Many Still Think That Risk Homeostasis Is A Fallacy

Many Still Think That Risk Homeostasis Is A Fallacy

Risk-Homestasis RHTUpon reflection, I realise that I have known of the concept of Risk Homeostasis pretty much my whole life. I can fondly remember the massive hills I was game enough to conquer once I had brakes installed on my billy cart. It is only in the last few years that I discovered that this concept was real, had a name and an acronym (RHT) and has a significant impact of the way we manage safety and risk. For me it crystallised so much of the confusion I had over why my awesome engineering controls didn’t always work out as expected. Such a fan and advocate of RHT I became that I wrote an essay about it for my current social psychology of risk studies (see  Risk Homeostasis Theory–Why Safety Initiatives Go Wrong).

Although it almost makes sense to me, to others it is just “unproven, academic waffle”. I guess it challenges their perception of the effectiveness of engineering controls in overcoming the bane of the Safety Professional’s existence, HUMAN ERROR,  in very counter-intuitive ways?

Imagine my delight when Rob Long sent me this link this morning to this article in the Canberra Times. If you don’t have time to read it all then just read the bits I have highlighted – this new safety initiative has actually made things more unsafe!!! Is RHT real? The lobby group, “Pedal Power ACT”, gets it – why don’t Safety Professionals?

Cycling lane dividers have little impact on safety: government report


Clinton Madden and Sam Barton use one of the raised intersections on Bunda Street in Civic.A report on cycling lanes on Canberra roads has found many separators are ineffectual and do not stop heavy vehicles from veering close to cyclists.

In April 2014, the ACT government launched a trial of several devices to improve cyclists safety on Athllon Drive, Pialligo Avenue, London Circuit, Northbourne Avenue and Barton Highway.

The trial included lane markings that vibrate when motorists stray into cycling  lanes on London Circuit, Vernon Circle and at the corner of Northbourne Avenue and Barton Highway.

Tram separators, which are used on Lonsdale Street in Melbourne, were also trialled on Athllon Drive in Greenway and along with rubber kerbs on the corner of Pialligo Avenue and Fairbairn Avenue.

During an evaluation of the trial, nearly one third of 2706 motorists strayed into the cycling lanes with 67 per cent of heavy vehicles (157) crossing the separators.

Submissions to a government report on the trial were mixed with cycling lobby group Pedal Power ACT reporting many cyclists injured themselves after colliding with “obtrusive” rubber lane dividers.

“At best, all devices are limited to a warning function reinforcing a psychological incentive for people in vehicles to stay out of the cycle lane,” the Pedal Power submission said.

“We believe that in practice these separation devices are inappropriate or ineffective for use on standard ACT on-road lanes and  … actually reduce cycling safety.”

The review found heavy vehicles were most likely to stray into a cycling lane despite a submission from ACTION Buses stating the vibrating lanes helped alert drivers to their position on the road.

“This could be due to the drawback of being able to change their drive path-alignments and the challenges of keeping the larger vehicles within the lanes,” the report said.

Pedal Power said the number of heavy vehicles assessed was relatively low although the high proportion of encroachments into cycling lanes was worrying.

“Three-quarters of them encroached on the cycle lane and few reached to the encroachment,” the submission said.

“The key problem is that many of our marked on-road lanes are too narrow for these kinds of devices to generate a greater sense of cycling security around vehicles travelling at 60-100 kilometres [an hour].”

According to the report, a public perception of unsafe cycling infrastructure was one explanation for low numbers of female and inexperienced cyclists riding on the road.

“Placing cycling separation devices adjacent to on-road bike lanes is likely to increase the perceived safety factors for cyclists and in turn could encourage more non-confident riders to take advantage of the on-road cycling network,” the report said.

Last week, Minister for Justice Shane Rattenbury announced motorists would be required to keep at least one metre away from cyclists as part of a new two year trial.

The trial, which will begin in November, would replicate a similar scheme in Queensland and would be introduced after community consultation.

“When driving a motor vehicle we need to remember that we are in control of around 1200-2000 kilograms of metal, travelling at more than 12 metres a second when driving at 50km/h – which can kill in an instant.”

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