If I ask you to do something you can’t be bothered doing, will that help? Why mutual respect is a load of crap
If someone doesn’t want to see a movie because they’re not interested in watching it, would just asking them to watch it change their mind?
If your teenager would rather play video games or chat to their friends than do their homework, would saying, “hey Teenager, it would be great if you would do your homework, wouldn’t it?”, be successful in ensuring that they did it?
If someone is bored listening to something, would suggesting that they pay attention really help?
So, why is it that all too often the government, those who are charged with looking after our best interests, falls back on simply asking motorists and cyclists to just get along?
C’mon guys, it will be better for everyone – just be nice!
Back in 2012 in the UK, “A national advertising campaign is [was] being launched to keep them safe and to address a deteriorating safety record, which has led to casualties among cyclists rising in 10 out of the past 13 quarters. The number of cyclists killed or seriously injured last year rose by 15 per cent, to 3,192″
People are dying in increasing numbers and the response is to run a campaign to encourage “mutual respect”. Bit of an over-reaction, no?
“Motorist and cyclist mutual respect key to road safety“, we are told by CarsGuide in Australia, reporting on a campaign launched by Hornsby Council this year. “There has been plenty of heated discussion between cyclists and drivers about road safety over the last few years and now it’s time for all road users to try to work together to improve casualty statistics,” says the Mayor of Hornsby.
The problem with this is actually contained in the statement itself: we’ve had years of heated discussion regarding the subject, but now it’s time to just get along and reduce casualties. I suppose we were all waiting for the invitation to arrive, then.
“Safety is everyone’s responsibility” is an extremely popular catch-phrase, but where the rubber hits the road, safety is really only the actual concern of those who are more vulnerable. Obviously safety is everyone’s concern, as in, nobody wants to be in danger, but between motorists and cyclists, it’s only the cyclists that have cause to worry.
Mutual respect is a wonderful thing, but it’s not realistic. It’s not dependable. People have not shown themselves to be any more morally enlightened over the course of… I’d say ever, but I’ll go with the last few hundred or couple of thousand years, so why is anyone so incredibly naive to think that all we have to do is ask?
Yes, by all means, be good, but for goodness sake, don’t use that as the cornerstone of your public safety campaign.
Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister suggests that “as road users, we all make choices and we all have influence. If we share the road, we have to share the responsibility” (italics added for emphasis).
Here’s the problem: the roads as we currently know them are dominated by motorists. Furthermore, motorists are piloting vehicles that render them unharmed in a collision with a cyclist, whereas the cyclist is rendered anything up to and including dead. What physical influence do cyclists have on the road? Strictly speaking, if someone were to allow someone else to share the road with them, would you say that it would be cyclists, or motorists doing the sharing? In sharing the responsibility, what are the outcomes for cyclists and motorists? If cyclists are irresponsible, they can die. If motorists are irresponsible, they can kill.
But time and time again we are told that the key to all of this is to simply respect each other.
I’m sure that at least some of the campaigns, some of the time, or possibly at least one person involved in every campaign, has honest, pure intentions of making the roads a better place. Maybe even the world. Whatever the case actually is, what it looks like is that these campaigns are just an easy way to use up the political budget and pad political resumes by pacifying the angry, worried, frightened, and frustrated voters who use a bicycle to get around, but actually require no real work of any real consequence to anyone. The injured and dead keep getting injured and killed.
There are thieves out there, right? These thieves steal stuff, if what I’m lead to believe is true. They could steal stuff from you, even, which is why you have locks on your doors. Thieves still want your stuff, though, and sometimes they work around your locks and take your things. What happens then?
There are lots of vehicles driving around out there, right? They can hurt and/or kill you. That’s why there are rules to obey to ensure that everyone is safe. Sometimes, people want to circumvent those rules because they feel their needs and desires are greater and more important than those around them. Sometimes that causes injury or death to others. What happens then?
What if we switched the actual consequences of these two situations?
What if to deter thieves from taking your stuff, we simply asked them not to, because, hey, it’s the right thing to do?
How comfortable would you be with that?
What if we actually had laws in place to deter dangerous road users from injuring or killing more vulnerable road users, and, stay with me here – I know this is getting a bit crazy – but what if we actually had consequences that stuck when those laws were breached? What if we cut off the thieves hands? Put another way, why don’t we just engineer situations where we don’t have to depend on this fanciful mutual respect, instead depending on real consequences and well designed spaces.
The Invisible Visible Man knows what I’m on about:
There isn’t any great mystery which approach would make the big cities of the English-speaking world genuinely safer. London has a better record than New York partly because London has far more automated speed and red light enforcement via cameras. It’s also pretty obvious to anyone with experience of British cities’ side streets that there are far more speed humps, road narrowing, raised crossings and other measures to slow traffic down and make pedestrians more visible. The cities with the best cycling safety records tend to give over substantial, well-designed space to cyclists on their streets. Anyone who’s looked at the situation rationally will find these points unsurprising. There’s overwhelming evidence, from repeated studies in multiple places, that drivers’ inattention, excessive speed and other mistakes cause the vast bulk of crashes. Measures that constrain their speed or force them to pay attention unsurprisingly tend to make everyone safer.
Sometimes cyclists get hit because motorists actively don’t respect them or just can’t be bothered, and sometimes it’s because motorists are breaking the law for their own interest. Sometimes they are just inattentive or bad drivers. Sometimes cyclists get hit because they do all of the above themselves. For the inattentive, we need better infrastructure (and real consequences), and for those who are law-bending, disrespecting, willfully careless, and selfish, we need tougher consequences that send a message. Mutual respect my ass. Let’s cut off their hands…
That’ll send a message.
Header image: source