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Share the Road launch new cycling safety campaign

31st July 2017

Positive attitudes - are they just as important as safe roads and vehicles?


That’s the controversial claim from the manager of the Share the Road Campaign, an NZTA-supported initiative that looks to increase road safety for people using bicycles. While vehicle safety equipment becomes ever more sophisticated and calls from the pro-cycling lobby for more bike lanes and tracks continue, one road-safety campaign claims that road user behaviour is still a top priority in making cycling safer.

Allow Space

Building Empathy

"When we’re driving we make very quick, complex decisions. Sometimes the basis for these decisions is how we feel about the other road users we’re sharing with", said Campaign manager Richard Barter. "In fact, we sometimes leave a bigger safety margin around people we feel are ‘like us’ or that we empathise with, than when passing those we don’t". This means that building empathy between road users can help us observe and consider each other better in making those quick decisions. Barter offered the example of a driver who, with a more positive attitude, might allow more space to someone on a bike when overtaking, or leave more time for a pedestrian to clear a crossing. Safety dividends from improving attitudes are significant, he said. Share the Road has run since 2008 when it started life in Wellington as a series of Road User Workshops. The Campaign is structured to make cycling safer where people on bikes could encounter heavy vehicles. The Campaign delivers training workshops to people using bikes and to drivers (and driver managers) of buses and trucks. Workshops are designed to improve drivers’ and cyclists’ attitudes and skills by briefly swapping vehicles and taking part in awareness-raising exercises.

View from Cab


However cycling advocacy bodies have repeatedly called for improved infrastructure for cyclists as the best measure to protect them, and since 2015 a massive $333m has been committed by Government, the NZ Transport Agency and Councils to building bike lanes. In this context it seems that people on bikes will soon have their own space to travel and won’t encounter other traffic; won’t this make driver behavior irrelevant? Not necessarily, says Barter. Despite its generous $333m budget the Urban Cycleways Program will only affect a small part of the road network. Even with unlimited funds it’s not feasible to put segregated cycle tracks on every road: some roads are too narrow and many have insufficient traffic to justify investment. "We’d argue that lots of good-quality infrastructure needs to be built, and quickly, but there’s a long lead-in time and limited reach for bike lanes. So behavior, skills and attitudes will continue to be a crucial factor where people on bikes are dealing with faster-moving, heavier vehicles."


Vehicle Technology

2017 has been a tragic year for incidents involving trucks and cyclists with loss-of-life incidents occurring from Northland to Otago. These have been accompanied by calls from lobby groups to take urgent measures. Demands for trucks to be updated and fitted with safety devices have been emerging from lobby groups and from the NZTA’s Cycle Safety Panel. These include side impact bars (barriers to people falling underneath truck trailers) and devices to shrink trucks’ blind zones like mirrors or cameras Indeed, vehicle technology is under rapid development. Overseas, London’s Transport administration has begun to require certain safety features for trucks, while the NZ’s Road Transport Forum’s Ken Shirley has said that newer trucks imported under recent ‘High Productivity’ regulations will ‘have more advanced technology in them, better braking systems’. Share the Road’s Barter agrees that safer trucks are a factor, but has reservations about the use of complex cameras and mirrors, ‘Aftermarket camera and proximity sensor setups can be confused by busy traffic scenarios. They can induce driver dependency to the point where the driver is at risk of not using common sense or taking that second look.’ Barter remains convinced that, in the period while technology is developed, regulations debated and new vehicles introduced, better attitudes among road users will help tremendously: "With our tragically high current road toll, we’re well advised to keep working for better road user behavior for a few years yet."


Carrying on the work

"On the road we naturally tend to scan for threats to our own safety, and experiments have found that drivers scanning an intersection can often miss vulnerable road users", said Barter."So building empathy between people can help us observe and consider each other in making those quick decisions". Figures kept by the Campaign show that their approach has had success in changing attitudes. Over 70% of drivers and managers who completed a Share the Road workshop say after three to six months that they’ve retained the workshops’ three core messages, and cyclist participants interviewed after three to six months also have good recall of the characteristics of heavy vehicles, and better knowledge of the Campaign’s safe cycling messages. "At Share the Road we feel privileged to carry on that work", Barter concludes. "People using bikes will be empowered to ride to be seen, communicating clearly with other road users and keeping well clear of truck blind zones. Heavy vehicle drivers will understand why cyclists do the things they do and be better able to predict cyclists’ moves. If we can keep working for better road user behavior it may do as much for safety as any other measure."

More information can be found on their website: can.org.nz/str