— The Road Safety Authority CEO doesn’t seem to understand Zero Vision.
COMMENT & ANALYSIS: A “shared” responsibility for road safety is a subjective phrase too often used around road safety policy without clarity as to what it means. But, because of a press release this week, we now know that for the head of the Road Safety Authority, it means “equal responsibility”.
This is the full quote from Sam Waide, CEO of the Road Safety Authority (RSA) said:
“It is critical to understand that there is no hierarchy on the roads in terms of safe road use. Everyone using the roads has an equal responsibility to ensure good road user behaviour and to protect vulnerable road users, including cyclists. The RSA would like to remind motorists to look out for cyclists by allowing extra space when overtaking cyclists, by checking their blind spot at junctions, when turning left and changing lanes. It is important to always anticipate a cyclist having to make a sudden move to avoid a pothole or obstruction. We all have a responsibility, whether as motorists, cyclists, or pedestrians to share the road in a safe and responsible manner not only during National Bike Week, but all year round.”(full quote included for clarity, bolded added to relevant section)
Was Waide saying the quiet part out loud? Does he honestly believe children walking to school have “equal responsibility” as truck drivers? What about the old lady crossing the road a motorist driving the average car weighing 1,400kg?
Or — to give a non-motorist example — does a cyclist who runs a red light and a person on foot who crosses on a green light have “equal responsibility”?
The position he outlined in an RSA press release is legally and morally divorced from reality.
Even our licencing system — which the RSA oversees — puts higher reasonability on HGV truck drivers and bus drivers compared to drivers of cars because of the larger danger from trucks. There’s also, for example, a higher level of responsibility put on car drivers pulling small trailers compared to larger ones, and people need a licence to drive a car but not while on foot or on a bicycle.
Our legal system, has also put more responsibility on motorists than people on cycling or foot. And — although in rarer cases — more responsibility for people on bikes than those on foot.
So, it’s misinformed to say there’s “no hierarchy on the roads in terms of safe road use” or that there is “equal responsibility”.
Indeed, in the Government’s Road Safety Strategy 2021-2030, transport Minister Eamon Ryan rightly points out that “road safety is a shared responsibility across all elements of the traffic management system, not just the individual road user.” This is something that is core to Vision Zero, but something that the RSA seems to often forget.
Just to be clear here: Waide said what he said in a press release, it was not made off-the-cuff in a live interview or anything like that.
And Waide said it was “critical” that people understand his view, and the clarity of his thinking is added by him saying there’s “no hierarchy” in one line and that “everyone using the roads has an equal responsibility” in the next. If it was not Waide’s intent to say what he said, that’s maybe just as serious when he’s heading an independent State body which has communications at its core.
In the same press release, the RSA points out that “Ireland’s fifth government Road Safety Strategy 2021-2030 aims to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries on Irish roads by 50% over the next 10 years”. This target is hard enough and will be even more of a challenge without a mindset change at the RSA.
And while the strategy is highlighted as “the first step in achieving the 2020 Programme for Government commitment of bringing Ireland to ‘Vision Zero’. This is to eliminate all road deaths and serious injuries on Irish roads by the year 2050,” Waide’s views are not compatible with a serious attempt at Zero Vision.
There are examples of Vision Zero gone wrong across the world… that may be what’s going wrong between the political promise in the Programme for Government and Waide’s views. It does not bode well for the implementation of the Road Safety Strategy.