Look Out!

This week Lancashire Police have started running a campaign, ‘Let’s Look Out for Each Other’, which amounts to the usual strange attempt to make drivers and people cycling ‘more aware of each other’, as if anyone riding a bike isn’t fully aware of the presence of motor vehicles, often travelling at speed and in close proximity.

The press release contains a quote from Chief Inspector Debbie Howard –

Figures show there is a 50/50 split in who is responsible for collisions and we want to highlight the common ground between cyclists and drivers, recognising that 80% of cyclists also hold a driving licence.

A Freedom of Information request has been made by StevenInLeyland, asking for this ’50/50′ claim to be substantiated. As the FoI request states, it flies in the face of other figures from the Transport Research Laboratory, which show motorists are solely at fault in bicycle/motor vehicle collisions in 60-75% of all cases. Thus far Lancashire Police have responded by claiming that their figures relate only to Lancashire, but no references have been produced.

This idea of ‘equal responsibility’ permeates the campaign; indeed, if anything, it seems that responsibility for ‘looking out’ is being placed firmly and squarely on the person riding a bike. This ‘Let’s Look Out for Each Other’ item focuses entirely on people cycling, with some strange tips. How is wearing a helmet going to help the process of ‘looking out for each other’, beyond mitigating the consequences of inattention?

The Lancashire Police Facebook page shows a similarly odd desire to focus on the behaviour of one party. Over the last three days, they’ve been posting these pictures. See if you can spot a pattern.

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Only one of these – the last – is focused on drivers. The rest are aimed at people cycling, urging them to wear a helmet, get out of the way of people driving, or to make themselves increasingly visible. Indeed, the net effect of these exhortations is actually the opposite of ‘looking out’ – cladding people in reflective clothing is actually aimed at making it easier for motorists to be less attentive.

Yet more victim-blaming.


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20 Responses to Look Out!

  1. Mark Hewitt says:

    I don’t like the single file bit either – “busy roads” – define busy roads? In the eyes of the motorist this is very road? Around bends? Lots of roads which are nothing but bends, stupid advice.

    The point about lights is a valid one however. I’m lit up like a Christmas tree but how many others so I see with no lights at all. No reflectors on my clipless pedals so I suppose technically it’s illegal.

    • Sadly the single file nonsense is a straight lift from the Highway Code

    • Sadly being lit up like a Christmas tree is of no use if the motorist just isn’t paying attention. Often, in fact, not having lights is safer: people _really_ notice cyclists without lights on, and the theory of risk compensation then means they probably give them a nice wide berth. A well-lit cyclist looks like an expert, so there seems to be much less need to move out to pass them, they’ll probably be quite used to close-passing cars and lorries, and it probably doesn’t bother them.

      There might, I suppose, be some research into KSI rates for cyclists with and without lights after dark. My personal guess is that lights make very little difference: in street-lit areas unlit cyclists are still visible and very noticeable, on dark roads the unlit cyclists will tend to make sure they’re not in the way of motor vehicles, perhaps by riding on pavements, or pulling off the road when a motor approaches. That’s what I’ve done when my lights have failed, anyway.

      The other potential issue is that, in an emergency, drivers have a strong tendency to steer towards what they’re looking at. I was taught this, and learned how strong the tendency is, on a drivers’ skid pan course. We were practising avoiding traffic cones, and quickly learned that if you look at the cone you almost always end up hitting it: the secret is to look at the gap you want to drive through instead, then the steering takes care of itself and you miss the cone. So while being brightly lit will make you more visible, if something goes badly wrong that high visibility might possibly be a bad thing. I’d tend to suggest going for a “medium visibility” level, to match the surroundings – perhaps bright in heavy traffic and wet conditions, but be less bright on country lanes in the dry.

      The worst aspect is that the visibility thing has become an arms race. Car lights get brighter, so bike lights get brighter, so things that aren’t lit (such as trees, cows, horses, parked cars, etc.) get harder to see, especially in the wet. Drivers become almost blinded by the bright lights shining at them, a problem particularly for the elderly.

      • D. says:

        “The worst aspect is that the visibility thing has become an arms race”

        It’s true! The problem here is that many motorists really don’t see it (no pun intended), and I have had complaints (headlights being flashed at me) when I am cycling, because apparently my 150-300 lumens light is far too bright and blinding them (angled down, to strike the road c. 15 feet in front of me).

        Brighter headlights are making *their* journeys safer so they don’t notice any side-effects.

        And my car, when I’m not cycling, is vintage (1970), and I suffer exactly the same problem as pedestrians and cyclists, in that my old headlights cannot match the power of modern bulbs.

      • pm says:

        I reckon that second poster is an edited version. The original probably read:

        “It was quite dark on the dual carriageway tonight. Good job that cyclist’s lights were working as I don’t think I’d have seen him otherwise! Mind you, I drove into him anyway because I was making a call on the mobile and not really looking – but otherwise I’m certain the lights would have made all the difference”

  2. Neil says:

    Maybe 50% of the responsibility but 100% of the blame!

    Been following this safety campaign on Lancashire Police’s FB page and so far the only thing positive has been no posts mentioning “road tax”. Otherwise they’ve just been lazily cherry-picking the points from the Highway Code. It does seem by the number of posts that motorists really do get riled about groups of cyclists but being a commuter it’s not something I’ve experienced.

  3. Matt Turner says:

    Reminds me of “Be Bright, Be Seen” which South Yorkshire Police still use.

    There is a game on the website, you have to click quickly on the children crossing the road to ‘brighten them’ otherwise they get run over.


  4. Mike Evans says:

    Hey Mark, do you have an e-mail I could contact you on? Wanted to speak to you about an article i’m writing. Cheers

  5. You know, we could do with something as positive as this for Australian cycalists. On On Biking Mate

  6. In actual collisions who is to blame I don’t know. From my experience of both driving and cycling you see a lot of cyclists inadequately lit. From the BMX Bandits all in black, no lights at all exiting side roads straight across the carriageway and onto the pavement without looking, to cycling enthusiasts with bikes worth thousands and not willing to pay twenty pounds for a set of lights.
    It’s quite simple cyclists have a responsibility to be seen and position themselves on the road where they will be safe. That does not mean looking like something from an eighties exercise video or riding in the gutter, but not dressing all in black, poor lights lingering around the dark side of a sharp bend.
    Drivers need to be aware and just because it’s a sixty speed limit doesn’t mean it is safe to travel at that speed, there may be something around the corner, maybe another car that has broken down or badly parked.
    So yes, there is responsibility for both sides to use the roads safely and think about each others needs.

  7. Chris R says:

    “We’ll be making sure we leave cars enough room to pass”.

    Doesn’t this fly in the face of ‘taking the lane’, a (sadly necessary) technique to prevent being dangerous overtaken? I feel like when I take the lane (which I take no pleasure from) it makes drivers angry – this campaign could potentially make that worse.

    ‘Roads are for cars, get out of their way’ seems to be the message.

  8. James says:

    The message is always that we should share the roads but then there is often the thinly veiled sub-text that says “but we all know it’s really for cars so just stay out of their way”

    Look at this article from earlier this week. Another cyclist killed whilst riding in a Barclays Super Highway (i think we should remind people that Barclays sponsor these death traps). The final paragraph includes a quote from Gilligan


    “You have to cycle safely at all times. We can’t take responsibility for everyone’s safety.”

    Boris had already said that it was too early to know what had happened but it’s clear they already suspect that the cyclist was at fault.

  9. andrewrh says:

    Seems somewhat similar to the one Hampshire County Council did a few months back, which came in for criticism…

  10. Andrea says:

    Regarding the 50/50 spin, the BBC is equally guilty:
    What they do is add figures for children cycling; but since there are no children driving, it is a malicious obfuscation (not mentioning #NastyBritain’s notorious mistreatment of children => easy victim blaming).

  11. rdrf says:

    While I do take care to have correct lighting, I have to say that this whole thrust from the police, the “road safety” lobby and the DfT is, as you say, basically victim-blaming. It is very much part of the problem of relieving motorists of their responsibilities.

    It follows the central distortion of “road safety” ideology which equates mistakes/rule-breaking by the relatively non-dangerous to others with the mistakes/rule-breaking of those who pose a very real threat to other road users.

    I have done 3 posts on the RDRF web site on this subject recently (more to come soon) and I’m pleased that they have had more visits than for just about any other subject. The whole SMIDSY excuse – which is facilitated by this thrust on wearing hi-viz etc. by officials who should be dealing with safety on the road properly – is now being criticised by people such as this blog in a way which never used to happen.

    And that’s progress!

  12. D. says:

    Got doored on Wednesday. Passing a stationary (well, two feet – stop – two feet – stop) traffic queue on the inside, and just as I got to the marked cycle lane the front passenger door of a car in the queue flings wide open and I hit it. I think I did, anyway: next thing I know I’m lying on top of my bike on the pavement. Luckily, no serious damage to me or bike (some blood, some bent bits, but nothing not repairable).

    Point is – I was wearing hi-viz with reflective bits; reflective and hi-viz bits on my bike, proper headlight (on middle setting, so c.150 lumens, apparently (not sure what a lumen is, really)). And none of that was any help whatsoever, because the passenger getting out hadn’t actually looked at all, just thought “Oo – I’ll get out now as quickly as I can”.

    And a hundred yards back along the road was one of the those posters telling drivers to be careful when opening their doors 🙂

    When will we have “mutual respect” traffic campaigns which actually focus properly on all of the different modes, rather than telling us cyclists to be careful? I AM careful, but I cannot anticipate the negligence of every single idiot out there!

  13. D. says:

    Has everyone seen this article on road.cc – http://road.cc/content/news/98467-lightless-cyclist-locked-lancashire-police – looks like Lancs Police are taking it all *very* seriously.

  14. Christine jones says:

    Do you remember when you could open train doors before the train stopped? How everyone knew not to but someone always did? I remember seeing the Waterloo train get into Reading and every door was open as soon as you saw the train come into sight about a quater of a mile before it even got to the end of the platform.
    My point is that when it comes to public transport every effort is made to improve safety, included perceived safety. The only exception being travelling late at night as a woman on your own – there’s rarely a reassuring member of staff any more. When there’s an accident on a train they have a pit of money to investigate it and make sure it never happens again.
    When it comes to road safety, they make it harder to die in a car but have made things like on street parking (the equivalent of trains with doors that open while the train is moving?) a normal thing. This is much less common in NL, certainly on trunk roads. By putting cycle paths, there is nowhere to abandon a car.
    I’m sure we can all think of examples of ways highways could follow the example of train companies when it comes to lessoning risk of injury or death.
    I wish we as cyclists could be actually holding highways and the police to account in the way the train companies have to be accountable for their passengers safety. I think this would be the only way to put an end to the victim blaming.

  15. Fred says:

    Why not also state: if you drive and text, or speak on your phone, we will arrest you! I see it all the time. Not sure how having a spare inner tube prevents accidents…

  16. Thank you for posting this. It was exactly what I needed today!

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