Please leave your thoughts about road safety below. What are your stories of road risks getting pushed through the system unduly, or road dangers not being identified or not being managed properly?
Back in February I had written an abstract about inclusive road safety for the Proceedings of the ICE. In August I heard that I was to proceed with a submission for peer review. With that in mind, I have slowly started thinking about road safety, danger and risk, perhaps also about limitations of unbounded freedoms again. There are so many aspects which aren’t right about the way we currently approach road safety in the UK.
One such ways relates to boundaries of assessments. I mused about it in 2012 in my previous blog. As a Chartered Engineer it strikes me hard: the leniency we take to assessing risks when it comes to our roads. In engineering we have a system called ERIC which when looking at a new project asks to start with a boundary assessment. But, and speaking from my forays into road safety as an activist as well as an engineer, we tend to forgo that when assessing road safety. Road safety is a micro-managed activity, jumping straight to C (control), when we should have Eliminated, Reduced or Isolated the risk first.
Of course there are institutional and managerial boundaries, and challenges, that mess with the risk assessment process. The road-safety risk assessor would have to liaise with planners and engineers to come to a complete and holistic assessment and reach a conclusion fully inclusive of these wider inputs. Instead institutional arrangements mean that things are typically dealt with in isolation, resulting in a stretch of guard rail, or a road crossing after many years of fighting for one, but may it not be on the users’ desire line.
Our approach to road safety is that of a shaming witness. A long time ago, we began forgotting about the real dangers and from then on only ever have engaged with the fringes of the safety system, we are individually taught to cope but don’t collectively manage the risk. We are back at C.
Different fields also assess risks differently, using different codes and have different practices. A construction site will have a risk assessment in place for what’s going on inside the construction site boundaries. Going outside that physical boundary, beyond the Heras fencing, and the risks get managed in a very different way. We are back in the public sphere, back on the road so to speak, with a different level of risk acceptance. These sites and their different rules and risks may blur and spill. This photo sums up just how that can happen. Inside: all the gear – and outside? We have lost the walk and cycle space. The footpath and cycleway are now gone (actually subsumed into the construction site) and the risk is pushed onto the public passer-by. (Why the local authority accepted this, I do not know. It was not just uncomfortable; this temporary situation was actually intrinsically unsafe.)
If our roads were classified as a ‘workplace’ however all sorts of health and safety rules would kick in. Using the principles of health and safety – and good project management more generally – would include effective crash investigations when things go wrong. This can help future learning and could aid prevention.
The OECD has called for a whole-system approach http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/transport/cycling-health-and-safety_9789282105955-en#page25
The Dutch call it sustainable safety https://www.swov.nl/rapport/Factsheets/UK/FS_Sustainable_Safety_principles.pdf
In the UK it seems we have opened the door to cars to flood into our lives and onto our roads and streets (see Urry, Knoflacher and various others), a flood which we now find difficult to manage (confer with behavioural economics, Tragedy of the Commons). It does feel a bit like the Jack and the Genie, together, popped out of Pandora’s Box. There are many downward spirals associated with automobility on the whole, and with regards to road safety in particular
- road danger from motor traffic means people cycle on footway, endangering pedestrians, as one example
- motor traffic danger resulting in people not cycling
- car parked on double yellow lines or endangering others
- a car parked on footway, blocking the footway so the perhaps infirm or inexperienced pedestrian has to divert their path into the road, into danger
Clearly, the danger starts with motor traffic. If not managed adequately the danger then gets passed on to the more vulnerable. How much we want to accept road danger, discomfort and its overall toll on society is a moral question. We must answer it, so we can honestly conduct the business of road safety, holistically, fully. Frankly, right now, we are not managing this appropriately. And at least engineers have the knowledge.
In the paper I am drafting I intend to give a couple of road safety management examples. These will be from Newcastle. This will not be to say that Newcastle is worse than other road-safety management organisations. But it simply reflects where I live. Newcastle is my place of work and my place of activism for road justice and better cities. I am thinking of examples relating to
- road safety assessment for a change to the highway
- Section 39 assessments
- road safety assessment for events
I may explore further Beckman’s words of the balance between mobility and immobility
But no matter how safe transport is going to be, mobility will always be imperfect – because it always comes in a double pack, together with immobility. Improving safety and, thus, hoping for more mobility, will lead to just as much immobility.
This, to me, seems to take the longer haul and acknowledges wider boundaries. We cannot keep shining tiny spotlights into a dark room. To see the elephant we are dealing with, we actually have to switch on the lights or tear down the walls.
We have mothers crying out for justice and yet the system remains completely cold and immobile to that. We have local authorities wanting to increase cycling level. Bringing this together is an institutional problem that needs a very different approach in the future. But the processes are there. They are known to us. They are there for the taking of the road-safety management organisations to adopt and use.
Please leave your thoughts about road safety below. What are your stories of risks getting pushed through the system unduly, or risks not being identified or not being managed appropriately?
Beckmann, J. (2004). “Mobility and Safety.” Theory, Culture & Society 21(4-5): 81-100.