A couple of weeks back we ran a story about a Department of Transport funded campaign aimed at children which, we think, reinforces the notion that failure to wear high visibility clothing at night is, effectively, an invitation to get run over, even if you are following all the rules.
In some ways this is a tricky story to categorise because it is part news part editorial comment but It’s a subject we are unapologetically going to return to in future, given that there seems to be insufficient emphasis being placed on motorists to remember the duty of care that they owe other road users, particularly vulnerable road users..
We asked for a response to the article from the Department for Transport. Road Safety Minister Mike Penning, it took over a week but this is what he had to say to us:
“This game is part of a range of educational materials designed to give children the skills they need to stay safe on the roads as they become more independent.
“It is nonsense to suggest that, simply by explaining the consequences of different behaviour, we are attributing the blame for accidents to anyone. I am clear that everyone on the road has a role to play in creating a safe environment whether they are driving, riding, cycling or walking.”
So there you have it. Our assertion that the game reinforces the notion that insufficiently hi-viz kids can expect to get clobbered by a car even if they are doing everything right when it comes to crossing the road is “nonsense.” More cynical minds than ours might wonder whether Mr Penning had actually seen the video in question before responding.
Naturally enough we stand by our opinion that the balance of responsibility in ensuring vulnerable road users are sufficiently protected on British roads is not reflected in tax-payer funded public awareness campaigns. It's certainly a far cry from the days of Tufty or the Green Cross Man, when it was simply a case of "look left, look right, and look left again, and if it's safe to do so cross the road" the new message would seem to be "look left, look right, and look left again, and if it's safe to do so cross the road, and if you do get run over by a speeding motorist in the dark and you're not wearing some high viz clothing it's your fault kid." Maybe this is in tune with the new government's tough messages for tough times ethos, but it doesn't seem very fair.
Of course, there is a place for reminding cyclists and pedestrians that it is in their own self-interest to be visible but not when such messages by inference reinforce the notion that the car is king - in our view the people driving those cars bear a much greater responsibility simply because they are in the position to do a much greater amount of harm.
A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents told road.cc:
“Road safety is everybody’s responsibility, which is why RoSPA focuses on the part all road users can play in preventing accidents. For example, ahead of the clocks changing, RoSPA reminded pedestrians and cyclists to make themselves easily seen and, most importantly of all, urged drivers and motorcyclists to watch their speed and keep a proper look-out for vulnerable road users.
“It must be remembered that the DfT’s Think! campaign produces a wide variety of materials for different groups of road users. The Be Safe, Be Seen game, along with others in the Tales of the Road series, are designed to share simple messages that young children can take on board and put into practice.
"These messages are designed to be built on, with further advice shared, as children get older and start using the road in different ways, for example by becoming cyclists and, one day, drivers or motorcyclists.”
Here at road.cc we believe that the emphasis on reducing the harm that occurs on Britain's roads should not be placed on the victims of that harm but on those that cause. Death and injury on the road is not the result of some natural force like storm, wind, or tide but of individual human beings being careless, reckless, sometimes just plain stupid, and sometimes just unlucky.
The vast majority of accidents in which someone is killed or injured are the result of someone else, behind the wheel of a motorised vehicle, making the wrong choice whether it was to drive too fast for the conditions, to use their mobile phone, or to drive a car or lorry they knew was in some way defective if we want to reduce death and destruction on Britain's roads more public money should be spent reminding these people of their responsibilities to the rest of us when they get behind the wheel.