THINK before you blame the victim

The latest THINK safety campaign places too much blame on the victim says Cycling UK
'Hang Back' from lorries is this morning's message from the DfT to cyclists. No mention on safer direct vision lorries, better infrastructure, driver responsibility or lorry restrictions. Just a message to cyclists about what they need to do to avoid being killed. Oh dear - perhaps the DfT should have looked and listened first.

What you need to do to avoid someone killing you

This morning the Department for Transport (DfT) launched its Autumn THINK! Cycle Safety Campaign focussing on the risks to cyclists from left turning lorries (left hooks). Regrettably the campaign focuses purely on what cyclists should do to avoid being killed, rather than looking at the root cause of the problem and the measures that should be taken to solve it. 

Don't get caught between - a strap line and a mixed message

The strap line for the DfT's campaign is 'Don't get caught between', with a film and posters depicting examples of things to avoid being trapped between, including two boxers in a ring, two head-butting rams, and for cyclists, a left turning lorry and the pavement. The message appears to be that you wouldn't intentionally put yourself in the middle of two colliding objects, so why would you put yourself on a bicycle between a turning lorry and a kerb?

There are a number of problems with that message including that:

1. You might not have chosen to put yourself in that position (the lorry might have overtaken you);

2. The DfT message at least implies that if you do, then it is your fault if something awful happens;

3. It ignores the fact that unsafe lorry designs are still being used, when safer direct vision lorries which virtually eliminate vehicle blind spots can be purchased now;

4. It suggests that it is the cyclists who must make sure they are seen, and not the driver's responsibility to make every effort not to undertake manoeuvres which endanger others, including cyclists when turning left;

5. Without going into detail concerning infrastructure, whether lorries and cyclists should share space or be segregated, when and which lorries should be permitted within city centres and with what safety requirements, these are all issues that impact on cyclists safety around lorries and which should concern the DfT, but which are ignored by a message to cyclists just to 'Hang Back'.

Victim blaming

This morning's social media response to the DfT's video has been overwhelmingly critical, with many people concluding that a video which is supposed to convey the message to cyclists not to undertake a left-turning lorry, actually shows a lorry overtaking a cyclist before turning left rather than waiting behind the cyclist before doing so.

Opinions will differ following numerous freeze frame views, but being charitable to the DfT, if they wanted to display a scene where a cyclist clearly undertakes a lorry, putting themselves at avoidable risk, this video does not do that. It therefore erroneously permits the conclusion that if a cyclist finds themselves at the side of a lorry at a left turn that it is their fault, they were in the blind spot, they should have known better and the blame belongs to the victim.

What were the DfT THINKING?

The DfT THINK campaigns should be designed to make people think about their behaviour and actions, in a manner which promotes and improves road safety.

This video shows a lorry with a particularly high seating cab, small windscreen and restricted cab vision. In London the Mayor Sadiq Khan has accepted that measures need to be put in place to promote safer direct vision lorries. In the scene depicted in this video the cyclist would have been visible throughout with a Dennis Eagle Elite or Mercedes Econic direct vision lorry. The clip also demonstrates a lorry left turn, at speed, with a driver failing to make continuous checks in his mirrors. If the message is THINK, what were the DfT thinking?

Earlier this year Cycling UK wrote to the DfT suggesting that a great THINK campaign would be one concentrating on the dangers of close overtakes of cyclists (near misses). That was rejected because we were told that their campaigns were informed by casualty statistics, which had not revealed that near misses lead to significant casualties (that is the point, it was a near miss so there was no collision, but there could have been). We were then informed that this year's campaign would be an educational campaign for cyclists to 'Hang Back' from left turning lorries.

Our concerns that the issue was a little more nuanced, and that there were questions regarding cab design, infrastructure, and driver behaviour, as well as education for cyclists, were not taken on board. The result is a campaign which, in looking at one part of a bigger picture, and even then through tinted windows, risks being remembered as an ill thought through victim blaming campaign.

Listen before you THINK

The tragedy with this campaign is that even its most ardent critic should accept that warning cyclists to be careful when they are on the near-side of a lorry, and that the lorry driver's vision might be restricted, are sensible messages to include within a road safety campaign. These, however, are lost when the focus is solely upon victim responsibility, with a video which begs more questions than it answers. 

The DfT might be best served to acknowledge that this one has not worked, pull the campaign and start again. Cycling UK would be more than willing to work with them should they chose to do so, but before they ask cyclists to THINK, they need to listen.