Weak or vulnerable?
Although the term does not appear in official road traffic legislation, the expression 'weak road users' is frequently used in everyday speech, usually to describe pedestrians or cyclists on the road. They are the first to find the term somewhat inappropriate.
The term "weak users" immediately refers to an inferior position of the cyclist or pedestrian in relation to a car driver. In traffic, we should rather consider the relationship between different categories of users in terms of the safety and respect that groups should show towards each other. As a car driver, you feel like an extremely weak user when a cyclist suddenly leaves the cycle lane without looking around or checking whether we as drivers can react safely... The truck driver with his 40-tonne load in his trailer does not feel at all "strong" when a car cuts him off at the exit of a motorway. How road users behave towards each other in such situations is more a matter of respect, understanding and perception of risk than of the type of vehicle one is driving in traffic.
More and more traffic experts and other road safety specialists are replacing the term "weak user" with "soft user" or better still "vulnerable user". A cyclist or pedestrian is only a weak user if another traffic participant is careless or adopts an aggressive driving style. He is a vulnerable user because of the nature of his vehicle, the road infrastructure, the circumstances.
In this regard, we must also recognise that, given the interaction between the different categories of users in traffic, our knowledge of the highway code is very relative. This knowledge only makes sense if we can 100% guarantee that the other user also knows the rules. You feel safe when you cross a junction, and the light is green because you know that everyone else stops at the red light. This certainty is sometimes lacking in situations involving vulnerable users. As a motorist, you may be convinced that you have priority when a cyclist is about to cross a cycle crossing. But this conviction is worthless until you are completely sure that the cyclist also knows the traffic rules. You should therefore be careful when approaching a cycle crossing.
You can only become a car driver from a certain age, once you have passed exams proving your knowledge of the traffic rules and your driving skills. But everyone is a pedestrian and neither do these restrictions apply to cyclists or users steps, hoverboards, Segways etc.
Defensive driving therefore means using your common sense. Always. Even when the other person goes wrong.
© Ludo Camberlin
Driving training coordinator
Driving school Mercator