Archive | February, 2011

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.

Do pedestrians even exist? not according to a BBC article on road fatalities

7 Feb

Update – see update note below – the article that I complained about has been updated in response to my complaint and now does mention cyclists and pedestrians.

There is an disappointing article on the BBC News website quoting vehicle safety experts claiming a “Motoring miracle” where “fatal smashes are eliminated”. it goes on to detail loads of super-clever and no doubt expensive technology that ensures that drivers survive “even truly catastrophic accidents” and to help passengers by explaining how the car “can also transmit detailed information about the crash forces experienced by passengers”.

The lead does correctly highlight that over one million people are killed each year on the roads and that human error and driving too fast are ‘at the heart of the issue’ however they then go on to imply that car crashes only happen between two vehicles and only talk about safety for drivers and passengers. No mention of features to protect pedestrians or cyclists, especially no ‘miracles’ that will eliminate the risk to a pedestrian from a vehicle traveling at normal urban speeds.

A ‘road traffic collision’ in legal and professional circles does not need to involve two vehicles. The definition clearly includes a single vehicle where anyone (other than the driver) is injured. The law defines a reportable road traffic collision as “an accident involving a mechanically-propelled vehicle on a road or other public area which causes:

  • Injury or damage to anybody – other than the driver of that vehicle,
  • Injury or damage to an animal- other than one being carried on that vehicle (an animal is classes as a horse, cattle, ass, mule, sheep, pig, goat or dog).
  • Damage to a vehicle – other than the vehicle which caused the accident.
  • Damage to property constructed on, affixed to, growing in, or otherwise forming part of the land where the road is.

The simple fact is that one of the best way of making roads safe for pedestrian is for vehicles to be made to travel more slowly, and to be required to protect everyone including pedestrians. The article fails to mention that the vehicles with offer virtually no pedestrian safety are still offered for sale. For example the £43,oo0 Range Rover which was described in the official report as ‘dire’ back in 2008 but which is still available for sale and use in urban areas.

I have made a complaint to the BBC about the article. Others may also wish to do so.


The trailer for this article, the title of the article and possibly also the content of the BBC article referred to in this post are changing frequently this morning – possibly due to the interest it is generating or possibly that is normal practice. In particular the trailer now reads ‘Auto-braking -Could a computer stop your car from crashing?’. The title of the article is now ‘A future without car crashes’ but still claims that ‘fatal crashes could be eliminated’. A new sentence reading: “Drivers, passengers, cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists could one day be protected from bad driving” has been inserted.

I am getting a lot of comments to this post, many of they of the ‘get a life’ type which I am not approving. I have been approving comments which in my mind are justified. I have corrected the post to remove my incorrect assertion that the experts were ‘un-named’ or not expert following a comment pointing that error out to me.

On reflection the lead into the article does inform readers that ‘one million people die each year on the roads’ and also that most collisions are a result of human error including driving too fast for the weather conditions, make unwise decisions and fail to notice or anticipate potential hazards. I have adjusted my post to reflect that.

Update 2

The BBC responded to my complaint within a few hours saying that they had updated the article. To quote: “The article did not intend to imply that all victims of road accidents are in cars, and it has been amended to reflect that”.

The article now includes the text “Drivers, passengers, cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists could one day be protected from bad driving”. However… the Horizon documentary that it was promoting and which was shown last night didn’t once mention pedestrians or cyclists or motorcyclists or anyone else outside the vehicle. In their letter to me the BBC explained that the piece was “largely focused on research being done in the car industry. Much of that, inevitably, relates to car occupants.” I guess it will be inevitable until pedestrian safety ratings get rammed in the manufacturers faces! Not so good that the BBC fell for it though.