Time and again we’re shown who’s expected to take responsibility for road safety, and time and again it’s the people who don’t have the fast and massive piles of metal.
A safety message
Yet another little safety message this morning, this time from The Metropolitan Police’s Safer Transport Command.
— Roads&Transport MPS (@MPSRTPC) December 5, 2013
It’s familiar stuff. Drivers of HGVs supposedly can’t see you if you’re in a certain area. The idea of the “Exchanging Places” scheme is that people who ride bikes can sit in the cab and get a feel for the view afforded to an HGV driver (and presumably also a more general overview of the complexity of operating a vehicle of this type). Superficially, this seems like a good thing. Pragmatically, given the status quo, it’s not unwise, either.
Of course, that area is the same as that of the advance stop line (ASL) areas and feeder lanes that are painted for the use of people on bicycles, so it’s massively hypocritical of the transport system to provide these features and then point out that they’re lethal.
But that area also encroaches onto a pedestrian crossing – the precise reason why Darren Foster not was not held to be legally responsible for the death of Hope Fennell when he drove his truck over her.
So whilst the hypocrisy of pointing out bad engineering is depressing, the Exchanging Places scheme is a perfect illustration of a problem which is far more fundamental, more insidious – and, therefore, arguably even more dangerous.
What it does is to say “Hey, you on the bike. The driver of this truck can’t see you if you’re in this space. So don’t go there.” Which, pragmatically, is sort of fine on one level.
What it doesn’t do – at least as far as I can ascertain – is to say “Hey, you in the truck. You can’t see people in this space. So don’t project that space onto an ASL or a pedestrian crossing.”
A moving issue
You see, here’s the thing: the ASLs and pedestrian crossings don’t move. They’re painted onto the tarmac. It’d be lovely if we could carry them round with us, magically projected onto the ground, wouldn’t it? But we can’t.
But that is exactly how an HGV’s blind spot works. It’s carried around with the vehicle, magically – albeit invisibly – projected onto the ground.
Someone on foot does not have the luxury of being able to position the crossing.
Someone on a bike does not have the luxury of being able to position the ASL.
But someone in an HGV has the luxury of being able to position the blind spot.
Yet there is no message that they should stop the blind spot behind the stop line. Despite the driver being the one person in the equation having the ability to eliminate the overlap of the blind spot with the spaces reserved for vulnerable users, and being the one in control of the vehicle that will unilaterally cause death, the responsibility is all on others.
The responsibility is on those who can be killed, not those who can kill.
And the Exchanging Places scheme, well-intentioned as it may appear, cements this incredibly dangerous attitude that is in the blood of British road law and use.
Moreover, the fact that it’s aimed at people on bikes – but not people on foot – is illuminating, because it simply doesn’t work when applied to the latter. If that blind spot is projected onto a pedestrian crossing, you just can’t say to pedestrians “keep out of it”. The crossing is there to mark where they should cross the road. On a bike, at least there is the option to recognise that the painted markings are a lethal trap and to avoid passing a stationary HGV, but pedestrians have no choice.
You can’t go Exchanging Places with pedestrians. It’s totally meaningless; they’ll just say, “well, what do you expect me to do?”
What could Hope Fennell have done?
And this is why placing the onus of responsibility onto the inevitable victims is flawed: they’re simply not in a position to be able to assure their own safety.
A simple change
Here’s a thought; something that would be simple and effective: One rule should change.
The rule should no longer be that one must simply stop one’s vehicle behind the stop line; it should be that one must stop one’s vehicle so as to be able to see the stop line.
To make this change would reverse the absurdity of no-one being responsible for Hope Fennell’s death, among others (didn’t see the person you ran over on the crossing when setting off? – should have stopped further back).
To make this change could prevent anyone having to comment on that absurdity again.
And to make this change would be a clear shift in responsibility to where it should be: onto those who have control over both the blind spot and the overwhelming physical upper hand, and away from those who can control neither.
The line of sight is more important than the front bumper; Exchanging Places teaches us that. It’s just a shame that it’s really about Exchanging Responsibility.