I thought I’d make a home for the parody posters from the @NicewayCodeGB account. They’re appallingly-drawn three-minute doodles but hopefully they’re amusing and serve to satirise some of the flaws in The Nice Way Code.
I’m going to explain them as we go. I’d hope they don’t need explaining (you know what they say: if you have to explain it, it’s not funny) but occasionally I just have an urge to make sure a point is rammed home.
So, in chronological order, here we go.
Roads: they’re lovely
The Nice Way Code campaign seems to be built on the idea that if people on bikes (they say cyclists – it’s bizarre that in spite of saying that they want to break down barriers, their lazy choice of language reinforces them) avoid certain transgressions, people in heavy and high-powered vehicles will be more likely to drive in a manner that affords them an acceptable degree of safety.
This poster ridicules that concept, that whole basis for The Nice Way Code. What The Nice Way Code completely ignores is that there is a vicious circle here, and it’s one which is intractable by being nice: the fact is that people ride bikes on the pavement because of the simple matter of physics, not a shortfall in niceness. Any contact between someone on a bike and someone in a truck will never place the occupants of the truck in physical danger, yet the chances are it will be devastating to the person on the bike.
So the idea that people should stay off the pavement and instead trust truck drivers not to roll over them is, whilst acceptable to those of us who do take up our place on the roads, utterly unfathomable to the majority of people who either avoid the road or avoid cycling altogether because of it. (Would you allow your child to cycle on busy roads? Your grandmother?) It’s perhaps the single biggest barrier to much wider uptake of cycling as a mode of transport, and the sense in it is illustrated whenever there is a clampdown on people on bikes taking illegal-but-safe routes and a serious incident follows on nearby roads just days later.
And so the idea that The Nice Way Code will achieve any safety improvement with this sort of attitude is laughable.
The idea that we should all take responsibility for our own safety is a perfectly reasonable one, of course. To walk out into a road whilst texting or otherwise distracted is daft. This poster isn’t attacking that principle, it’s about questioning where it leads us.
People are, let’s face it, daft. We all do daft things. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we’re in a hurry, sometimes we’re distracted at an inopportune moment, sometimes we simply trip on a kerbstone. Should we really be striving for a culture where someone leaving the pavement for any of those reasons should be legitimately labelled an architect of their own demise? Or should we say that those who are in command of the vastly higher amount of kinetic energy ought to have responsibility for allowing others to make mistakes without ending up injured or dead? The Nice Way Code arguably reinforces the view that motor vehicles should be considered equally with pedestrians and that responsibility for an accident should be equally shared, but this does not accord with the risks that each presents. Wander into another pedestrian with little kinetic energy or into a parked vehicle with zero kinetic energy and you’d maybe get a bruise. It’s the energy of a moving vehicle that does the damage.
iPods don’t kill. Sudden exchange of kinetic energy kills. We need to focus on the responsible wielding of kinetic energy, not lowering the threshold of blame.
I’m not going to go off trawling for stats at the moment but the benefits of hi-viz clothing – in the daytime, at least – are debatable at best. This poster is simply poking at the idea that people have a responsibility to be seen. Again, it’s kind of reasonable, but it overlooks the idea that the people with all the kinetic energy should really be in control of it no matter what happens. An animal in the road doesn’t have hi-viz, nor does a fallen tree, nor do lots of things. To drive into something that you failed to see and then place the blame onto the thing you didn’t see – human, animal or inanimate object – is baffling.
Rule 163 is, to my mind, badly phrased. It says you should give vulnerable road users “as much space as you would a car”. This really means “as much road space“, which is almost illustrated by the image in the Highway Code itself (but not quite: I think if you passed a car it’d need a little more room than that) but can be so easily intepreted as “as much space between your vehicle and theirs“. The latter approach is incredibly dangerous: people are generally pretty comfortable with quite little space between their car and another car, as per the drawing.
Moreover, the wording invites people to think of people on bikes as vehicles just like cars. It’s dehumanising, but more importantly it is a barrier to the recognition that people on bikes don’t have a ton of crumple zones and impact bars and airbags around them. Treating bicycles as if they were cars is an extremely dangerous view onto the situation, and I really wish Rule 163 was worded very differently. For example, “give vulnerable road users as much room as possible, and always leave at least 1.5m (4.5ft) between your vehicle and theirs”. Bottom line, people: if you’re on a standard-width single carriageway road and your nearside tyres aren’t at least thrubbing along the cats’ eyes, you’re closer than the person you’re passing would like.
Pile of shit
This is, plain and simple, a comment on Think Horse. It’s about the idea that people care so little about the safety of someone on a bike that it would help if they thought of them as something else, something subhuman, because then they’ll be more likely to avoid them. This poster pretty clearly takes that to its obvious conclusion and shows what Think Horse is really saying about people’s view of those on bikes.