Monday, 14 April 2014

The medical defence: we can use it too

Last month, the topic of "the medical defence" was covered -arguing that anyone who uses it is claiming that they aren't safe to drive.

Today Arthur Page of Worlaby, Lincolnshire, gets off a Death by Dangerous and a Death by Careless by doing exactly that "The lorry driver told the court he had been diagnosed with sleep apnoea - a condition which causes the sufferer to stop breathing while they sleep - following the collision."

Unless prosecutors are trained to exploit this admission of unfitness to drive, until the DVLA is hooked up to the courts, using this defence in court isn't going to lose your license.

that is, unless someone reports you through the DVLA web page -which we have just done, and which they have just accepted

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Mr Page used the defence if "he had been diagnosed with apnea" as a defence in a trial of causing death by dangerous driving.

The fact that he crashed into a stationary HGV is evidence that the condition is affecting his driving

As such, he is declaring that he is not medically fit to drive unless and until this condition has been addressed. 

We'll never know if this gets acted on. But in absence of justice in the legal system, this is all that is left.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

White Vans and their costs

the RAC foundation have an analysis of the White Van.,

This also includes Tipper Trucks, bringers of death to the city.

  • 53% of vans are private; of these 45% of km driven are used for commuting, 17% personal. 1% for between jobs , 23% for collection and delivery. 
  • 47% company, 32% commuting and 3% personal. Presumably these journeys constitute a taxable-in-kind benefit and taxed as any other company car.
  • Of the company cars, 35% for goods, 19% between jobs. 
  • 99% of private owners are men. You knew that, right?
  • 39% of LCVs are less than 25% full. When you consider the percentages of vehicles used for commuting and personal use this is unsurprising. A lot of these vehicles are used as substitute for corporate or personal cars.
  • The majority of LCVs are diesel. You knew that too.
Selected quotes from page ix
  • There is evidence that LCVs have been used to substitute for HGVs
  • A key factor is pay – an LCV driver might earn £15k, an HGV driver £25k
  • Regulation will have an influence; vans, their operation and their drivers are less heavily regulated than HGVs
That page also predicts a doubling in size by 2040, even though page viii showed that vehicle registrations make it clear that demand is elastic: when the economy is in trouble, less vans. Therefore their growth estimates contain implicit estimates about economic growth.

The safety details on p.xi are relevant. 
  1. Overall collision rates are down
  2. peak collision hours are 8-9 and 5-6. These are also peak commuting hours, so vehicle use may be highest at this time.
  3. 50% of vans fail their MOT first time round
  4. 89% of vehicles pulled over are overweight. This contrasts with the percentage-full numbers, implying that a specific set of LCVs aer massively overweight. Tipper trucks?
The report (p.14) implies that LCVs are only in 5% reported RTCs, despite being 14% of traffic. What is not looked at is what the percentage of KSIs arise in those RTCs. Tipper trucks have a justified reputation for being lethal in London. meaning even though their percentage may be down, their damage is significantly higher.

LCVs and personal use.
Any LCV used for commuting and personal use is a taxable benefit. Yet as the paper notes,  "Although Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs record personal LCV usage for tax purposes, this is somewhat unreliable and not a true representation.". They get more detail F2F -which means that van drivers under-report their personal usage. 

LCVs and working hours. P17
only 44% of drivers know the legal limits on hours, which is ~ten working hours excluding commuting. If a driver commutes 1 hour a day each way -that's 12 hours on the road.

LCVs and Costs
The paper implies that the highest operating costs of the vehicle are fuel, at an approximate maximum of  £3,600/year. Yet the salary of a driver is a higher factor in the operational costs of the vehicle -as noted when the paper discusses how a motivator for LCVs is their reduced salaries than HGVs. 

The cost saving of switching from HGV driver to an LCV driver covers the entire annual fuel bill of the vehicle

HGV and LCV safety 

The paper highlights that the staff cost savings are a key factor driving a switch from HGV to LCV. Yet that cost saving comes at the expense of training -HGV drivers have to pass more tests. When you consider how dangerously HGV drivers can drive, how so many of them appear to be on the phone when you look at them on the motorway (try doing this from a coach, you get a better view), the fact that the driving qualification requirements of LCVs is less than HGVs is important.

When the "staff cost savings" of switching from HGVs to LCVs are mentioned, it really means "it is cheaper to employ staff without the stricter qualifications of HGV drivers"

Tipper Trucks
The article includes tipper trucks in this class -clearly part of the EU designation.

This implies 
  1. that the qualifications to drive a tipper truck are less than for an HGV
  2. assuming the knowledge is spread across all vehicle categories, only half the owners of tipper trucks know the working hour limits for driving LCVs.
  3. Assuming the MOT failure rate is spread across all vehicles, 50% of tipper trucks are not in a condition to pass an MOT.
These are things to consider in any road safety discussion. It is also highly likely that these are the vehicles found to be overweight. One does not observe an overweight white van, but a full tipper truck is visible -and this could lead to the higher success rate on VOSA searches.

To conclude: the numbers here show the trend towards the LCV becoming a ubiquitous vehicle in the UK cities. While safer vehicles than HGVs, the fact that the driving standards are lower may increase risk, especially for the larger vehicles, the tipper trucks in particular.


People may whine about the cost of fuel, -but only the VAT-deductible cost of business travel is relevant. Commuting costs are not a business expense unless the owner is lying to HMG about personal use -and even trying to claim VAT back on those journeys. 

Monday, 7 April 2014

The ethics of autonomous cars

This paper on ethical autonomous cars asks whether or autonomous cars would have ethics -essentially prioritise the risks of one participant in a collision over another.

Whoever wrote that is fucking naive.

The whole SUV trend is prioritising the risks of others over that of the owner -or at least appearing to. If you look at the safey ratings of cars they all highlight their passenger safety -but nobody highlights their pedestrian safety numbers. Because if they started to do that, either their cars with awful figures -Jeep Cherokee, Audi TT- wouldn't sell. Or if they did sell, their owners might be slightly self conscious tht their toys were considered more dangerous than others. Though of course the sales figures of SUVs shows that few customers have ethics there.

Everyone who buys an SUV is saying "I don't give a fuck about the safety of others, I want something that bullies them out the way. And if pedestrians, cyclists or people in small cars die -tough".

Does anyone seriously think the owner of an automated SUV would want one that is prepared to prioritise the lives of others over themselves? Not a fucking chance.

But SUVs are about passive safety: the ethics of the situation are implicit in the vehicle, but they aren't implemented in the software. Write those decisions in code and all of a sudden the authors of the software are the one making conscious decisions. Which brings one word to the surface: lawsuit.

If anyone is in a collision with an autonomous vehicle, an immediate question is going to become "did the car make a conscious decision to crash with me?", or "what were its priorities in this situation?". And if it became clear that the collision was a result of explicit decisions in the firmware: google, Mercedes, Volvo or whoever are in deep fucking trouble.

That is: unless they can get the legal system set up to grant them indemnity.

Expect the car and computer companies to be talking to the politicans already, saying things like "Autonomous cars will improve road safety -but if we are exposed to lawsuits then those lives won't be saved", and the politicans to nod with them as they listen to the stories of a brave new world of cars that fend for themselves.

If an autonomous car really did have ethics, would it do the school run? Would it drive to corner shop? Would it refuse to work on a high-smog day? Because that would be ethical. Are we going to see that? Not a fucking chance.

Monday, 24 March 2014

call it what it is: the bravery position

The "primary position" is a phrase that crops up a lot in British cycling, "taking the primary", "adopting the primary position" &c.

Certainly taking the lane is critical action you need to do on today's roads, but why call it "primary"? That's asserting that its the main place to be, and elsewhere is "secondary".

Cycling in gutter with buses going past and less than 1m of fading red paint doing nothing to keep you alive -yes, that's secondary.

Cycling along with parked cars to your left while you look in every window to see if there's someone there about to open the door -yes, that's secondary.

But is going down the middle of a lane full of heavy traffic "primary"? No: it's the bravery position.

Do it and you get hated by everyone who thinks they are being held up. They sound their horns, they punishment pass you, they may even brake check you afterwards. You can pedal hard and get up to speed, to lessen this a bit, but that works if you are fit, aggressive and willing to reach your destination after a workout. And in somewhere hilly -like much of Bristol and some of S Gloucs, it doesn't matter how fit you are, you will still be crawling as far as the impatient wanker in the van behind you is concerned -that the van driving about 2 metres behind you while he swears about arrogant cyclists.

It's the bravery position as you need to willing to mix with the vehicles of death: the HGVs, the buses.

It's the bravery position as if you look at the demographics of British cyclists, its males 20+, with the numbers petering out as they get older and unable to accelerate enough to "claim the road".

It's the bravery position as it completely fails to work once you reach dual carriageways or three lane gyratories. Take a lane in a gyratory or a roundabout with a motorway junction, and taking the lane is only for the very, very brave. There's the cars behind you who don't expect you to be there, the cars turning off the road and wanting to get to motorway speed -you have to sprint to clear their exit path alive. Then there's the cars coming off the motorway, not used to seeing bicycles, and not prepared to wait for any they do actually see. You want to be brave: negotiate the A4174/M32 roundabout.

So let's stop pretending that the centre of the road is the place to be. It's only the place to be because the standard UK alternatives are so fucking awful. And because of that, because its the bravery position, cycling is for the brave only.

Some people are happy with that and claim its the place to be. Well: there's Downhill mountain biking as a sport too -but that doesn't mean that you expect families to go to school with body armour so they can safely negotiate 4 foot drop-offs. If you are happy with the bravery position -go for it. Just as if you are like negotiating extreme DH courses for entertainment -great. If you like that, and your commute includes an extreme DH course, you are a lucky person. But don't go round advocating DH skills so that everyone else can get to work or school uninjured.

Take the bravery position if you want to: but recognise that it will forever be for the bold and the brave only -and stop imagining that it's "the primary position" -the place for a transformation in mass cycling to take place.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The "medical condition" defence

There were two cases last week in which medical conditions are the apparent cause of people being killed by cars.

A driver who hid his fainting incidents -possibly to retain his job. He knew of his condition, and rather than report it to the DVLA, he chose to drive a 4x4 around. One day he killed two girls when that 4x4 veered onto the pavement. It's a bit of a fucking co-incidence that this would have been the only time he fainted -its more likely he'd had lots of minor faintings and kept going. His actions were wilful, and should raise the charge to manslaughter, at the very least.

A driver who killed a cyclist, apparently after some hypogycemic event. Assuming this a known condition, the DVLA granted the license after the driver certified that their condition was under control. Clearly this is not the case. Either through neglect or a worsening of the condition, his condition rendered him unstate to drive. If a one-off, unfortunate -but he's not safe to drive any more. If due to neglect -he does need punishment.

The "medical condition" defence crops up all too often.

Case 1: 94 year old, 94 year old uses 'automatism' defence to plead not guilty to death by careless driving. " a medical condition that was “not foreseeable” at the time had rendered her unconscious". Case dropped, apparently due to prosecution fuckup. Not covered in the reporting -does she continue to drive?

Case 2: 73 year old gets a suspended sentence after killing cyclist. At least he was prepared to plead guilty to death-by-careless: a lot of people deny even that. But "unknown" parkinsons disease may have been a factor -unless he fell asleep at the wheel.

Case 3: 60 year old uses 'sciatica attack' as their defence (Crap Walking and Cycling in Waltham Forest commentary).

Case 4: 35 year old "suffered a reflex syncope at the wheel"

Key points: someone got killed, driver gets out saying "medical condition".


What it should be instead is a "HERE IS MY DRIVING LICENSE FOREVER CARD"
  • Anyone who had a unknown medical condition which happened to surface while driving -DVLA rules imply 1+ year license suspension -and that suspension only when they are happy the condition is under control.
  • Anyone who had a known and reported medical condition, one they thought was under control -but yet was in any RTC? They aren't in control of their condition are they? So any conditional granting of a license has implicitly been revoked.
These aren't "prove in court" or convince a there but for the grace of god go I" judge kind of bans. These are the standard medically unfit to drive rules kicking in. Not negotiable.

It should also be the case that anyone who knew about and didn't report a condition -that's wilful endangerment of others, and shouldtrigger a dangerous driving based charge. And of course, no license until the DVLA is happy.

Irrespective of the cause, or whether they are faking it, anyone who uses a "previously unknown medical condition" as a defence -they are declaring that they aren't safe to drive again until the DVLA is happy. They are required to hand in their license, and re-apply. Then recertify that they are safe to drive every few years.

This gives a CPS opportunities -not to give up, not to say "no prosecute", but to try to show that the defendant knew of their condition, and either failed to report it, or were failing to manage it. Either way -this renders them culpable and so their crime should be in the "dangerous" category, not "careless".

And then there are the people who make up their medical condition -or exaggerate it- as a get out clause? The prosecution here could take two strategies. Show they are making it up, or show that if it did exist, then they should have known they were unsafe to drive.

And irrespective of this, they need to get the defendant to admit that they aren't safe to drive. Then to state whether or not they have returned their license already.

Anyone using "medical condition" as a defence but yet continues to drive is either faking it or wilfully endangering others. And in court, their attitude could be used against them.

Anyone who uses the "medical condition" defence and gets found not guilty, they have still lost -because its proof their condition exists and caused a death. 

But for that we need a CPS team that recognises this and knows to exploit it -and the DVLA hooked in to the court cases.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Cycle registration? Justified because of wingmirrors according to a BANES councillor

Recently one of the BANES cllrs was muttering about cycle registration at a public forum. We contacted him to ask him WTF he meant.

It turns out it's all because he lost two wingmirrors while driving and considers this to be the fault fo the cyclists involved (rather than any actions of his own).  This is straight out of the newspaper-web site comment arena and anyone seriously proposing it should be laughed at.

Notice how the councillor avoids mentioning any of the specific questions in our Questions for Anyone Proposing Registration page. Maybe he's embarrassed.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Cycling Front
Date: 27 February 2014 13:25
Subject: Re: bicycle registration and licensing proposals
To: "Bryan Chalker (Cllr)" <>

On 19 February 2014 20:19, Bryan Chalker (Cllr) <> wrote:
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.  I was merely making a point last night that it wouldn’t take rocket-science to devise a way of identifying cyclists with some form of registration plate and modest insurance cover. 

Here's the point: it would. you'd have to register every single bicycle in the country. Then add the challenge of per-cyclist insurance, add the offence of UK citizens cycling uninsured 

Now deal with the problem of bicycles from abroad, allowing foreign bikes to be cycled unregistered, presumably also leaving it legal for other EU citizens to cycle without a license -unless you intend to exit the EU and so deny EU cyclists the right to cycle here with "reciprocal" rights. 

If you do let EU cyclists ride round without registration, come up with a plan to identify dual nationality cyclists pedalling round unregistered and shouting "foreign!" ever time someone pulls them over. A UK-wide identity card scheme should cover this.
On two occasions I’ve had wing mirrors damaged on two Classic cars by clumsy cyclists and I was left to foot the bills.  I really don’t think this is fair. 

And you've never lost a wingmirror on a parked car to a passing car? You clearly have off-street parking. 

If someone on a bicycle hits your wingmirror, well, they are meant to stop. Do you think that they will do so if some registration scheme exists? Or do you expect that whatever registration plate a bicycle has will be the same size as a motorbike one.

I also happen to think that a great number of pedal cycles, minus mudguards, reflectors, warning instruments and proper lighting, should not be deemed street legal. 

There are laws against bicycles without lights and reflectors

Mudguards: cyclists choice to get a wet butt
Warning instruments: what do you mean? Hazard lights? Indicators? something else?

But, then I’m merely a senior motorist and seem to have less rights than the cycling fraternity these days. 

You will find you have more defacto right to reach your destination alive than people who chose cycle. Not "cycling fraterinity", just those in your constituency and nearby who for some reason don't drive to their destination.

Your justification for this "wingmirrors" appears to avoid fundamental safety issues that do matter to people trying to make cycling a survivable transport option -even in Bath, which is looking more and more outdated compared to Bristol.

When you consider, however, that the current goals of the UK cycling groups are "proper, dutch-quality segregated cycling paths", you should recognise that this will protect your wingmirrors. Everyone who cycles on the bristol-bath path, Avon river path, Kennet canal path, Twin-tunnels path: nobody here clips your wingmirrors. Anyone who gets the opportunity to cycle on the (minimal) London Road cycle path -same thing. However, BANES council in its "London Gateway" is proposing removing that path and replacing it with paint on the ground -paint that brings bicycles and cars into conflict and so create the very problems you want to avoid 

Thanks for making contact but I don’t want to start a war with you.  Kind regards - BRYAN

Not a war, just waiting for you to answer the questions on the implementation details on any registration and licensing scheme, which you have so far avoided.

If you can't do that, then it comes out as an off-the-cuff remark without any serious consideration. While this is acceptable in a comments page in the Bath Chronicle, is it somewhat embarrassing when councillors say this in public meetings, as it may indicate an attempt to push public policy into a corner of ridicule.
From: Cycling Front
Sent: 19 February 2014 04:22
To: Bryan Chalker (Cllr)
Subject: bicycle registration and licensing proposals


Apparently you have been advocating licensing and registration of bicycles and cyclists.

Normallyl whenever someone makes such a proposal in public, they haven't thought through details. Such as "does this apply to private roads"? "if there is an age limit, how will police know whether or not someone is below it", or "what will you do when someone from another EU member state wants to cycle"

Accordingly, we've made a list of things that should be considered -a list made when last someone made a public "license all cyclists" proposal

Please can you provide detailed answers to the questions, provide solutions that actually workable, or acknowledge that your proposal is both unworkable and political suicide on a national arena.

thank you

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Turbogate: root causes

The Turbogate debacle rolls on

The fact that Sustrans and cyclenation approved this shows how their seal of approval is something that MUST be withheld when things this mediocre come out. Sustrans in particular is building up a reputation for "approving" junk like the London quietways.

As for cyclenation, those cycle groups affiliated with it need to ask hard questions, a key one being "why is John Franklin on the infrastructure group, given he doesn't believe in infrastructure as a solution?"

But other than that, we need to look at root causes of the mediocrity

1. Political expediences

The plans rejected crossing bike priority due to the need to add mandatory raised crossings for cycle rights of way -and the council unwilling to to add them for "political reasons".

The fact that something is going to be rejected for political reasons does not mean an unsafe alternative should be accepted. Instead the cycle groups should say "council failing to provide safe crossings" and make it clear there is a political cost to not adding good cycling facilities.

2. The UK cycling infrastructure guidelines are shit

This is broadly known, except by Franklin. We need to get rid of the "two types of route" story, we need to have hard minimums on path widths, bike lanes -which should be deprecated in favour of cycle paths -should also have a hard minimum below which we say "these are worse than useless as it encourages cars to go closer". And anything that says "advisory bike lane" should be rejected without even measuring the width. WTF is "an advisory bike lane?". As cars can go in it whenever they want without any legal redress it doesn't guarantee anything at all. They only go in when a council doesn't want to do anything for cycling, yet still pretend they care.

3. Timelines to spend money prevent good infrastructure from being built.

One of the arguments from the CTC for approving turbogate was "the time was running out".

This is why intermittent scraps thrown off the DfT table are something to reject. Good infrastructure takes time -its why the last year of the Bristol Cycle City project resulted in the best infrastructure -concorde way. The cycle team had to get approval from other parts of the council to use its own land by the railway, design a good path, plan a bridge over a stream, build the path, add lights, connect it with the reworked muller-to-St Werburghs path. You can't do this if a government says "here's 20 million, go build some cycling stuff by the end of the year", any more than you could go to the HS2 team and say "go build half a mile of the route while we talk about the rest".

A long-term funding plan is needed.

The DfT knows this for roads, for HS2. Fuck, they even know it for electric cars where they talk about long-term infrastructure investment, and all they are talking about there is charge points.

But what does cycling get: fuck all, promised repeatedly in press statements, with time limits to spend it.

And as a result: sign-off on shit designs, "respect" cycling campaigns, and no ability to plan for a coherent set of routes that are off-road, safe and joined up.

Money spent on shit cycling infrastructure is money wasted. Money spent on driving infrastructure from the cycling budget is doubly wasted.