We Do Not Negotiate With Terrorists

It’s perhaps no surprise that contemporary definitions of the word “terrorism” have largely narrowed somewhat, but one of the Oxford English Dictionary’s definitions of “terrorism” still represents the broader usage:

The instilling of fear or terror; intimidation, coercion, bullying.

The first use of the term is believed to have been around 1794 and was in reference not to to the use of terror as a tool to undermine governments, but to the use of terror by governments themselves. Only a few years later it was being used in reference to the British government of the time.


At some point you’ll almost certainly have seen someone walking across a road and then breaking into a little theatrical gallop when a car approaches. Is this the act of someone running for their lives? No. If it was, they’d suddenly sprint. It’s the act of someone who’s been conditioned to believe that motor vehicles and the people within them must be allowed to proceed with minimal disruption. To disrupt this is, at the very least, discourteous. The gallop is the gesture that acknowledges this.

This conditioned belief in the supremacy of vehicular motion has many roots. Some are subtle and insidious; some are more apparent; and some are basically terrorism.

And, as with any mental conditioning, it’s best to start work on your targets early.

Tales of The Road

Tales of The Road is a campaign aimed at 6-11 year olds. It comprises a range of resources, including some animated videos which epitomise the psychology of the campaign.

Before his leg was bent backwards / He loved to play football all day / But the boy didn’t cross in a safe place / Where he could see cars come his way / He then didn’t stop, look and listen / A car hit him at quite a pace / And now he cannot play football / ‘Cos his leg broke in more than one place

(Note that on the website the wording is different and even more sinister: “Before his leg was snapped backwards / He loved to play football all day / But the boy didn’t cross in a safe place / Where he could see cars come his way / He then didn’t stop, look and listen / A car smashed him all over the place / And now he cannot play football / ‘Cos he battered his leg and his face.”)

He couldn’t be bothered to walk to a place / Where cars could be seen from a nice open space / So he crossed the road right next to a bend / Now his arm for some while will be struggling to mend / A car cannot dodge what it cannot see / So flattened the boy, unfortunately / Now he can’t swim, dress himself or go-kart / ‘Cos his arm is all limp and falling apart

She always liked to look her best / So didn’t wear a nice bright vest / Or any clothing that was bright / When she was out at nearly night / But traffic couldn’t see her, see / And now she isn’t so trendy / A car drove right into her guts / And covered her with bruisy cuts

There are numerous common themes.

All of them replace drivers with inanimate objects, in reference not only to collisions but even to seeing (“a car smashed him”, “a car cannot dodge what it cannot see”, “traffic couldn’t see her”, “a car drove right into her guts”).

All of them place clear blame on the victim (“he battered his legs and his face”, “he couldn’t be bothered”, “she didn’t wear a vest”).

All of them share the same audio-visual atmosphere: corpse-like children with huge, doleful eyes; eerie background noise; a voiceover so unemotional yet forceful that it is reminiscent of many contemporary dramatic portrayals of physchopathic killers.

The printed material rams home the victim-blaming message still further: the “I was hit by a car” article (which, despite a banner proclaiming “real life tales of the road”, is wrtten in a way that feels as real-life as Charlie and The Chocolate Factory) demands that the reader wear reflectives “so that vehicles can see you”, and even offers up gospel: “I know now that if we’d been wearing colourful or reflective clothes, the driver would have seen us and the accident would never have happened.” At least a driver is finally acknowledged, but teaching 6-11 year olds that reflectives will prevent a collision is anything but a safety message: it’s a false sense of security.

And the website continues these themes: the “Brighten Up” page implores children to wear bright gear “so the cars can see you coming” and the “Safer Place to Cross” page reminds them that “cars can’t see you” (which, of course, is true; but that’s hardly the way it’s intended); while on the home page the instruction to “dress brightly in cool gear if it’s hospital you fear” reads as little more than a veiled threat.

But once you’re 11, Tales of The Road will leave you alone. So, what of the teenagers?

Ghost Street

As the nights draw in, Newcastle is preparing once more to roll out its Ghost Street campaign. Here’s a trailer.

As Road Safety GB puts it:

It tells the story of Tabby, your average and seriously distracted teenager, living in a world of mp3 players, gossip and mobile phones until her distraction costs her dearly.

Yup, it’s her distraction again.

Now, I confess I’ve not been able to see the full Ghost Street film, but news reports expand on the story:

In the 10-minute film, the victims of road accidents, including a zombie skateboarder with half his face missing and a teenager too concerned with spoiling her hair to wear a cycle helmet, are doomed to stalk suburban streets forever.

The theme is pretty clear again: fear is used as a tool to influence behaviour, and the normal behaviours of teenagers are fingered as the culprit. (Why re-engineer the road environment to avoid casualties when you can simply make it someone else’s fault?)

There have been previous complaints about Ghost Street (here’s just one example, though others are linked in the comments) but they’ve fallen on deaf ears. Newcastle City Council seem not only deaf but a little shy about it, too. Unlike Tales of The Road, they’re not brave enough to release the film itself to the general public. In recent years they’ve password-protected the Ghost Street website, and their response to the complaints appears to have vanished from their own site. When someone submitted a FOI request about the funding, the council denied all knowledge and said it was “funded by Road Safety GB”, while Road Safety GB (who are funded by The Department for Transport) claimed that it was “commissioned by Safe Newcastle and the city’s road safety team”. The production company (rather, an offshoot from the original production company, from where the original idea originated) claims to have produced the film for “the Safer [sic?] Newcastle Partnership”. As far as I can tell, Safe Newcastle turns out to be made up of bits of other public bodies; while “the city’s road safety team” is presumably part of—or at least the responsibility of—the council, and presumably so is Safe Newcastle itself, given that it states that it is “the city’s statutory community safety partnership and drug action team”. The film’s director, Steven Boyle, states that his client was Newcastle City Council.

The piping through which the public money has travelled is so convoluted it would warrant the services of Harry Tuttle. At times like these, with private firms getting paid for work that has no demonstrable public health benefit and the most prominent public body claiming to know nothing of the money, it’s hard not to wonder just where it starts looking like money laundering.

Wait, did I say “no demonstrable public health benefit”? We should probably question that.

Some statistics

Both Tales of The Road and Ghost Street are distributed nationally. So let’s take a look at the trend in national road casualties for children (under 16s), which is given in table RAS30036.


That’s pretty good, right? Overlooking the increase in 2014, everything’s on a pretty strong downward trend. Great. But let’s look closer.

Let’s normalise the casualties by the number of miles walked/cycled by children, both for all casualties and KSIs (killed or seriously injured, ie excluding slight injuries), using data from table NTS0605 (note that there’s a smaller range of annual data available for miles travelled).



Notice that it follows the curve quite nicely, but it gets a bit of a lift around 2009. Given the way we’ve derived that line, there’s an obvious reason for this, which becomes apparent from plotting the vanilla NTS0605 data.


Between 2009 and 2010, the average number of miles walked or cycled by children in the UK fell by about 10%, and then the trend returned to being broadly flat (albeit with a little more noise).

Using the data in table RAS30011 we can see what happened to the distribution of KSIs by mode of transport: those sustained by walking and cycling formed a larger part of the total after 2009.


This is the sort of change that is apparent in data from countries that have introduced helmet compulsion, in that it correlates with removing certain people from a set: those who address risk through behaviour rather than equipment, and for whom a valid behavioural change is to simply change mode of transport. By dissuading them out of a greater-risk (to self) group and into a lesser, the overall number of casualties falls. So, superficially, the intervention seems successful, but there is minimal effect on risk for those still in the original group. It’s a bit like addressing a restaurant’s food poisoning problem by confiscating a couple of chairs.

The step change demands explanation. Why did levels of active travel drop by around 10%? We have to consider the factors: the transport environment, people’s personal circumstances, distances to schools, and so on.

Most of these factors are hard to measure, but they’re also hard to see as likely explanations: they’re the sum of many individual parts, with considerable statistical noise and long-term trends (if at all) rather than step changes. Some data exist for schools, though, and we can test that hypothetical cause by checking table SFR16. If 2009 saw an anomalously high number of school closures through specific policy implementation, we’d expect pupil travel distances to increase and for this to result in a modal step change away from walking and cycling.


What we see is that 2009 was a quite normal year in a long-term trend of decreasing numbers of schools. Normalising those data by the number of pupils, we do see that 2009 started to see fewer schools per pupil due to a reversal of the previous decrease in pupil numbers, but that’s no indication of travel distance, and in any case it’s the start of a trend rather than an isolated step change: if this was causing the decline in walking and cycling, we’d expect those modes to continue in decline.

So perhaps we need to consider personal choice. Did something around 2009 cause a number of parents to change their minds about whether their children should walk and cycle? As it turns out, we have data for this, too.

The decision margin

Table NTS0616 shows that the proportion of children accompanied on the school run stayed virtually constant over the relevant period. What’s more, the percentage of parents that cited “traffic danger” as a reason for accompanying their children was broadly constant before 2009 and showed a downward trend after it.

This rather suggests that the reason for children walking and cycling less is not that their parents have decided that it became more dangerous for them to do so. Quite the opposite: the parents think that traffic danger is less of a reason. So, if the reason for the decline around 2009 is one of personal choice, it appears to be the choice of the children.

It might be hypothesised that around 10% of children are near what we might call the “decision margin”, in that they can be persuaded to come to a different conclusion relatively easily: in this case, to walk or cycle less. The road environment may change only gradually, but maybe the “decision environment”, at least for children, can be influenced more rapidly. And maybe that decision environment changed some time around 2009.

Oh, and one more thing…

Tales of the Road was introduced in November 2008 and Ghost Street was introduced in November 2009.

Perhaps it’s time to tell our children: We Do Not Negotiate With Terrorists.

6 thoughts on “We Do Not Negotiate With Terrorists

  1. Bernard Knight 3 October 2015 / 01:28

    I’m not going to comment on this specifically (there is so much to digest), but I was alerted to your blog via Martin Porters’ tweets. Some very, very interesting stuff here. Good stuff, well researched & well written.

  2. Simon Still 3 October 2015 / 07:34

    Great work a as always. Sites like David Hembrow’s and his are a great resource for campaigners but finding a particular article can be hard. It would be really useful to have them tagged or categorised. Something you could do/enable/crowdsource?

  3. johnmmorrison7 4 October 2015 / 00:15

    Two issues emerge here. As we all know (but the ‘casualty reduction’ experts don’t) the best way to achieve zero KSI for any vulnerable user group (pedestrians or cyclists) is to frighten them off the road altogether. Problem solved.
    The other issue is the victim-blaming. If you’re hit by a vehicle, it’s your fault for not wearing a hi-vis jacket. Cars (we don’t mention actual drivers) always seem to be the innocent party. Kent Highways have a road safety campaign telling drivers to ‘see the hazard’ i.e. the cyclist or the child trying to cross the road. I have pointed out to them that it’s the car that is the hazard, not the other way round.

  4. Geoff 9 October 2015 / 15:49

    Regarding Harry Tuttle, the solution, as I recall, is to turn the bureaucratic obfuscation back against the City Council. The question is how? Quite often a freedom of information request just further cements the mendacity.

    I completely agree with your money laundering comment. Great blog.

  5. vorstadtstrizzi 21 October 2015 / 17:31

    “Perhaps it’s time to tell our children: We Do Not Negotiate With Terrorists.”

    We shouldn’t, I think. Children should be encouraged and not scared. Children are better off to negotiate with terrorists than to fight them.

    But I agree that this road safety campaign is bullshit. It points at the absolutely wrong direction. The task must be to increase the numbers of pupils walking and cycling to school on their own and not to hold them off by spreading fear. Fault-tolerant infrastructure has to be built at least in the surroundings of schools and on the most frequented schoolways to meet this target.

    The aim of school has to be to get children instructed and to rise their potentials.

    Children’s mobility radius melts faster than the ice floe in times of climate change.
    Mens sana in corpore sana. (Roman saying)

    By no means only, but only for example, to math skills the motor development and motor training are of constituent and promoting significance.

    Moving for example trains laterality (left / right awareness and right / left-integration), space situational awareness (where my body and its limbs are positioned in relation to each other and in relation to the environment), sense of balance (constitutional law of math), eye-hand coordination, speed assessment and praxis/apraxie (meaningful and organized action plan / coordinated action sequences). Of particular importance for the exploitation of childhood mental and physical development potential is the promotion of motor integration (motorized interaction), sensory integration (interplay of the senses) and the promotion of sensorimotor integration by sophisticated motor-training.

    Motor deficits frequently draw health problems such as obesity, ADHS (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Syndrome, Fidgety-Philipp-Syndrom) and serious cognitive learning difficulties.

    Motor disorder is seen by many teachers as concurrently causative to unsatisfactory school careers. Cycling to school is a natural and cheap way to fight motor disorder. It requires nothing more but fault-tolerant cyling infrastructure on the main-used roads to school.

    But cycling to school has much more benefits.

    State of pupil’s mind.

    A large study from Copenhagen shows that children who manage their way to school on their own made better in concentration tests even up to 11 clock. From the test results could be predicted with a hit rate of 75% wether the child had made his way to school independently. http://sciencenordic.com/children-who-walk-school-concentrate-better

    Teachers know that problem very well.
    The children who were taken out of their bed, fed up, driven to school and, still half asleep, handed over to the teaching staff all by mum are a big big problem.

    The first thing they urgently have to do is to work on their tone. Strong stimuli are needed, such as seemingly unmotivated quarrel with classmates / teachers and fooling around. They are in need of that behaviour to build up their tone (Many of us know that there is nothing much better to get awake than a quarrel in the morning ;-) ). This is inevitable and it is to the detriment not only of their own but particularly to the detriment of their class-mates and of the teaching atmosphere of the entire class.

    The contrast is the child who has mastered his way to school on its own responsibility. (Prerequisite: Fault-tolerant infrastructure).
    Especially by the physical activity of cycling the pupil has already worked on its tone. Body and brain are well supplied with blood and oxygene and thus optimally prepared for the provision of intellectual services. They had been free to fidget around and this is important espiacally to children who have to sit for a long time.

    Perhaps most important:
    By managing his school-run the child has set itself in a particularly valuable mode from the view of educational and learning psychology : The mode of directly personal responsibility for itself. No mum, no teacher but the child itself is responsible.
    The mode of responsibiliy-ownership for the way to school is often transferred quite naturally to a responsibuility or at least co-responsibility for the education process in school, for the own learning process and even for the learning process of the entire class.
    For these children it is easier to take responsibility for themselves and their lessons. They do not learn for school or for teachers, but for themselves.

    This is what teachers and schools have to tell pupils and parents about school run. This is what the City Council has to make possible. This is for what traffic education should aim at.

    For better schools.

    Thank you for your blog.

    (Hope you don’t mind my German English)

  6. Eric D 29 November 2015 / 23:33

    I thought this was going to be about ‘punishment passes’, ‘tailgating’, ‘If you get in my way you might get hurt’, ‘you should have mirrors/no headphones so you know I’m coming and get out of my way’ etc.

    And Terrorism is defined in the Terrorism Act 2000 (TACT 2000) and means the use or threat of action where –

    The action –
    involves serious violence against a person,
    involves serious damage to property,
    endangers a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action,
    creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or
    is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system AND
    The use or threat is designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, AND
    The use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause

    for Casebook




    van on wrong side of road, broken right mirror –
    “It is believed a white Vauxhall car-derived van was overtaking another car when it collided with Mr Bousted who was riding in the opposite direction.”
    Maybe a case of “I’ll just keep going – he will get out of my way” ?
    Playing chicken ?
    A bit like Dr Helen Measures …


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