be above average.  Everybody is seeing bad driving, but nobody admits to doing it.

In Traffic, Tom Vanderbilt documents the details of the phenomenon of drivers unable to recognise their own lack of skill.  A large part of it he puts down to a lack of feedback.  For example, in the Monash helmetcam study, there were a mere 2 collisions, but there were 6 near-collisions and 46 “other incidents” (the classic Heinrich triangle).  These “other incidents” correspond to those situations where we notice people driving badly.  They occur because the driver failed to spot a hazard or failed to recognise as a hazard something that they did see.  By definition, if they did not see or did not recognise, the driver will never have been aware of the situation.  They will reach their destination assuming that they had done a great job, oblivious to the bad driving that had been recorded.  That’s probably what happened in 52 out of the Monash group’s 54 “events”.

And when the driver does finally notice that they have just been in a near collision, they can congratulate themselves for having the skill to have avoided an actual collision.

Thus reassured of their own driving skills, on the few occasions when they do get some feedback, they find ways to dismiss it.  That horn honk wasn’t aimed at me, or if it was, it must be because the other driver is an impatient egotistical bad driver who wouldn’t recognise good driving like mine.  The police pulled me over because they have a quota to fill, or because they’re anti-Motorist, not because I was driving dangerously.  After all, I already know that I am not a dangerous driver.

And then they crash, and it was an accident, bad luck, a momentary loss of concentration, beyond one’s control.  They couldn’t have caused it, because they already know from their experience and their long record of not causing accidents that they must be a good driver.

The evidence from driving simulation experiments shows that drivers can’t accurately remember what was happening in the lead up to the crash — what they saw and heard, who else was on the road and where and which order and when they appeared; what they were thinking and where they were looking and when they last checked their mirrors.  So they can unconsciously fill in these details with whatever makes them feel the least uncomfortable.

When drivers are shown videos of their driving (from helmetcams, or as Vanderbilt discusses, Drivecam), most of them are surprised to discover that they have many more bad habits than they were aware of.  And that can create some uncomfortable cognitive dissonance for them, with attempts to deny or justify their behaviour, or, as with speeding, attempts to redefine it as safe.

It’s important to know these things about driver psychology if you’re trying to create a marketing campaign to make drivers be nice, or design ways to rehabilitate careless and dangerous drivers (how does sending a dangerous driver on their way with a £60 fine help anybody when the driver doesn’t have the skills to figure out what they are doing wrong?), or wondering whether to send your helmetcam footage to Roadsafe to be passed on to the offending driver.

And it’s important to know these things about driver psychology when deciding whether motor vehicles can ever share nicely with vulnerable road users.