More honest cyclist warning stickers for motor vehicles

A tweet from @aseasyasriding reminded me about the problem of those stickers which seem to have proliferated on the back of HGVs (and now other commercial vehicles in the past few years) which are all some variation of a warning to cyclists not to pass the vehicle on the inside. Obviously I hate these things, but I will admit to having something of a dark admiration for the idea behind them. These stickers likely originate from discussions inside the road haulage industry and I suspect that the decision to issue them as taken as follows:

  1. Use of HGVs whose design is heavily optimised for motorway use in towns and cities without significant modification means that even a momentary failure of competence or compassion from a driver can lead to fatal consequences for other road users (particularly cyclists).
  2. Modifying HGVs would be very costly to the road haulage industry and is therefore resisted.
  3. Even if the industry were receptive to the idea of modifying HGVs, the period of time between the public learning of their intention to modify HGV designs and the last unmodified HGV coming out of service would be a liability nightmare for the industry.
  4. Certain parts of the road haulage industry use pay structures (such as pay-per-load) which put drivers’ pay at odds with the safety of other road users.
  5. The death toll associated with the road haulage industry gives it a bad image.

And so the now-ubiquitous warning stickers were created for HGVs (which have since spread to other commercial vehicles such as buses, vans and even taxis). These stickers ingeniously and insidiously turn a road haulage industry problem into a problem of cyclist behaviour in the minds of many of those who see them. Slowly but surely in the public imagination, the problem of a HGV driver overtaking a cyclist to turn left becomes the problem of cyclists passing HGVs on the inside. The problem of the immense blind spots of HGVs becomes the problem of cyclists passing HGVs on the inside. The problem of HGV drivers not signalling their intention to turn becomes the problem of cyclists passing HGVs on the inside. The problem of risk-taking by drivers who are paid by the load becomes a problem of cyclist behaviour.

In response to the (admittedly highly-sucessful) attempt at reality distortion represented by the original stickers, I thought I would present some alternatives which are perhaps a bit more honest:

blind-spots

left-turn

overtake-left

One for skip lorries and others who are paid by the load:

paid-by-the-load

And a few more ready for when these things inevitably start making the jump from commercial vehicles to private cars:

red-light

mirrors

And finally, the subtext of the original signs:

general

ASA: Spreading the fear to kids

This advert was brought to my attention a while back. It is for some car (yawn) but the ad also featured cyclists as well. A complaint was made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA):

Ad

A TV ad, for Citroën, featured a cyclist pulling up behind a Citroën C4 at a set of traffic lights on a busy urban street. Other cyclists joined him until there was a large crowd of cyclists pursuing the C4. 

Issue

A viewer, who noted that none of the cyclists featured in the ad were wearing cycling helmets, challenged whether the ad was appropriate to be broadcast at times when children were likely to be watching, because it could condone and encourage behaviour prejudicial to their health and safety.

Assessment (Upheld)

The ASA considered that adults and older children would understand that the scenario depicted in the ad was fantastical and set apart from reality, because of the sheer number of cyclists involved, the lack of cars in their immediate vicinity and the fact that they were cycling in unison and chasing the C4. We therefore concluded that the ad did not condone behaviour prejudicial to the health and safety of adults and older children and was unlikely to cause harm to them.
However, we considered that younger children might not appreciate the fantastical nature of the ad and might consider that the ad represented a real-life scenario. We were therefore concerned that the ad might encourage younger children to emulate a behaviour prejudicial to their health and safety, and therefore concluded that the ad should have been given an ‘ex kids’ scheduling restriction to ensure that it was not broadcast at times when younger children were likely to be watching.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 5.2 (Children) and 32.3 (Scheduling).
We also investigated the ad under BCAP Code rules 4.1 and 4.4 (Harm and offence) but did not find it in breach.”

The message from the ASA here is that cycling without a helmet is a behaviour, “Prejudicial to [childrens’] health and safety.” This has already been established to be false. However, the main issue here is that the ASA have not been fair with respect to the issue of safety, and behaviour which children might emulate. The driver of the car in the ad was not wearing a motoring helmet, a behaviour which children might emulate which would actually be, “Prejudicial to their health and safety.” It could also easily be argued that advertisements showing people travelling by car, “Might encourage younger children to emulate a behaviour prejudicial to their health and safety.”

The ASA, by classifying adverts of this nature as, “Ex kids,” on these grounds have managed to help perpetuate the mistaken beliefs that cycling is a particularly high-risk activity, that helmets are effective in the event of a crash with a motor vehicle, and the sadly prevailing ideology that the responsibility for minimising the risks posed to cyclists in the event of this type of crash (with the aid of ineffectual safety equipment) lies with the cyclist victim, rather than (by the moderation of dangerous driver behaviour) with the driver whose vehicle is the actual source of the danger.

Considering the relative risk posed to children by travelling by car, and the significantly greater benefits afforded to motorists in comparison to cyclists by helmet-wearing in the event of a crash, maybe we should be complaining to the ASA whenever an advert depicting people travelling by car without a motoring helmet is shown in the advert breaks surrounding children’s programming.

Anecdotes and Evidence

The petition to block the proposed Cyclists (Protective Headgear) Bill in Northern Ireland has finally attracted some attention from the larger press outlets. With wider exposure comes the usual heated discussions over helmets in the comment threads. Many of you know my own stance on helmets, but I would not want to force anyone who wishes to cycle with a helmet to do so without one.

home_1

A helmet slpit along the vents, a common mode of failure. Image courtesy of cyclehelmets.org

One type of comment which comes up frequently on these comment threads follows the general form of “A helmet saved my/a friend’s life.” This is not particularly surprising, during my own school days I remember being shown emotive video footage of an interview with a teenager who had survived being hit by a motorist whilst he was on his bike. He proudly showed the camera his helmet, split in two and with an unshakable conviction he stated that it had saved his life. In the years since this experience, the arse-about-face approach to road safety has continued to gain traction and find its way into online materials aimed at school-age children.

When listening to stories claiming a helmet saved someone’s life, it is important to remember that anecdotes aren’t the same as evidence. Consider the following:

With no control experiment, where all variables other than whether or not the rider was wearing a helmet left unchanged, it is impossible to state with any confidence whether or not the helmet had made a difference, or to appropriately quantify any difference it may have made.

The effects of risk compensation also need to be considered. For those who have been told and accepted the idea that a helmet will save their life, there will be an increase in their perceived safety which will have an effect on their behaviour. This also goes for the operators of motor vehicles, who will perceive a helmet-wearing cyclist as being less at risk from their vehicle. It is possible that the change in behaviour both on the part of the cyclist and the motorist caused by the effects of risk compensation were instrumental in leading to the collision. This effect has been studied with ABS in the Munich taxi experiment, and can also be seen in the increase in the severity and number of pedestrian and cyclist casualties following the introduction of compulsory seat-belt legislation, drivers felt safer with seat-belts and adjusted their behaviour to compensate for the reduced risk to them by driving faster and braking later. This resulted in decreased safety for those not travelling inside a car.

There are safety concerns attached to wearing a helmet, including increased risk of rotational brain injury which can be further exacerbated by the interaction between the air vents on a helmet and irregularities in the road surface leading to an increased risk of neck injuries. These effects are often dismissed due to the acceptance even amongst helmet advocates that there are limits to the protection a helmet can provide; if a helmet-wearing cyclist is injured in a collision, the injuries they sustain are uncritically regarded as being “less substantial than if they had been without a helmet,” when in fact they may have been exacerbated or even caused by the wearing of a helmet.

Plenty of cyclists survive collisions, accidents and other incidents despite not wearing a helmet. Unlike the sensational “Life-saving helmet,” stories we all see whenever there is a discussion regarding helmets, people who survive collisions, accidents and other incidents whilst not wearing a helmet rarely link their survival to the fact that they were not wearing a helmet.

It is human nature to find causal links between events which may in fact be unrelated. This is how we end up with things like lucky pants and ritualistic behaviour of athletes and sports-fans; people struggle to separate correlation from causality. For example, I have been involved in several minor incidents due to motorists over the years and survived each one of them. On every occasion I was wearing boxer shorts, but it would be foolish to state that my survival was definitely caused by the fact that I was wearing boxer shorts. At the very least I’d want to see the results from a control experiment where I was wearing budgie-smugglers in the same situations.

How I wish this were a parody

I managed to stumble across this Department For Transport website, “Be Bright, Be Seen.” It is aimed at young children and after studying the site and playing the game, the main messages of the site seem to be:

  • Cycling and walking are very, very, very dangerous and abnormal activities
  • If you choose to engage in this kind of reckless behaviour, it is you, the child, the victim who is responsible for ensuring you do not become the victim of a negligent motorist
  • To do this you must dress up like an Xmas tree whenever you dare to have the audacity to want to cross a road
  • If you do somehow manage to live long enough to become an adult, it will be one of your basic human rights to drive a heavy & fast vehicle inattentively in the presence of children, without the terrible burden of any responsibility if you hit one, unless they are wearing the Xmas tree outfit that is. Then you might be partly to blame.

bbbs1

Taken from the DFT’s victim-blaming website Flash game.

bbbs2

Obviously the bitch had it coming. Taken from the same site.

I also found links to some “Educational material,” for children, again provided by the government. This included Amir’s story:

“After I’d opened up all they presents – they wanted to get the birthday cake ready – so I decided to go over to Jordan’s to show him the bike. I was sorted. I had my helmet, my trainers with the reflective strips and I even clipped on the lights and made sure the batteries worked before I set off. Well, it’d be dark by the time I was coming back, you see. You need to be seen by other road users. That’s really important. Be Bright, Be Seen. They’re always saying that in school. I was only going to Jordan’s so I didn’t bother with the pads or the gloves.

The road was quite quiet but there were loads and loads cars parked all the way along. Anyway, I’m going up and down gears, testing the brakes.

Then, just as I looked up, this car door suddenly opened – right in front of me. I tried to brake but it was too late. It knocked the wind right out of me. Banged my chin, broke my nose and cut all my hands up too. Good job I had my new helmet on.

This is a great way to promote healthy, ethical and socially responsible transport to the next generation. Pads and gloves as a safety measure? No mention of the fact that the motorist who doored him was responsible for checking that there was no oncoming traffic at the time. By the sound of it, the helmet didn’t do a thing to help him, as you’d expect.

“It’s not put me off my bike though. No chance. But I’ll be a lot more careful in the future. Deffo. Just as soon as I’m better… Two weeks and counting.”

I bet you will, it was your own fault that an adult opened a car door right in front of you after all. Being a kid is full of responsibility, I bet he can’t wait to grow up and get his driving license so he can do away with being responsible once and for all.

EDIT: Email the DfT about this awful site if you feel as I do. Hopefully a bigger blog which specialises in this kind of disgrace will help spread awareness of this DfT crap.