Addison Lee – a road danger reduction myth buster

A guest article by Dr. Robert Davis, Chair, Road Danger Reduction Forum

Following cancellation of some accounts and the promise of a flash-mob protest outside his offices tonight, the boss of Addison Lee has issued a pseudo-apology while re-stating his prejudices  – which discriminate against cyclists and other road users outside motor vehicles in general and Addison Lee vehicles in particular.

For us he is digging himself in deeper. This saga is not just about a publicity seeker angling for notoriety and some extra business (he has form, as indicated by the excellent David Mitchell in yesterday’s Observer). It actually reveals a lot about the way in which we are supposed to think about transport and safety on the road.

This is not just one more extremist. His views are simply versions of the dominant ‘road safety’ ideology which bedevils a civilised approach to transport and real safety on the road. His tendency to get hold of the wrong end of the stick not just once, but on a range of issues is typical of the inversion of the reality that passes for ‘road safety’.

The most obvious example of this corrupt ideology is that Mr Griffin (see Saturday’s Times) has actually signed up to The Times cyclists’ safety campaign. Yes, he is actually on the side of cyclists!

But ‘road safety’ has so often been against the safety and well-being of cyclists and others: after all, if cyclists get out of the way of motor traffic, they won’t get hurt or killed. If people are too scared to cycle or walk (or their parents to let them), then they won’t get killed – something which traditional ‘road safety’ sees as progress. Griffin is just part of that tradition, and the following expresses it:

“My foreword in Addison Lee’s magazine Add Lib, has caused quite a storm amongst the Twitter community, and I’m glad it has. In the article, I argue for compulsory training and insurance for London’s bicycle owners and I still stand by my contention.

“About one cyclist is killed on London’s roads every month and countless others horribly injured. If the article causes a debate around cycle safety, and perhaps saves some lives, bring it on.

“Cycling is a deadly serious issue and lives are at stake. There have been huge campaigns recently to encourage cycling, but not so much in terms of improving safety and awareness for cyclists. “I’m glad that the issue is being debated. If anyone has more ideas for improving safety for cyclists, I would be delighted to hear them. In the meantime, I will continue calling for compulsory training and compulsory insurance for bicycle users.”

So let’s take this opportunity to puncture some of the myths:

TRAINING (or perhaps we should say ‘TRAINING’, as plainly what Addison Lee drivers are all too often up to indicates that any training they may have received has been for a form of behaviour which is not advocated by the Highway Code).

This is the classic example of getting hold of the wrong end of the stick – twice over. Firstly, if anyone needs regulation to control behaviour which is genuinely anti-social because it threatens other people’s lives, it should be the motorist. After all, by any objective measure (the third party insurances of motorists as compared to members of the cycling organisations, for example), it is motorists, not cyclists, who need control and regulation.

The other stick wrongly handled is that of ‘training’ in the first place: generally it is not about control or regulation anyway, it is about breeding confidence. The RDRF has strongly supported National Standards cycle training as a way to do this and generate more cycling, with major safety benefits accruing from the greater awareness by motorists of increased numbers of cyclists. Much of this cycling will of course be precisely the assertive cycling (taking the primary position, etc.) which seems to upset so many motorists, Addison Lee drivers among them.

It is about empowerment and enablement. It is not something to be forced on actual or potential cyclists; it isn’t what Mr Griffin would probably like to see anyway (it teaches rights as well as responsibilities), and it is ludicrous to see cyclists, rather than motorists, as the problem to be controlled.

INSURANCE There is a  good case for motorists carrying third party insurance – but there have to be proper chances of errant motorists actually being found liable and with proper pay outs for the damage they cause to people’s lives: we would argue that neither happens at the moment.  We need black boxes on vehicles to establish cause of collisions and proper reparations. Also, we certainly have a significant proportion of London’s motorists who don’t pay third party insurance, which Mr Griffin does not seem to be chasing up.

But full insurance against responsibilities is just that – a way of protecting motorists from their responsibilities. At the very least no more than 80 – 90% of the cost of injury to human beings (we are not so concerned with damage to property) should be recoverable through insurance. Third party insurance should be seen as at least in part another example of motorists getting away with it.

WHAT – OR WHO – IS ‘DANGEROUS’? Throughout, Griffin assumes that because some road users are not inside crashworthy vehicles there is something wrong with them – not the road users who are dangerous to them and everybody else on the road. We won’t go into how the increasing crashworthiness of vehicles has made motorists even more of a potential menace to others: suffice it to say that we need to see the principle problem as  those who can endanger others the most. This seems to be completely outside Griffin’s world view.

‘Road safety’ ideology protecting the (careless) motorist has always patronisingly muttered about ‘protecting the vulnerable road user’ (that’s human beings outside cars) – what do you think may actually be endangering them?

In case anybody wants to point out that cyclists and pedestrians can – surprise, surprise – actually break the Highway Code, well:

1.     We would argue that it is generally less dangerous to others than motorist law breaking, and therefore less of a priority, and:

2.     Motorist law and rule breaking is generally accommodated – or even colluded and connived with – by the creation of crashworthy vehicles (crumple zones, seat belts, airbags, roll bars etc.) and a highway environment (anti-skid, crash barriers, felling roadside trees etc.). Maybe try doing that for cyclists if equality is what you’re after?

TAXATION We need to demolish the myth of motorists being ‘overtaxed’, although it is not there in Griffin’s latest outpourings.

LAW ENFORCEMENT We will certainly need to raise again – London cyclists have long complained about this – the lack of law enforcement by motorists in general and private hire cars in particular. This episode should be seen as an opportunity to do so. The failure to discuss this has been a major problem in The Times campaign so far, as we have pointed out. If it is not to fail it needs to be addressed.

One thought does stick in the mind from the original Addison Lee ‘Editorial’: what cyclists would have to do to join ‘our gang’, including being ‘trained’. If it is a question of being in a gang which can hurt and kill with minimal (if any) punishment, there might be quite a few cyclists who would welcome such ‘training’…