Make road safety sustainable and beneficial to everyone.

Where's the sustainable safety?

It’s a high price to pay for being human and fallible.

Although the message behind this ‘road safety’ campaign is one of, ‘we all need to take care on our roads’, the image leaves you in no doubt that it is the pedestrian that is being targeted for special mention. It was surely devised by people who have little or no understanding of the subtleties of human psychology and its relevance to road safety. Old school traffic engineers have got their fingerprints all over this. Thankfully this campaign is not being used any longer. But that’s not to say that our roads have become safer. Priority is still given to moving as many cars through the city as quickly as possible.

The transport environment in its current physical and cultural form is very hostile. Particularly to those who choose to walk or ride a bicycle.

In the above scenario we are encouraged to believe that all ‘road users’, whether they be motorists, pedestrians, young or old, male or female, are required to take more care. The responsibility to take care is shared equitably. But in reality, it is the pedestrian who pays with his/her life or a lifetime of disability and the motorist who suffers a lifetime of remorse. Typically. The major flaw in this kind of thinking is the major imbalance in the relationship. The imbalance being referred to is that of the massive steel killing machine that motorists cocoon themselves in when it comes in contact with a human being.

So the incentive being offered to pedestrians for taking care is the improved odds of not being killed by a motorist. That can not be described as an effective strategy for reducing the number of people killed or maimed as a result of traffic ‘accidents’. But to avoid pissing off the motorist, it is a safer option to publicly share the blame and responsibility for road deaths equally on motorists and pedestrians alike. (There is an uncanny resemblance to one of those bloody awful ‘share the road’ opinion pieces that people on bicycles have to endure).

But there is some good news. There are cities around the world that have gone beyond this cautionary/punitive approach and are successfully reducing car v people conflicts. (Euphemism intended). It probably comes as no surprise that these cities are also full of people riding bicycles for daily use. Nor will it come as a surprise to hear that it is the Dutch who are the world leaders at this.

The Dutch have taken the issue of human fallibility to heart and worked out how a city’s roads need to be designed and operated. This approach means the issue of human fallibility is completely removed from the issue of road safety. It’s called ‘Sustainable Safety’. Transport infrastructure and policies are designed around the needs of the most vulnerable. Sustainable safety is about preventing those mistakes from occurring; not about punishing people for making mistakes. It’s about taking all the risk and potential for error out of the environment. If motorists are having to brake aggressively for an inattentive pedestrian, it is an issue of speed or road design that needs to be addressed, not inattentive (read – ‘bloody’) pedestrians.

A city will be a better place, economically and socially, if it is a place where people are treated as the hosts and motorists as the invited guests who abide by specific rules and guidelines on how to behave.

So while cities try to deal with road safety by focusing on stuff like making the wearing of bicycle helmets compulsory, offering cycle safety training, encouraging the use of hi-viz clothing and producing valueless road safety campaigns, all the changes that would make a significant improvement continue to be overlooked. The motor industry is playing with our collective minds and we don’t even realise it.

Sustainable safety has the potential to become a guiding principle of road design in our cities. To make our roads safer and more user friendly for all road users. It has the makings of an excellent campaign initiative. Rather than focusing narrowly on campaigning for the construction of separated cycle paths for a narrow interest group like cyclists, why not focus on something that has the potential to open up the issue of road safety to everyone? Campaigning for ‘Sustainable Safety’ has more chance of getting mass support because it would have a positive impact on all citizens rather than just cyclists.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

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