No turning back for THINK campaign which just keeps digging

The THINK campaign has rightly been criticised for making "entertainment out of death"
DfT's 'hang back messaging' in its latest Think campaign video was flawed from the outset, says the UK's national cycling charity. So now it's time to take action and fill those inboxes with a call to drop the campaign. Maybe we can help them fill that hole that they keep on digging?

'Hang Back' flawed from the outset

Last week, Cycling UK reported on the latest THINK cycle safety campaign, advising cyclists to 'Hang Back' behind lorries at junctions. Our concern that the Department for Transport (DfT) should THINK before blaming victims was almost unanimously shared by cycling organisations and commentators (a rare event), with Chris Boardman describing the campaign as "woefully misguided" and one which "sought to make entertainment out of death". 

Given the widespread criticism and our own concerns regarding this campaign, Cycling UK's CEO Paul Tuohy wrote to the Minister Andrew Jones last Wednesday. We warned that the implicit message was cyclists were at fault if killed or seriously injured after finding themselves on the inside of a lorry, regardless of how that situation arose, and that the 'Hang Back' video placed responsibility for safety solely upon the cyclist.  

Suggesting that 'Hang Back' was flawed from the outset, we asked the Minister to withdraw this campaign, or at least withdraw the video, not merely because of the content but because the effectiveness of future THINK campaigns would be better served by an acknowledgement that this one had not worked. We indicated that Cycling UK would support and promote that as a positive move, and would be delighted to work with the THINK team to provide input to future campaigns.

THINK is not for turning

Following our letter to the Minister we have, along with other vulnerable road user groups, held discussions with the DfT to further explain why we believe this campaign is both ineffective and misdirected. Regrettably, although we have been told that we will be receiving a response soon, a week has passed and we have yet to hear back from the Minister in response to our letter. 

It would also now seem that the THINK team are not for turning, and having found themselves in a hole, intend to keep digging. They have informed Cycling UK that they do not intend to withdraw the 'Hang Back' video. Admitting that "the level of criticism is unfortunate", they have indicated that the campaign is designed to raise awareness of "the number of cyclists killed in accidents involving HGVs".

They mention accidents not collisions, and seem to miss the point that avoiding collisions involves consideration of infrastructure, vehicle design and driver behaviour, not just victim behaviour.

To blame or fix the problem, that is the question

The news that THINK intends to motor on regardless, deaf to constructive criticism, and blind to the potential damage for future cycle safety initiatives and campaigns concerning HGVs, starkly and rather embarrassingly contrasts with last Friday's lorry news from London Mayor Sadiq Khan. The Mayor listened to what people said about the need for safer lorries and announced a plan to remove the most dangerous from London's roads, replacing them with vehicles which have improved vision standards. 

The THINK campaign implicitly blames cyclists for not being seen. The Mayor's response to the same problem of cyclist and left-turning lorry collisions is to look at why drivers are still being asked to drive vehicles with huge blind spots when alternatives exist, and come up with a plan to address this. One approach victim blames, the other attempts to fix the problem. One party is listening, the other is not.  

This campaign will  -  "help make our roads safer for those on two wheels" 

We were told by THINK that an article would be published on the Road Safety GB website yesterday explaining their position regarding this campaign. However, we still have stony silence. All we can do in those circumstances is look to the press release on the DfT's website, which quotes the Minister saying that "this campaign will raise awareness amongst urban cyclists and help make our roads safer for those on 2 wheels."

Presumably, those with mobility issues riding adapted cycles with more than two wheels were not the Minister's target audience.  

Rip it up and start again

The same press release refers to partnership activity with and incorporates a quote from the Freight Transport Association. If THINK were equally as keen for genuine partnership with cycling groups, someone would probably have mentioned some of the flaws within the press release, which include reference to a large proportion of left-turning lorry collisions occurring when a cyclist is at the front left of the truck. True, only the video shows a different collision, where the impact is half-way between the lorry's front and rear axles.

Most of left-hook collisions involve the lorry's front wheels turning into the rear wheel of the cyclist, who is then crushed by the lorry (ie: the cyclist is slightly in front of the lorry at the time of collision, or immediately at the side of the cab, not metres behind as in the 'Hang Back' video). The press release asserts one thing, the video shows another. Exactly why THINK need to rip it up and start again.  

If you think that's what THINK should do, you can use Cycling UK's editable pre-prepared letter to let the responsible Minister and his team know. 

The first rule of holes

If THINK's intention was to warn cyclists that they might have to deal with lorry drivers trying to overtake before junctions, taking left-hand corners at speed by cutting across from the right-hand lane, then we should expect a "watch out" campaign next year, warning pedestrians to watch out for drunken motorists or dangerous drivers who might just mount the pavement and fail to see them. 

They must, of course, prepare themselves to deal with other people's unsafe driving according to THINK.   

Cycling UK still awaits a response to our CEO's letter to the Minister but would implore THINK, in the meantime, to cease charging onwards and remember the first rule of holes. When you're in one, stop digging. Cycling UK is happy to help get you out, but you have to chuck your spade away first. Otherwise, even our fillthathole app might not help to get this one fixed. 

Take action! 

If you would like to write to the Minister responsible and his team calling for Government to THINK again on this campaign, you can use Cycling UK's editable pre-prepared letter.