Word has spread quickly about the latest coroner’s report into a cycling fatality. Superintendent Steve Fitzgerald was killed in June 2008 while riding his bike home from work. Five years later we get a thoroughly investigated report from a concerned coroner.
This report puts heavy emphasis on the need to make hi-vis clothing for cyclists compulsory. Wellington coroner Ian Smith makes this suggestion (amongst other more sensible ideas) despite the knowledge that Mr Fitzgerald was wearing hi-vis and lights at the time of his death. Not only that, but he was an experienced cyclist and a former top traffic cop. To add insult, the driver in this case, was found guilty of careless driving, and the infrastructure was also found to bare more than it’s share of responsibility (and little has been done in the following five years to make any improvements to the situation).
Not all is bad, however. The coroner also makes some very sensible suggestions. He recommends driver education in regards to cyclists, he recommends more thorough cyclist education in schools (which thankfully Wellington is already onto – but lets push them to make that compulsory), he recommends a 1m gap between motor vehicles and cyclists (isn’t the current road code recommendation 1.5m?) and clearer rules regarding the use of cycle lanes. These are all good sensible ideas. And if you look at overseas countries with much lower road tolls, you’ll see that this is the approach they take.
However, the emphasis in this report is on hi-vis. Which frankly appals me. Not because I am 100% opposed to hi-vis. (The other day, while riding to the Go By Bike breakfast at 6am in the morning, I was decked out like a Christmas tree. It was dark and very early. I was taking the scenic route around the bays, and I didn’t think that my hi-vis reflective vest, yellow reflective slap bands and six flashing & steady front and rear lights – on top of the fact I was riding my bright yellow box bike – was too much. But then as soon as I was on the bike path at Oriental, of course it did seem a tad excessive.) But because the victim was wearing hi-vis.
CAN spokeswoman Jane Dawson points this out in her comments to the DomPost,
Cycling Advocates Network spokeswoman Jane Dawson told the coroner high-visibility clothing would not have been a relevant intervention in Mr Fitzgerald’s death, and instead wanted the Hutt City Council and the Transport Agency to bear some responsibility for the roundabout being too narrow and not allowing for cyclists.
It just seems so utterly ridiculous to suggest that a little paragraph, with the word ‘compulsory’ in it, in a piece of legislation tucked away somewhere in the Crown Law Offices (or wherever such things are kept) would have somehow protected Mr Fitzgerald and the numerous other sensible cyclists in this country from being hit by an inattentive or under-skilled driver or becoming the victim of poor infrastructure.
It is victim blaming in the worst sense – when the victim actually has done everything right and the driver and infrastructure are clearly to blame. It’s like blaming a child for being bitten by a rogue dog. You can force all children to be wrapped in bubble wrap (or kevlar?) every time they’re outside, but doesn’t it make more sense to tackle irresponsible dog owners?
The coroner claims it’s a “no-brainer”; I’d like to see his scientific evidence for that. Show me the country where hi-vis was made compulsory and cycling deaths stopped. Show me the country where nothing was done about infrastructure or education and the road toll dropped. I’m happy to show him countries where the opposite is true – where they spent real money on cycling infrastructure and not only did they make roads safer and more pleasant, but more people took to their bikes and the overall population is healthier. Perhaps the Coroner has misunderstood the meaning of the term ‘no-brainer’ – he must think that there’s no brains involved in leaping to this conclusion. Surely?
Sadly this is not the first time in the past year that a NZ coroner has jumped to such conclusions, and it seems now the Ministry of Transport are starting to listen. If only he hadn’t put in that red herring about hi-vis, which the media jump on so gleefully, to undermine his serious and sensible suggestions regarding education and infrastructure. If anyone at the Ministry, at the Coroners office, or at the NZTA is listening: please, please, please don’t be fooled into thinking compulsory hi-vis will make a smidgen of difference. Please take your responsibilities to NZ citizens, NZ cyclists and all our road users seriously. Please make effective change. EDUCATION and INFRASTRUCTURE. There is so much evidence that this works that it seems pointless to list it here. They are ‘no-brainers’.
Let people make their own choices about when and where to wear hi-vis, and take responsibility for their own actions. But give them a safe environment and provide them with correct information. Design bike lanes which don’t put them in harms way. Educate from an early age. These are simple and easy things to do. And they work. They really do.
Hi-vis is not a ‘no-brainer’.
See also this story from TV3 news, 15th Feb. and what the rest of the world thinks of this (or at least the UK).