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RSA comes under fire for ‘victim blaming’ campaign


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

RSA comes under fire for ‘victim blaming’ campaign RSA comes under fire for ‘victim blaming’ campaign

The Road Safety Authority (RSA) has defended its ‘be seen, be safe’ campaign for pedestrians and cyclists to wear high-visibility clothing amid accusations of ‘victim blaming’ vulnerable road users.

The RSA, in a lengthy statement to the Galway City Tribune citing several research papers, insisted that high visibility clothing improved motorists’ ability to see vulnerable road users.

But City Councillor Alan Curran (Soc Dems), slammed the RSA for ‘failing’ in its mandate to protect pedestrians and cyclists.

The founder of Galway Cycle Bus, an initiative to encourage children to cycle to school safely, said putting the onus on pedestrians and cyclists to ‘be seen, be safe’ was wrong, and the “high-viz strategy has failed”.

Cllr Curran said rather than blaming vulnerable roads users, the RSA and other organisations should focus on enforcement and physical infrastructure – including narrowing roads, speed bumps, chicanes, lower speed limits – to improve road safety.

The RSA cited almost a dozen research papers relating to high-viz clothing.

Three of them concluded late detection of or failure to observe vulnerable roads users “was an established contributory factor in road traffic collisions”.

It cited research that said “drivers tend to overestimate their ability to detect” vulnerable road users, especially at night, and cyclists and pedestrians, “typically underestimate how difficult it is for drivers to see them”.

Pedestrian “crash risk” was estimated at up to four times higher in darkness, and pedestrians “experience the greatest increase in collision risk” during darkness.

It cited academic studies that found high-viz clothing “can improve driver detection of, recognition of, and reaction time to” vulnerable road users.

The RSA highlighted one study that found “cyclists who wore a yellow cycling jacket for one year, had a personal injury collision rate that was 38% lower when compared to a control group who were not provided with one”.

Another survey said “regular fluorescent clothing use amongst participants in a cycling event in New Zealand, was linked to fewer days off work for a cycling related injury”.

The RSA cited a 2006 European Transport Safety Council ‘factsheet’, which said: “Without retroreflective clothing, a pedestrian/cyclist is only likely to be visible 30m from a vehicle, whereas they can be seen at 150m when wearing something reflective.”

It provided drivers with “five times the distance to notice” vulnerable road users “and greater opportunity to avoid them”.

Cllr Curran said high-viz clothing may make vulnerable road users more visible but there was no evidence to suggest it altered motorists’ behaviour towards them.

The RSA, he said, has not published data about whether wearing high-viz was a contributing factor in Irish road collisions.

“The choice of outfit I have worn on the bike or on foot has never made an impact on the behaviour of motorists,” he said.

Over five years on the Knocknacarra Cycle Bus, regardless of whether parents, children or volunteer marshals were wearing high-viz or not, they have been “close passed aggressively at speed”.

Cllr Curran said the RSA’s insistence that “to keep children safe, they should dress up like mini-construction workers while walking to school”, was not an effective way to safeguard vulnerable road users.

“Focusing on what a pedestrian or cyclist wears is a form of victim blaming, where the onus and responsibility is shared with the person struck,” Cllr Curran said.

He pointed to RSA data, which said 80% of accidents occur during daylight; 80% of serious injuries to cyclists occur in daytime; and 90% of serious injuries to pedestrians and 80% of serious injuries to cyclists occur in urban environments where speed non-compliance is often high.

“What difference does a yellow vest make in this situation? If a motorist cannot see a pedestrian or cyclist during daylight, they are either speeding, on their phone, not paying attention, or driving without due care and attention,” Cllr Curran said.

He said the RSA should use its influence on “more meaningful” ways to prevent collisions, including calling for segregation for road users on streets; lobbying to lower speed limits; increased enforcement including red-light and speed cameras; speed limiters on new cars; and increased driver training.

“The RSA spends almost €1m annually on these vests and educational ‘awareness’ campaigns in primary schools. This money would be better spent on interventions that are proven to keep vulnerable road users safe. Focus on the perpetrator of the violent act, not the victim,” Cllr Curran added.

The RSA insisted wearing high-viz “may potentially assist in protecting vulnerable road users making them as visible as possible”.

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