Tag Archives: death by dangerous driving

Passive driving

“The ideal of the ethical man,” wrote the great Victorian scientist and liberal Thomas Henry Huxley, “is to limit his freedom of action to a sphere in which he does not interfere with the freedom of others.”

At Bath Skeptics in the Pub in April, Ian Walker talked about transport-related (ir)rational behaviour and policy.  One of the ideas he talked about was “passive driving”.  The analogy, of course, is to passive smoking.  Every time a smoker lights up in a restaurant or pub or club, the health and life expectancy of all the diners, punters, and staff around that smoker takes a tiny hit.  And those people get nothing positive in return.  In a liberal society, we defend the right of smokers to give themselves horrible slow fatal diseases.  But we expect them not to interfere with the rights of everyone else to their health.  And on the occasions when they can not show that restraint voluntarily, we have to resort to legislation banning smoking in restaurants and pubs and clubs.

Similarly, every time you get into your car and fire up the engine, my health and life expectancy takes a hit, and I get nothing in return.  You get to work or to the shops or to a day out, but I get nothing except a reduced life expectancy. Every time you get in the driving seat, you are making the decision that your journey is worth more than my and everybody else’s health and wellbeing. How big a problem is it?

Well, before the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces and workplaces, estimates were that around 600 people in the UK were dying prematurely each year because of exposure to second-hand  tobacco smoke in those environments.

Exposure to driving in the UK annually causes:

  • over 2,000 deaths in what the DfT describe as road “accidents”, of which less than half are of car users (stats for drivers and passengers are, sadly, all combined). Around 500 pedestrians, just over 100 cyclists, around 500 motorcyclists and a few bus and coach passengers are killed in “accidents”.  A few of those deaths will have nothing to do with cars — indeed, some genuinely will be “accidents” — but most are in some way the consequence of other people choosing to get in a car, a choice that would never bring any benefit to the person killed. As Harry Rutter pointed out at Street Talks, pedestrian deaths are particularly high in children, the elderly, and the lowest socio-economic groups: people to whom the benefits of car use are often out of reach, but who have to suffer the negative consequences regardless.  Motor vehicles are the biggest cause of death in teenagers, who should have a large proportion of their lives ahead of them, arguably making road “accidents” a more important issue than diseases which kill late in life and thus take away fewer quality life years.
  • Air pollution is not a fashionable topic, yet estimates of UK deaths attributable to it are even higher than for crashes, ranging from 12,000 to 35,000. Motor vehicles are not the only contributor to air pollution, but they are the major one.  Air pollution is especially a problem in cities, paradoxically the places that usually have the highest proportion of non-car users.  People living happily in cities without a car — who have perhaps even made the conscious decision to live somewhere within walking or cycling distance of employment and shops and services — again have to deal with the negative consequences of people driving into and through their city.
  • Diseases associated with obesity and sedentary lifestyles are amongst the biggest killers of our time: cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes, even dementia.  We know that these diseases can be prevented or delayed by regular exercise — cycling, for example — and that exercise is therefore one of the biggest predictors of life expectancy.  But while a great many people in the UK would like to be able to make their regular short journeys by bicycle (not so much because they worry about their health, but because it’s cheap and simple), very few do.  The overwhelming reason people give for not cycling is that the roads are far too uninviting: because they’re full of fast moving and badly driven motor vehicles.  Every time somebody chooses to drive a car, the rest of us get none of the benefit, but we do get dangerous, intimidating, noisy and smelly streets, in which normal people will never want to ride a bicycle.

That’s just to list the obvious ways that other people choosing to drive has negative health consequences for you and me.

I was reminded of all this because today the Association of British Nutters Drivers are back in the news demanding their freedoms.  Nurse turned Tory MP, and now parliamentary under-secretary of state for health, Anne Milton said last week that allowing residents to close their residential streets to motor vehicles on sundays so that their kids can go out and play might be a good thing.  The ABD are said to be amazed that their freedom to drive wherever and whenever they like might, for just one day a week, come second to other people’s freedom to choose how to use just a little bit of their own neighbourhood. Once again, the ABD behave like spoiled children, throwing their toys around when told it’s somebody else’s turn to play.

The ideal of the ethical man is to limit his freedom of action to a sphere in which he does not interfere with the freedom of others.  The Association of British Drivers fail at this most basic principle of ethics.

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Just Stay Indoors

How best to get the road safety message to the yoof of today? A catchy hook? A rap? Too passé. A cartoon? Too juvenile. What about zombies. Brilliant. Depict an apocalyptic world populated by undead victims of road traffic accidents. The kids will love it. Or be too terrified to ever leave their homes. But that’s a risk you take if you’re Newcastle City Council. The first line of the council’s new Road Safety website states:

Traffic is the single biggest cause of accidental death for 12 to 16 year olds.

The second is suicide. Being a teen is ace! Alongside gory, gratuitous mocked up photographs of zombified traffic victims, are tabs on cycling and pedestrians. These are divided into facts and, er, survival skills. Because transporting oneself outside of a vehicle is that dangerous. Here are a few of those facts.

  • Teenage boys are six times more likely to be killed or seriously injured on bikes than teenage girls.
  • Young people aged between 11 and 16 are more at risk of being killed or seriously injured as a pedestrian or cyclist in road accidents than any other age group.
  • Wearing a cycle helmet can improve your chances of survival, and reduce the chance of serious injury.

Firstly, your chances of being killed as a cyclist as ridiculously low. Far, far lower, than as a motorist. There were 104 pedal cyclist fatalities in 2009. To begin a section on cycling with the assumption that YOU MAY DIE is to basically scare off a generation of teenagers from forming walking and cycling habits that could become embedded in part of a healthy lifestyle.

In a similar vein, the section on walking warns teens that:

  • Young people aged between 11 and 16 are more at risk of being killed or seriously injured as a pedestrian or cyclist in a road accident than any other age group.
  • Traffic is the biggest cause of accidental death of 12 to 16-year-olds.
  • 1 in 5 teenagers report having been involved in a road accident.

Again, I see this as scare-mongering – in addition to being told that if they walk home late at night they will be kidnapped and murdered, they will now also be mown down by vehicles, unless they drive or board them.

Why are the council ploughing money into an “edgy” campaign that will only serve to turn teens away from cheap, healthy modes of transportation? People who start walking and cycling in their teens, generally keep walking and cycling. I’ve lost count of the number of peopel I’ve met in their twenties who want to cycle, but are unsure of where to start, and wish they had kept it up instead of stopping once they hit 13. Cycling isn’t dangerous, if you teach drivers to look out for cyclists properly, and if cyclists feel safe on roads. Similarly, if pedestrians have places to cross, they don’t get run over.

A savvy website may grab attention, and make the council feel “hip”. Unfortunately, the cost of outreach schemes, when the health service is overstretched due to heart disease rates skyrocketing years down the line is a lot harder to predict.

–Dawn

Weekly War Bulletin, 20 Nov

For really large values of “week”.  I was too busy to digest October’s news as it happened, so here’s a quick look at the stories that stood out since the last Bulletin.  Normal service should be resumed from next week.

Continue reading

When I see a medical statistician on a bicycle…

…I do not despair for the future of the human race.

In my day job I work for scientific and medical journals, a million miles from transport and planning policy.  Except that this week I was pleasantly surprised to find that one of our papers was on all the bike blogs.  (I had nothing to do with the paper, and didn’t even notice it until it was published.)  In BMC Public Health, Andrei Morgan and colleagues have done what we at AWWTM love: taken the best methods that we have for evaluating evidence and applied them to the topic of London cycling; specifically they have described the data on cyclists killed in London traffic.

The interesting factoids are:

  • While annual death rates remained relatively static over time, when considered against a background growth in estimated cycling kilometres from 0.85% to 1.48% of the total estimated traffic kms in London, they have fallen considerably in terms of deaths per estimated cyclist km.
  • Three quarters of the killings were on or at junctions with main roads.
  • Women were more likely to be killed in inner-London and during daylight; Men got killed day and night throughout London.  Men accounted for more of the total deaths, but the authors did not normalise any of these data, so we can’t say whether it’s because men are more incompetent or women more safety conscious, whether drivers behave differently around them (as Ian Walker previously found), whether men are more likely to be using the main roads where crashes happen, or whether there are simply more men cycling, especially in the outer boroughs and at night.
  • 40% of the killings were in the outer boroughs, despite there being much lower levels of cycling there.  The two are probably not unconnected: the outer boroughs have bigger faster roads and fewer cycling facilities.  The inner boroughs have slower speeds and “safety in numbers”.  People who think that London’s main roads are dangerous places are not entirely stupid.
  • There were five reported incidents in which “only the cyclist was involved”.  Presumably people riding in lampposts, or “just falling off“?
  • And of course, the most timely finding: over 40% of incidents involved freight vehicles, half of those on left-turns.

The authors — themselves London bicycle users at the School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in Bloomsbury — conclude that trucks should be banned from central London.

The paper is published coincidentally (it was written over a year ago, before peer review) in the same week that Dennis Putz was sentenced for killing Catriona Patel with a truck at Oval last year, and that Boris Johnson promoted his own ideas about banning HGVs from central London (despite delaying the LEZ which might have helped a bit), amongst many other events that have highlighted the problem of trucks in central London this autumn.  So to an extent the paper only adds more weight to a conclusion that most of us had already reached, through previous studies and through our own amateur observation and experience, and for other reasons additional to safety issues: that trucks do not belong in city centres.

Rather, the important message that I got from the paper was to highlight just how poor the evidence-base for cycling safety policy is.  The authors repeatedly had to acknowledge and apologise for the limitations of their work — in the places where I, in my lowly blog post, can speculate wildly about possible explanations for the authors’ observations, the authors themselves must stay silent because there simply isn’t good enough data on things like the characteristics of London bicycle users and their bicycle journeys.  It’s an issue that we keep coming across, in arguments over bicycle helmets, segregated infrastructure, and every other policy, intervention, and initiative: the documented evidence rarely approaches the quality necessary for making important decisions on important policies.

We at AWWTM are very much of the (evidence-based) opinion that a policy or intervention isn’t worth pursuing unless it is informed by evidence of the way that the world works, and how it might affect the way that the world works.  And it depresses us that this even needs saying, but it seems that many politicians and planners are happy to dogmatically follow policies that have been shown to fail, and to implement new ones without doing anything to check that they are working.

More of that later.

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Weekly War Bulletin, 2 Oct

The exciting news of the week is that petrol head secretary of state for transport Philip Hammond has ended the War On The Motorist by announcing that John Prescott’s M4 bus lane will revert to an all-traffic lane.  Never mind the fact that this will do nothing to improve the actual journey times of Motorists, because a bottleneck further down the road determines its overall capacity.  This is politics, after all: no room for evidence in deciding policy.  Interestingly, this news has pitched private Motorists against cabbies, with desperate attempts to justify the presence of taxis in bus lanes.  Despite being the most universally hated road users in London, the taxis could at least rely on the politicians — who in turn rely on taxis to avoid mixing with the proles on the buses — for friendship and a free ride down the bus lane.  Now even Phillip Hammond has deserted them and told them to sit in the jams with all the other non-public transport.

A meaningless PR “study” finds that Clapham and Wandsworth have the most congested roads in London.  The AA say the problem is roadworks and a lack of “money thrown at the problem”.  Not too many cars, then?  The Evening Standard commenters actually fill me with hope for once:

What the lobbyists fail to mention though, is that there are simply too many cars in London. Why is that simple fact not mentioned?

You could a south London version of the Westway and it would still end up gridlocked. Road works don’t help in the slightest but it’s just a distraction from the true cause.

Of course, they won’t mention that, because in UK plc any attempt at tackling this problem is a “war on the motorist”.

– Ashley, Camden, 01/10/2010 13:57

The government has stumbled upon a clever scheme to keep good news about transport funding flowing: regularly announce that Crossrail funding is safe.  Everyone will forget that you already announced that last week, and the week before…

But Norman Baker, Minister for Pedestrians, Cyclists, Bus Passengers, and Other Unimportant Transport Users, has this week announced that Bikeability will not be allowed to go up in flames with the bonfire of the quangos.

The Met have expanded their Cycle Task Force.  There are some hilarious and presumably sarcastic comments from the mayor’s transport advisor: “the Cycle Task Force is a fundamental part of the cycling revolution the Mayor has delivered in London,” and “however there is always more that can be done to make London the best cycling city in the world…”

A hit-and-run killer dragged a woman under their car for a mile, around Belsize Park.  Meanwhile, a killer delivery driver in the city gets a suspended sentence.

Driver re-education courses, for careless driving and law breaking, won’t work.  Not that the £1000 fine given to hardened criminal Katie Price for careless driving and apparently texting while driving a horsebox on the motorway will.

The government has published its Manual For Streets, advocating shared space for the nation’s high streets.  Look forward to some of the ideas being implemented in the street regeneration plans that have been announced for Belfast, Bournemouth, Prestatyn, and Reading.  Also in the regions, Clay Cross in Derbyshire has been given conservation status; and Aberystwyth gets more money to spend on green transport (interesting that the BBC illustrate the story with a “cycling forbidden” sign).

Work begins on the next couple of “superhighways”.  Interestingly, they’re the ones to serve, erm, the two parts of town that already have superhighways.

Going places is going to continue to get more expensive.  (Unless, erm, you walk or cycle there?)  Lets all blame the government and ignore the rising prices of increasingly hard to obtain oil.

TfL aren’t very good at replying to freedom of information requests — or are good at procrastinating on them, anyway.

French towns are replacing their bin lorries with horse-drawn recycling carts.  This is still the least absurd modern transport solution I’ve heard all year.  The robotic high-density deep-underground car park in Birmingham being one of the many absurdities indicative of late-phase chronic car dependency.

South Wales are making more shock adverts about careless and dangerous driving.

Drivers who pass their driving test are safer than the ones who don’t.  Thanks, Professor Obvious.

Stratford Central Line westbound has an exciting revolutionary new platform where the doors can open on both sides of the train.  Magic.

Nobody is stealing hire bikes.  Well, five.  Of more concern is that the Independent have adopted the Evening Standard‘s awful name for them.

Segway owner accidentally rides Segway over cliff, falls to his death.

Smelly cyclists not welcome in New Forest tea shops.

Kingsland cyclist muggers arrested.

Anti-social Motorists in Guidford “block one-way system“.

Lorry collides with M6 at Coventry.  Car collides with M11 in Essex.  And the National Arboretum has opened a memorial to those who have died in the name of Motorways.

And a house has collided with a 206 in Hampshire, a Cafe has collided with a Vauxhall in Aberdeenshire, and three houses collided with a car in Sunderland.  Meanwhile a bollard has collided with a Nissan in Derbyshire.

Luxury cars torched in Dundee and Devon, and a “spate” of scratched cars on the IoW.

Australia have launched a National Cycling Strategy.  Lets hope they’ve looked at Europe and noticed which country’s strategy has succeeded and which is failing, and picked the one that works.

Finally, Google Street View now covers Antarctica.

Some moments of zen: Old man rides a bikeBear rides a train.  And, man carries carpet on mobility scooter — how irresponsible: that 8mph carpet could have been a danger to the poor Motorists…

“It’s a danger to himself and a danger to other motorists. If someone wasn’t careful, they could’ve hit him off and he could’ve got seriously hurt and his family wouldn’t like that.”

Weekly War Bulletin, 25 Sep

As we know, Boris has been quietly dropping policies that improve our transport and built environment by cutting private and business vehicle use.  The already delayed Low Emission Zone, for example, has been pushed back another two years — so another two years of the smogs that cost the city millions of pounds and thousands of lives.

All Newspapers reported the story that Brake are backing helmets for hire bikes – they’re essential, apparently.  Indeed, Boris is terrified by people’s careless Borisbiking.  As CycaLogical points out, though, All Newspapers overlooked the next part of Brake’s recommendations — that traffic be cut, speed be cut, and more routes be de-Motorised.

Oona King thinks that cycling in London will take off only if we provide showers for “hot and sweaty” cyclists.  No mention of the one issue that non-cyclists most consistently cite as putting them off: too much traffic too badly driven, and the lack of sane de-Motorised infrastructure.

Car park fees at tube stations are to rise — a stealth fares hike says All Newspapers.  Presumably, since there is no other way to get to a tube station, Motorists will just have to drive all the way to their final destination instead.  And up and down the country local councils are continuing their War On The Motorist by considering raising parking fines.

From the department of absurd transport “solutions”: the 155mph 23 seat business-class “superbus“.  And the electric van fitted with sci-fi sound-effects, because people would obviously be unable to adapt to a world with quieter vehicles.

Instead, how about a more stepped introduction to driving, with recently-passed Motorists kept off the roads after dark?

Via Boing Boing: the story of an Illinois state trooper who sends emails while driving at 126mph, before inevitably veering into an oncoming car, killing two.  His comeuppance? A 30 month suspended sentence, two years off work on full pay, and the receipt of $75,000 worker’s compensation.  If that isn’t a harsh disincentive to drive dangerously…

The number of careless driving convictions is falling.  Interpret this fact as evidence for anything you like.

Cycling is cool — but not for professionals.  Therefore professionals are not cool.

Recall of Bentleys: the flying B mascot will impale the pedestrians that get hit by the cars, they found.  Obviously, it’s fine to sell something that you know will kill people, it’s only the impaling bit that’s wrong.

London Underground will be fined for flying flaps that slapped passengers on the platform.

The proposal to give Waterloo Station (a “much altered and uncoordinated mix of styles”) listed building status has been rejected, leaving Network Rail free to mess about it with it.

Brixton bus depot burned down.

Apparently it was car-free day on Wednesday.  Me neither.

Railway first-aiders say they’re not allowed to give first-aid to passengers.

And your moment of zen, via flickr blog and flickr user Brunocerous: the sad sight of an old tree downed by storms in NYC.

BJN_1152 tree v SUV

Weekly War Bulletin, 21 Aug

As yet more counties have to switch off their speed cameras, a study from the Department of The Obvious finds that more people are speeding where the cameras have been switched off.

This week’s cold hard news, though, is all about how some rich sportsman drove an absurdly inappropriate vehicle into central Manchester and got a parking ticket from a mean looking unrepentant traffic warden.  When you make millions of pounds a week, you can afford to do what you like with our streets.  “Supercar” drivers (for some reason I can’t read that word without thinking, I’m super, thanks for asking…) in Westminster just chuck their parking tickets away as they leave the country.  A fellow footballer demonstrates that in a country which punishes homicidal behaviour with £60 fines, millionaires will happily keep on behaving homicidally until you confiscate their weapons.  And a TV actor is released on bail and presumably allowed to continue driving his BMW after giving a pedestrian serious head injuries and driving away without stopping.

There’s another type of person who likes to drive in London.  In Peckham, a shop has collided with a BMW, killing its driver, who was in his 30s.  Hmm.

Motorists whine about having their human right to park wherever they bloody want being infringed.  Except that the government have this week ended the war on the motorist!  Hooray!  Motorists right to park on your front lawn, in your business’ front yard, or, indeed, on any part of a pavement that is technically private land, has been enshrined in law.  Only IanVisits dissents.

Sounds about right: on average, one child in every class is killed or seriously injured by a motor vehicle before they can leave school.  Kids in rich London boroughs are safer.  Hey, it’s just the necessary price we pay for our modern quality of life…

It’s OK though: authorities and businesses around Holborn are taking seriously the dangerous anti-social behaviour on our streets: they’re setting their private armies of wannabe cops on anti-social cyclists.  Previously, London’s battalions of private security guards were able to keep themselves busy tackling the threats posed by tourists, train spotters and press photographers.  Now that the EU has ruled that owning a camera is not an act of terrorism, security have had to find a new threat to neutralise, and a new set of laws to make up.  Look forward to being hassled by people who think it’s illegal to ride without a helmet, or who tell you that they will call the police if you don’t stay within the advisory cycle lane, because as a private security guard they know the law and that is the law.

As the Lib Dems join the fight over just who it was that had the idea to install hire bikes, we find that one in six of them aren’t even in use yet, because installation of docking stations in some of the posher parts of town has been held up by people who are worried that they will take road space away from their Mercedes.

Ready for the next round of train fare increases?  The Secretary of State for Motoring Transport could abolish the cap of 1% above inflation increases, in the hope that more expensive train fares will mean higher fares revenue, and less need to subsidise the trains.  Like it does on the, er, very expensive but empty SouthEastern bullet trains from St Pancras to Kent, which have already had to be subsidised by exempting SouthEastern’s conventional services from the 1% cap.  All sound a bit complicated and surreal?  That’s train fares.

Another reason we must build HS2: how else will people get to London Birmingham Airport on time for their flight to Edinburgh?  It’s not like they can use Heathrow, given how awful the shopping is there.

Local train in Suffolk hits a sewage tanker, whose driver thought that getting his sewage to its destination a couple of minutes quicker was more important than the life and limb of 21 train passengers and staff.

Your moment of zen: bear gets stuck in car! (via Boing Boing)