Road Danger Reduction Forum
September 28, 2016 rdrf.
I have tweeted about the current campaign by the FIA (the international motorists’ organisation) using Formula One racing drivers to tell children to wear hi-viz clothing when walking. It’s had a lot of re-tweeting and comments, not least directed at practitioners with a road safety remit . For some of us, this is just a matter of sighing that “you couldn’t make it up”. Others have argued that there is no evidence that campaigns like this will actually protect children. For many this is just a seasonal irritation – or even a partially useful intervention – to be accepted while we try to get on with the business of real road safety – reducing danger at source.
But we believe that this kind of intervention tells us a lot about what is going wrong – and what needs to change – if we are to have a civilised approach to road safety.
The politics of what I have called “the conspicuity con” is dealt with in Chapter 9 of my “Death on the Streets: cars and the mythology of road safety” (1992) . (Downloadable here/)
Here I discuss how this kind of “road safety” initiative is not just without an evidence base, but actually becomes part of the problem it is supposed to deal with.
Mikael Colville-Andersen gives an interesting account of how “road safety” personnel push hi-viz in his son’s school. Mikael rightly reports the lack of evidence to show actual reductions in casualty rates as a result of this kind of programme. There is one rather ropey Norwegian study referred to, but even the UK Department of Transport has indicated that there is a lack of evidence to justify hi-viz for cyclists. Mikael states – correctly – that people genuinely concerned with safety on the road should deal with what he calls “the bull in the china shop“, namely danger from motorised traffic, which they don’t.
The significance of these campaigns
The task of the road danger reduction movement includes deconstructing the basic cultural assumptions which most of us unwittingly accept. I argue that using people who are role models is an important way in which basic – often negative and dangerous – ideas are subtly inculcated into young minds. It is worth repeating that the young people being targeted will gradually come to assume that it is the task of people outside cars to “be seen”, whether or not drivers are capable of, willing to and actually looking where they are going and watching out for other road users.
This is not a conspiracy theory – it’s actually a sociological analysis (the opposite of such ways of looking at social phenomena). Although we might argue for the Formula One drivers to be used, for example, to challenge the overly fast driving of young motorists, that is only one aspect of this issue. We also need to analyse the widely held beliefs (including our own) which constitute the background assumptions about safety, and challenge them when necessary. None of this means that pedestrians and cyclists should wear camouflage. But we do need to critically consider the often unspoken beliefs which our society has, and challenge them where necessary.