Friday, 8 January 2010

Perceptive comments on safety

Via the Waltham Forest blog, I was made aware of the very perceptive comments of someone using the name "BikingBernie" on the bikeradar website. I recommend taking a look at both links.

There is more at those links, but to whet your taste, here's a segment of J.S. Dean's 1947 book 'Murder most foul: a study of the road deaths problem' as quoted by BikingBernie:

A vicious circle has been created. The more the drivers kill and maim the more right they become and the more right they become the more dangerously they drive. Or, to put the position from the opposite side, the more the non-drivers, and especially the pedestrians, are killed and maimed, the more this is proof of their carelessness and refusal to be "educated" and the more this is accepted the less care is taken by the drivers to avoid them, and this is applied to the youngest children and the oldest and most infirm persons... As a nation we are placed in the grotesque position of being forced to listen to and practice the degrading gospel of "Safety First" merely for the purpose of increasing the danger. There is no end to the process and there can be no end. Thus, it was not enough that the "responsibility" for child accidents should be placed on the children: the attempt is now being made to place it on their absent parents and guardians: as if more than a fraction of the nation's children or practically any of those of the working class can be accompanied more than very rarely in the streets, and as if parents and guardians generally did not live in a condition of perpetual misery and anxiety because of the dangers to their children. The "education" campaign that refuses to rebuke the drivers for breaking the law rebukes the parents when their children are killed or maimed.

.... In the first place this "education" is the worst possible training for the children as the drivers of the future since it teaches them to believe that the driver is the master of the road and that the only role for the other road-users, including the youngest children and the oldest and most infirm persons, is to keep out of his way and that if they are killed or maimed through not doing so this is something they deserve, Much of the motor slaughter may, indeed, be traced directly to the yearly appearance on the roads of young drivers brought up in this evil and destructive belief. Secondly, it is the worst possible training for the children as the citizens of the future, i.e. that they should be taught to accept the spectacle of the motor slaughter, with all its implications. as normal and as something to which they must submit without question. The spectacle of children passing from, one classroom where they have been told about the "great traditions of British freedom" to another where a police officer tells them that unless they keep out of the way of the motorist they will be killed or maimed and, by implication, will deserve to be, is neither pleasant not encouraging.

...The question of the general effects of this "education" on the minds of young children hardly lies within the scope of this work, but brief reference to it may be made:

A simple child
That lightly draws her breath
And feels her life in every limb,
What should she know of death?

Everything, say the "education" propagandists. Put the idea of death and destruction deep into their minds. Never let them forget it. Fill their lives with it. Teach them fear. Make them frightened and keep them frightened.

9 comments:

sheffield cycle chic said...

I read J.S. Dean's 1947 book 'Murder most foul: a study of the road deaths problem' a few years ago and it is a very perceptive and information packed read, with some fascinating historical insights on the influences of the Nazi's obsession with speed on road design. There is a whole section on the dubious relationship of ROSPA in the UK with the motoring lobby which is a bit of an eye-opener too! Personally, I think it is a book every cyclist should read. However, I tried to look for this book again on the web to read it again a few months back and all the links to the file appear to be corrupt. If someone can find a link that works or if anyone knows if it is possible to purchase a hard copy I would love to know.

freewheeler said...

RoadPeace reprinted the book fairly recently. They may have copies left.

Dean's book was a big influence on a more recent critique of the 'road safety' industry, namely Robert Davis's Death on the Streets (Leading Edge Press, 1992). Unfortunately it is now out of print but it is well worth getting hold of a second-hand copy if you can.

It's a pity the vast sums squandered on films to educate cyclists about climate change and other such nonsense isn't more usefully channelled into republishing these two brilliant and fact-packed books. They are essential reading for cycling campaigners.

Taliesin said...

Looking at some of the UK government's road safety ads targeted at children, things haven't changed mutch in the last 62 years, but at least nobody dies on screen :(

DfT Tales of the Road - The Girl Who Didnt Dress Bright
DfT: Tales of the Road new TV ad
Think! - The Boy Who Didn't Look for a Safe Place to Cross

It is all good advice, but still teaching children to expect the bad behaviour of adults.

Sue 'sans' helmet said...

sounds like chilling reading - i shall look out for copies - thanks for the leads

Mark said...

I have a lot of difficulty understanding any of this.
So far from how things are to me as a Dutch cyclist and driver.

When I was taking lessons for my driver's license in 1984, a road safety ad first appeared on Dutch TV. It ran for years and years! Even after all this time it is still very powerful and puts the blame of an accident entirely on the driver.

This makes very clear how the Dutch were imprinted.

Dutch Road Safety Ad

The final text in the ad: "children play; take that into consideration".

So yes of course we warn kids here to behave safely in traffic too. But we do not hesitate to put the responsibility where it should be: with the drivers. I thought this was universal...

Mark said...

And what about this one?

Dutch Road Safety Ad (1990s)

Final text: "Just imagine what it would be like to be responsible for that -- drive alcohol free."

Makes the Dutch mind set very clear.

Anonymous said...

Hi David

Looking for J.S. Dean's book I found this article on Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_traffic_safety

and learned about the woonerf and shared space concepts under the Alternative approaches subtitle.

"At least one town, Hesselterbrink in the Netherlands has become disillusioned with the way the woonerf principle...They have now encompassed the shared space principles in favour of the woonerf."

Here is an interesting video about shared space in Hanoi:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oetF3UTIwbc
(no lights, no lanes, etc.) Interestingly Vietnam is not mentioned in the shared space article as a living example:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shared_space

I'd like to ask your opinion about these things.

greetings from Hungary

David Hembrow said...

Anonymous: Like many wikipedia articles about roads or cycling, the article you link to is not very neutral. In fact, it even has a comment at the top asking for help to re-write it.

With Vietnam I'm afraid you've really got the wrong end of the stick. Sadly, Vietnam has one of the worst road safety rates in the world. They have over 11000 deaths a year on those badly designed roads. It's not a place to look to for guidance in how to keep road users safe.

We do have areas of the modern "shared space" over here, and I've written about it before. To summarize what you can read at that link, it's not at all popular with local residents or with cyclists because it returns the law of the jungle - "might is right" to the roads of the Netherlands. "Shared Space" was an experiment which didn't really work out as intended.

The Netherlands has the world's safest roads, but this did not come about due to the very small part of the country which is shared space.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, the situation is much clearer for me now.