Tuesday 30 July 2013

So-called 'Niceway Code'

I've addressed victim blame before, and I've also talked at length about the mutual respect myth. Twice, in fact.

So where do we end up if we fail to learn from those lessons? My dear friends, we end up in Scotland.

Or, rather, we end up where Scotland is now. With the flagship pile of pointlessness that is Niceway Code. A campaign that aims to make roads safer by politely asking everyone to be nice.

Now don't get all uppity because its the Scottish and not us. This same attitude is prevalent across our local councillors here too, but thankfully they haven't the brains or the resources to turn it into a 'campaign'... yet.

The problem I've got regarding Niceway Code isn't that I don't believe people should be nice on the road. The problem is, to use a phrase I so frequently resort to when analyzing government policy on cycling, the message is vacuous crap. We're going to deal with the fact that 70% of cyclist fatalities and serious injuries on the roads can be blamed solely on motorists by asking cyclists to be nice? We're saying that cyclists being rude is a contributory factor in motorists mowing us down?

Fuck that. 

Nearly all of the things we're supposedly doing that are so offensive aren't causing accidents. The bottom line? Someone annoying you by breaking a rule that has no impact on safety (accident stats show thats the case for red light jumping, something Niceway Code have hilighted as an issue without correctly relating it to safety) is not something you can morally equate with endangering people with your car. It makes no moral sense, it makes no statistical sense. It. Is. Wrong.

But more important than that, this reinforces the idea that we're all somehow collectively responsible. You are contributing towards the prejudice which fuels aggression and hatred directed towards us on the roads on a daily basis, so-called Niceway. 

Even if that were not the case, are we seriously arguing that the people intentionally driving too close, too fast are amenable to this kind of gentle persuasion? They know what they're doing. You're asking them to politely pass us at 50mph within three feet of us? 

The idea that there is moral equivalence between cyclists and motorists ignores the fact that the power and therefore hazard posed by each is not equivalent - accident stats back this up. It may seem appropriate to ask cyclists for a bit of give when also asking motorists to stop endangering us, but the reality is we have nothing to give - most of us don't jump reds, we don't ride on the pavement, and even if we did thats irrelevant - all of those factors combined still only amount for a few percent of all cyclist injuries.

I suppose from behind the windscreen wipers of your car this could look like a good idea. From anywhere else? Its expensive, counterproductive, victim blaming nonsense.


  1. It's a nice piece, Cab - and very sensible.

    As you might have seen already, I commented yesterday on the Nice Way Code Facebook site and Twitter how they've already tried these "mutual respect" campaigns here in New York City, where I've been living for the last year. The result, as I mentioned in a past blogpost, is illuminating. Motorists will shout "Share the Road!" at one as they pull out into the bike lane, sit on one's rear wheel leaning on their horns and generally reacting to what they wrongly regard as impolite behaviour: http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2013/06/citibikes-drivers-and-science-of-moral.html

    1. Thanks for kind comment. Yes, I'd read your article and its a familiar tale - and a good reminder of why 'share the road' fails.

  2. IME, when a driver says something about sharing the road, they actually mean "get out of my way."


    1. Do you ever wonder whats going through their minds? Do they genuinely think we get out of bed in the morning with a goal of getting in their way and slowing them down? If I'm in the lane of traffic in front of a car its not because I want to slow that drivers journey, its because its the safest or best place for me to be. It strikes me that a good message to get across to motorists, better than 'share the road' is 'its not all about you'.

    2. I think the 'Share the Road' stuff is dangerously counterproductive, for this reason. Drivers think cyclists not sharing when they take the lane without thinking why they're taking the whole road, or what sharing really means when one of you is small, light and crushable, and the other large, heavy and potentially fast.

    3. Actually, now I think about it, £500,000 on educating people wouldn't necessarily have been a waste.

      How about a campaign to tell people why some cyclists take the lane, and that it's completely legal, even advised? What about explaining the dangers of car-dooring to car occupants and cyclists alike? Something specific that addressed aggravation that might genuinely be due to ignorance could have improved conditions and, ironically, got some people to play nice. It ain't infrastructure, but £500k doesn't buy much of that anyway.

      However I see now that their 'main campaign' launches next week. Let's hope there is something of value in it after all. If there is, they've sure ballsed up the preview.

    4. I could cope with a campaign like that, but thus far they're talking about cyclists jumping red lights as the reason motorists are giving for ill treating us. Doesn't look like educating, it looks like pandering to offensive nonsense to me :(

      But lets see. Maybe they're not so thick skinned that the criticism they've received will have no impact.