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What makes the news and what doesn’t and why?

28 Feb

I have done a quick little survey of what transport safety stories have hit the news in the past few days. I was prompted to do this when I noticed that a horrific story from Brazil about a car driver who drove at speed through a throng of cyclists taking part in Critical Mass had only resulted in 3 stories in the main-stream media (on CBS, Sky and just now also on the BBC) according to Google News. Update: This story has just hit mainstream media, and  Google now reports over 200 articles around the world. It did however take four days to do so, and only went mainstream after the driver was brought in for questioning. The event took place on Friday evening, and by Monday evening this was what Google reported, only 11 articles of which most were cycling media:

Brazil Critical Mass news reports

Have a look at the video of the incident and consider why this was ignored and check out what did make it into the papers.

The big story from today is that the UK government wants us to drive faster on motorways to boost the economy. This resulted in some 793 new articles according to Google News within hours.

Google news resuluts – 80mph

Then there were the 690 news stories acknowledging the 10th anniversary of the ‘Selby rail crash’, which should more accurately be called the ‘Land Rover driver kills 10 rail passengers crash’. Incidentally the driver of the Land Rover was out of jail after serving 30 months of his 5 year term.

Selby crash anniversary

Go back a few weeks there was the story that a possible new inquiry into the deaths of two teenagers who died five years ago while crossing a railway line at a level crossing when the warning lights were flashing. 266 articles for that one, including a front-page story in The Times.

Essex level crossing deaths

And finally there was the story about ‘the footballer who crashed his fast car’. Where have I heard that one before? Result: 305 articles.

Footballer crashes fast car

For comparison, here are the stories that relate to terrible 2006 incident where a car driver slipped on ice and crashed into a group of cyclists and killed 4 of them including a 14yo boy which only resulted in 15 news stories that Google News can find today. The drive, who admitted that he may ‘very possibly’ have been driving too fast, was only fined a total of £180 with £35 costs and given 6 points on his license.

Welsh cyclist deaths 2006

My only conclusion is that motorists (and I am one) hate to be reminded about how dangerous this activity is and of the risks that we are taking on a regular basis. We prefer to read about other stuff, even if it is that we are going to be able to drive faster and take more risks while driving. So much for ‘ending all car crash fatalities‘ as was predicted by the BBC recently!

How was school today?

11 Feb

A quick internet news search turns up numerous stories about dangerous parking and conflict outside the school gates over the past few weeks. And… also stories of youngsters challenging this selfish behaviour and of local newspapers getting in on the campaign.

Cambridge: “A headteacher has apologised over continuing tensions between parents and residents over parking outside a Cambridge school. Parents have been hurling “abuse” at residents and police have launched a crackdown on the anti-social behaviour involving parents of children at the Shirley School, in East Chesterton.

Crewe: “Five schools on the Wistaston Green and St Mary’s wards expressed their concern regarding the parking of vehicles outside their premises. A key concern for all of us is safety for all road users. The schools, police, local councillors and Cheshire East Council are working to find a long term solution, but in the meantime a uniformed presence is in place to deter bad parking around the schools in Wistaston Green and St Mary’s area.

Pupils on the case!

Cumnor, Oxfordshire: “Children in Cumnor took to the streets to urge parents to park safely on the school run. Pupils at Cumnor Primary School have been investigating the issue after a survey found one in four of them had experienced a near-miss in the road outside the school. And they decided that parents parking on pavements and zig-zag lines were causing the safety problems in Oxford Road. To hammer their message home, they made special banners and staged a protest at school closing time, backed up by a letter that was sent home to their parents.

Maidenhead: “Mums on the school-run in Maidenhead are endangering their own kids by ignoring parking restrictions – which they asked for. According to Jenny Stephen, the headteacher of Boyne Hill Infant and Nursery School in Rutland Road, the surrounding roads are being clogged through ‘inconsiderate parking’ by a minority of parents. Cllr Mike Holness (Lib Dem, Boyn Hill) is also concerned about the danger to the school’s 200 young students while neighbours are fed-up of being blocked in their driveways.

Peterborough: “The Evening Telegraph is backing calls for parents to park safely to prevent the school run motoring mayhem that is putting children’s safety at risk. Scenes of traffic chaos surrounding a number of city schools have been pictured by our photographers showing cars blocking roads and pavements, heavy congestion and parking on double-yellow lines.

Reading: “An irate licensee has banned school-run parents from using her pub’s car park and been forced to issue parking permits to her regulars. She introduced the system after finding the exterior of the pub had been damaged and customers were being blocked in. Tracy said: “90 per cent of those using my car park had never even been into the pub – if they’re not going to patronise my establishment then why should they be allowed to damage my property?”

Sheffield: “Pupils who became concerned about the levels of traffic congestion outside their school have designed their own posters in a bid to discourage parents from parking directly outside the school gates. Youngsters at Westbourne School, in the Broomhill area of Sheffield, decided to take action after a parent contacted Sheffield Council to ask for help in improving the situation. School spokesman Angela Bywater said: “These posters are so colourful and have such a direct message that we have already been approached by other schools who all have a similar problem. “It would be great if we could see the campaign spread throughout the city.”

Wolverhampton: Plea over Wolverhampton school parking – “Neighbours have filed a petition calling for the plans to amended to include more parking spaces. They say private driveways and public footpaths are being blocked during the school run, leading to angry exchanges.

And then of course there is a repeat of the tired old ‘unfair traffic wardens and councils’ story as printed recently in a Hampshire paper. Yawn.

Farnborough: Parking CCTV to target school run mums. TRAFFIC wardens will be using CCTV spy cameras to catch people parking illegally in Aldershot and Farnborough town centres.

Damage to vehicles left on the pavement

19 Jan

Drivers often say that they park across the pavement to protect their cars from damage from other vehicles using the road, however is appears that the pavement isn’t that safe either as was nicely explained to a owner of a vehicle who was mystified about the scratches on the side of his car:

“Before I changed locations, I used to live within 200 yards of a primary school. I remember having a conversation with one of my neighbours about mystery scratches that kept appearing all down one side of his black Astra car. The penny dropped for him when I told him that they almost certainly  caused by his stupidity of parking on the pavement almost blocking it. The scratches were from the various prams and buggies being pushed along by the parents walking their children to school. Why he parked on the pavement, I do not know as there was plenty of room to park at the kerbside. He did get the message in the end.

Be aware that damage to a vehicle is a criminal offense regardless of contrary claims made below as highlighted in the prosecutions section at the end of this post.

Mumsnet

Here was the question which provoked all the suggestions and confessions: “Hello all, I need to rant about this. On the way to nursery every morning we have to circumnavigate the sheer volume of cars parked on the pavement. We haven’t used a buggy for ages but I know people who do and it is damn near impossible to squeeze a buggy through the gap left on the pavement once the cars are in place.

  • “If it happens again after my baby arrives, I will not be pushing the pram out into the road. Instead, I will squeeze/scratch past if possible, and hopefully that will teach the bastards a lesson”
  • “I would need squeeze my buggy through the gap -too dangerous to push it on the road- and wouldn’t it be unfortunate if the cars all got scratched??”
  • “Well, if they just HAVE to leave their car on the pavement, I think you just HAVE to leave a dirty nappy face down on their bonnet. Clearly, that is what is easiest and most convenient for you to do with the nappy, just as it is easiest and most convenient for them to park on the pavement”
  • “Funnily enough was walking to school this morning imagining myself setting up a guerilla group to egg cars that do this unecessarily. “
  • “Scratch the cars and you’ll get done for criminal damage – you can bet someone will ‘see’ you do it. Far better to give DS something nice and gooey to accidentally drag along the sides of the cars as you squeeze past. You can help him if he can’t get the aim right. Ice cream is good, but if it’s early morning a nice peanut butter sandwich should do nicely. Sticky Nutella toddler-handprints would probably be a lovely fashionable addition to the nice cars

Babycentre

And the question on Babycentre. “Okay so I have just had a run in with a guy from my mum’s street. The street is quite narrow so a lot of people park half on the pavement and half on the road but this guy for some reason has 3 people carriers.

  • “This guy sounds like an idiot and I would purposely scratch the car to prove a point or at least knock the wing mirror!!!
  • “Did you know that if you scratch a car with your buggy that is parked on the pavement, the owner has no leg to stand on?!!? Due to the fact he is obstructing a public footpath which is illegal.
  • “Hi, sorry I’m crashing here, but I’m so filled with rage by people who park on the pavement that I had to post!.. so I get really irate when I have to walk on the road with my son.”
  • “it’s so good to hear that if I ‘accidently’ scratch someone’s car (perhaps the repeat offender down the road….) it’s not my problem.

BBC – Ouch, its a disability thing

A reader posted that “a blind man who claimed police were not doing enough about motorists parking illegally on pavements is angry that he was arrested when he decided to take action” (as reported earlier on this blog).

  • He should have let the tires down and never said a word. Don’t threaten, DO! As my Grandad used to say “Never point a loaded gun unless your going to fire it”.
  • Hmm, alternatively, as letting tyres down is difficult and timely and you might be seen, there is always the accidentally squeezing past the obstacles and … oooops my harness handle has scratched the paintwork. Oh and there it goes again! And heavens, my arm got caught on something, was it really your wing mirror? Accidents DO happen
  • My wheelchair has ‘grown’ some very rough and sharp edges. You know, the type that wouldn’t be kind to the bodywork of, let’s say, a car obstructing my path. Add to this the poor control I have of my wheelchair on some terrain; and, crunch shriekkkk…whoops.
  • I knew someone who when he came across a car parked on the pavement he’d rip the wing mirror off! simple as that, no threats, no warning, just did it!!

Prosecutions

Sometimes people completely loose it, and pay the price for criminal damage:

A 64yo ‘grandmother’ found by the owner scratching the side of the vehicle in Watford having already left a not ‘pavements=people’ on the winscreen was fined £2,000 and found her picture all over the Daily Mail..

The 84yo man who ‘lost control’ and scratched two cars in Chiddingford and was fined £2000.

The priest who scratched cars in Middleport, Staffordshire and was fined £200 as reported in the Daily Telegraph.

Some are more lucky. This is London reported that a dog walker had smashed a wing mirror off a car parked on the pavement in broad daylight causing £100 of damage but was never caught. The article explained that the driver had gone to deliver a birthday card to her brother-in-law’s home, which is about a mile up the road from their house, but his driveway was full so she ‘had to park with  two wheels on the kerb’ to avoid blocking main road.

Skirmishes on the front line

8 Jan

Yesterday afternoon I used a camera-phone to record some examples of dangerous and illegal driving outside a local primary local school. These included a car arriving at speed and stopping with two wheels on the pavement in the ‘school zone’ and also a driver reversing into a parking spot by yellow lines opposite the school zone. Before I was able to capture more examples of dubious parking the second driver drove up, stopped his car in the middle of the road and then got out and pushed me backwards and asked me if I was a pervert! As in happened, there were two off-duty police officers collecting children from school and I ended up having a useful discussion with these policemen and the assistant head of the school about this incident and wider issues.

The Policemen were unambiguously supportive of the campaign aims but suggested that the approach taken wasn’t ideal. Given my recent experience and regular reports of violence outside schools elsewhere I had to agree with them! Indeed the assistant head said that there had already been four confrontations outside the school between parents. He said that he wanted to talk with the head about what would be appropriate way of proceeding.

The reason for this post however is not to tell that story, but to highlight a pattern. Two previous drivers, both driving black Range Rovers as it happens, had accused me of being a ‘nonce’, ie a pervert. Here is one of one of them parked in the middle of the carriageway in a pedestrian-only zone waiting for someone to return. He had decided that I had taken a picture of a small child who he assured me was buried somewhere inside the huge vehicle hidden behind the smoked glass!

The other occasion was when I had spotted another Range Rover, this time one which was parked on the pavement outside a local shop on double yellow line. I said nothing but then found the vehicle kerb-crawling me as I walked on. The driver asked me what I had been looking at, and then asked if I was some sort of pervert. I found this odd given that he was the one behaving unusually and threateningly but it wasn’t really about logic but about power.

Finally, I  was cycling on one of the new London ‘Cycle Superhighways’ near the Oval and came across this incident. Why are vehicles as large as the one on the left allowed on our city streets at all? This Audi Q7 weighs 2.2 tonnes, has a minimum engine size of 4.2 litres and scores 2 only out of four for pedestrian safety. Clearly smaller cars don’t come off very well in an collision either. Incidentally the £43,000 Range Rover scored a ‘dire’ 1 out of 4 for pedestrian safety in 2002. Here are the official results which include the comment ‘Just three sites out of 18 tested on the vehicle’s front gave any protection. This is dire, and Land Rover needs to improve matters’.

A 2.2 tonne 4-6 litre SUV in serious crash in London

My conclusion from the  above is that the type of motorist who ignores all the social conventions and regulations around what sort of vehicle to drive and how and where to park will also be a self-selected group of ‘Motorists’ (as in die-hard capital ‘M’ Motorists) who are likely to behave unpredictably and dangerously when challenged. Any campaign of this sort needs to be aware of that.

As for the pervert claim, I see that as just one of a number of excuses and distractions by drivers for not address the issue at hand. For sure society needs to be vigilant in relation to child abuse but not at the expense of the huge risk to the safety and freedom of children from the drivers who behave illegally, carelessly or recklessly outside schools every day. That being said the use of camera-phones outside schools, particularly video-recording is unwise in the current climate even though it is the only way to gather credible evidence of driving on the footway or of careless driving.

Parents stone traffic wardens outside Brentwood schools

7 Jan

Its getting messy in Brentwood. Traffic wardens have suffered a string of physical and verbal assaults, they have also been pushed, tickets have been  snatched and on one delightful day they were stoned by irate parents! One  assailant got a one-year custodial sentence for the assault on a warden. The director of environmental services at Brentwood Council said “We normally send a pair of wardens and on a number of occasions they have been accompanied by PCSOs or police because of the reaction they get”. All these incidents have happened on Sawyers Hall Lane in Brentwood, Essex which is a dead-end road with five schools along it.

Road jammed on Sawyers Hall Lane

Traffic backs up in the morning and evening as parents try and collect their offspring outside the school gates, often blocking local driveways. One parent explains: “The situation is totally ridiculous. I have to get here for 2.15pm if I want a space”. She said that she had had paint thrown over her car and a large sticker warning her not to park there super-glued to her windscreen. A local resident said the situation was horrendous and that they “were suffering terribly” and that was impossible to get out at some times of day. One several occasions cars had been driven over local residents’ front garden.

The above report was from 2009, although things are hardly better by February 2010 with parents claiming that they are ‘forced’ to park in dangerous places outside the school. One parent said “I didn’t realise I wasn’t supposed to park here, the yellow lines are a bit faded.” Another parent said who was parked half on the double yellow lines claimed it did not matter because the traffic wardens no longer visited.

Then in July 2010 parents complained that wardens were using “sneaky” tactics because they issued tickets on a sports day on a Sunday complaining that parking enforcement was rarely carried out during busy school picking-up and dropping-off times. A parent said “How mean to deliberately target a family day, where kids, mums, dads and grandparents, were coming together for a sporting event – rather than let their kids roam the streets or sit in front of the computer – just to make money.” The school helpfully issued a warning on the public address system saying “traffic wardens are operating in Sawyers Hall Lane and are ticketing your vehicles”.

Well… I guess it is hardly surprising if the traffic wardens don’t visit at the busy times these days given what happened to them when they did. This sort of conflict is unfortunately only going to happen more often given the relentless rise in vehicle numbers and the current governments claim that they will ‘end the war on the motorist‘.

Reporting from the front line in Oxfordshire

7 Jan

Oxford Pedestrians’ Association and disability groups are battling with Oxfordshire County Council over plans to introduce a controlled parking zone in East Oxford which would leave only 1 meter of pavement available for pedestrians. The Equality and Human Rights Commission have written to the council asking if the council has carried out a full disability impact assessment. The council recently announced that it would consult with the 1,726 affected households again due to the ‘deep divisions over the proposals’. This will be the sixth consultation at it has already spent £160,000 on consultations!

Meanwhile… Oxfordshire councils working with Thames Valley Police and the Pedestrians’ Association supply free windowscreen stickers to be used on cars which block the pavement through their local libraries.

Police encourage use of stickers for pavement parkers. Copyright image

And then… East Oxfordshire Car Club has 6 car club cars available for use by local people without the need to own a car. They have 2 new high fuel efficiency VW Polo Blue Motions and 4 ‘recycled’ cars donated by local residents. That’s the spirit.

Confrontation and conflict

1 Jan

Why is the violence towards traffic wardens accepted? In Bradford there were about 80 incidents of violence against wardens in 13 months with the police being called in on 26 occasions including 16 incidents of physical assault. In 2009 Channel 4 reported on ‘shocking levels of racist abuse and violence inflicted on London’s parking wardens’ and even death threats. Back in 1996 a row over a parking ticket near the centre of Birmingham turned into a full-scale riot involving 200 stone-throwing youths and 80 police officers. In 2010 traffic wardens abandoned issuing tickets in one part of Southampton because of fears of their safety. What is the figure nationally I wonder and what it is cost in police time?

This state of mind is well presented by the sorry tale of ‘celeb’ Ingrid Tarrant’s outburst after being challenged by a police officer for parking in a bus stop. Unfortunately… she didn’t help herself by then driving off and resisted arrest. She was convicted of an impressive collection of offenses including: unnecessary obstruction, wilfully obstructing a Pc, resisting a Pc and failing to stop. She was fined £2,700 with £1,200 costs. Not content with that she appealed, lost and received a further £750 costs. The appeal judge said “She has been able to persuade herself that she was in the right and the officer was in the wrong and that self-deception enabled her to believe what she had said.”

Self deception seems to be a big part of this, encouraged no doubt by the way that cars are sold as symbols of virility, power and status.

On a lighter note, one driver who had been fined again and again for parking offenses unwisely told the world via a windscreen sticker that ‘he hated traffic wardens just like everyone else’. He found that it only resulted in more attention from wardens and yet another ticket!

I hate traffic wardens sticker

Personally I get the impression that the pressure on this one is building up year by year with the relentless rise in the number of vehicles on the road.

Car 1, pensioner 0

16 Dec

Parent in Bristol blocks private lock-up garage with his car and heads for the primary school with young child. 83 year old man opens the garage and pushes the blocking car into the road. Crowd gathers, the man tries to drive off picking a man taking his number plate on his bonnet, child runs for safety. For this and a similar incident 2 weeks later the 83yo is banned for dangerous driving, receives £1,100 in fines and costs, and is made to give £620.59 for damage to the parent’s car and £200 for the man who was picked up on the bonnet.

Clearly this is a mess but is it not part of the bigger mess outside every school? The parent who parked anti-socially appears to have been fully compensated and got significantly more than the guy who was taking down the number plate who was rammed. The driver seen stopping in the yellow school zone box didn’t even raise a comment in the news reports because it just isn’t news! New regulations will soon ban the use wheel clamps on private property, such as the land outside the garages, to stop such anti-social parking. There is incidentally a newish law against blocking a dropped kerb with a parked car, but this driver was, I believe, parked on private property so that probably doesn’t apply.

In general this gives permission for this mess to continue regardless of who is inconvenienced. He had rented the garage for 20 years and had previously tried to get Bristol City Council to do something. The recorder said “No doubt you were severely irritated with the long-existing parking problem… but … you can’t go taking the law into your own hands.” If he can’t and the council won’t and the law provides no basis for the police to act then what? It seems that users of these garages will probably just have to realise that they will not be able to access their cars at pick up and drop-off times! I notice that this video was been watched nearly 460,000 times and that most of the comments on the Daily Mail article support the older driver.

Say thank you to a parking warden!

28 Jun

I was prompted to write this post after reading the sorry tale of ‘celeb’ Ingrid Tarrant’s outburst after being challenged by a police officer for parking in a bus stop; she drove off, resisted arrest and was convicted for ‘unnecessary obstruction, wilfully obstructing a Pc, resisting a Pc and failing to stop’ and was fined £2,700 with £1,200 costs. Not content with that she appealed, lost and received a further £750 costs yesterday. The appeal judge said “She has been able to persuade herself that she was in the right and the officer was in the wrong and that self-deception enabled her to believe what she had said.”

Personally I think that this ‘self-deception’ is behind the whole phenomenon; most motorists would probably grudgingly agree if challenged that without enforcement of parking regulations life in urban areas would quickly descent into chaos for everyone (including motorists), they would probably also agree that traffic wardens need to actually issue tickets and not respond to special pleading from every motorist who comes back to their car as they are issuing them.

The phrase ‘it’s a fair cop’ doesn’t seem to be considered to apply to parking offenses. If someone makes a racist remark or sexist remark it is likely to get challenged, but berating traffic wardens is still ok (just). Personally I think that change is coming and motoring culture is becoming a bit tired in many cities – possibly I am being optimistic, however people are starting to challenge this position, check out the ‘Traffic wardens are people too‘ article for further thoughts on the matter.

When I pass traffic wardens these days I say ‘thank you’ and appreciate them for doing a great job; and I have starting doing this more contentiously since being told by one warden that I was the first person who had ever thanked them for doing their job in their entire career! Isn’t that extraordinary – someone doing an important job (like police officers, nurses, firemen etc) but never ever get thanked for doing it.

I think that PL should do some more work on this at some point; in the mean time try saying ‘thank you’ next time you pass a traffic warden and see what happens. My experience is that they need a little convincing that one is even being genuine!