Red lights and media spin
25.04.07 by Buffalo Bill
The Times, and others, picked up the female cyclist Heavy Goods Vehicle (lorry) story that was all over this site a few weeks ago, and added a bit of extra spin. As you might remember, the figure is 21 female cyclists killed in London, of which 18 were killed by a collision with a HGV, in the period Jan 1999 to May 2004. This statistic was compiled as part of a survey by the London Road Safety Unit of the circumstances surrounding all London cyclist deaths 1999 – May 2004, case by case.
The survey was conducted for Transport for London’s HGV/cyclists group, which was set up by the London Mayor’s Transport and Environment Adviser, Mark Watts, following correspondence between the Chair of the London Bicycle Messenger Association (then me) and the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. The LBMA had called for a ban on HGVs within the London Congestion Charge Zone, following the death of Sebastian Lukomski, the 7th London bicycle messenger known to have been killed whilst working by a collision with a HGV.
I had also been in contact with Noel Lynch, then a Green Party Member of the London Assembly, who asked Ken what he was going to do about the problem, and when the LBMA could expect an answer to my letter. It was at this point that Ken started the HGV/cyclist process.
Although the Times report, and also the BBC, described survey as having been leaked, the details of the report, including a mention of speculation about why females should be over-represented in the fatalities, was available on the LBMA site shortly after we received the report. I was asked not to publish the whole report because it contained details of police investigations, and were therefore confidential.
No conclusions were, or could be, drawn regarding whether or not red light jumping contributed or otherwise to the numbers of cyclists killed. There was no survey of the number of cyclists jumping red lights, broken down by sex attached to the report. In some of the cases there was consideration of the circumstances, but not all, because some of the files relating to the cases were not available to the LRSU researcher. Therefore all of the media comment yesterday was just that: comment.
I recall that at the time we were shown the report, members of the group speculated as to why females, and someone, possibly me, possibly someone else, speculated that it was because female cyclists tend to be more submissive on the road, and generally more law-abiding. And it’s possible that someone, again, possibly me, would have mentioned that Seb would probably still be alive today if he had NOT stopped at the red light alongside Terence Fallow’s tipper truck. But again, the speculation was just that: speculation.
However, these statistics have been in the public domain for 3 years, and were published in the Islington Tribune and others, including by my esteemed colleague Matt Seaton in the Guardian. What was ‘reported’ by the Times, London Lite and the BBC was straight-forward speculation.
Why is this old report suddenly ‘news’ again? Because London cyclists are still being killed by HGVs. Thankfully, no London cycle courier has been killed by a HGV since Seb’s death, but at least 2 have been seriously injured by left-turning HGVs in the past 3 years, and as I reported elsewhere, at least 4 female cyclists have been killed by HGVs since 2004, and 9 London cyclists were killed by HGVs in 2006.
So there is still a problem with HGVs and London cyclists, as tragically highlighted by the deaths of Amelia Zollner and Madeleine Wright in March. They were both killed by lorries, within 24 hours of each other, less than a mile apart. Therefore anything which raises awareness of this problem is good, especially when the solution is so simple: HGV drivers obeying the Highway Code and the law, by observing before they signal, and again before they manoeuvre.
Also, I got the chance to tell Simon Mayo where to get off on national radio, which gave me not a little satisfaction, and a more positive note, the lady representing the Road Haulage Association seemed very keen to learn what more they could do about the problem, which is definitely progress.
Cynthia Barlow was on BBC London yesterday, apparently commenting on the issue. She is chair of Roadpeace, the road crash victims charity. She was also part of the HGV/cyclist group. After her daughter was killed by concrete lorry on London Wall (left turn after over-taking) she lobbied the lorry owners (RMC) to get them to change their drivers’ attitudes. She is a very smart and formidable woman. It is worth reading some correspondence she sent to TfL before they embarked on ‘Share the Road’. She covered just about everything TfL should have done before launching the campaign. Needless to day they didn’t.
There are a lot of other words on this site about the problem of London cyclists being killed by HGVs. Some are here. I begin to wonder whether I should rename the site ‘London Cyclists Killed by HGVs’. What do you think?
The more I look at it, the more I think that everyone with an interest in reducing road danger in London should take a look at the questions that Cynthia was asking of TfL, highlighted above. In them, she asks for evidence-based policy-making, with particular emphasis on the ‘red light jumping cyclists’ issue.