Managing the risk of driving

Driving standards in this country are crap. Whether you drive, cycle or walk, this is apparent. People in cars who frankly couldn’t care less about the need to control their vehicle.

Driver on a mobile in Kingston
A driver paying attention in Kingston

Of course, we can rely upon our fellow community members to convict, on those occasions that the police deign to prosecute, can’t we? Well no, we can’t. A driver can apparently driver 1.2 miles at the 50mph speed limit in under a minute, kill somebody shortly after sending a stack of texts, and the jury see nothing worth convicting.

Risk Management

Driving is inherently about risk management. A test is required to ensure a minimum standard of competence. Insurance is required to manage the risk of financial liability in the event of an incident. And decisions that drivers make are all about managing risk, whether consciously or not. What’s more, when so many people drive, if poor standards are commonly accepted then there is a risk that justice will not be effectively served.

Yet we still often see poor driving and routine law-breaking. Does the present system manage or avoid risk?

Learning to Drive

Driving is a curious thing. Think back to when you started learning. How hard was it to simply change gear, let alone watch out for other traffic, indicate and concentrate on finding your route in an unfamiliar city.

The Four Stages of Competence map the path from Unconscious Incompetence (such as my then two year old insisting he was going to drive home, yet being extremely annoyed that the car didn’t move) to Conscious Incompetence – that moment you’re handed the keys and the reality hits that you don’t know what to do. Conscious Competence follows this. You can drive but have to think about it, particularly if an unfamiliar situation occurs. Finally comes Unconscious Competence. Most of us reach this level in at least some areas – we can change gear without thinking about it for example. But we are unlikely to master every part of driving, if the situation is unfamiliar. How many of us could deal with suddenly hitting a large patch of black ice?

So not only are we not often not competent with unfamiliar situations, we will also have acquired most of our skill unsupervised after we’ve passed our test. Kolb provides an experiential learning framework which shows how we learn:

The modelling and observation happens privately. We reinforce this, largely through our social circle. So our driving standard is peer reinforced, based our internal values. There is little control over this to ensure an adequate standard of driving, beyond the vague and distant threat of penalty points.

Managing the Risk

So we need to ensure that adequate standards of driving are maintained. We cannot assume that people will manage this themselves; being human we are terrible at estimating risk and consequently people tend to over-estimate their driving ability.

So what is the solution to an inadequately reinforced peer-learned model?
One is to run continuous driver training courses for all, whereby the modelling and observation take place in groups under trained supervision and coaching. Unfortunately this is not scalable to several million drivers.
The other solution is to require regular testing. This gives the opportunity to ensure that the driver is aware of new laws and has an incentive to focus on improving their driving at distinct points. It also provides a convenient mean of removing those drivers who don’t meet the required standard from the road.

I have no doubt that any calls to retest drivers will result in calls to test cyclists (Hello, Tory and UKIP councillors!), despite the fact that drivers and cyclists are frequently the same people in different situations. So let’s examine the case for testing different modes of transport.

Walking Tests

Let’s start with the most basic form of transport! After all, people walking often find themselves legislated against. Crossing roads in many countries is illegal, except at given crossing points. Even then, pedestrians may find they have to wave flags in case they have accidentally rendered themselves invisible.

Flags to cross the road. Source: Brett VA/Flickr creative commons
Flags to cross the road. Source: Brett VA/Flickr creative commons

What is the risk that a pedestrian poses to others? Well, if they step out into a road carelessly, they can certainly cause damage to others. But that damage tends to be due to the other party’s speed and the pedestrian has significant moral hazard that causes them to look out.

Given that pedestrians have been walking and gathering in towns for 7000 years with few ill effects, it seems reasonable to not require a test or unreasonable legal restrictions for walking.

Cycling Tests

Now for cycling. This is a human powered transport with plenty of rough points on which to damage people. It’s a seemingly unstable beast yet one that is accessible to anyone from three year old children to those in their twilight years.

Get a licence, you lycra lout!
Get a licence, you lycra lout!

So what’s the risk posed by cyclists?
Very little, it turns out. Deaths caused by cyclists make headline news because they are so very rare. Velocity rarely exceeds 20mph and the mass of rider plus bike will rarely exceed 100kg. There is also significant moral hazard for the rider; hitting someone or avoiding a crash carries significant risk of losing a layer of skin at best.
So from a risk management point of view, there’s little need to require that cycling requires a licence. And if there’s no risk, why on earth would we wish to go through the administrative burden of licencing a rider who cannot even write their name?

Driving Tests

And so to motor vehicles. We know that the risk from these vehicles is high, in terms of sheer kinetic energy being propelled. Thousands of deaths and injuries every year is testament to that. The quality of driving on our roads is shockingly low too – beyond one’s own experience, simply look at the Twitter feeds of traffic police for examples.

It’s clear that the current licencing is insufficient. Banning drivers who reach 12 points is reliant on the stretched resources of the police to catch offenders, and for judges to not believe the pleas of exceptional hardship from those who hadn’t twigged that it might be prudent to drive carefully upon reaching 9 points.

A retest is a proposed solution. Every five years should be sufficient, but feedback from traffic police and accident data should be used to to verify that standards are actually rising.

That would cover the standard risk of driving. But what of those who voluntarily take on more risk by driving heavier vehicles which carry much greater kinetic energy? A fair solution would be that vehicles over a certain mass require an additional qualification to be driven. This could simple be the IAM Advanced Driving test. The goal of this is not to curtail driving these vehicles, but to ensure that ability is in line with the increased risk posed.

Similarly, those who drive for hire might be assessed more frequently. This would give passengers assurance of their driver’s capability.

In Summary

This may sound like a rant from a car-hater. It’s not. I’m still working on persuading my wife that a Porsche 928 is in reality a four seat hatchback.
However, it is a recognition that something has to change. I’m fed up with crap driving, whether I’m in my car, on my bike or trying to cross a street safely with my children.
The present system does not manage risk. It avoids it, hiding risk away and brushing the inevitable outcomes under the carpet.


Portsmouth Road: Second time round


The revised proposals for the first mini-Holland scheme are now online here. While these aren’t a fully Dutch solution, they are a significant improvement over the initial proposals.

I applaud Kingston’s willingness to listen to feedback from constituents and revise these plans. I do still have some reservations; these are detailed below.

What Was Said

The consultation feedback is available here. There was a significant response, with 701 individual responses and further responses from special interest groups (e.g. disability groups and cycling campaigners). This has been described as a very high level, which is hopefully indicative of latent demand.

Looking at the goals of the scheme, the majority of respondents claimed that they would ride and walk more in the area following the proposals. This is significant; if this scheme doesn’t encourage cycling take-up, it has not met its goals.

Respondents place great importance on the quality of the segregation

The segregated aspects of the proposal gained a high level of support, although concern was justifiably expressed about provision for pedestrians with pushchairs. Interestingly, concern was expressed about provision for mobility scooters; this is somewhat surprising as segregated cycle lanes typically provide a better environment than pavements which are often uneven and clogged with street furniture.

Where the proposals were for a painted separation, concern was expressed by “over 150” respondents. There is a clear desire to have a safe cycling environment away from traffic. This is highlighted by the question below:

Portsmouth Road Consultation Report.pdf
People want Segregated Cycling. Source: Royal Borough of Kingston

There were some concerns raised:

  • Would this impact emergency vehicles? Interestingly, David Hembrow noted that high quality cycle infrastructure provides an ideal route for emergency vehicles to bypass traffic!
How Emergency Vehicles use Cycle Lanes
How Emergency Vehicles use Cycle Lanes
  • Both the Kingston and Richmond cycling campaigns provided comprehensive feedback, calling out the proposals for not meeting the stated goals of the project.
  • Significant amongst the responses was Ravens Ait, complaining that coaches would not have access to their venue. Of course, any coach currently parking for the venue will be sitting on the non-mandatory bike lane, causing inconvenience and danger to cyclists. This highlights why such a scheme is necessary. Perhaps they could come to an agreement with Harts Boatyard to use their large parking area?

As a side-note, there appears to be a misunderstanding of the term “mandatory cycle lane” by some respondents. It’s not mandatory for cyclists to use this; it’s mandatory for motor vehicles to stay out of it!

mandatory cycle
Wrong definition… Source: Royal Borough of Kingston

What’s Good in the Revised Proposals

So, the new proposals. There is much to celebrate here and the council has created a segregated route for the entire length of the journey. This includes bus bypasses, removing the dangerous game of leapfrog that occurs when cyclists and buses are forced into the same space.

bus bypasses
Yay – bus bypasses. Source: Royal Borough of Kingston

The northern end of the scheme is now kerb separated with a bi-directional cycle path, while the southern part now has light segregation. However, the segregation is more than the original white paint, so this is an improvement.

Most pleasing about this is that the council now seems to understand what this is all about. They’ve listened to the survey responses and we can look forward to high levels of engagement and good infrastructure going forward.

What’s Not So Good

There remain some questions. I am personally unconvinced by the separation using armadillos. Unless these are particularly large, they will not discourage the determined van / Range Rover / Ravens Ait coach driver from parking out of the way of motor traffic in the cycle lane. Should this occur, I trust that the council will consider a more robust infrastructure measure, coupled with punitive fines for transgressors.

Of equal concern with the armadillos is that they may not provide subjective safety. It would perhaps be useful for the council to follow up with a survey once these are in place to gauge thoughts on this.

Why 4x4s have big wheels. Source: Royal Borough of Kingston

The treatment of side roads is also unclear from the revised proposals. When the scheme is implemented, these need some markings to remind drivers that they must give way to both cyclists and pedestrians when they wish to make a turn.

What should come next

Obviously, there’s a pressing need to connect this route to the town centre and extend it south too. However, the river roads should also be considered. Is there a need to prevent Maple Road being a through road for traffic, in effect making the River Roads access only?

river roads
Phase 2: Reduce through traffic. Source: Google Maps

Such a development drives motor traffic onto the main roads, making side streets more pleasant for residents and safer for cyclists. Yes, it creates a slightly longer for motor traffic, but at the gain of removing rat runs down one’s street. Part of the mini-Holland legacy should be the removal of through traffic from streets for living.


Overall, this is hugely positive for cycling in Kingston. It’s a good first step that should encourage people out of their cars for short journeys. The results will be watched very closely.

Asking the right question

Eric Pickles quite justifiably took a lot of flak for his proposals to grant free parking to people who can’t use their watch.
But almost more offensive than the policy itself was the dumb way in which it’s proposed. If the answer is always about the car, Eric Pickles is asking the wrong question.

The Pickles View

In Pickles-land, the world is very simple.


People use cars to give them happiness, freedom and convenience.

So how can we make this better?


Yes! More parking! Convenience for people who can’t tell the time!


But these are hypotheses. We don’t know and Eric Pickles doesn’t know that convenient parking is what drivers want, any more than that driving cars leads to these outcomes. Pickles is hypothesising, but has no measures other than the wailing of the pro-car lobby such as the Daily Mail.

So what else is there? Well, let’s look at other outcomes that people might want:


Let’s try less pollution. And what about quietness? When the Ride 100 goes through Kingston, the quiet hum of bike wheels is wonderful – I can actually hold a conversation with my son while walking along the main road. Might this not be desirable? And if one walks into any town in rush hour, you can simply taste the pollution.

So how might we meet these extra desires?


Well, we could do worse than copying the Dutch, who are very good with people safety, health and having quiet and pleasant cities. So in doing so, we hypothesise that riding and walking will meet these desired outcomes. A hypothesis requires a metric, so we could monitor pollution levels, noise, number of accidents, take up of bike lanes once infrastructure is put in.

So now we look at the supporting infrastructure.


It’s simple really. If we’re going to try granting extra time on parking, we should also try to meet voter needs with segregated bike lanes and better environments for walking. This is a hypothesis, but based so heavily on things that have worked elsewhere that the risk of them not working is minimal.


And there we have it. How to put forward a coherent argument for infrastructure. Pickles may think he’s clever for getting a headline grabber, but has most likely left a vast amount of unfilled need on the table. And for a politician, that’s a dangerous place to be. Simply put, he’s out of touch and a relic of the past.


This thinking is heavily stolen from my recent working with Chris Matts. You can read his stuff over here

New Malden to Raynes Park Route

While the responses of the Portsmouth Road consultation are assessed, attention can turn to the next phase of the mini-Holland plan. It’s probably fair to say that the number of responses surprised the council; one hopes for a positive outcome and ongoing engagement with people who will use this.

The next phase of the mini-Holland plan is believed to be the New Malden to Raynes Park link. This is the first project-level work – the Portsmouth Road being classified as a Route. In the spirit of engagement, here’s what one might hope from in order to make this mini-Holland as Holland as possible.

The Route

The council have helpfully provided a Google Maps link here. At present the journey between New Malden and Raynes Park is a 2.1 mile detour. A direct route would be hugely beneficial in connecting the boroughs, enabling many people to consider cycling when they presently use the bus, train or car.

Proposed Route in red. (c) Google Maps

From the bid document, the proposal states:

This proposal involves constructing a 3m wide two-way cycle path, adjacent to a 2m wide footway. Lighting would be provided to enable use of the path during the night. Seating will be placed at regular intervals, for the benefit of both pedestrians and cyclists

This sounds promising as a starting point. So, how would the Dutch do this?

Sightlines and Maintenance

This cycle route is not located near roads, so long sightlines are needed to ensure a feeling of safety. The inherent straightness of the route will help here, as will the promised lighting. This is discussed by David Hembrow in detail here as Social Safety.
Social Safety involves all the small things that add up to give a feeling of well-being when using the route. This includes commitment from the council for regular maintenance of bushes so they don’t provide hiding places for muggers, patrols by police on bicycles and removal of graffiti. All indicate that the route is looked after and cared for.


Three metres sounds like a lot, but that’s slightly under 1.5 metres each way, allowing for a centre line. That’s insufficient room for cyclists to pass with traffic coming the other way. The link above to David Hembrow’s blog describes a 4 metre cycle bi-directional cycle lane. While 3 metres may be adequate right now, the route should be designed so that there is an option to go to 4 metres wide if required. Given that this route is segregated from traffic, it’s quite possible that it will prove popular for cycling from south-west to south London. It would be a pity for expensive rework to be needed later, if there’s an option available now.

(A logical extension for this route would be to improve access from Surbiton to New Malden, but that’s a much larger project…)

Three metre bike lane
Three metre bike lane
Four metre bike lane. Much better for cycling.
Four metre bike lane. Much better for cycling.

Surface Covering

We’ve all encountered those off-road paths that start poorly-surfaced, become pot-holed from ice-damage and are never repaired. Cycle traffic causes negligible surface wear, so there’s little excuse for not surfacing the route to a high standard that will last. It is likely that maintenance vehicles will drive down here, so a surface fit for motor traffic will be necessary.
The route should have good drainage (but without surface drains to slide on) and very steady inclines. This will allow a smooth surface that permits fast travel between the two towns on an attractive route.

Crap cycle path. Narrow with drains in the way. (c) Google Maps

Going the Extra Mile

Now, let’s not forget that this is mini-Holland. It’s not just another route, it’s a showcase of what can be provided. It should make cyclists in other boroughs jealous of the facilities and encourage people to get out of their cars. Given that TfL will fund much of the project, these extras could readily come from the council budget.

These things aren’t typically thought of for cycle infrastructure here because people on bikes are too busy concentrating on staying alive. But once we’ve met those items on the lower tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, why not tackle comfort items further up the hierarchy?

Angled Bins

The Netherlands has angled bins facing toward the cycle path. This makes it easy to do the right thing; a simple glance at the mess surrounding to any street bin will show the value of this.


Copenhagen has angled footrests next to traffic lights on their highways. A small thing, but it’s a signal that cycling is more than an inconvenience to the council.

Pumps and Service Area

Route side bike pump. Picture stolen from service area at each end of the path (bike stand and pump) would be a huge bonus for riders and definitely what a council aspiring to Dutch levels of cycling would do. It’s another thing that removes some of the hassle from cycling. This doesn’t have to be expensive; it just has to work.

So there we have it. My wish list for the next cycling route. Please do comment if there’s anything I’ve missed.