Tackling Conflict on the Roads with Better Infrastructure, Laws and Training

If all road users treat others with respect then we can make the roads safer. To achieve this, a greater focus on enabling safer behaviour would complement the current investment in encouraging safer behaviour. A new programme of investment is needed to adapt older streets to meet modern standards, new laws are needed to reflect the complex social relationships on the streets, and training of all road users with new skills is needed to foster mutual respect.

Well-designed roads with clear uncluttered and unambiguous signs and road markings with well-maintained surfaces help road users to share limited space efficiently and safely. Although these principles are clearly set out in the Scottish Government’s helpful guidance on designing streets, and sometimes applied to new roads, there is currently no programme to apply these principles across the existing road network.

There are many good training programmes for drivers and cyclists which need to be better promoted. More needs to be achieved training pedestrians. Although generations of road safety plans have recognised this need, pedestrians often seem to be oblivious to the dangers presented by large vehicles.

The laws governing insurance to use the roads do not currently encourage mutual respect. On 7 May Lord McEwan ruled in the Court of Session on the case of a ten-year-old boy hit by a bus in 2008. The reputational damage to the transport industry caused by a seven-year wait to compensate the boy for his injuries will be far greater than the £8,000 in damages. Much worse is the very expensive court proceedings over many years, the costs of which are reflected in bus insurance premiums.

Anything that undermines confidence in the bus, or freight, industries must be tackled. A seven-year court case to resolve an £8,000 claim is damaging for everyone involved. Lord Taylor’s recent review observed that there is not a compensation culture in Scotland but there is growing pressure on lawyers to seek damages from their clients which in turn pushes up motor insurance premiums. Lord MacEwan ruled that a crowd of kids, even by their own description in the trial “mucking about” at a bus stop, were entitled not to be struck by a bus. These are not unusual incidents. Better training of bus drivers is a common goal but protecting everyone if things go wrong is important too. Scotland’s Roadshare campaign is promoting a change in the law to keep simple cases like this out of court. By requiring insurance companies to indemnify uninsured vulnerable road users for injuries sustained in accidents with large vehicles like cars, lorries and buses, the reputation of the transport industry for caring about its customers could be protected, rather than subjugated to legal and insurance processes.

Research by the RAC foundation Road Sharing: Does it Matter what Road Users think of each Other? showed that pedestrians feel increasingly vulnerable, drivers think cyclists are aggressive and cyclists think it is like a war our on the roads. Most importantly, all of the research shows that the pressures on the system are likely to increase these tensions. The challenge to improve road safety is for us all, not just a few professionals. Transport operators, designers, legislators, insurers and the public can all work together to avoid conflict, particularly for the most vulnerable who are least able to protect themselves. There is no silver bullet, but it is time for everyone to step up to the challenge of delivering better roadsharing.

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