Year End News Wrap Up

This article covers the news items that have appeared in the last couple of weeks that will be of interest to drivers:

Cycle Licensing. The Government has rejected a petition to introduce identification for cycle and e-scooter riders – in effect a licensing system. This was signed by over 10,000 people amid growing concerns about the behaviour or cyclists, particularly in major cities such as London, and the illegal use of e-scooters. The Government thinks it would be too expensive and licensing would deter cycling. See https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/585474?reveal_response=yes#response-threshold

Comment: This is an example of where more signatures might have been obtained, and a more positive response from the Government, if the petition had been more carefully worded. Other countries have introduced registration systems for cyclists in the past but often abandoned them subsequently because of the high costs of administration. But an on-line registration system might be very low cost. There should be no qualification or ability test system, but the ability to identify cyclists after involvement in an accident is important.

Bus Lanes in London.  Transport for London (TfL) have announced that the conversion of bus lanes to operate 24 hours per day has been made permanent. They say that this change that was introduced on some routes recently has improved bus journey times. For the announcement, see: https://tfl-newsroom.prgloo.com/news/tfl-press-release-24-hour-bus-lanes-trial-set-to-become-permanent-as-bus-journey-times-improve

Comment: Of course the recent reduction in bus journey times might have been down to overall traffic reduction as more people worked from home and avoided shopping during the epidemic. Bus lanes are discriminatory in that they favour one transport mode over another for no good reason and do not necessarily maximise the use of road space or the number of people carried. The photograph from the TfL Press Release above shows how underutilised are many bus lanes.

Driver Distraction. There is growing concern about the number of accidents caused by driver distraction. This is not just people using their mobile phones to call or send/receive text messages but using other in-car devices such as satnav systems. An extreme example is the ability of passengers to use touch-screen displays in Tesla vehicles for “gameplay” which is now being investigated by US safety body NHTSA – see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-59760366

Comment: As in-car electronic devices have proliferated and more control options have been provided, it’s become more complex over recent years and inexperienced drivers are the most easily distracted. This certainly requires some investigation because “failed to notice” is a big cause of accidents according to police reports. It may be worth considering whether satnav and infotainment systems should be controllable only when a vehicle is stationary.

ABD Ejected. The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) has been thrown out of PACTS (the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety) apparently due to the issue of an injudicious tweet. The ABD claims this is down to pressure from “anonymous extreme cycling lobby trolls” but that is a typical unwise comment from ABD Directors and was one reason why I tried to get some changes made in the ABD and am no longer connected with them. PACTS may be an ineffective organisation in promoting transport safety with poor leadership but association with the extremists at the ABD is becoming something no responsible organisation wishes to be linked to.

Car Insurance Costs. One positive change in the New Year for car drivers is that insurers will no longer be able to charge a different rate for new customers to old ones. So renewals should not automatically rise as they have done in the past.

Comment: This should ensure that we do not have to waste time looking at alternative quotes to avoid being stiffed by insurers reliance on our apathy. However despite Willis Towers Watson claiming that insurance rates are at a six year low, my quote to renew insurance was increased by 7% this week. That’s despite my 22 years of no claims bonus and nothing of significance otherwise in recent years. I will be shopping around for an alternative quote. I expected my insurance to fall as I have been driving less in the last two years due to the pandemic and that is generally true of the wider population so accidents have fallen.

Postscript: I got an alternative insurance quotation and managed to cut the cost by £99 from the proposed renewal cost so switched to Saga who I have used in the past. A most efficient on-line quotation system. The moral is that it still pays to shop around.

Croydon Streetspace Schemes and Governance. The London Borough of Croydon is pushing ahead with its Streetspace schemes despite very strong local opposition – see https://news.croydon.gov.uk/next-phase-of-walking-and-cycling-schemes-approved/ . But Croydon residents have also voted to move to a directly elected Mayor which shows the dissatisfaction with the way the borough has been run recently.

Comment: I am not sure this will make a big difference. In Lewisham who have a directly elected Mayor we still see extreme and unwise policies being promoted by the Mayor.

Conclusion. What does the new year hold for private motorists? Probably more prejudice as extreme cyclists continue to dominate policy and the Government’s net zero policies prejudice all private transport. Irrationality continues to be rampant with no proper cost/benefit analysis of new policies or projects.

There is unfortunately a decline in moderation in all politics so we see rushed decisions being taken about responses to the pandemic including using it as an excuse to close roads. We all need to return to sanity and not let the extremists dominate debate.

The Freedom for Drivers Foundation is trying to promote rational and moderate policies so please support us in doing so.

Roger Lawson

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Bromley Road Safety Record Beats Most Others

The London Borough of Bromley publishes a newsletter for residents. The latest edition contains a very interesting article comparing the road safety record of Bromley with other south-east London boroughs. The table below was included in the article.

It is particularly noticeable how much better Bromley has been at improving road safety than adjacent boroughs such as Lewisham or Croydon. The borough of Croydon spent millions of pounds on wide-area 20 mph speed limits, clearly with minimal impact when they could have spent it on more targeted measures. Likewise Lewisham imposed 20 limits across the whole borough but have lagged behind in reducing casualties.

In 2020 Bromley reduced KSIs from 107 to 77 which may only be partly explained by the reduction in traffic from epidemic lock-downs.

Keep up the good work Bromley!

But boroughs such as Lewisham and Croydon are driven by dogma which undermines a lot of sensible road safety improvements. Will they ever learn? Perhaps only when more intelligent councillors are elected and more reliance is placed on expert officer opinions with adequate budgets.

Roger Lawson

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Vision Zero Failing But The Mayor Thinks Otherwise

Transport for London (TfL) have issued a press release on the progress in achieving “Vision Zero” – the plan to achieve zero deaths on London’s roads. See link below for the details. But the progress report makes it clear that since the launch of this initiative in 2018, progress has been negligible. The object of zero road deaths is never going to be achieved based on the reported data.

The chart above shows the trends in Killed and Seriously Injured (KSIs) in the last few years taken from the Vision Zero report. From 2013 to 2019 there was some minor improvement and in 2020 a big improvement for most transport modes probably due to reduced traffic from Covid lockdowns including more working from home. But there was also a rise in cyclist KSIs as the number cycling increased.

It is not at all clear that the policies promoted in Vision Zero are of any benefit at all, particularly the focus on lower speed limits. The latter includes more 20 mph limits and more enforcement by the police.

What is the reaction to the progress report? TfL proposes more 20 limits, more buses to be fitted with ISA to ensure they comply, and more resources for the Metropolitan Police to enable them to enforce up to one million offences by 2024/2025. Unfortunately this is all misconceived and won’t achieve the desired outcome because excess speed above the speed limit is a relatively minor contributory factor based on police reports.

See the most recent figures in the table below published by the DfT which shows exceeding the speed limit is only present as a factor in 7% of accidents and a lot of those accidents might be attributable to criminal behaviour of other kinds.

Spending large resources on speed limit setting and enforcement is arguably misconceived when if that same money was spent on road engineering or driver education there would be more impact on accident reduction.

It is interesting to see the individual London borough figures given on page 13 of the Progress Report. Those boroughs that have shown the biggest improvement in road safety since the 2005-2009 baseline are Kensington, Westminster, Bexley and Bromley while those with 20 limits and speed humps everywhere such as Lewisham are behind. That just shows that the boroughs with a more enlightened approach and less dogma such as Bromley have actually done better.

The Progress Report does contain some interesting comments on the problems of the increases in cycling, motorcycling (mainly for delivering goods), and illegal e-scooters which are contributing to rising casualty rates. It is also suggested that the increase in large SUVs is not helping.

But they don’t seem to be proposing any measures to halt the danger from e-scooters to the riders themselves and to pedestrians on pavements where they ride with abandon.

In summary the press release and the progress report are yet more missed opportunities to improve road safety in a substantial way in London.

Roger Lawson

Vision Zero press release: https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/safety-and-security/road-safety/vision-zero-for-london

Vision Zero action plan progress report: https://content.tfl.gov.uk/vision-zero-action-plan-progress-report-2021.pdf

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Transport Committee Reports on Smart Motorways

Parliament’s Transport Committee have published a report following their inquiry into Smart Motorways (those where the hard shoulder is turned into a running lane).

There is grave concern among the motoring public about the safety of such roads which were introduced a few years ago without any real evidence on their safety. There were 15 deaths on motorways without a hard shoulder in 2019 and several coroner’s reports criticised the safety of these roads.

The Transport Committee recommends more emergency refuge areas, an inquiry by the Office of Rail and Road into the effectiveness of stopped vehicle technology and revisions to the Highway Code. But it is unclear whether these changes will have any significant impact on the safety of such roads.

The National Highways organisation (formerly Highways England) are even running an expensive advertising campaign telling drivers to “Go Left” if they breakdown. This makes sense if there is a hard shoulder, a nearby exit or a nearby refuge area, but otherwise if there is not it simply puts the vehicle into the left-hand lane typically occupied by HGVs. This is the most dangerous position to be in as such heavy vehicles will demolish small cars and likely kill the occupants.

This is surely a misconceived piece of advice in response to concerns about accidents on motorways.

Comment: Smart motorways have been introduced as a way to maximise traffic capacity without spending more money on widening motorways. In other words, road safety has been compromised on the alter of economics. There was never a proper cost/benefit analysis of smart motorways which are expensive to introduce and manage.

All lane running also creates problems for the police and other emergency services when accessing accidents because typically all lanes are blocked when an incident occurs and there is no hard shoulder.

As with LTNs, the Department for Transport seems to be poorly led, produces policies which are irrational, and in this case dangerous.

We suggest that the expansion in the number of Smart Motorways should be halted and more money spent on improving road capacity by other means.

Transport Committee Report:  https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/7703/documents/80447/default/  

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Latest Road Casualty Data

The Government has published the latest annual road casualty data for Great Britain. This does include of course periods (April to June and November in 2020) when the country was in lockdown from the coronavirus pandemic and when travel of all kinds was reduced. So the figures may not be typical – they do include a separate analysis of the impact of lockdown.

There were 1,460 reported road deaths and 23,529 KSI (Killed and Seriously Injured) which are substantial reductions on prior years – see chart above of fatal trends. Fatalities reduced by 17% over the prior year and KSIs by 22% when road traffic reduced by 21%, i.e. there was no significant difference assuming accidents directly relate to traffic volumes although anecdotally increases in traffic speed were reported during lockdowns.

Total casualties, including slight ones, were down by 25% although that might be due to less reporting and changes to the way data was collected by the police using Stats19 forms. Although adjustments were made to allow for the latter, people may have been less willing to visit police stations to report slight injuries during the pandemic.

Cycling casualties rise

One anomaly in the data is that there was a substantial increase in the number of cyclist deaths – up by 41% to 141 from 2019. Presumably this might be because of encouragement to cycle during the pandemic or more inexperienced cyclists on the roads. Other data suggests there was some increase in cycling in 2020 particularly during the summer months although whether that continued into 2021 is not clear.

Politicians and civil servants should be aware that encouraging cycling does lead to more deaths and injuries to cyclists, i.e. it’s not a risk free move. Cycling is still very much a minority interest for most journeys but as more people worked from home and had more leisure time for cycling this may account for the change in numbers.

Bus casualties fall

Another significant change during 2020 was the reduction in bus casualties by 51%. Many such accidents are caused by the elderly or disabled falling over in buses and as they were probably being wary of using public transport during the pandemic that may account for this change. For similar reasons there were greater reductions in casualties in those aged up to 16 and over 60 as they travelled less.

In summary, there was a welcome reduction in overall casualties last year but that was almost certainly down simply to reductions in travel on our roads.

See https://tinyurl.com/j3wr9ccr for more details.

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Proposed Changes to the Highway Code

There has been some controversy about the proposed changes to the Highway Code with some pro-motoring groups complaining they are both prejudicial and dangerous. See the Daily Mail coverage in the link below for examples.

But are the proposed changes so unreasonable? They do give more priority to pedestrians and cyclists, such as at junctions, but the proposals are not that different to what may already be common practice in reality. Giving way to pedestrians who are crossing at side roads is not unreasonable and giving priority to cyclists who are travelling straight ahead at junctions is hardly a big imposition.

The Code includes specific advice now about passing distances when overtaking cyclists which will clarify what you should allow. But bear in mind that most of the Highway Code is advisory and does not necessarily have the force of law.

The new Code does put some more obligations on motorists but is also puts more on cyclists. For example it warns against passing pedestrians closely at high speed. But it also says “[cyclists’ should] ride in single file when drivers wish to overtake and it is safe to let them do so. When riding in larger groups on narrow lanes, it is sometimes safer to ride two abreast”. The last part of that paragraph may be arguable but is certainly likely to cause frustration to drivers so that is one thing to which I would object. Likewise where it suggests cyclists should position themselves in the centre of the lane at junctions.

The Code also recommends the use of the “Dutch Reach” when moving out from the side of the road, but that is neither practical for some people in some vehicles nor necessary when wing mirrors are properly set and used.

The Code introduces a hierarchy of road users which ensures that those road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others. This is surely not unreasonable is it?

The new Code has not yet been finalised and could do with some minor improvements but on the whole, I suggest that it is not unreasonable. You can read about the proposed changes in detail from the link below.

Will the new Code make a big change to road user behaviour? Very unlikely as most drivers have never re-read it since they originally passed their driving test and most cannot remember what it says. Cyclists have no obligation to even read the Code which is a great pity. There is more clamour for cyclists to be licensed than ever before as they so often ignore traffic lights and Highway Code rules so a test for cyclists to ensure they know the Code would surely be a good idea.

Daily Mail Article: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9841809/Highway-Code-changes-cyclists-given-rights-motorists-junctions.html

Proposed Highway Code Changes: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/review-of-the-highway-code-to-improve-road-safety-for-cyclists-pedestrians-and-horse-riders/summary-of-the-consultation-proposals-on-a-review-of-the-highway-code

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Do LTNs Cut Accidents?

A study on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) by Anna Goodman et al, which has been widely reported by the Guardian and the Mayor of London, suggests that road casualties have fallen dramatically in London after LTNs were introduced. The fall is as much as 50% overall with large falls in pedestrian casualties.

One might say that if roads are closed and traffic reduced (the main objective of LTNs by their advocates although the Covid epidemic was used as the excuse to do so) then accidents are bound to fall. On the logic that the end justifies the means then to reduce the high road casualty toll, all roads should be closed. But that would not be very practical.

But if you look at the study, you will realise that it is hardly a scientifically accurate study of the impact of LTNs.

The key measure to look at when considering road accidents is the Killed and Seriously Injured (KSIs) where the data in this study seems to be very small, as minor injuries can suffer from under reporting. That is particularly so in the pandemic as people would be reluctant to visit police stations to report accidents.

In addition it seems a lot of the reduction is to pedestrians who were probably much reduced, particularly on busy shopping streets where most casualties take place, because of the pandemic. Few people were going shopping other than via the internet during the pandemic (many shops were closed), and the elderly and young, who are most prone to road accidents were particularly avoiding going out (schools were closed for example). The data has not been adjusted to take account of these factors.

The other issue is that road safety professionals consider that a three-year before and three-year after comparison is best used when considering the impact of road changes. This is because if road layouts are changed there tends to be a significant but only short-term impact on road user behaviour.

This is very selective data over a short period of time and not likely to reflect longer term trends. It is a great pity that Sadiq Khan has promoted this report without thinking. There are many good reasons why LTNs are opposed by the majority of people and LTNs are not a good way to reduce road accidents. All such simplistic solutions will fail because the reasons for accidents are complex and scientific studies need to have proper “controls” in place before conclusions are drawn. In this study, why were pedestrian casualties much reduced while other types were not and what features of the LTNs may have reduced accidents? There are several ways to implement LTNs but the report tells us nothing about those issues.

Reference: https://findingspress.org/article/25633-impacts-of-2020-low-traffic-neighbourhoods-in-london-on-road-traffic-injuries 

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Speed Awareness Courses to be Made Legal?

One of the aspects of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (see Reference 1 below) that is currently going through Parliament and which has largely gone unreported is Section 67 which covers education courses as an alternative to prosecution for motoring offences.

We have pointed out previously that the offer of speed awareness courses was likely to be illegal. It’s a perversion of justice to waive prosecution on payment of a sum of money, and there is no evidence that attending such a course has any impact on road safety. See Reference 2 below for a web site that gives a full explanation.

The new Bill does at least bring the use of such courses into law and allows the Secretary of State to regulate them. However it permits the police to set a fee that is higher than the cost of providing the course. Any such excess must be used for the purpose of promoting road safety, but that does include the provision of more speed cameras and police to operate them. So the gravy train of the industry of speed enforcement will continue, if not expand even further.

In conclusion, this will remain a dubious practice, with money driving the schemes not road safety.

Roger Lawson

Reference 1: https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/2839

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More Changes at Bank

The City of London Corporation have been working assiduously to remove all traffic from London’s streets in the last couple of years regardless of the impact on residents, businesses and visitors. Bank Junction has already been subjected to severe restrictions on all vehicles except buses and cycles, thus effectively closing this key junction in the centre of the City. Even taxis have been excluded much to the annoyance of taxi drivers. The Corporation are now proposing to go a step further and close more of the roads, even to buses.

The latest changes include the following:

  • The closure of Threadneedle Street to motor vehicles that runs along the south of the Bank of England.
  • The closure of Queen Victoria Street between Bucklersbury and Bank Junction for motor vehicles, except those vehicles exiting Walbrook in a westbound direction.
  • Closing Princes Street except for buses and cycles northbound; and except as a route for servicing to Cornhill in a southbound direction.

It includes proposals for widening pavements around the junction which the road closures will enable (artist’s impression above). Bus routes will also have to be changed.

For more details and to respond to a public consultation go here: https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/services/streets/all-change-at-bank-project

Comment: It was certainly the case that Bank Junction was a problem on two grounds: 1) the volume of pedestrians using the junction with the station being enlarged when pavements are very narrow (at least until the recent epidemic); and 2) as regards road safety with frequent casualties including fatalities. The complex nature of the junction with many buses passing through it and high pedestrian traffic were partly to blame.

It therefore was not unreasonable to look at simplifying the junction to enable more pedestrian space and improve the environment. However, the removal of all traffic was very damaging to the road network in the City of London, and has caused traffic to simply move to other roads with additional congestion.  

The latest changes do not improve matters but will make things worse. For example if Threadneedle Street is to be closed it should also be closed to cyclists to avoid conflicts with pedestrians.

Please respond to the public consultation if you have an interest in these roads.

Roger Lawson

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Active Travel and Road Safety – The Facts

There has been a big push to encourage people to take up “active travel” in the last few years, i.e. to cycle or walk on the premise that this will improve their health. It is hoped that this will relieve pressure on public transport and reduce traffic congestion by getting people out of their cars. So the Mayor of London’s Transport Strategy that he adopted focussed on this well before the latest attempts to encourage active travel in response to the Covid-19 epidemic.

How successful has this strategy been and what are the unintended consequences?

The latest figures available from the Department for Transport (DfT) in their National Travel Survey for 2019 showed no change in the number of stages cycled and an actual fall in the average distance cycled from 58 to 54 miles. The number of stages walked also fell from 347 in 2018 to 332. Cycling remained very much a male dominated travel mode – they made 3 times as many cycle trips as women.

There was little change in the road casualty statistics in 2019. The number of people killed was 1,748. Despite sharp falls in the number prior to 2010, the figures plateaued in the 2010s. The DfT suggests that any changes in recent years are simply random variations (only 2% down in 2019). There has of course been some increase in traffic volumes in the last few years but the results are still very disappointing.

Although overall casualty figures fell by 5% in 2019, this data is probably an under-estimate as it is known that slight casualties are under-reported and recent pressures on police resources mean even fewer are reported with police forces not even turning out to attend many road traffic accidents.

We have been claiming for some time that the failure to bring down casualties is due to defects in road safety policies. For example a concentration on automated speed enforcement rather than spending money on road engineering and education. The encouragement of cycling may not have helped either. These are the relative figures for fatalities per billion miles travelled using different transport modes:

Motorcycling: 113.3

Walking: 34.1

Cycling: 29.4

Car use: 1.8

HGV use: 0.9

Bus use: 0.6

Van use: 0.6

A new negative trend may soon appear if E-Scooters are widely adopted as they appear to be positively dangerous. The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) recently said this: “From evidence and experience around the world, it is now very clear that the public benefits of [e-scooters] are illusory and the disbenefits substantial, at least in a European context”. They oppose the current trials and wider legislation to support them. Very few car trips apparently transfer to e-scooter use and they also are not “active travel”.

They are also a particular danger to pedestrians when ridden on the pavement which is happening all over London at present with the police doing very little to stop it.

What have been the changes in transport modes prompted by the Covid-19 epidemic?  They have been substantial, particularly in London. Underground and London bus usage has fallen greatly as more people worked from home which is why the Mayor and TfL have financial difficulties as income has fallen while the network has not been reduced. Nationwide cycling rose by as much as 300% on some days in the first couple of months (April/May) over the start of the year. The weather does of course have a big impact on cycle use which has been relatively benign in recent months and summer makes cycling more enjoyable. Cycle use rises sharply during weekends and bank holidays which suggests it is dominated by “leisure” and “exercise” use, particularly as gyms and sports venues have been closed. But the cycling numbers are now reverting to more normal levels. You can see the data for different modes during the epidemic here: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/transport-use-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic   

Car use fell very substantially during the first few weeks of the epidemic but that has also reverted to near normal levels across the country. Any big increases in traffic congestion in London are surely due to the road closures and removal of road space by cycle and bus lanes using Covid-19 as an excuse.

Comment: The fear of gridlock on the roads as people avoided public transport is not born out by the facts. They have mainly avoided travelling altogether. As people have learned to work from home, it is clear that the demand for central London offices will fall, and the number of commuters may never recover to previous levels. Why should TfL maintain a network of bus and underground services at previous levels when the passengers are much reduced? Any commercial business would cut services to match demand because to do otherwise leads to bankruptcy. That is what will happen to London’s transport services unless the Government bows to Sadiq Khan’s demands for more cash to keep it afloat. The Government should ignore such requests and force TfL to adapt to the new world rather than waste the taxes we all pay.  

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