Government accused of 'victim blaming' cyclists after road safety video tells them to avoid lorries

'The message should have been directed at the lorry drivers to ask them to stay back from people cycling to avoid them being exposed to the risk of causing a crushing collision'

Ian Johnston
Monday 26 September 2016 11:16
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New THINK! campaign to improve cyclists’ safety

The Government has been accused of “victim blaming” cyclists after a road safety video urged them to “hang back” to avoid being crushed when a lorry turns left.

The video shows a number of “thing you shouldn’t get caught between” such as a falling piano and the street, a cartoon of two swinging girders, which hit a worker eating his lunch, and a wrecking ball and building. It then shows a lorry and a cyclist, side by side on an urban street. The lorry turns left, crushing the cyclist.

“Don’t get caught between a lorry and a left turn. Hang back,” it adds.

A third of collisions between cyclists and lorries happen at left turns. And a fifth of crashes where a cyclist is killed involve HGVs.

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, 113 cyclists, including six children, were killed and 3,401 were seriously injured in 2014, although these figures are only for accidents reported to the police.

Caroline Russell, the Green Party’s transport spokesperson and a cyclist in London, said this message was dangerous “victim blaming”.

“The Government quite clearly shows they have not got the first idea about how to reduce danger for people cycling,” she said.

“Their film shows an HGV lorry overtake riskily at a junction and turn left in a classic left-hook crash. Yet their message is a victim blaming call for the cyclist to stay back.

“I never filter to the left of lorries in stationary or heavy traffic but frequently find I am overtaken by lorries who put me in their blind spot by doing so.

“The message should have been directed at the lorry drivers to ask them to stay back from people cycling to avoid them being exposed to the risk of causing a crushing collision.

“Until we adopt a road danger reduction approach to keeping people safe on our streets, the miserable toll of death and injury on our streets will continue.”

A cartoon character is caught between two swinging girders in the Government's new cycling safety film (Department for Transport)

The Government campaign was launched by road safety minister Andrew Jones. “We are investing £300m over the next four years to help make Britain a cycling nation,” he said.

“Reducing the number of cyclists killed on our roads is a key priority. Since 2010, the number has decreased to its lowest level.

“This campaign will raise awareness among urban cyclists and help make our roads safer for those on two wheels.”

A statement issued by the Department for Transport (DfT) about the THINK! campaign said riding a bicycle was “very safe, and is greener, healthier and more sustainable than other forms of transport, but cutting the number of accidents is our top priority”.

Asked to comment on whether it was "victim blaming" cyclists, a DfT spokesperson said: “Any death on the road is a tragedy, and all road users have a responsibility to make our roads safer by being more vigilant.

“We want to protect vulnerable road users by raising awareness of specific dangers, and research shows that a large number of road incidents involving cyclists are with lorries at junctions. The THINK! road safety campaign is aimed at cyclists, motorists and HGV drivers, and they all have a role to play in improving safety.”

Cycling campaigners have long complained that many lorries do not allow the driver to see what is directly in front of them – a factor in a number of collisions with cyclists. There are lorries, often used for refuse collection, with a lower windscreen that allow a much greater field of vision.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s senior road safety officer, said: “The THINK! campaign should be a powerful voice for helping to change road practice, but unfortunately sometimes its messaging is wrong.

“Cycling UK raised its concerns with this campaign at the earliest stage and we are very disappointed this was not taken on board. Hopefully, following the understandable widespread negative reaction THINK! has received from road safety campaigners, they will rethink and re-engage to learn from their mistakes.

“The best safety initiative for our roads would be for Government to back the use of direct-vision lorries in major building projects, just like the Mayor of London has done. These lorries allow the driver to see more of the road and around their vehicle, and that means they’re safer for cyclists, walkers and other road users."

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