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Subjective or Statistical Safety?

Should we be treating actual road danger as the top priority, or is it more important to make people feel safe?

Is it more important to feel safe or to be safe?

You might say that these are the same thing, surely, but this isn’t always the case.

I know exactly what bothers me most when I go out. It’s not necessarily the thing that’s most likely to kill me. I get upset by bullying motorists, especially if the tailgate and beep and rev their engines behind me when I’m cycling.

But is this going to kill me? Probably not. However reckless and anti-social this behaviour is, the driver knows that I’m there. Most cycling fatalities (about 75% in fact) occur at junctions. The usual response of the driver is that they didn’t see the cyclist, or that they saw them too late. By “taking the lane” and being more assertive, there’s no question I’m exposed to more bullying. But I’m also a lot more visible at junctions.

There are numerous other situations where a road situation might feel safe (soft kerbs, gentle paving and so on), but give a false sense of security. It could also be argued that one of the safest places to cycle would be in the hard shoulder on a motorway. Of course, the sense of danger would be intolerable, and of course it is quite rightly illegal, but you would at least be cycling in your own “protected” lane.

 

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