Thursday, 28 June 2012

Safety in Numbers

Does the CTC's cycling campaign, "Saftety in Numbers", make any sense?

Quote A:
"The emphasis must now be on tackling the fears that prevent people from cycling more or not cycling at all. This can be done by: improving driver behaviour, creating more welcoming and cycle-friendly streets and giving people the confidence to cycle more. This will be good not only for our health, but also for streets, communities and the environment."
Quote B:
  1. Drivers grow more aware of cyclists and become better at anticipating their behaviour. 
  2. Drivers are also more likely to be cyclists themselves, which means that they are
    more likely to understand how their driving may affect other road users.
  3. More people cycling leads to greater political will to improve conditions for cyclists.
Quote C:
"Research suggests that a doubling of cycling would lead to a reduction in the risks of cycling by around a third, ie. the increase in cycle use is far higher than the increase in cyclists’ casualties."
The idea is that more people cycling will somehow begin to influence drivers and how they interact cyclists. This idea by itself is flawed imo! Why? Because at present the number of routine cyclists is very small compared to the number of people who routinely drive. Hence, any increase in the number of cyclists has very little influence on the number of unsafe drivers.

For example lets assume that in one particular year 98% of all journeys are done by motor vehicle and the other 2 % are done by push bike. If the following year the number of rountine cyclists were to increase 2 fold then you would have 4% cyclists, and 96% drivers. But that doesn't mean safety increases!

If in the first year if you had 100 deaths, then in the next year you would expect the number of deaths to be 100 x (4/2) x (96/98) = 196 deaths. i.e. simply doubled.

The idea that drivers becoming cyclists would make things safer is a fallacy because it doesn't reduce the number of unsafe drivers by any significant amount. In the animal world safety in numbers usually means some other bugger is more likely to cop it. It does not mean a reduction in the number of predators.

In addition, where is the evidence that increasing the number of cyclists increases the competence of drivers? There are three possibilities that I can see in how drivers would respond to an increase in cycling. First there is the driver who is completely unaffected, and they would continue to drive in the same manner, whether that be dangerous or courteously. Second, there is the "bigot" driver who becomes more infuriated by seeing ever increasing numbers of cyclists in their way, and may in fact become more dangerous as a result. Thirdly, there is the driver who might, as the CTC hope, recongnise that the number of cyclists is increasing and begin improving their driving.

I think the last one is actually not as pertinent as the CTC hopes, because any driver showing an increased empathy towards cyclists was probably already a safer driver than the average. But crucially what would this mystical improvement be? Most drivers don't understand why cyclists ride primary, and don't always realise that overtaking a cyclist should be avoided at pinch points and when turning left. So how would they magically improve without proper education. The first quote, "improving driver behaviour", is the only thing that makes sense to me in this campaign, and would in my opinion lead to less deaths and accidents. However, over the years I have seen very little evidence to support that drivers are becoming more aware of cyclists.

However, we would get more cyclists if there was proper infrastructure.

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