Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Just following the rules...

I have a passing interest in cycling as a cyclist, as a (town) planner and as an academic. Twitter has much to say on this topic, and there are oodles of interesting folks and organisations blogging and tweeting about cycling.

I little while back I got involved in some twitter interactions with someone (let's call him 'Dan') who insists that cyclists do not need dedicated road space/cycles lanes. Dan's central argument is that if everyone (including cyclists) follows the Highway Code then there will be no problems.

Setting aside the real conversation I had with Dan, I thought it would be useful to consider this position in some detail: actually, it's a good question isn't it? If everyone followed the rules, would there be a problem?

At the moment, all road users with a driving licence have had to pass some kind of test including - in more recent years - a written 'theory' test as well as a practical driving test. So far so good. Everyone using the road should know about, understand and abide by the rules of the road, aka the Highway Code. 

Except that they don't. Every year in the UK hundreds of thousands of motorists are prosecuted for driving too fast; people are prosecuted for driving without insurance; they are prosecuted for drink-driving and driving without due care and attention; and for somehow breaking the rules. And every year a lot of police and local authority time and effort is spent enforcing speed limits, parking controls and other parts of the Highway Code. 

Yes of course, people *should* abide by the rules when they are driving - but the plain fact is they don't. That seems to me to be difficulty no. 1 with Dan's argument. 

In addition, pedestrians and cyclists don't necessarily have driving licences, so how can we expect them or require them to abide by the rules? Of course, quite a lot of people with driving licences also walk, and cycle, so that's okay. But what about the others - those who choose not to have a driving licence, or who are not eligible to apply for a licence because they are too young (e.g. they are a child) or they have some other factor which might affect their ability to drive (e.g. visual impairment)? Well, we might expect them to exercise common sense and an adherence to some norms of behaviour, but we can't actually expect them to know or abide by the rules in the same way, unless of course we require them to have a licence too.... So, there's difficulty no. 2: not all road 'users' are licensed, only the ones in charge of motor vehicles.

The final killer (literally) issue I have with Dan's argument, is that even if everyone follows the rules, mistakes still happen. You sneeze at the wrong moment; look left and not right; you are blinded by the sun or distracted by squabbling children in the back of the car. The problem is that those mistakes can cause accidents - and if you are cyclist sharing the same space as a bus or a truck - then those sorts of mistakes can cost your life. It makes little sense to me for the smallest, lightest and most vulnerable road users (cyclists) to share the carriageway with the largest and heaviest (e.g. buses). The Danes don't do it, neither do the Dutch. To them, the answer is really simple: keep them separate and you keep them safe. 

It seems simple to me too. Let's have a transport system which designs out some of the risks and which protects the most vulnerable (cyclists and pedestrians) by separating them from traffic. Then, it won't matter quite so much whether everyone follows the rules or not - we'll have a system designed to keep us *all* safer, whether we walk, cycle or drive. 

No comments:

Post a Comment