Monday, August 18, 2014

Death on the roads–motor vehicles have more ways of killing

Sunday, 17th August 2014: There were going to be quite a few picture in this Post so I wasn’t going to do a Thought for today. But having been away again this Post got stalled and side-tracked by other stuff.

However I couldn’t ignore the latest Department for Transports statistical Release: “Report Road Casualties in Great Britain: Quarterly Provisional Estimates Q1 2014”. Whatever way you look at it is doesn’t make for pleasant reading. Road deaths are up by 4% compared with the year ending March 2013 (to 1750) with traffic levels up by 3%.


A comparison of Q1 2014 shows that deaths were up by 13% to 380, compared with Q1 2013. KSIs (Killed or seriously injured) also increased by 17%.

It would appear that Car users and pedestrians both saw a 1% drop in KSIs, with motorcyclists and cyclists increasing by 7%. for the year ending Q1 4014 compared with the year ending Q1 2013. Although Q1 2013 was unusually cold, Q1 2014 was unusually wet and so the cyclist KSI might have been higher had the weather been better!

Just to put that into context:  For the period April-13 to Mar-14, the KSIs for each group is as follows:

Pedestrians                   5,590
Pedal Cyclists               3,400
Motorcycle users           5,360
Car users                      8,700
Total all road users       24,160

The publication also presents the data in other ways, which to me looks rather like an attempt to make it look less serious. Such as the casualty rate per billion vehicle miles. are they trying to measure?

Let’s face it, that is a significant number of tragedies.  Much of it happens because of the high (kinetic) energies involved.  A car moving at 60mph or a lorry at 40mph have huge amounts of energy. (For those of you who might have forgotten, Kinetic energy is half mass * velocity Squared, 1/2mv2, where mass is measured in kilograms, speed in metres per second and the resulting energy in joules.)

(I didn’t manage to finish this post before going away,back now,but it is less topical – sorry.)

As a society we sometimes fail to consider cause and effect. We are told to lock our cars and doors, hide our valuables, lock our bicycles. All to prevent theft. These are accepted as good advice, almost as if the crime is to say, leave a bicycle unlocked rather than steal a bicycle. A while back I took this picture at Cambridge Railway Station. Despite the area being covered by CCTV and subject to regular patrols there were a recommendation to use two locks and remove wheels, quick release saddles. The message is one that somehow only using one lock causes theft.

The desire to tell people what to do to avoid crime sometimes goes too far, as in the case of this Rape Poster. Quite rightly victim shaming/blaming is a dangerous path to tread. Although victim blaming seems to be “more acceptable” when it comes to cyclists.

There always seems to  be pressure to find a reason, but not to invest in the research.  So it might or might not be people using Smartphones who are responsible apparently.

The roads are dangerous because there are heavy objects being driven around at high speeds by human beings – pure and simple. We know that, which is why there are various laws that govern the roads and the vehicles that can use the roads and under what terms the humans can use those vehicles. In general the more the potential danger the stricter the rules. For instance the test to be able to drive a Bus or Lorry is more stringent than that for a car. It has recently become even more stringent. Professional lorry/bus drivers have to have a Certificate of Professional Competence and do 35 hours of periodic train every 5 years to keep it. A test isn’t required for a bicycle, although there are laws that govern cyclists and their bicycles. Neither do pedestrians need to pass a test. 

In the UK the road is not just governed by law, but also by a code, the Highway Code. This references the law and also recommendations. You don’t have to obey the recommendations but in the event of an incident of accident they may be used to apportion responsibility and assess  any payment of compensation or damages. One particular issue affecting cyclists is that the Highway Code, rule 59, says:


Clothing. You should wear

  • a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened
  • appropriate clothes for cycling. Avoid clothes which may get tangled in the chain, or in a wheel or may obscure your lights
  • light-coloured or fluorescent clothing which helps other road users to see you in daylight and poor light
  • reflective clothing and/or accessories (belt, arm or ankle bands) in the dark.

The upshot is that if a cyclist is in an accident with a motor vehicle and entirely blameless for the accident, the driver of the motor vehicle can claim contributory negligence if the cyclist suffers a head injury and had not been wearing a cycle helmet. This is covered in more detail here – “Cycle helmets and contributory negligence”.

There are rules for pedestrians as well though (1 to 35) and the concept of contributory negligence also applies. There doesn’t seem to be quite the same focus on pedestrians not wearing bright clothes when involved in accidents at night. At least a quick search on Google doesn’t throw up such news items. Oops I am wrong – here is one – “Insurer tries to cut damages pay out to teenage pedestrian due to her lack of wearing high vis clothing on country road”. (Here is another item on the subject.)

Although “Cycling in high-vis may not be as safe as you think”!  Mind you I have first-hand experience of being invisible on a pleasant sunny afternoon whilst wearing a fluorescent yellow jacket. I was knocked of my bike by a car turning left across me. We weren’t at a junction I was not hugging the kerb and we were on the main road. The driver just turned onto me. He couldn’t quite believe that he hadn’t seen me!

Here is one bloggers way of looking at the problem, make all road-users equally lethal, let cyclists carry a gun! 

Of course motor vehicles also have other problems. They pollute the air, as a cyclist this worries me and is another reason for staying away from busy roads if their is an acceptable, alternative route.  Well this video (London air pollution: which mode of transport has the highest exposure?) suggests that whilst pedestrians and cyclist alike share this concern it is the people in cars and buses who get the worst of it.

A reminder of the impact of poor air quality – 29,000 premature deaths. According to the link the UK is breaking the law with current air pollution levels. It would seem part of the problem lies with the surge in the use if diesel-powered cars. According to this link, diesel cars’ share of the market increased from 50.7% to 52.8% in July.  How to deal with the problem – well Birmingham is looking at a ‘diesel tax’. The cynical might look at this as another tax, the economists would call it an economic disincentive.

Let’s end on a positive note – the President of America and his family cycling.

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