Monday, 5 December 2011

Child murder

I've avoided ranting too much about my life as a vulnerable road user - I commute using my bike. Part of this is because I'm scared that the hatred I experience from drivers on the roads will be transferred into trolling on my blog if I'm ever honest about how I feel. When I'm feeling pretty crappy as a road user I basically assume that if I continue to use my bike to commute I will be severely disabled or killed with an "accident" with a car. That my two worst accidents to date have been caused by pedestrians has been fluke.

This post was going around my head on Saturday night as I drifted off to sleep. I was going to avoid writing it today. But this morning the BBC News website posted this map of a decade's worth of road casualties on Britain's roads. Our roads are relatively safe, but still "a total of 36,371 people were killed on Britain's roads between 1999 and 2010". A similar map was posted by the Guardian a month-or-so back. This included the age of the victim as well as what they were doing. It turned out that the slaughter in my neighbourhood of Edinburgh was of elderly women and young people. We regularly allow the most vulnerable in our society to be killed and this is not a national scandal.

The reason I've decided to write this blog post was this story about a seven-year-old in Dalkeith, south of Edinburgh. More of that later.

A wee while back, this Youtube video, on how the Dutch got their bike infrastructure was doing the rounds of the cycling forums and Twitter

The whole video is quite interesting. I'd like to get the inside story from a Dutch transport researcher, but it's an inspiring tale of the campaigning of vulnerable road users creating a very positive outcome for transport policy. What particularly caught my eye was one of the banners a parent is holding a 2'34" "Stop Kinder Moord"; "Stop Child Murder". You can't get much more matter of fact than that?

It's similar to the famous, "Kill Your Speed, Not a Child" road safety adverts in the UK:

Except, it's not. Watching these public information films, if I was a parent I would think "Well, I drive at 35mph to get my child to school on time, so it's not as if I can trust any other driver. I must put my child in the car, so they are safe". Or even, "well, it's the stupid child's fault for running out in the road". So, I don't think these adverts have the right impact. They just make us all scared of the car and run to the car for safety.

It doesn't work for a second reason. "Kill your speed, not a child" avoids blame. I ate a chicken for my dinner yesterday that had to be killed for me to eat it. I didn't kill the chicken. The weasel verb "kill" without a pronoun avoids blame. Anyone/thing can kill by accident. "Stop Child Murder" puts the blame somewhere else - on cars. It is cars that are murdering children. Not their speed. Or an "accident".

And this brings me back to the poor seven-year-old in Dalkeith. The BBC report that he "he ran out in front of a car". If you look at where the accident happened on Google Streetview I don't blame the boy at all. It's a suburban street, surrounded by houses, with a 20mph speed limit, by a bus stop.He was seven. I've seen enough adults walk out in a much busier main road not looking at oncoming traffic, let alone a child who's at the age where if he hit someone so badly they were injured he would find himself in front of a very concerned Children's Panel wondering what had gone wrong with his upbringing. 

Yet it was an "accident". This is what I find inspiring about the Dutch case and the message of "Stop child murder" - it seems to have disrupted and changed the whole discourse around transport policy and stopped it being a car-centric discourse of "accidents" that just happen. No, cars kill people. That's the policy problem we need to solve.

6 December edit:  Well, this is fast becoming my most read post. Thanks all! And do check out David Hembrow's blog and his links in his comment below about the "Stop Child Murder" campaign in the Netherlands.


  1. A very large part of this problem is that there is an increasing attitude that people "rely" on their cars and that this has become a right to drive. Where in actual fact we only allow people to drive under licence, but then if they
    break the trust we give them with this licence what happens

  2. I agree - that dangerous drivers are allowed on the road is shocking.

    But this is also self-sustaining. I don't blame people for relying on their cars given how bloody dangerous the roads are in the first place!

  3. It's a difficult thing - I used to think that big 4x4 drivers were selfish and irresponsible, for example, because hitting a kid (or any brand of human for that matter) with their bull bars IS murder. They're not walking away from that accident.

    However, Neal's mum will now not drive anything else after his dad had an accident in a "normal" car, rolled it, and the entire back was crushed. Had their kids been in the car, they would have died. As a result of that she feels safer in a bigger car and would feel irresponsible putting her family in anything else.

    As you say about the school run, people want to keep their own kids safe even if it puts other people (and their kids) at risk. Now, as a parent myself, I fully appreciate it where I previously didn't as much.

    Every time I see a cyclist I panic a bit. You've got to be bloody brave to cycle on an actual road with actual people in actual cars.

  4. Drivers kill not the cars - the cars are their weapon of choice. People also choose knives and guns and use these to kill.

    Because guns are so dangerous a licence is required to won one and there is a presumed liability on the owner of a gun should any person be killed or injured by the use of that gun. Weigh up the toll of deaths and serious injuries caused by someone misusing a gun, and compare with the toll from misuse of cars. Clearly we have a skewed balance of priorities when people can roam the land with such dangerous weapons and such weak controls on the use of them.

    It is not just on the carriageways that the danger lurks. Just check how many are killed when walking on a footway, yet no one is taken to task for this commonly committed offence (just count up the number of cars, vans and trucks parked on footways on which they have been driven. Deaths, hundreds of daily offences committed by drivers but the hue & cry is after cyclists - hardly justified by the death toll (around 1 death every 3 years) and an insignificant count compared to the number of car drivers breaking the same law (HA 1835 s.72)

  5. Mark Wagenbuur made the video you featured. We share a blog, and here is the blog post which goes with the video.

    A few months before this, I wrote a blog post about the Stop the Child Murder protests. If you've not seen it before, you may find it interesting.

  6. David - thanks very much for that, really interesting to read. I hadn't realised Stop De Kindermoord were a campaigning organisation, but that all makes sense now and I can see why they were so successful in changing public discourses.

    The stats on road deaths are very interesting too.

  7. Of course in this country rather that getting changes in law and infrastructure to make our roads safer, our Government prefers the Taliban approach to road safety. After all it is easier to blame the victim that to challenge the libertarian attitudes of the motoring lobby.

  8. And an interesting take on a similar theme: