Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Less of the "driverless car" please!

There is a fashion at the moment on Twitter to mock media reports about traffic incidents involving cars, which appear from the reports to be driverless.

Now, I am going to use the terms “collide” and “collision” here, although I hate them – they are utterly inappropriate in this context.  They imply a parity between the colliding objects, in mass or momentum, which simply is not there.  Cars and Lorries do not “collide with” cyclists or pedestrians:  they run them down, or – very rarely – a cyclist runs smack into a stationary car or lorry.  It is just that it is simpler to use the word.

My first point is a pedantic one, about accuracy.  When a cyclist “collides” with a motor vehicle or vice versa, it is, indeed, the vehicle (s)he collides with.  The car may have a driver but  (s)he is safely ensconced within a safety cage of steel and glass, and at no point comes into physical contact with the cyclist who, being wrapped around their vehicle, is indeed the colliding object.  In that respect I think that the media reports are actually correct.

Secondly, I fear that in critiquing the journalism this emphasis on the driver as opposed to the vehicle driven does us no favours at all.  It is not – yet – a slogan of the pro-car lobby in this country, but a parallel can be drawn with the national Rifle Association of the USA which frequently parrots the nostrum “People kill people, guns don’t kill people”.  That is sophistry – true, but it entirely misses the point that without easy access to firearms it would not be possible to murder so easily, or to massacre on the scale seen at Columbine or Sandy Hook, and there would be no accidental gunshot deaths – possibly the largest single cause of homicides in the US, notably among small children.

Similarly, motor vehicles are what makes it possible for people in the UK to kill other people on such a scale.  Not through out-and-out criminality, but through inattention, negligence, recklessness, or aggression without proper thought to the potential consequences.  While it is undoubtedly true that we are far too lenient on motorists’ failures to show a duty of care to those around them, a far more effective way of managing the problem, in effect saving people from themselves, would be the Dutch way – keep motorised and non-motorised road users apart where possible, and where not, tame motor traffic or confine it to through routes and restrict it elsewhere to access-only.


  1. I have been accused of political correctness in using the term collision when it should be accident.

    In my view, there are very few genuine accidents out there and collision will cover most incidents with perhaps crash reserved for the more devastating outcomes. But yes, the driver, rather than the vehicle is the issue!

  2. Hi Ranty!

    I don't think collision is a synonym for accident, whether PC or not. Collisions don't have to be accidental. I prefer to substitute "incident" for accident. The military have a slogan seen in posters all over hangars and workshops - "Safety is no accident" which is clearly readable two ways.

    I can't quite make out whether you are agreeing with me, but the vehicle is not the issue, nor in my view is the driver. That is not to say that poor driving standards are to be condoned, just that environment and conditions are more influenceable than human nature. To continue the gun parallel, we have a much lower homicide rate in the UK cf the USA, without capital punishment, at least partly because bad people are kept largely separated from guns. People will continue to drive poorly (in some cases) even if they face certain imprisonment if they do.