BBC documentary ignores pedestrian safety

8 Feb

The BBC documentary ‘Surviving a Car Crash’ (available on iPlayer until 8th March) was first shown on BBC2 on 7 February. The program covers a range of fancy technologies that could reduce the likelihood of death of the occupants of a vehicle during a car crash. During this hour they failed to mention pedestrians or cyclists once or any significant technological advance that would help them whilst at the same time taking about ‘ending all fatalities from car crashes’.

Significantly, they redefined car crash as being limited to collisions involve two vehicles and no one else – ie pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists. That is incorrect, the term also covers single vehicle incidents causing injury of death to pedestrians, cyclists etc.

When I complained about the article on the BBC News site that trailed the documentary they adjusted the article to at least acknowledge that pedestrians do exist and are injured/killed. In their response they explained that they were “largely focused on research being done in the car industry. Much of that, inevitably, relates to car occupants”.

Why was it inevitable that they focused on this without highlighting the limitations of the approach? Indeed, back in 2002 judges from the European New Car Assessment Programme – whose members include the AA, RAC, and Department of Transport  –  slated much of the industry of neglecting pedestrian safety while “ploughing millions of pounds into ensuring that car occupants survive even high-speed crashes”. They highlighed the Range Rover, Jaguar X-type and Vauxhall Frontiera as the worst vehicles for passenger safety noting that the Range Rover had ‘an immensely strong body that provides for its occupants safe’ but also that its pedestrian protection was ‘dire’. It was exclusively these high speed crashes and the safety of the occupants  that the BBC focused on 8 years later. That would have been fine if they hadn’t implied that these developments would ‘end fatal car crashes’. They won’t.

Their is very interesting work going on. The same judges back in 2002 emphasised that the number of pedestrians killed or seriously injured would be dramatically reduced if manufacturers took their safety more seriously. They highlighted Honda’s very safe designs who have subsequently achieved a maximum 5 star pedestrian rating for five of they models, the Accord, Civic, Jazz  and Insight. Unfortunately the documentary failed to discuss these interesting issues. Why was this not covered?

Also, the BBC didn’t mention ‘intelligent speed adaptation‘ which ensures that the vehicle won’t exceed the speed limit even if the driver is not intelligent enough to do this for themselves! Indeed some Motorists with a capital ‘M’ complain about how they have to spend all their time looking at the speedometer and not at the road due to the complexity of the speed limit changes and that it is therefore safer to have higher speed limits. Leeds University are trialing the approach saying that it “potentially provides one of the most effective strategies for reducing inappropriate speeds”. Transport for London are leading the way and have created a digital speed limit map for London and have developed software for Tom Tom units which is available for free as is the source code and speed limit data itself. No mention of any of this either.

They didn’t mention of risk compensation where people can adjust to a reduction in risk by taking more risks, in this case driving faster or paying less attention because the car is doing more work for them. This was unfortunate as because this effect is likely to reduce the benefit from these technical and medical advances to vehicle occupants and may even increase the risk to pedestrians by increasing speeds.

I am about to made another complaint and request that the BBC should attach a comment to the  documentary whenever it is re-shown clarifying that the program is focused only on two vehicle collisions and the safety of the occupants  are that the many deaths to pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists which are unlikely to be greatly changed by the technology discussed. I will encourage them to do a follow-up program on technology to protect those outside the vehicle. Do you think that is reasonable?


I have now submitted the following complaint: “The program focused exclusively on the safety of the occupants of the vehicles in high-speed 2 vehicle crashes while implying that the technical advances might result in ‘an end to fatal car crashes’. Far from ending fatalities for those outside the car, risk compensation may actually increase risk to pedestrians. Much good research and progress into pedestrian safety was completely ignored. As a point of law and common usage, a ‘car crash’ is defined as a collision involving one or more motorised vehicle that causes damage, injury or death. As such the claim in the program of ‘ending fatalities’ is completely bogus. Please add a note of clarification about the scope of the otherwise excellent program to clarify these points when the documentary is re-shown. Please also consider doing a further program from the perspective of those outside the car.” I also provided a link to this post.

8 Responses to “BBC documentary ignores pedestrian safety”

  1. Graham Smith February 8, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    Yes demand (!) a redress from BBC. Of course without the cathedrals to crash testing and the hi-tech medical stuff ‘claimed’ for the car by this programme, any additional programme could look a bit cardboard, so that becomes a challenge.

    Watching the programme:

    I watched as I was babysitting. Not much else to do.

    It was entirely about the car, surgical developments and physician’s understanding of injury. It was somewhat interesting but rather than focus on real RDRF concerns I worried about the programme’s certainty of the continuation of the role of the car in future society.

    The possibility of risk compensation was not mentioned although the psychologists presumably were not queried. People outside were not mentioned, not even a mention of crumple zone. A mere 30mph for each car engaged in the controlled collision, plus a small margin to 35mph, was the main focus of the programme, a 70mph collision. The research centre was a cathedral to high tech, enormous in size, utterly beautiful and efficient. The cost of this wasn’t mentioned.

    In a Miami sequence, part was about remote surgical advice in the emergency room (real mobile video-conference with an autonomous robot camera/screen/mike/and sound system) and the other part about intelligent cars describing collision location, colliding vehicle’s trajectory and impact mass and thus their passenger’s likelihood of severe injury. It was prosaically and entirely plausible. Again any external victim was absent.

    There were two separate cyclists shown, in the distance and crossing the long bridge between Miami and the mainland, looked sporty although not easy to see. The clip was repeated later. They looked like ants in the sea of concrete.

    A victim less presentation. Oh, there was an inflatable ‘car’ which was hit once, at a T junction, and it bounced away. The second time the sensors, GPS and all that, had recognised the inflatable’s presence and braked the car to miss the passing ‘balloon’.

    So the car might not hit the next cyclist or pedestrian, daring to cross the road.

  2. Peter Miller February 9, 2011 at 3:35 am #

    Thanks for your feedback and encouragement Graham. I have just added a paragraph about risk compensation to the main post and have also submitted my complaint to the BBC.

  3. livinginabox February 9, 2011 at 8:03 am #

    The only way to prevent car crashes is to ban them entirely, or secure them in locked containers so they cannot be used.

    While predictions, especially about the future are always fraught with uncertainty, it seems that while cars continue to exist, the claim “fatal smashes are eliminated” is likely always to be false.

    There will always be unpredicted mechanical failures and cars will end up where they shouldn’t.
    Some cars will hit pedestrians and cyclists.
    People get hit by cars in unusual places, like in their gardens and even in their own homes.
    Cars even end-up on rail tracks far from level crossings.

  4. Peter Miller February 9, 2011 at 8:56 am #

    Today’s BBC online news story about the increasing number of motorists crossing level crossings at danger is probably a good indication of what any engineer who wishes to ‘end car crash fatalities’ will have to contend with!

  5. Mr Colostomy February 9, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    I remember reading somewhere that when seatbelts became mandatory in the UK, the rates of injury for car occupants decreased as expected, but the rates and severity of pedestrian/cyclist injury/death increased due to risk compensation. Every time I hear about a new high-tech safety “improvement” to cars, it always reminds worries me.

  6. Giuliano Gavazzi February 10, 2011 at 9:58 am #

    another BBC clever article on this:

    • Peter Miller February 10, 2011 at 10:19 am #

      Yup, seen that and the it didn’t originally mention pedestrians and cyclists at all. I, and possibly others, complained about the original text and it now does mention them. See my previous blog post which talks about the article and the changing text


  1. Tweets that mention BBC documentary ignores pedestrian safety « Pedestrian Liberation -- - February 11, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Birmingham FOE and RoadPeace, A Tree With Roots. A Tree With Roots said: Good blog post on BBC show about eliminating "car crash fatalities" that doesn't mention pedestrians, cyclist. […]

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