Monday, December 5, 2011

Risk-compensation and other matters of concern to cyclists!

Last Weekend (26-27th November): On Friday I popped up to Scotland and back for my Aunt's funeral.  When I was a boy we often used to go up to Scotland for summer holidays but when my kids were younger we favoured the Lake District. It takes a bit of tolerance to drive for hours with kids in the car I feel – “are we there yet” being a common refrain. Of course now my daughter has gone up to a Scottish University we expect to go up a bit more often again.

We chose the Lakes because when I was a boy I loved to read the Arthur Ransome series of books – Swallows and Amazons. My favourite was Winter Holiday and at the end of what is now called Year 5 in my village primary school the headmistress, who was leaving, gave me the school’s copy! (We had around 60 kids in two classes from 4 onwards.) I subsequently read them to my son and so the Lake District became our destination of choice. If you like that sort of thing then I can recommend the Swallows and Amazons cruise on Coniston Water. When my son and I went on it he was around 9 and the skipper asked questions about the series. My son’s hand was always the first to go up. At one point the skipper suggested that someone else might like to answer the questions – the trouble was no one else seemed to know the answers. (Here is a link to some beautiful Peak district pictures – I know not the same place.)

I took my camera with me to Scotland, I had rented a car and thought I might have an opportunity to take some pictures along the coast. In the end it was so wet and cold that I didn’t have (or take) the opportunity. There were traffic warnings and bridge closures for high-sided vehicles and motorcycles reported.

I did take this one picture with my phone though. Clearly Scottish law has far more reach than I realised. Does this mean we all committing a criminal offence by “permitting” smoking anywhere.

I flew up and back with EasyJet and that part of the journey was fine, they were on time going and half and hour early getting back because of the tail winds. When I was on the bus to the car park I called my wife who put my supper in the oven.  Then drove onto the M11 for the relatively short journey back to Cambridge.  What should have taken around 30minutes took closer to 3 hours. There had been a crash earlier.  (Later in the week a Police chase on the M11 had to be called off after the suspect went the wrong way up the M11).

Motor Vehicles move quite quickly (Near Oakington)

I have no idea what caused the crash, as if often the case there is an initial report and then some time later there might be a Court report. I was interested to see that the person at ACPO in charge of roads policing (Deputy Chief Constable Davenport – she is also a keen cyclist) has suggested a graduated driving licence scheme. The intent seems to be to reduce the number of young people in involved in road accidents.

Apparently one in four people killed or seriously injured is either a young driver or driven by one. There are details to be worked through – however, coincidentally there was a report a few days later of a Student who drove through level crossing ‘was not concentrating’. Another report was a case involving a 26-year old man who was jailed for three years who killed a motorcyclist whilst texting and driving.

There has also be a suggestion from the House of Commons transport committee to reduce the drink-drive limit to zero. (As does the afore-mentioned Deputy chief Constable.) But apparently it would be too great a step and needs an education campaign first. As a vulnerable road user I am in favour of the limit being reduced. I am not so sure that the data supports cutting it to zero though. (Apparently the statistical data suggests “that currently 2% of drivers killed in road accidents have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) between 50mg and 80mg, while 18% have a BAC greater than 80mg”.  However I do feel that one should assume a higher level of responsibility when driving a motor vehicle.  The police are launching a Christmas drink-drive campaign in Cambridgeshire.

Why is a poor shared path preferable to a fast road? (Near Quy)

The problem is motor vehicles can be intimidating and although accidents are far and few between when they do occur they can have devastating consequences. Whilst we often hear about cyclists who jump red lights researchers at MIT have developed a system for cars that spots other bad drivers and “predict” if a car will jump a red light in front of you. It seems that ultimately the human is the weak link in the chain, however I do worry that the risk-compensation mechanism means that such improvements allow motor vehicle drivers to drive faster which increases the risk to the vulnerable road users.

Vulnerable road users on the CGB Path (link)

There was a recent news item in the Cambridge News – “Cycling in Cambridge ‘more dangerous than extreme sports’”. This was covered by David Hembrow – “Cambridge family considers giving up cycling”. Look at his comparison of data for the Netherlands with Cambridge – it is disturbing.

In a similar vein another news item indicated that in “Berkshire child cyclists killed or injured each week”. The report quotes Andrew Howard, from the AA, saying that “it highlights the need for all children to have access to cycling training” and later in the article  that “accidents would be reduced by training young cyclists so they understood cyclists better when they learned how to drive cars”. He is also quoted as blaming bigger cars and motorists were in “much more of a hurry”. This seems to be a rather odd way of looking at cause and effect.

Mind you in this article the MP and Energy Secretary Chris Huhne is reported as saying that we will need huge numbers of windfarms for the future. The headline suggests that it is to meet green targets, but presumably a significant factor is that oil stocks are being used up and strategically the UK needs to shift before the cost of oil rises hugely. Of course windfarms are not that welcome – Stop Common Barn near St Neots being one example of a protest.

It turns out that there is to be a Windfarm on one of my cycling routes – Wadlow Wind farm. Here is a map it is between two byways that I cycle along. I must look out for the concrete foundations of all 13 turbines that have apparently been completed.

A Wind turbine near Peterborough (link)


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