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Transport for London slammed for “victim-blaming” road safety ad (+ video)

Spot which suggests drivers and cyclists share equal responsibility described as “crass, old fashioned ‘false equivalence’ nonsense.”

Transport for London (TfL) has been slammed on social media for an advert launched during Road Safety Week earlier this month, with Twitter users accusing it of “victim blaming” and promoting “false equivalence” by suggesting that all road users share the same responsibility for ensuring the safety of others.

The integrated campaign, entitled ‘See their Side’ and which will run “for a number of years,” aims to change the culture of road users and contribute towards Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s Vision Zero goal of having zero deaths and serious injuries on the capital’s roads by 2041.

It includes the above 60-second film that is currently airing on TV and which, according to the agency VCCP London, which drew up the campaign, “directly tackles the tribal culture which currently dominates London’s roads.”

The agency’s creative director, Simon Learman, says that the ad, directed by Simon Ratigan, “targets all London road users, and appeals to the audience’s emotions with the presentation of a very real, albeit disturbing interaction between a car driver and cyclist who narrowly escape a collision.

“The initial fury is drowned out by inner monologues, until the anger subsides, they both realise how their behaviour has affected the other’s, and they express genuine concern for one another. The film draws to an emotional conclusion with both road users who are visibly shaken up asking whether each other is ok.”

Among those criticising the ad on Twitter were a number of prominent active travel and road safety campaigners, including Dr Robert Davis, chair of the Road Danger Reduction Forum.

He wrote: “I really didn't like the ‘See their side. See safer roads’ advert just shown on ITV. Made by @TfL (+ @transportgovuk 's @THINKgovuk  ) it’s the perfect slogan for the false equivalence of old style ‘road safety’. 

“It won't reduce danger on the roads. It has no robust evidence base for doing so.

“‘Their side’ may be responsible for endangering others, or it might be  relatively far less of a physical threat to others (and also more at risk from road danger).

“If we don't base our approach on understanding that difference, we're nowhere,” he added.

The “difference” that Dr Davis highlights is one now being acknowledged within government, with forthcoming changes to the Highway Code set to outline a hierarchy of road users aimed at protecting the most vulnerable.

The Ranty Highywayman, a traffic engineer by profession, described the spot as “crass, old fashioned ‘false equivalence’ nonsense.”

When the campaign launched last week, Miranda Leedham, head of customer marketing & behaviour change at TfL said:  “At TfL we want to make London safer for all.

“We’re incredibly passionate about this objective and ‘See their side’ is a film we wanted our audience to resonate with. 

“The end product is a film which pulls at the heart strings and really encourages all road users to wake up and think about the potential of their actions.

“We’re fully behind helping The Mayor achieve his Vision Zero ambition to eradicate deaths and serious injuries from our roads and make London a safer place to live,” she added.

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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169 comments

Avatar
BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP | 2 years ago
2 likes

think TfL get their point across quite well - don't shout at each other. Don't escalate an incident - no one wins. 

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chrisonabike | 2 years ago
3 likes
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sensei | 2 years ago
9 likes

Yes the sad irony with this ad is that it infers an equal footing of distress when really only 1 of the actors is in charge of a potential killing machine. This perspective from TFL shows a depressing lack of understanding towards the cyclist nearly being killed and therefore what many cyclists will feel cycling through London every day.

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anke replied to sensei | 2 years ago
1 like

SHE said "I almost killed YOU". Where's the lack of understanding?

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sensei replied to anke | 2 years ago
10 likes
anke wrote:

SHE said "I almost killed YOU". Where's the lack of understanding?

Do you really need me to explain why the feeling of fright and remorse are not comparable to the feeling of a near death encounter? 

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anke replied to sensei | 2 years ago
0 likes

OK. How would you improve the film then, making the asymmetric (car vs bike, death vs remorse) more symmetric, fair, appropriate or fit for its purpose?

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sensei replied to anke | 2 years ago
12 likes
anke wrote:

OK. How would you improve the film then, making the asymmetric (car vs bike, death vs remorse) more symmetric, fair, appropriate or fit for its purpose?

 

Well the first issue is that whilst the advert has a nice sentiment to it, it does nothing to address the real problem, the fact that motorised vehicles account for over 99% of road based deaths. By it's failure to acknowledge reality it almost encourages anti-cycling rhetoric by incorrectly seeing it as a 50/50. So simply put, for the reasons mentioned, this advert will have no positive effect on road safety and perversely may make it slightly worse.
 

If you want me to provide a scenario which will address the problem, do it in a necessary hard hitting, brutal way which accurately reflects reality and with the ability to educate to improve road safety I would do the following:

 

1. It would be focused on motorists

2. It would clearly identify the road based death/ksi statistics

3. It would re-iterate the responsibilities of motorists and the tragedy that can follow even a moment's lapse of concentration

4. It would provide a series of clips that could lead towards a serious injury/fatality of a vulnerable road user I.e. A careless left hook into a turning across a cycle lane, a close pass at speed, an overtake on a blind bend on a rural road, need I go on...

...and finally, 5. It would highlight the pain, suffering and life sentence those loved ones have to endure as a result of losing their son/brother/dad/etc.

 

Hard hitting, reflective of reality and addressing the undeniable cause of the vast majority of road based deaths.
 

Call it a complete overhaul or at the very least, going back to the drawing board. All dependent of course on the marketing team having the correct perception of reality!

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anke replied to sensei | 2 years ago
1 like

So you would replace the message of "being mutually polite, respectful and empathic" to one that blames the motorists only? Would this be more effective!?

 

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sensei replied to anke | 2 years ago
13 likes

In simple terms yes. The intention of the advert is to improve road safety. But as has already been explained to you. Empathy and compassion after the incident is ineffective when compared to improving awareness and attentiveness before an incident occurs.

 

Like I said, the sentiment of the advert is nice but wholly misdirected to what the advert is trying to achieve - making the roads safer.

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anke replied to sensei | 2 years ago
0 likes
sensei wrote:

Empathy and compassion after the incident is ineffective...

Obviously, they need to be applied before!

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hawkinspeter replied to anke | 2 years ago
8 likes
anke wrote:
sensei wrote:

Empathy and compassion after the incident is ineffective...

Obviously, they need to be applied before!

Which is another failing of the video - it only shows being empathic afterwards which is all well and good, but kinda useless for improving road safety.

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hawkinspeter replied to anke | 2 years ago
6 likes
anke wrote:

So you would replace the message of "being mutually polite, respectful and empathic" to one that blames the motorists only? Would this be more effective!?

I reckon the most effective message would be to target motorists to pay attention to specific driving mistakes that can cause collisions. There's more motorists and they're more likely to be at fault in collisions as well as they're wielding the more dangerous vehicle. Targetting cyclists with safety messages is going to have a miniscule effect and is quite likely to have unintended consequences with motorists then feeling that they have more rights on the road than a cyclist not wearing hi-viz or a helmet (or emoji waistcoat).

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eburtthebike replied to anke | 2 years ago
7 likes
anke wrote:

So you would replace the message of "being mutually polite, respectful and empathic" to one that blames the motorists only? Would this be more effective!?

In the vast majority of collisions between cyclists and drivers, the driver is held to be at fault by the police.  If you're going to solve a problem, you tackle the biggest cause first, not the smallest.

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anke replied to eburtthebike | 2 years ago
0 likes

Right. So only address one cause, work hard on it to solve it (even if you can't), and totally ignore all others. Great. Based on this type of logics, you could even claim that the actual cause for these hurt (and dead) cyclists is "cycling on roads", so that cycling on roads should be banned... Really?

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IanMK replied to anke | 2 years ago
10 likes
anke wrote:

 "being mutually polite, respectful and empathic" 

These are life skills. Unfortunately when we look across society there is increasing abuse in schools, against emergency and care workers, against restaurant and shop staff. They appear to be simple (soft) skills but even at 58 years old I consider myself to be a work in progress and have to practice these skills.

I'm happy if the government want to remind people to be more tolerant and  see other peoples point of view through an advertising campaign if they believe it will make some some difference.

However, it is not appropriate in a Road Safety campaign. Most casualties killed or maimed by dangerous or even careless driving will not have the luxury of being able to stop and see the other point of view.

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anke replied to IanMK | 2 years ago
0 likes

I very much agree with your statements. But seeing the other point of view is what's needed for becoming "better humans", better drivers and better riders. And it helps in foreseeing looming danger / identifying dangerous situations.

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IanMK replied to anke | 2 years ago
3 likes
anke wrote:

I very much agree with your statements. But seeing the other point of view is what's needed for becoming "better humans", better drivers and better riders. And it helps in foreseeing looming danger / identifying dangerous situations.

I think you're already conflating the soft skills being advocated in the advert and the potential to improve the practical skills of riding a bike or driving a car safely, which as others have pointed out would help road safety far more and is a completely missed opportunity.

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Hirsute replied to anke | 2 years ago
3 likes

No, they are 2 separate things as described by IanMK.

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Spokesperson replied to anke | 2 years ago
5 likes

Well it would be very hard to do an advert showing the thousands and thousands of casualties created by cyclists each year because... there are hardly any. Maybe one a year? You will know about the high-profile cases by name, because the media make a huge song and dance about them, whereas the five daily killer drivers are barely mentioned.

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chrisonabike replied to Spokesperson | 2 years ago
1 like
Spokesperson wrote:

Well it would be very hard to do an advert showing the thousands and thousands of casualties created by cyclists each year because... there are hardly any. Maybe one a year? You will know about the high-profile cases by name, because the media make a huge song and dance about them, whereas the five daily killer drivers are barely mentioned.

One of my faves - just one year (scroll down a bit for his animated version - really illustrates the point).

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Captain Badger replied to anke | 2 years ago
8 likes
anke wrote:

SHE said "I almost killed YOU". Where's the lack of understanding?

Why is she angry and screaming at someone as a result of what SHE did. How is that a rational or reasonable response?

Many years ago I almost took someone out on a roundabout - entirely my fault.
My response was to pull over, see if they were okay,..... and take a bollocking - cos I facking deserved it.

Sometimes anger is utterly justified. And sometimes it isn't.

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anke replied to Captain Badger | 2 years ago
0 likes
Captain Badger wrote:

 

Why is she angry and screaming at someone as a result of what SHE did. How is that a rational or reasonable response?

But that's the point: there is no evidence of who's mistake it was - but in a dangerous, slightly confusing incident, our first inclination is often to blame the other side. 

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Captain Badger replied to anke | 2 years ago
6 likes
anke wrote:
Captain Badger wrote:

 

Why is she angry and screaming at someone as a result of what SHE did. How is that a rational or reasonable response?

But that's the point: there is no evidence of who's mistake it was - but in a dangerous, slightly confusing incident, our first inclination is often to blame the other side. 

The driver stated "I almost killed you". So not so confused from her perspective

So again, how is shouting and screaming at someone you acknowledge you almost killed a rational reasonable response?

Unless I was doing it wrong in the incident I described above..... 

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Hirsute replied to Captain Badger | 2 years ago
5 likes

I think we are supposed to consider that she may have had a bad day or bad news and so she is reacting to that.

The concept that is she should forgo driving as she cannot concentrate properly in order to use a 1.5T vehicle on the roads is one that cannot be contemplated.

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anke replied to Captain Badger | 2 years ago
0 likes
Captain Badger wrote:

The driver stated "I almost killed you". So not so confused from her perspective

People can say this even if they're not guilty. And if she said "you almost killed yourself", there would be an outrage about "misunderstanding the real danger", "not acknowledging the asymmetry of risk", or of "victim blaming"...

But if you are upset by this advert, you might be part of the intended audience...?!

 

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Captain Badger replied to anke | 2 years ago
6 likes
anke wrote:
Captain Badger wrote:

The driver stated "I almost killed you". So not so confused from her perspective

People can say this even if they're not guilty. And if she said "you almost killed yourself", there would be an outrage about "misunderstanding the real danger", "not acknowledging the asymmetry of risk", or of "victim blaming"...

....

Damn facking right.

So it seems as if this film has failed to do anything but foment division......

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anke replied to Captain Badger | 2 years ago
0 likes
Captain Badger wrote:

So it seems as if this film has failed to do anything but foment division......

Division or discussion? I also do not think that this forum, with perhaps 10 opinionated contributors (like myself), is representative of the real audience that TfL had in mind...

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wycombewheeler replied to anke | 2 years ago
9 likes
anke wrote:
Captain Badger wrote:

The driver stated "I almost killed you". So not so confused from her perspective

People can say this even if they're not guilty. And if she said "you almost killed yourself", there would be an outrage about "misunderstanding the real danger", "not acknowledging the asymmetry of risk", or of "victim blaming"...

But if you are upset by this advert, you might be part of the intended audience...?!

 

this attitude lines up with that of the makers of the film, that cyclists and drivers are two different groups and need to understand each other. But the fact is the vast majority of cyclists are already drivers so well understand the other side of the equation. Cyclist when they drive do not have these sort of incidents, because they drive carefully around vulnerable road users.

Meanwhile most drivers have never cycled on the roads and have no understanding what it's like to be close passed by a car or left hooked.

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anke replied to wycombewheeler | 2 years ago
0 likes

I largely agree - even though a good proportion of Londoners don't have a driving license (which isn't of much use there, anyway).

But will it hurt that the film reminds us of the other side? And that the (few) more ignorant riders and (many) ignorant drivers are taught about the other side?

And finally: I'm fairly sure that "grumpy" (dangerous, "anti-cyclist") drivers will be more open for a message (apparently) aimed at both sides than "just another pro-cyclist" message that's obviously just aimed at them and their "god given right to the road".

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TriTaxMan replied to wycombewheeler | 2 years ago
3 likes
wycombewheeler wrote:

this attitude lines up with that of the makers of the film, that cyclists and drivers are two different groups and need to understand each other. But the fact is the vast majority of cyclists are already drivers so well understand the other side of the equation. Cyclist when they drive do not have these sort of incidents, because they drive carefully around vulnerable road users.

Meanwhile most drivers have never cycled on the roads and have no understanding what it's like to be close passed by a car or left hooked.

I agree wycombewheeler.  As both a cyclist and a driver you tend to have a far better grasp of the dangers you pose to a cyclist in your car as opposed to non-cyclists.

As a result we tend to be more patient waiting for a safe moment to pass etc.  Whereas non cyclists don't.  When I have been in the car following a cyclist waiting to pass I've had drivers attempt to overtake me and the cyclist into the face of oncoming traffic, I've had cars sit right on my bumper blaring their horns/flashing lights because I wasn't overtaking the cyclist into the face of oncoming traffic.

Yes the advert has some merit in dealing with the aftermath of an accident but does nothing to address the root cause.

To look at it from another perspective, the TFL advert is akin to the old "Chip Pan Fire" adverts telling you how to put out a chip pan fire with a damp teatowel.... but completely ignoring the advice of "Never leave a chip pan unattended/don't try to cook chips when you are drunk"

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