By Francis Chu (last edited: 2012-08-30, first published 2012-08-20)
I believe there is no single, easy solution to the danger faced everyday by cyclists (and other road users) on the road. In 2005, during the formation of SafeCyclingTaskForce we identified three area of focus; Road Infrastructure, Education and legislation. I still believe this 3-pronged approach is a effective and timeless framework.
1) Road infrastructure:
Road must be designed to prevent dangerous driving, cycling or walking. It should make it easy to for cars to give ways to cyclists, or for pedestrians to cross the roads safely and conveniently.
Design of environment has big influence on human behaviour. Driver tend to speed on straight, wide and smooth roads. On the other hand, driver becomes more cautious along small streets. If the driver already slow down to walking speed before a junction or pedestrian crossing, it does not demand a big heart to stop and wait for a crossing elderly. But if the car is moving fast at the same junction or crossing, even a very kind person will be reluctant to jam brake his car. It takes more “kindness effort” to perform the “right” (read SAFE) behaviour. Road design should help to make it easy to behave safely.
Education is to clarify safe behaviour and gracious attitude for all road users. A good example is the Netherlands. When I started to drive a car as a foreigner there, I was told to remember too things when not sure: Give way to the right, and give way to cyclists. Their road design is in such a way that everyone will intuitively drive/cycle/walk in a safe way for 90% of the situation. The remaining situation, for example at the junction of small roads where there is no traffic lights, “Give way to your right” clarify who should gives way to who. If the road design already makes road users behave safe for most of the situations, education can be more effectively focus on the remaining grey area. The next point is about gracious attitude. Greater power come with bigger responsibility. The principle is: the bigger, heavier vehicle gives way to the lighter, smaller vehicle. Therefore big lorries gives ways to cars, cars give ways to motorcycle, all motorized vehicle give way to bicycle and bicycle give ways to pedestrians.
The law should be able to deal with dangerous behaviour effectively. To balance and to reinforced gracious driving attitude, the “burden to proof innocent” should be on the operator of the heavier vehicle. In the Netherlands, the heavier vehicle driver is considered to be at fault unless he/she can produce evidence that prove otherwise. That give the heavier vehicle driver an added incentive to drive more carefully.
A practical note, legislation system will have difficulty to deal with disputes if the number of incident is simply too high. Currently there are around ~11,000 traffic incidents involving injuries annually. It require a lot of resources to investigate each case in details, it becomes a capacity issue. In this respect, safe road infrastructure and education (clarify the remaining 10%) can help to reduce the number of incidents to a more manageable level. Harsh law is not needed for kind minded person, but it works for the rest.
It is like a three legs stool, we need all three, and in this order:
1) Safe roads – reduce the bulk of dangerous behaviour. Setting the scene to make dangerous road behaviour unnatural.
2) Education – to clarify remaining grey zone for drivers/cyclists/pedestrians. It helps to promote mutual respect and bring out the better part of human being.
3) Legislation – to deal with the few dangerous road users heavily, as a deterrent for future incidents. Harsh law should be used to deal with those who just don’t care of other’s safety.