Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Car mad Britain - and its effect on children

A few news stories from Britain caught my eye this week. The first involves a father who has been driving behind his child who walks to school in order to try to keep him safe.

This is as fine an example of a lack of Subjective Safety on the roads of the UK as you're likely to see. Children should be safe to travel on their own, especially by the time they're 11 years of age. However, perhaps there is another way:

Another story I spotted was a story about a rise in driving lessons for children aged 11 and up. A spokesperson from one of the companies involved, Kim Stanton, from Young Driver, said: "We are teaching youngsters the vital skills they are going to need in later life to drive.

Also from the article: 'Brian Mooney, from the Association of British Drivers, said he thought it was a very good idea. "Anything that gets young people accustomed to the car and a bit of responsibility and co-ordinating movements, is a good thing..."'

"Vital skills", getting "young people accustomed to the car". Where can this lead:

A primary school in Cambridge has decided to support a campaign to stop a road (which they're not even on) being transformed to be better for cycling, "due to concerns about where parents will leave their cars when they drop off and collect their children."

The photo shows what the very same school looked like when we took our children there, by foot, five years ago. Neither the police nor the school authorities appeared to have any interest in the problems caused by such parking, and it can only have got worse in the last five years with such car centric attitudes. There are more photos.

The short sighted stupidity of this is quite incredible. I mentioned a few days ago that cycling and walking rates by children were plummeting in the UK while the rate of children driven to school has risen. Is it any surprise that this is happening when even schools are amongst those working against children walking and cycling to school ?

A few weeks ago, I blogged about how schools here are implementing stopping bans specifically to avoid this sort of situation from ever occurring.

And of course there are plenty of other posts on this blog about children. This is also a good chance to mention again the Beauty and the Bike project about why teenage girls in particular do not cycle in the UK. I've now seen the film, and read the book. Both are excellent (I'm in it for a few seconds, as is my youngest daughter, but it's not about us, and we were not paid!)

It's perhaps not surprising that Britain's children, amongst the least independently mobile in Europe, should also be the least happy. The father who drove behind his child later wrote a very good letter "Why do drivers have more rights than the rest" about this experience. Peter Miller also wrote about it.


Wilfred Ketelaar said...

The first story is mindblowing... just a 20 min. walk. That's peanuts! And parents drive their kids to school... shame on them. Cars are becoming a plague. If it's busy or it's very bad weather, the road I take is so crowded I could walk faster (at some bits). If that happens, I'm most certainly earlier at work driving my bike.

BTW. Is the screenshot of the table your's? If so, here's a tip, move the cursor out of the way ;-)

David Hembrow said...

Wilfred: It makes me really sad to see the direction in which Britain is heading...

Yes, I made the screenshot, late at night a week or so ago. I didn't notice the cursor. Actually, I'm surprised it's there. It must be a software cursor. All but the most primitive video hardware has the facility to generate the cursor on the fly as it produces the output to the screen (in a past job I wrote device drivers - including for video cards and I wrote code to do this) so it isn't in video memory, and wouldn't be seen by a screen shot tool

Frits B said...

And yet there were noises from Kloosterveen too, some time ago, that parents were increasingly driving their children to school and parking all over the place, in an area designed for safe use by bikes.

I also noticed that the people supervising the redesign of the "singels" (Zuidersingel, Oostersingel) are supporters of the shared space principle. They should read your blog ...

Taliesin said...

I find the police attitude, at least as it is described in the Daily Mail article, pretty annoying. When they say he is putting other road users at risk, they're saying that he is responsible for the stupid acts that some motorists may commit. The vehicle moving at walking pace is harmless.

I think there is also a culture of fear at play here. The last few mornings I've passed a mother with two small children (4-6 years old). Each child wears a child sized Hi-Vis vest.

On a vaguely related note, I recently read a blog article linked to statistics saying that the number of cyclists killed in collisions with motor vehicles had fallen by 29% in the USA since 1975. Seemed pretty good until I used the provided statistics for deaths of adults and children to produce a chart, which clearly shows how the US accumulated this surprising reduction.

Sirius7dk said...

What really hits me in the daily mail article (which have positive comments in favour of pedestrian/bike infrastructure for a change :) ) is what the council spokesman says in this quote here

"Where a parent feels the route is not reasonably safe the county council will carry out an assessment. Where it is deemed there is no safe way then alternative school transport will be provided."

What he is saying is that if the route is found to be unsafe, they will send a bus (most likely) to pick him up and NOT consider any infrastructure for pedestrians or cyclists.

Which only confirms what I have already decided, and that is that my future will most likely be in the Netherlands, Denmark or Germany after I have finished my degree (and if I can get a job in one of those countries of course)

Rasmus Jensen

Andreas said...

David a good article here highlighting the errors in the perception that driving is a basic human right that everyone should have. Thanks for writing it as it made for interesting reading. What I found particularly hard to believe is the school opposing a road turning into a cycle lane. I must admit the worst time to cycle around is when schools come out. Moms are all over the place rushing to get their kids to and from school and the roads become majorly clogged.

freewheeler said...

Essex police force is a particularly backward one, which always puts up signs after fatal crashes referring to them as "accidents". At least some forces have learned to designate them as "collisions" when they put up witness boards.

Policing in Britain is long overdue for radical reform. The police traditionally don't regard crimes by drivers as real crime, their own standards of driving are often very poor, and pedestrians and cyclists have long complained of obstructive police attitudes when asking them to act against lawless drivers. Recently there was the case of the blind man who could get no help from the police when drivers blocked the pavement, but as soon as he announced he would go and let the tyres down he was arrested.

Slowing down traffic is commonly regarded by British police as a very serious offence, which is why they take a very aggressive attitude to the smaller Critical Mass protests.

Anonymous said...

I can’t really see what Mr Kirkwood is trying to say, it may be unfortunate that the photograph shows a road with a fantastically wide verge, probably an old sheep drovers road. I wonder if he has ever walked the route with his son.
Funnily enough if he did this in central London he would blend in with the typical traffic speed and it would all go unnoticed. That points to the fact that one person driving at 3mph is considered reckless, whereas thousands doing it as a group is acceptable.
Mark Garrett, Bristol, UK

Anonymous said...

Terrible but even worse is watching school playgrounds being converted into parking lots so that the mothers driving children two blocks to school have more space to park and maneuver their SUVs. Ironically the municipality (Clayton, Missouri, USA) claims to be a "green" community.

In this story, the idea of driving at a speed which puts all road users but one (and that is debatable) at greater risks is seen as a "solution". Or is it an act of constructive civil disobedience?

Maddening, absolutely maddening.