The Road Safety Authority – the anti-bicycle state agency

The Road Safety Authority (RSA), are the primary state agency responsible for advising and evaluating road safety strategy in Ireland.  According to their own website their mission is:

The aim of the Road Safety Authority is to save lives and prevent injuries by reducing the number and severity of collisions on the road. This is reflected in our maxim, Working to Save Lives.

That sounds nice but it’s really a load or horse manure. As long as they exist in their current guise, any effort to promote the bike as a safe and simple mode of transport is destined to fail. The RSA are a motor vehicle centric organisation whose primary loyalty is always motor vehicles over bike users and pedestrians. Whether they are incompetent or ignorant is open to debate but what cannot be denied is that they are one of the main reasons why we are nowhere near reaching the goal of 10% of all trips to work by bike by 2020 set out by the National Cycle Policy Framework. In Limerick we’re at 2%. By 2020, I can safely say we’ll still be at 2%.

So why are the RSA so car centric? Well if you look at their income streams it’s easy to see. In 2016, the RSA received an Oireachtas grant of €139,000. This is hardly worth mentioning though when you look at the income received from driver testing, vehicle testing (private and commercial) and driver license fees – over €70,000,000. Yes, €70 million. Add on a few little extras such as digital tachographs, driving instructor approval, sponsorship, dangerous goods carriage fees, etc and their total income for 2016 was €73,682,017. In 2015 it was €76,744,127. When their whole business revolves around the motor industry,  is it any wonder they are completely biased in favour of it?

Let’s just look at their latest TV advert ‘promoting’ the new 1.5m (or is it 1.0m?) safe passing distance law. Much has been heralded about his new law. I don’t quite get it myself – perhaps the fact that there is some sort of official legal passing distance now will make motorist more aware of “vulnerable” road users but for me it’s just another low cost method by the Government to appease the ‘noisy’ cycle lobby groups that will have little to no effect on bike user safety in urban areas. Anyway, back to the ad. As to be expected, the main protagonists (the bike users) are clad head to toe in high-vis and helmets. Straight away, the message is clear – bike users, not local authorities, not motorists, are responsible for cycle safety.

The first bike user we are shown is a teenage boy cycling to school. We can assume he is a teenager cycling to school as the RSA are against kids cycling to primary school. Yes that’s right, it’s on even on their website:

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RSA advice to parents wishing to bike with kids; cycle in a field.

So here’s our young teenage kid cycling to school, decked out with his high-vis and helmet as the RSA are all about safety.

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This scene is acceptable to the RSA – quite street with 4 car lanes and 0 bike lanes.

The road that our teenage bike user is riding on has capacity for 4 car lanes (2 for moving traffic and 2 for parking) but no capacity for a cycle lane. The RSA obviously see nothing wrong with this and using a street layout like this only reinforces the idea that streets are primarily for cars, not people. Even if you ignore the car domination of this street, the absence of cycle lane logos in the middle of each lane contravene the direction given by the NTA’s National Cycle Manual design advice for shared street link types. No, the message here is clear – roads are for cars and are dangerous so if you want to venture onto one with your bike, you are responsible.

Our next protagonist is a female bike user who could possibly be heading to/from work. This is something you are unlikely to see around Limerick however as only 1% of females over the age of 15 use a bike to get to work.

 

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Helmet? Check. High-viz? Check. Crappy bike infrastructure? Check. Car domination? Check. The world according to the RSA.

Once again, our female actor is dressed in a magic yellow jacket and plastic hat that will save her should one of the vehicles to her right collide with her at 50kmh on the unprotected cycle lane. The cycle lane itself looks to be about 1m wide. Using the National Cycle Manual’s width calculator, a mandatory cycle lane like the one above should, at a minimum, be 1.75m wide. This is something the RSA would be oblivious to so here we are again, normalising the idea that roads are primarily for cars and a line of magic paint one metre out from the verge is more than enough for bike users.  As long as they’re adults. Because the RSA is against kids on bikes.

Finally we get to the third and last actor, RSA’s stereotypical definition of what a cyclist is – a lycra clad sports cyclist. It’s probably not important but I’m guessing this actor hasn’t cycled since he was a kid judging by how shakey he is on his bike.

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The sports cyclist – the RSA’s understanding of what a cyclist is.

I don’t want to dwell on sports cycling too much as I’m more concerned about promoting the bike as a normal everyday mode of transport but as this guy is in the ad, I might as well point out how ludicrous this image is.

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This looks reasonable, if you’re cycling on your own.
2cyclists_1-5m
Cyclists are entitled to cycle 2 abreast.

Cyclists are allowed to cycle 2 abreast and most sports cyclists participate in sociable groups of 2 or more but the message here seems to be that cyclists should stay close to the left verge (single file, out of traffic’s way) so that the new safe passing distance law, which was so kindly introduced to protect cyclists, can be adhered to by passing motor traffic. Once again, the RSA is normalising the message that roads are primarily for motor traffic.

This is just the latest effort by the RSA to discourage people from using a bike as an everyday mode of transport. Their obsession with high-vis clothing is pathological. In 3 years, they have distributed over 1.3 million high-vis vests across the country. One point three million! What the f**k?

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The RSA’s high-vis obsession. Taken from their 2016 annual report.
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The RSA’s high-vis obsession in 2015.

The distribution of so much fluorescent plastic is more likely to cause ecological and environmental damage than save lives but this is what the RSA do – they maintain the status quo, they maintain the belief that motor traffic is more important than any other road user type and that all non motor traffic road users are responsible for their own safety. Even when you look at the ‘organisations they like‘, it’s tragically comical how little regard they have for people on bikes. They mention Cycling Ireland but CI are a sport’s cyclists body. They are not friends with prominent bike advocacy groups like Cyclist.ieDublin Cycling Campaign or IrishCycle.com. They are friends with Advance Pitstop, The Automobile Association, Freight Transport Association Ireland, International Transport Forum, Irish Concrete Federation, Irish Road Haulage Association, the National Transport Authority, the Society of the Irish Motor Industry, etc.

Instead of the RSA constantly portraying bicycle use in such negative terms, as well as obsessing with high-vis and plastic hats, it would be more beneficial to all road users if they used their time and influence to constantly lobby the Government and local authorities to invest in well designed, safe cycle infrastructure. This of course would cost more financially in the short term than using magic paint to create cycle lanes on car dominated roads but long term, the benefits would be a healthier population, lower pollution, less traffic congestion and more economically and socially vibrant urban areas.

 

8 thoughts on “The Road Safety Authority – the anti-bicycle state agency

  1. Love your website. I disagree with one point though. I think that you are somewhat harsh on Limerick Co Co. They don’t know any better – they simply follow DMURS and the National Cycle Manual. The real blame lies with the NTA as he who pays the piper calls the tune. The NTA pay for the bulk of cycle infrastructure and of course set the standards.

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    1. Hi Gerry – thanks for the comment, the first on my ranty website! I might be harsh on Limerick City and Council (LCCC) but I don’t think I am being unfair. They are responsible for the design and development of our city so they should know better. I would agree that someone further up the line – the NTA and the DTTS – should also be keeping tabs on how their money is being spent and they should have stepped in by now to warn LCCC to conform with national guidelines & policies such as DMURS and National Cycle Manual or else some sort of punitive action will have to be taken against them. They received €9 million as part of a Smarter Travel fund and what have we got from it – to be harsh, pretty much f**k all! Anyway, thanks for reading – I must write something new soon and look forward to any other comments you might make!

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  2. Ranty Website or reasoned advocacy, potato/potatoe . Excellent article that makes a hard to ignore point. When it comes to cycling I find their title misleading as they ignore all the hard won research on bike safety and pursue their 50 shades of hi viz policy instead which makes them the Road Safety Amatures

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  3. Good piece. I am going to append a letter on the NCT that I wrote to the Galway City Tribune in 1999 (I can’t remember if it was published). Two main issues

    1. Safety claims for car testing are arguable
    2. Systems like the NCT can be seen as a form of economic support for the motor trade. As you point out the financial impacts of administering the test itself are large. However the test itself also leads to knock on activities in terms of car servicing and inspections outside the conduct of the tests themselves.

    So if we accept that analysis, then a function of the RSA, as administrators of the NCT, is essentially to act a financial support mechanism for the Irish motor trade (which does not actually produce any cars)

    Keep up the good work

    Shane Foran

    “7th December 1999
    The Editor
    City Tribune

    Dear Sir
    In last weeks Editorial you raised the issue of the new National Car Test (NCT) and its role in the current government “road safety” efforts. The issue was raised of whether the government was merely going after an easy target in form of “old bangers”. Perhaps I can put the matter in perspective. According to the official statistics vehicle factors are cited as having possibly contributed to 1% of fatal and injury accidents. The driver is cited as having been a factor in 75% of cases. In general, speed is thought to be a factor in 80% of fatal crashes. So what might be achieved by tightening up on braking performance, tyre quality, engine tuning, suspension and road holding performance? A brief literature search at the University library throws up some interesting facts. There are studies available that show that drivers who are given cars with improved braking performance will adjust their behaviour. The style of driving becomes more risky, lane changing becomes faster and more frequent and reduced following distances are used. The net result being that there is no change in the number of accidents. Elsewhere there is a study in which drivers are given cars with special high grip tyres. The result being that these drivers then choose to increase the speeds at which they take corners. One can find reference to a certain four wheel drive car famous for its “road holding” on bends. It is reported that these are in fact seven times more likely than other types to be involved in accidents in which the car “went out of control” because excessive speed at a bend. The point is that cars as rule do not “just go out of control”, not even the old bangers. All this implies that the NCT will have no positive effect for those persons inside cars. If however the NCT acts to facilitate a general increase in driving speeds then this will have a negative effect for anyone outside of a car. The “safety” propaganda being used to promote the NCT may also promote or worsen an attitude of arrogance among those whose vehicles have passed the test. I suggest that if you give a driver “good” tyres, “good” suspension and “better” engine tuning then the last thing anyone wants is for that person to start getting arrogant or pushy about them.
    It is perhaps more accurate to represent compulsory vehicle tests as an indirect support introduced in large industrial economies for the protection of indigenous motor manufacturers. This is achieved by increasing turnover in the market for both spare parts and for new cars. Evidence for this is provided by considering the perfectly serviceable second hand cars which we import from Japan. These cars come to our market as a direct result of the stringent Japanese vehicle testing criteria. I might point out that the “Society for the Irish Motor Industry” that the Irish test will support does not actually manufacture any cars. The SIMI is in fact a trade organisation whose members sell products imported from other countries. I would also point out that the cars sold legally by the SIMI are without exception designed to grossly violate the national maximum allowable speed of 70 mph.
    On the other hand there is the issue of exhaust emissions. There is a clear and strong environmental justification for using the NCT to tighten up on car emissions. However this beneficial effect will be dissipated if the NCT also acts to facilitate road crime and to bring about a general increase in road danger. A general increase in road crime will make walking and cycling less attractive and tend to promote increased car use. In that situation the NCT would then be seen as an environmental “own goal”. The government has indeed gone after an easy target on this occasion. It would seem that this “target” is not in fact the people in the “old bangers” but actually anyone who spends part of their existence outside of a car. At this point we should note that whether the government and SIMI like it or not, everybody is ultimately a pedestrian.

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