Despite the first part of this blog being about collisions and keeping safe at the most vulnerable parts of our cycling journeys, hopefully you will come out the other side of this edition of the Safer Cycling blog with a large amount of positivity, so grab a coffee, and maybe even a slice of cake and read on. Oh this blog is a little on the large side, we tried to make it smaller but I’m sure you’ll agree everything that’s in there is necessary, there’s no padding for effect, so in hindsight might want to make it two slices of cake……
When we started the Safer Cycling concept we needed some direction, something on which we could concentrate our efforts to best see results for the work we wanted to do, our core task being to keep vulnerable road users safe on their journeys about the region. In order to make our efforts precise and properly targeted we enlisted the help of our in house analysts at the Central Motorway Police Group. They did what they do best, crunch figures, draw conclusions and give recommendations, the results were as expected, well as expected to those with experience of dealing with collisions involving cyclists, and these collisions were often the ones that did not make the headlines.
The most common complaint we receive from cyclists and now action in the way of prosecution is the close pass scenario, the classic due care and attention offence. This isn’t to be un-expected, we have even highlighted our own close pass experiences and footage/photo’s on our twitter account and previous blogs. So it’s no surprise to all that this remains the priority for most cyclists and more importantly “those considering cycling” when it comes to keeping vulnerable road users safe. However whether it’s a misconception by many or just a lack of awareness the close pass scenario is far from being the greatest threat to cyclists on our regions roads. Between 2010 and 2014 there were 530 KSI (killed or seriously injured) RTC’s (Road Traffic Collisions)involving bicycles, 517 of those KSI RTC’s (98%) involved at least one other vehicle. Of these the most common vehicle to be involved in a KSI RTC with a cyclist was a car (84% of KSI RTC’s).
But this is where the big misconception arises as 75% of KSI RTC’s involving cyclists in the West Midlands from 2010 to 2014 occurred within 20 metres of a junction, involving a cyclist and “another” vehicle. Further analysis (I won’t bore you with the figures, tables etc.) showed that the majority of KSI RTC’s in the West Midlands involving cyclists occur when a car has pulled out of a junction in front of a cyclist that is mid- junction because the car driver has failed to spot the cyclist.
Birmingham city centre was the regions hotspot for such collisions, which, as this is where most daily commutes are to and from, and given the heavy traffic volumes, came as no surprise. Further analysis of all KSI RTC’s involving cyclists show that, in the majority of cases there are no environmental factors that have contributed to the collision. In most instances the weather conditions are fine with no winds nor are there any identified carriageway hazards or issues with the road surface. Further, there are regularly no identified special conditions at the collision site (e.g. roadworks, defective signage or markings). Lastly over half the cyclists involved in a KSI collision on the regions roads were commuting to or from work, so in the main we are dealing with experienced cyclists.
Anyone still awake after the number crunching? Well it’s onto the interesting bit….
Conclusions from the statistical analysis and what to do about it……
For those of us that cycle daily to work the results came as no surprise. Although the “close pass scenario” remains the greatest concern for the majority of cyclists or for those considering cycling the actual greatest threat we cyclists face on the roads of the West Midlands is the driver pulling out in front of or across a cyclist mid junction, either because they haven’t seen them or miss-judged the cyclists speed or path.
What can be done, well we have two parties involved in this type of collision, analysis of the collisions shows that in such circumstances the blame would lie solely with the driver not the cyclist. This is not uncommon as most drivers are trained and habitually look for other vehicles when negotiating junctions and show a total disregard when it comes to looking for or being aware of vulnerable road users (analysis of KSI collisions involving motorcyclists and pedestrians would prove similar).
We could make use of social media, press releases etc. to tell motorists to “look out” for cyclists, but this has been ongoing with both cyclists and motorcyclists and although has some positive effect it doesn’t reach the target audience we need to engage, those unwilling to take on the message or dismissive of vulnerable road users altogether, which given the rise in KSI collisions involving vulnerable road users seems like the majority of motorists.
Our time and effort, we have quickly realised, is better spent enforcing the law and prosecuting, thus creating a scenario whereby should someone not give a cyclist the time and space necessary or fail to see them completely they should expect to be prosecuted. In other words the carrot goes out the window and in comes the stick. Why some might ask? Well if drivers expect to be prosecuted for committing offences they suddenly stop committing them, unsurprising correlation I know but it’s the truth. Once drivers become aware that an infringement involving a cyclist is one they should expect to be prosecuted for, they suddenly become more aware of them on the road and in turn start giving them the time and space they should lawfully have as an equal road user. Cyclists suddenly occupy a drivers attention, they actively look out for them and so are less likely to miss them at junctions and contribute to our KSI statistics.
Any offence that would contribute to a driver failing to see a vulnerable road user needs to be enforced, and as has been considered of late, some say needs a greater penalty. Whether that be excess speed that doesn’t give the motorist time to see or react to the vulnerable road user, distraction offences such as mobile phone use, or drug and drink driving.
So drivers need to expect a zero tolerance approach for any offence involving a vulnerable road user, or an offence that could contribute to a collision involving a vulnerable road user. The only way to change driver behaviour and concentrate minds on looking out for vulnerable road users and change driving habits is through enforcement, and the resulting fear of being prosecuted. Now for those who will no doubt be spitting out their finest percolated roasted bean brew at this moment screaming “what about the cyclists !” well…….statistical analysis shows they aren’t to blame, innocent in the majority of KSI collisions it would be a waste of our time, and thus public time and money to concentrate on cyclist behaviour. The figures speak for themselves…….driver’s don’t let your prejudices get in the way of the truth…….
But for those cyclists who want a bit of advice……
Before we carry on, this next section isn’t victim blaming, having read the last several paragraphs you should all have no doubt as to where we think the responsibility lies for the majority of KSI collisions involving cyclist’s and vehicles on our regions roads. I have no doubt a few will be appalled that we offer some safety advice to cyclists on what to do and look out for on the approach to junctions but this isn’t your standard advice, it comes from our thousands of hours watching road user behaviour from an trained advanced road user perspective, even the doubters might learn something from the next section…….and if you’re prepared for the worst you can often avoid it.
Don’t look at the eyes….
Many will say “make eye contact, this ensures they have seen you”, absolute rubbish this, half the time they will be looking not at you but right through you. Ignore the eyes of the driver; watch the wheels of the vehicle instead. A vehicle won’t move without the wheels moving, and you will see the wheels move far before you realise the vehicle is moving thus giving you that split second extra that to react and hopefully avoid a collision.
A red light never stopped anything….
Goes for all road users this one, red lights don’t stop vehicles, they instruct road users to stop their vehicle, if the driver (or cyclist) misses the red light or chooses to ignore it, a miss-placed faith in the power of the red light might be your undoing. Always check the opposing traffic is slowing and intends to stop at a red light, the glance only takes a second, it could be a very valuable second well spent
Hi viz doesn’t mean highly visible and the positive “wobble”
Don’t think hi viz clothing will keep you seen, although hi viz has a place in some circumstances such as low light conditions, it is contrast that catches the attention of the driver who might pull out on you, that, and movements the human eye and brain are wired to detect. White and black all have their place in being seen, white is a particularly visible colour not often naturally occurring so stands out, ever wondered why traffic officers hats are white ? It’s not because we want to look like ice cream salesmen! Lateral movement on the road on the approach to a junction triggers all the receptors visually that drivers need to see, recognise and subsequently react to the cyclist on the road. In low light a flashing front light doesn’t hurt either. So moving out an extra 6 or 12 inches on the approach to a junction can go a long way to making you the centre of the waiting or approaching driver’s attention, as an object moving steadily towards you in a straight line can be missed, the object that is coming towards you with some sideways movement is more easily seen by the drivers whose attention we wish to occupy.
A New Dawn
Cycling is a fantastic thing, it’s benefits are well documented, traffic congestion is reduced, as is pollution, health and wellbeing are boosted for the participants and not forgetting the resultant benefits of less dependence on a stressed NHS. When it comes to playing our part in supporting cycling and cyclists it’s not a case of “why should we?” it’s a case of “why wouldn’t we?” Supporting cyclists and cycling is really a case of policing for the benefit of all, a prime case of policing for the greater good of the community.
Cyclists don’t cause us, as an organisation, problems, that’s because they aren’t causing our communities problems, they aren’t killing nearly 100 people on our regions roads as mechanically propelled vehicles currently do. Yes we do get complaints of the “nuisance” variety, pavement cycling, some anti-social behaviour (usually yobs on bikes rather than “cyclists”), red light running etc. but you get the idea, most peoples interpretation of “1st world problems” or the “modern day blues”, nothing that’s a priority for a force like our own in a modern day society. Bad cycling is an “irritant” to the wider community rather than a danger, and maybe an improvement in infrastructure and policing may alieve many of the reasons that cause a very small minority of cyclists to be an “irritant”
So what can we do to do our bit ?, to encourage along with our partnership agencies people onto bikes and get the personal and community benefits already discussed. Well as we already touched upon in the first part of this blog, people’s fear of the dangers of cycling is the largest barrier, particularly the close pass. The media plays a large part, every cycling tragedy is to the fore, not that they shouldn’t be, such incidents can be a force for change but there is very little to re-address the balance, to convince people that cycling is safe. We as a force must do our upmost to protect the vulnerable on our roads and convince them that if anyone does endanger them on the road the perpetrator will be dealt with. The flip side of this is of course that anyone endangering a vulnerable road user should expect to be identified and prosecuted; this is the key to policing the problem.
The way forward
Although we have had great success prosecuting using cycle camera evidence sent to us by cyclists, not all, even those running cameras on their daily journeys have the desire to start reporting offending drivers (as previously discussed here : Lights, Camera, Action ! ).
So we need to be proactive, and so in partnership with Birmingham City Council we have a new partnership scheme which will see a traffic officer riding the most vulnerable locations for cyclists looking to instantly act upon close passes, distracted driving and the like. The cycling traffic officer when passed too close will let the officer up the road know, who will in turn stop the motorist. Then the offender will be given a choice, prosecution or 15 minutes spent being educated as to the correct way to pass a cyclist.
It’s simple but effective, drivers are shown how far they should be from a cyclist, we have chosen the widely advocated 1.5mtr as our minimum but of course a much further distance will be needed in many circumstances depending on the vehicle type and speed. For instance if the opposite carriageway is available for an overtake and isn’t used in its entirety the driver will be pulled and shown why they should utilise all the available road room available to facilitate a safe overtake. A full sized replica road floor mat with various hazards positioned on it will give perspective and equip drivers with the knowledge needed to prevent further offences being committed.
Those who are committing any other offence as well as the “close pass” due care offence will be prosecuted for all offences, no immediate educational alternative for those who show such a low standard of driving.
Days without education
Following a period of education at a particular location if offences persist we will have “enforcement” only days where education isn’t an option for those committing close pass due care offences. Hopefully given the amount of publicity we anticipate this tactic will receive, most drivers should very quickly get the message and hopefully the enforcement only days should be few and far between!
We anticipate a change in driver behaviour as awareness of the tactic spreads, after all, every cyclist on the road ahead may well be a traffic officer on the operation, as our cyclists will not be liveried in any way, drivers will have no way of knowing !
For those who are reading this and think they need to make themselves or others (for example employee’s, friends or colleagues) more aware of how to share the road with cyclists in a way that will avoid prosecution, we recently teamed up with RoSPA and produced an interactive presentation which is free to download and is ideal. The presentation gives drivers examples of how to overtake cyclists, examples of what cyclists may do in certain situations to ensure their safety, and highlights blind spot awareness plus much more, and unlike anything that’s gone before it is filmed on live roads with live traffic, so those who have never cycled on a road get everything from a cyclists perspective. Well worth a look you’ll find it here : RoSPA Share the Road
Well that’s it for this blog, that’s where we are at, anyone from the media who would like more details of the new “Share the Road” scheme which proactively deals with close passes or attend a media launch day for the scheme in the coming week please contact Brigg Ford at our Corporate Communications Department, as for the rest of you, feel free to tweet us with any questions.
Until the next blog
Take care and safe cycling.