Wednesday, January 13, 2010

(Cyclists) Victims usually have themselves to blame

By Neo Chai Chin, Today Online, 13 Jan 2010.

SINGAPORE — More often than not, cyclists are at fault when it comes to fatal or serious road traffic accidents involving them.

This has been the case in more than 50 per cent of such accidents between January and September of the last two years, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary of Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli in Parliament yesterday.

Common causes for the accidents include changing lanes without due care, failing to keep a lookout, and failing to give way to traffic with right of way.

He was replying to Tampines Member of Parliament Irene Ng’s query on how roads could be made safer for cyclists.

Despite the recent spate of news reports about cyclists involved in accidents, Mr Masagos said the number of fatal and serious accidents had gone down.

In the first nine months of last year, there were 420 cases, a decrease of 30 cases from the same period in 2008.
The Traffic Police are also proactive in taking errant cyclists to task, issuing 471 summons in 2008, and 1,300 summons in the first nine months of last year.

The Traffic Police’s public education efforts include talks and exhibitions in schools, and showing videos to foreign workers. Learner drivers are also taught to keep 1.5m from cyclists and to check their blind spots for cyclists and motorcyclists, Mr Masagos said.


Chu Wa: "This is a wake up call for those who cycle carelessly. But it is not an excuse to NOT consider to make the road design more safe for cyclist -- What about the rest of the "accident"? Those who cycle carefully, follow the rules, and still get killed or hurt? Do they have to blame themselves as well? bad luck? Certainly the current road design can be improved to provide safer space for cyclists."

Ed's note: "Oral Answer to Parliamentary Question on what is being done to prevent accidents involving cyclists," 12 January 2010. Ministry of Home Affairs "Home Team Speeches" (see Paul Barter's comment below).
Ms Irene Ng Phek Hoong:

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs given the recent accidents involving cyclists on roads, what is being done to:

(i) improve safety on roads for cyclists;
(ii) educate motorists that cyclists have a right to be on the roads;
(iii) condition motorists to look out for cyclists.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Mr Masagos Zulkifli:
In the first nine months of 2009, there were 420 fatal and injury accidents involving cyclists. This is a decrease of 30 cases, or 6.7%, as compared to the same period in 2008. The number of fatal accidents in the first nine months this year has also decreased to 15, from 18 in the same period last year.

2 Investigations show that for fatal and serious road traffic accidents involving cyclists over the first 9 months of both 2009 and 2008, slightly more than 50% of the cyclists are found to be at fault. The common causes of accidents where the cyclists are at fault are namely changing lane without due care, failing to keep a proper look out, and failing to give way to traffic with right of way.

3 The Traffic Police has been educating the public on safe cycling habits as well as the proper sharing of roads by cyclists and other road users.

4 Traffic Police conducts road safety talks and exhibitions at schools and community-level events to educate all cyclists on traffic rules and regulations. These talks cover a pre-riding checklist, safe cycling tips and case studies of accidents involving cyclists. As part of the on-going “Road Safety Outreach Campaign”, posters and leaflets on cyclist safety are also handed out during these talks and exhibitions. To reach out to foreign worker cyclists, Traffic Police produces and screens a safe cycling video in different languages at the Ministry of Manpower premises and at the dormitories.

5 Motorists also have a significant role to play on our busy roads in according due care to cyclists. This is underscored from the onset of a learner driver’s theory and practical training. Motorists are therefore taught to give a side clearance of not less than 1.5 metres from cyclists when passing them. Motorists are also taught not to make sharp turns at corners and to slow down and give way to cyclists if it is not safe to turn. It is a strict requirement for trainees to check their blind spots during driving instructions and tests. This is to ensure that drivers are aware of motorcyclists and cyclists who might not come within their mirror views.

6 While Police will continue in their efforts to educate the public and take the necessary enforcement action, all cyclists and motorists must play their part and take responsibility for their own safety as well as according due care to the safety of other users of our roads.


Paul Barter said...

Certainly bicycle users need to exercise caution. And many currently are not careful enough.

However, the victim-blaming in the article also needs to be challenged.

It says, 'more often than not' and 'more than 50%' but here is the original statement in parliament:
"Investigations show that for fatal and serious road traffic accidents involving cyclists over the first 9 months of both 2009 and 2008, slightly more than 50% of the cyclists are found to be at fault. The common causes of accidents where the cyclists are at fault are namely changing lane without due care, failing to keep a proper look out, and failing to give way to traffic with right of way."

Slightly more than 50% has a different ring to it, right?

Furthermore, I don't like the moral equation here between violating a road or safety rule and being to BLAME for the crash and for the death or injury. Many of these violations will have been mistakes.

A very high % of Singapore motorists habitually drive much faster than the posted speed limits in 50, 60 or 70km/h zones. So, my guess is that a high % of these crashes likely involved at least some illegal speeding by the motorist (if they involved a motor vehicle at all which I think most probably did). So, if we apply the same standard to motorists, we would have to assume that in a large % of these crashes the motorists were also "at fault" (since many were breaking the speeding rule at the time, such as driving at 60km/h when the speed limit says 50).

Many countries (mostly in Europe) impose a duty of care on the drivers of the faster, heavier vehicles. The idea is that you take on greater responsibility by using such a powerful and dangerous (to others) machine. In such countries, if a motor vehicle hits a cyclist or pedestrian then the motorist is assumed not to bear a high proportion of the responsibility. It is assumed that sometimes a bicycle user or pedestrian will make a mistake (or be stupid). This should not be punishable with an instant death penalty.

Paul Barter said...

In the last paragraph of my comment I meant to say:
"In such countries, if a motor vehicle hits a cyclist or pedestrian then the motorist IS ASSUMED to bear a high proportion of the responsibility."

Sivasothi said...

The price careless cyclists might have to pay is indeed a heavy penalty - death! As Chu Wa says, what a wake up call!

But are we ruled only by legal culpability? Does a cyclist share an equal burden as a motorist? The rules obviously need to be changed and many of our roads need to be slowed down. Pedestrians would agree.

Paul is right, this was an incomplete answer - what were the common causes for the slightly less than 50% of accidents resulting in death of a purportedly blameless cyclist?

What were the reasons some 200 'innocent' cyclists were killed in the first nine months of 2008 and again in same period in 2009?

Nat said...

Blaming the victim is a common form of shrugging ones responsibility. The moment I read the article, I was thinking, "WTF are they trying to say?"

Staring the facts on the face, one has to admit that cycling conditions in Singapore are not going to improve in the short (or even the mid) term. At the least, I was expecting not to worsen. But such articles placing blame on the cyclists is a step in the wrong direction.

The reporter seems to be a parrot rather than an opinion maker. Really, I could do with fewer such articles - it diverts the attention from poor road design to something entirely different.

Sivasothi said...

Actually I take that bit back about not answering the question; Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Mr Masagos Zulkifli was actually only answering Irene Ng's specific question:

"...what is being done to:
(i) improve safety on roads for cyclists;
(ii) educate motorists that cyclists have a right to be on the roads;
(iii) condition motorists to look out for cyclists."

He did not use the opportunity to elaborate on the cause of the less then 50% of the deaths - that question needs to be filed!

notsilent said...

From a motorist point of view:

Singapore roads and motorists are not ready for cyclists on the roads as yet. But motorists aside, since it's a matter of mindset and educating, our roads don't have proper dedicated cycle lanes and this makes it risky business. When I drive, the same problems are encountered by me:

1. cyclists can't keep up with the pace, especially up slope which is made worse if they are trying to turn right. This slows down other vehicles because of lane hogging which is dangerous and a nuisance.

2. Because of the lack of dedicated cycle lanes cyclists, who are presumably not experienced, tend to veer off the edge and onto motorists. Cycling on roads is serious and shouldn't be taken lightly. There is a trend of cycling being seen as something "cool" and people get on the roads without proper training or experience of how to ride along side vehicles in the absence of cycle lanes.

3. They wear dark clothing !! This I think should be common sense.

Personally, I see cycling as an environmentally friendly act and so support it. BUT, there has to be guidelines for cyclists and more importantly cycle lanes need to be created so there is clear demarcation. This is something the govt should be looking into actively in light of climate change and cutting back emissions.

Sivasothi said...

"notsilent" - believe me, we are well aware there are many errant cyclists on the road. In discussion years ago, I wished aloud after observing cyclists at a mass cycling event that we could introduce licensing! However, licensing seems impractical and expensive and I think current methods employed by TP are helping to address the problem.

I feel the lay Singaporean gave up the roads some two decades ago as too dangerous to cycle to work. It appears to be the foreign blue-collar workers who are applying the pressure by sheer numbers and necessity - they will bear the sharp edge of the sword until the situation gets a rethink.

Anonymous said...

notsilent wrote:

"This slows down other vehicles because of lane hogging which is dangerous"

Lane hogging is dangerous only if the motorist tries to overtake the bike that is "hogging" the lane.

Cyclists must maintain a certain distance from the kerb for their own safety. Unfortunately many motorists don't take well to this, and in their impatience, attempt to overtake cyclists in unsafe circumstances.

It is not lane hogging per se which is dangerous but the unreasonable reaction of many motorists to cyclists trying to implement safe cycling habits. Saying that lane hogging is dangerous puts the blame on cyclists who are simply trying to be safe and ignores the fact that it is the unnecessarily irresponsible reactions of drivers to lane hogging that creates the danger.

I'm concerned about the article blaming cyclists for "failing to give way to traffic with right of way". While I'm sure many cyclists do this, many motorists also think that they have automatic "right of way" over any cyclist. e.g. When I'm cycling past a filter into an expressway, going straight, I often get honks from people who want to turn left into the filter, who are too impatient to wait for the 5 seconds I take to bike past the filter. I've also had motorists suddenly cut in front of me into the filter (if it's a large one). Of course I explicitly "hog" the lane in such circumstances by biking further to the right than I normally would, but this only induces more honking from some other people.

I don't know how aware motorists are about cyclists' "rights of way" but many behave like we have none.

Back2Nature said...

I find difficulties to relate the answers to the quite specific questions.

1) Starting off by stating the numbers have reduced sounds like suggesting that not much need to be done. Shouldn't it be ending with the results after describing what has been done?

2) Mentioning the investigations results is likely for explaining the rationale of what is being carried out. However, as already pointed out, focusing on slightly more than 50% means only slightly more than half the job is being done. What about the other slightly less than half portion. Also, without giving the profile of cyclists involved in accidents, it doesn't explain why they focus on students and foreign workers. No doubt I also think these are the appropriate cyclists to educate, it seems that these groups were targeted based on stereotyping, rather than investigation results.

3) As for the three specific areas/objectives mentioned in the question, I don't see it being addressed. (i) I thought "improve safety on roads for cyclists " refers to what other things are being done in addition to the publicly aware efforts in educating the cyclists. (ii) Educating learner motorists to be more careful and drive more safely is not exactly educating all motorists that cyclists have a right to be on the roads. (iii) Again, not only educate those trainees in driving school, but condition [all] motorists to look out for cyclists. This is quite a tough question.

The question is actually very good to get the relevant people to think on what more to do next. However, the answers sound like shutting up the questioner by reiterating the status quo, hinting that what is being done is already sufficient and let the slightly less than 50% part remains as a minor issue.

Chu Wa said...

I trust we are all human being, cyclist or not. In these fatal accidents, cyclists may be right or may be wrong, just like the drivers. Human do make mistakes.

We are discussing about life or death here. Imagine this happen to us, the devastating impact to our children, parent and partner? "Right of way" has very little meaning in this context. I would rather be in the wrong but not getting hurt or killed!

Let's cool down a little, in all these accidents, who is in better control of the situation? The cyclist or the driver?
I'm sure it is the one who is driving the faster machine. The driver CAN slow down and make it into a safe situation or speed up and ignort the cyclist and make it into a dangerous situation. On the other hand, there is little option for the cyclist if the driver is decisive to make it dangerous.

Apart from blaming the cyclist and improve education for the cyclist and motorist. At least 2 things can be done to make Singapore a better place for everyone:

Fine tune the road design (narrower lane, hump, etc.) so that it is not possible or easy to drive over speed limit.
Increase the maximum penalties to the dangerous driver, because they have the option to make it a very dangerous place.

Anonymous said...

Maybe cyclists should start doing what this guy in uk is doing.

dragonboy said...

ya i agree im a student came to this website to learn about the safe cyling force my teacher ask me to do because of the tampines central being the first cycling town and paul barter your comments are really nice even the whole school know you.for your good english that you most people at my school know you.

faith said...

Some children and young people can cycle at a high speed on pavements. I wonder what I can possibly do should I be knocked down on the pavement. I don't expect help from strangers, as is the case in Singapore. So, should one be injured on the pavement, how can one obtain some kind of identification and muster the strength to stop a 'hit and run'? And will the law protect victims of a 'hit and run' from a bicyclist should the cyclist be caught?

Back2Nature said...

Children and young people cycling at high speed on pavements is something quite uniquely Singapore. Being such a safe place, we have many children and young adults on the streets. Thus, this is an area of concern in safe cycling that other cities might not have solution, yet.

A way is to make it uncomfortable to cycle at high speed on pavement. I find those shallow strip (some parts of East Coast walking/jogging track have it) quite effective in deterring me from riding on it. Can modify it by providing two smooth strip for the wheels of wheelchairs.

alsubjacsg said...

HAR!!! A WRX mowed down 5 cyclists from the back in a 18 rider pack. Call that cyclists have themselves to blame????