Could human factors help cyclists in London?

Recently there have been a number of news stories relating to the deaths of cyclists in London. This is tragic but the news stories seem to be determined to blame either cyclist, drivers or both. However, no one has thought to consider the problem from a human factors perspective.

As human factors is a systems discipline we might like to think about how to solve the problem at an incremental level. One way to do so would be to apply a systems model, say Vicente’s Human-tech ladder, to guide the analysis and development of the situation as this promotes consideration at physical, psychological, team, organisational, and political levels. Naturally not all these are necessary, we might exclude team and organisational level, yet the remaining categories raise some interesting thoughts.

What physical aspects can be considered to improve the current situation? The physical infrastructure of cycle lanes, the physical safety of cyclists (development of helmet, reflective clothing), vehicles safety features?

Above this there are psychological factors. How can we make wearing a helmet for cyclist a habitual process? How can we educate and alter driver behaviour to be more vigilant towards cyclists? How can we create attitudes of sharing towards road space and modes of transport?

In order to achieve this there needs to be a catalyst, arguably from the political environmental. For example, can funding be given to encourage R&D in physical aspects of road safety? Can there be government campaigns to increase the awareness to address psychological aspects?

This is a very simplified view point of how human factors could be used to consider the problem and at a systems level. This perhaps might make the problem more manageable as organisations can work on specific aspects (physical and psychological), with the help from the political landscape.

I have not provided any solutions, merely ways of thinking about the problem. Let’s hope the benefit of human factors can be seen by the broader community to help tackle what is likely to be a topic of debate over the next few years, particularly as cycling has benefits for both the environment and health.

Dr Jamie Mackrill, Research Fellow, WMG, University of Warwick, UK