Watch and Hang Back before UNTHINKING

Does the DfT believe that if it is the fault of another, the victim's behaviour must be changed? Flickr CC: Duncan C

Watch and Hang Back before UNTHINKING

We asked THINK to stop digging a hole with their 'Hang Back' campaign. They're still holding the shovels, as the Minister explains that the film is not about blaming victims ...

'Hanging Back' to watch the debate

Ten days ago, Cycling UK reported that we had written to the Minister Andrew Jones MP regarding the latest THINK cycle safety campaign asking for this campaign, or at least the 'Hang Back' video, to be withdrawn.

Although THINK officials had suggested they were not for turning, we still waited for a Ministerial response, and asked members and supporters to email the Minister and let him know their thoughts and concerns about the THINK campaign, while supporting our call for Hang Back to be guillotined. 

Over 1,100 people wrote in to the Minister in agreement with our position, and two days ago we heard back from Andrew Jones. The abbreviated message is that the Government are "watching the debate closely and monitoring the performance of the THINK cycle safety campaign", but that it is "too soon to assess the impact of a campaign which is scheduled to run until the end of October."

The message that missed

One of Cycling UK's criticisms of the 'Hang Back' video is that it attempts to convey the message to cyclists not to undertake a left-turning lorry, but actually shows a lorry overtaking a cyclist before turning left, rather than waiting behind the cyclist before doing so. The inference is that blame belongs to the victim, who should have hung back and avoided one of those things they "shouldn't get caught between": a lorry and a kerb.

The Minister denied that the film is about blaming victims, and explained that it is important that cyclists "are aware that HGV drivers and motorists might make an error that could cause serious injury or death." 

In summary, we are told that THINK's message in the film is supposed to be that cyclists might have to deal with a driver behaving in the manner depicted, and not that the driving shown is appropriate, hence the 'Hang Back' advice.

If that was THINK's intention, then the video is, to quote Chris Boardman, "woefully misguided". Looking for positives, we are relieved that the Minister appears to accept that this film is not an example of safe driving where the cyclist is the author of their own misfortune. An inept campaign is less horrific than the Department for Transport seeking to argue that the driver in the 'Hang Back' video was not at fault.

DOUBLETHINK and the wrecking ball

The justification for THINK warning cyclists to 'Hang Back' because a lorry driver might make a mistake, through a video and campaign strap line which seeks behaviour change from only one party, the victim, is made slightly easier if you revert to DOUBLETHINK and George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984.

THINK tell themselves: "It is the lorry driver's fault, therefore I must make sure the cyclist changes his behaviour". Here we have Doublethink, the power to hold two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accept both of them. A fictional 'Newspeak' word to eliminate individual thought and ensure the departmental line is followed. Perhaps THINK should listen to those outside their department next time, which might help them UNTHINK the contradiction.

The Minister's response suggests that, after the campaign has run its course, they will review the results, identify what has worked, and engage with Cycling UK on future campaigns. We think it's clear THINK hasn't worked, but it looks like the party line will hold for the rest of the month, so there's no escape from cartoon characters and wrecking balls just yet. 

We're not saying undertake regardless!

Having heavily criticised THINK in recent weeks regarding this campaign, it is perhaps fair to concede that short, snappy, strap-line campaign and awareness messages on this issue can miss the target, not least because infrastructure, lorry design, driver behaviour and cyclists' behaviour all have an impact.

The complexity is evident by some responses received from cyclists regarding our opposition to the 'Hang Back' video, questioning whether we supported cyclists undertaking lorries and 'sneaking up' their inside as they were about to turn left.

Just to be clear, Cycling UK has always supported the 'Be Aware' message to cyclists when approaching the rear of a lorry. We do not advocate cyclists undertaking left-turning lorries. We agree with the idea behind the THINK campaign, that cyclists should be aware of the danger zones caused by lorry blind spots.

We tried, however, to explain to THINK that cyclists can find themselves on the inside of a lorry because they have just been overtaken by a lorry, which then suddenly slows down before it has fully passed them; that the cyclist might be in a bus lane in a line of free flowing traffic, whilst that on their outside lane, including lorries, is stationary; and that when caught between and on the inside of two lorries at a set of traffic lights, that it might be safer to assess the situation and move in front of the first lorry into the advance stop area at the lights.

Doubleplusgood not ungood

The DfT said "no", it was a simple message, cyclists should just 'Hang Back'. We thought that was overly simplistic, and led to a Government awareness campaign which missed the target and implicitly blamed the victim.

We are not saying that cyclists should suddenly start charging up the inside of lorries, ignoring the fact that the driver might be blind to their presence. We just know THINK could have presented this campaign so much better, had they thought and listened. It might just then have been, in 1984 Newspeak terms, a campaign which rather than being 'ungood', was 'doubleplusgood'.

Sponsored Advert
Sponsored Advert
Sponsored Advert
Sponsored Advert
Sponsored Advert
Sponsored Advert


Once you ignore the fatuous 25 seconds of people and animals being violent towards each other and deliberate destructive acts, plus a couple of irrelevant cartoons you reach 0'26" (this rubbish seems do familiar from other DfT campaigns - perhaps they should find a better creative agency?)

So at 0'26" we have what looks like an HGV overtaking a cyclist on a 20 mph single carriageway road - it is a Mercedes Actos with about the highest driving position they are made in (vanity plate ME16 MUD!) The truck well exceeds the typical cab height for the 32T rigids used on construction work and would appear to be N3G spec (for off road use) this type of vehicle is deprecated by those promoting safe streets as the work on London construction sites is 99% on firm or paved surfaces - N3 us the spec for a road use vehicle.

The road is Monier Road E3 and the clip at 0'26" scales to have the truck about 20 metres from the junction with Dace Street - so we have the truck driver apparently attempting an overtaking move driving on the side of the road for oncoming traffic and overtaking on the approach to a junction Well the whole tots up to violation of Rule 182, and sections of Rules 170, 167 and 163 of the Highway Code.

Bit look a bit closer the truck driver is actually slowing down and the faster moving cyclist is alongside the front of the cab and pulling away in front. The headlights are on and you can just make out some surprisingly weak turn indicator repeaters on the side of the cab and rear chassis. It is hard to see whether the front nearside turn indicator is working.

Next clip starts 0'27" and somehow the laws of physics have be subverted as the cyclist is now at a point beside the back of the truck - basically leaping 8-9 metres backwards 'instantly' then at 0'28" the rear left turn indicator appears very clear and bright as do the 2 side repeaters (which were barely visible in 0'26"?) It is also clear that the rear lights are not switched on, nor are the brakes being used as the rear turn indicator should locate the rear light cluster. Faulty lights? (that's 2 counts for PG9 HGV prohibition notices). From the shallow angle of the steered wheels and the angle of the truck the driver is taking the corner at speed by cutting in to the apex. The kerb radius here us formed of modern 'HGV resistant' kerbs and looks to be a preferred 6 metre radius, which all normal HGV's should be able to go round without having to swing wide.

Inexplicably with the clearly visible danger of the truck driver cutting him up and left turn indicators, the video shows the rider continuing to cycle. Show me any rider who is paying attention to the traffic around them who carries on riding in such a situation. Brakes would be hard applied and exit on to the footway made.

Finally the denouement of a twisted bike lying in the often seen position just behind the front wheels another amazing leap in time and space for the cyclist in the video but to be expected for the 80% of HGV-cycle crashes where the FRONT nearside corner of the truck hits the REAR offside corner of the bike when the driver makes a left turn (usually on full lock and with the corner at 90 degrees or tighter, with a sub standard kerb radius) - overall 94% of fatal HGV-cycle crashes are recorded by the objective Police investigations as having the cyclist hit from the rear, and going down under the FRONT wheels, where the gap of 40+cm on most current construction trucks offers no impedance to this result. Trams have lifeguards to fill that gap yet with this route to being crushed by every 8-10 Ton axle features in the majority of pedestrian and cycle fatalities and staggeringly we've got everyone filling in the sides but leaving the front wide open...

From the clear evidence of Police investigations the insulting safety messages about 'undertaking' would be far better replaced by a call to 'Learn the Lifesaver' and be aware of the danger developing behind, or perhaps the issue of a simple and robust rear view mirror - worth far more than a shed-full of helmets and hi-vis jackets.