|"Victim blaming" started|
quite early on as this article
from 1929 illustrates
Unfortunately, it did happen again and it's kept happening ever since. These days, there are 1.2 million people killed every year by car crashes and another 50 million injured. If road deaths continue to grow at the expected rate, it is estimated that we will have seen growth of more than 60% between 2000 and 2020, meaning that nearly 2 million people per year will lose their lives in car crashes by that time.
Who gets hurt ?
"Most of these injuries will occur in developing countries where more and more people are using motorized transport. In these countries, cyclists, motorcyclists, users of public transport, and pedestrians are especially vulnerable to road traffic injuries."
|An Atomic Bomb. Not nearly so|
deadly as automobiles.
Crashes surprise people
Why do we put up with this ? I have a theory. I've noticed that while the lethality of motor vehicles might seem obvious given the results, people are often very surprised when cars crash and the results are serious. Cars feel safe and they are marketed as being safe but the danger that they present is beyond what people realise.
If we fall when walking, the magnitude of the injury is quite close to what people expect. Normally you'll do no harm at all or perhaps get a minor injury such as a sprained ankle or scraped knee. You can go faster if you run, but you get worn out quickly.
Cycling is a little more unpredictable. We've used a machine to make ourselves faster, but it still takes considerable human effort to raise our speeds much (there's a calculator here which shows how much effort for different speeds). Higher speeds are possible only after you've cycled enough to build the muscles, and experience comes at the same time. Falls hurt much more if you're going faster. If we fall while descending a hill the crash can be particularly dangerous. However, at least when you cycle you know it's going to hurt if you fall off. Personally, I like riding fast, but I'm a timid descender of hills because when going down hills some of my control is taken away.
Cars give another considerable increase in speed, and there is a further difference. You can go fast for no real effort and with no practice or skill required. What's more, cars remove the cues that normally make us realize we're travelling fast, such as wind noise, and the feeling of wind in the hair and on the face.
While even "slow" speeds by car are quite dangerous (especially for people outside the car), driving feels safe. It's so sanitised an experience that it's actually boring enough for people to fall asleep while driving at speeds which would keep you very much awake on a bicycle.
This is why crashes are such a surprise. People often simply don't know what happened when they crashed a car. People stop concentrating on what they see as mundane tasks and that's why no amount of legislation will make drivers safe.
Somewhere in middle of the confusion comes the blame shifting. If you walk into someone in the street you would not blame the other person. If you cycle into someone you also probably wouldn't. However, driving somehow changes this. The victims frequently get the blame.
How to solve the problem
There is a simple way to solve this problem of vulnerable people being hurt and that is to remove the cause of danger from where the vulnerable people are. Where cyclists are concerned, cycle-paths are the most obvious way of achieving this. It is also possible to remove danger by unravelling driving routes away from cycling routes and to otherwise segregate modes without building specific cycling infrastructure. Places for people who don't drive, such as schools, should not be designed around cars. City centres should be accessible without the threat of danger.
When conflict and risk are designed out of roads by following the principles of sustainable safety, the injury rates drop.
1.2 million deaths per year are tragic enough, but they're actually just the tip of the ice-berg. There are also 50 million people injured each year by cars. What's more, the deaths due to crashes are not all of the deaths. It is difficult to pin down exactly, but some estimates put deaths due to pollution from cars at ten times the figures for crashes and deaths due to effects such as obesity due to a sedentary lifestyle assisted by the car are also a major cause of death.
The image at the top left comes from the December 1929 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine. Exactly the same policies, of shifting blame onto pedestrians for being hit by cars, exist all around the world, including in current safety campaigns in the UK.