Warwickshire Country Council’s Road Safety Education and Active Travel team sent out this victim-blaming message today on Facebook and Twitter. It’s a fairly common communication that can be seen from a variety of sources at this time of year, encouraging people who may be walking, scooting or cycling to dress up in bright, high-vis and reflective clothing to aid their visibility to drivers. Indeed, I wrote an article earlier this month looking at a similar message that uses a poor quality photograph to try to make the same point.
The problem is, this is the wrong message to be sending out. It not only suggests that walking, scooting and cycling are dangerous activities at this time of year, it implies that the responsibility for the safety of vulnerable road users lies primarily with those people, and not from the road users that demonstrably cause the most harm on the roads: drivers.
It’s a victim-blaming message that gives a driver involved in a collision a get-out – “I didn’t see them; they weren’t wearing high-vis” – despite the fact that any responsible driver would be able to see a pedestrian or cyclist, regardless of clothing.
In 2018 alone, 456 pedestrians and 99 cyclists were killed on UK roads. Many more are seriously injured every year. These deaths and injuries are primarily caused by cars, not by caused pedestrians or cyclists themselves. Therefore, it is drivers who have the greatest responsibility to other road users. This means that they must look, pay attention, not drive impaired or distracted, drive under the speed limit and only so fast as they can stop in a space known to be clear.
All of those points are important, but the last one is a key – drive at a speed where you can stop in the space you can see to be clear. People are not invisible objects, despite what messages like the above might imply. Even in dark, everyday clothes, they are inherently visible especially in urban areas where at night streets are generally lit at the times people are moving about. Vehicles have headlights that allow drivers greater visibility of the road and surroundings ahead. There are other hazards that will not be marked with high-vis or reflective materials – animals, trees, other debris in the road, poor road surfaces – all of which drivers must look out for and avoid as part of their basic responsibilities.
Sending out the message that pedestrians and cyclists must dress up in special clothing to aid their visibility simply discourages active travel. Where people have to start hunting for their reflective arm bands, ankle straps, sashes or jackets etc, they may as well just grab the car keys and drive. Active travel must be easy. That means everyday clothing, normal jackets, and no accessories beyond the permanently fitted cycle reflectors, and the lights that cycles are legally required to have after sunset.
As with the helmet debate, that’s not to say people should not wear these things. If they want to and it makes them feel safer, by all means they should do so, but let’s not beat about the bush – if drivers are not looking, they won’t see someone even if they’re lit up with a great big flashing neon sign above their head saying “PEDESTRIAN HERE!”.
Messages like this from the local authority and others in an official capacity simply damage the impression that active travel is a safe, valid choice. It puts people at the sidelines where they have to make changes to their own routines because the car is king.
This is backwards. Warwickshire County Council (and others who communicate the same thing) have got their priorities wrong. To paraphrase Carlton Reid of Forbes in his recent LBC interview, roads are for people to get from A to B and drivers and their cars are just one subset of all road users. It’s high time we stopped treating the car as the ruler of the roads and put the responsibility for road safety back on to the drivers. Until the likes of the Road Safety Education and Active Travel Team realise where they are going wrong, they can rightly expect to be criticised.
To add insult to injury, it seems the Road Safety Team who tweeted this message cannot take such criticism. I wrote a comment in response to their message on Facebook (and responded to a critic of that original comment) yet these messages have disappeared, presumably deleted. The same has happened with my comment in response to an earlier post from them about helmets.
Article source image from Flickr (philandpam): https://flic.kr/p/3oQF5V (CC BY 2.0)