Friday, April 27, 2012

What was David Cameron thinking when he appointed Mike Penning minister for road safety? He might as well have appointed Harold Shipman minister for the care of the elderly.

Penning's latest pronouncements are that cyclists won't be allowed to turn left on red anytime soon, because "it could result in motorists and other drivers attempting to follow their lead". So, in spite of successful trials elsewhere in the world, the justification is that this innovation, which could allow cyclists to escape the attention of left-turning HGVs, will be denied because some motorists might be so dozy as to follow a cyclist through a red light. So presumably these motorists are just as likely to follow a car or van through a red light? Or do something equally brainless and unobservant? Maybe, as minister for road safety, he should be getting those drivers off the roads?

But as far as Penning is concerned, things are just fine as they are. Penning says: "The reason that traffic light regulations have not dramatically changed over the years is that they do what it says on the tin, by keeping the roads safe." Not true. They keep motorists safe. They don't keep cyclists safe. Light-controlled junctions compress lots of accelerating traffic and cyclists going in multiple directions into a situation where they are bound to come into conflict.

But again, as far a cyclist safety is concerned, Penning doesn't see a problem. "the UK is safer than two countries where cycling is popular, Sweden and the Netherlands, with fewer cyclist fatalities per 100,000 people." It evidently hasn't occurred to Penning that a far greater proportion of people cycle in the Netherlands than in the UK, so it is a false comparison. A realistic comparison is the number of casualties per 100,000 trips, which is the usual metric, and one that does not flatter the UK, which is why Penning doesn't use it. Penning seemingly doesn't understand or care about the difference between safety and danger. If you allow something to become dangerous enough, no-one will do it, which is nearly where we are with cycling in the UK. That approach to road safety is an assault on personal freedoms - the freedom to walk or cycle without fear of illegal harassment or intimidation. Freedoms the Dutch take for granted.

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