Decade of Hypocrisy?

DoH2Do we practitioners set a good example to those that we wish to influence? While we are confidently lecturing Africa about what they need to do, what about the messages that we didn’t mean to send?

September 2015

London’s Dirty Secret: Pollution Worse Than Beijing’s 

May 28 (Bloomberg) — London has a dirty secret.

Levels of the harmful air pollutant nitrogen dioxide at a city-center monitoring station are the highest in Europe. Concentrations are greater even than in Beijing, where expatriates have dubbed the city’s smog the “airpocalypse.”

It’s the law of unintended consequences at work. European Union efforts to fight climate change favored diesel fuel over gasoline because it emits less carbon dioxide, or CO2. However, diesel’s contaminants have swamped benefits from measures that include a toll drivers pay to enter central London, a thriving bike-hire program and growing public-transport network.

“Successive governments knew more than 10 years ago that diesel was producing all these harmful pollutants, but they myopically plowed on with their CO2 agenda,” said Simon Birkett, founder of Clean Air in London, a nonprofit group. “It’s been a catastrophe for air pollution, and that’s not too strong a word. It’s a public-health catastrophe.”

Europe-wide policy triggered the problem. The “dieselisation” of London’s cars began with an agreement between car manufacturers and the EU in 1998 that aimed to lower the average CO2 emissions of new vehicles. Because of diesel’s greater fuel economy, it increased in popularity.

Volkswagen apologises for emissions scandal

(Smoking kills but its OK if its not the Tobacco companies)

21st September 2015

VW car for sale in the USImage copyrightGetty Images

Volkswagen’s chief executive has said sorry after US regulators found some of its cars disguised pollution levels. “I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public,” Martin Winterkorn said. He has launched an investigation into the device that allowed VW cars to emit less during tests than they would while driving normally.

The company’s shares were down 19% in Frankfurt by lunchtime.

VW has stopped selling the relevant diesel models in the US, where diesel cars account for about a quarter of sales. The German carmaker was ordered to recall half a million cars on Friday. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found the “defeat device” in diesel cars including the Audi A3, VW Jetta, Beetle, Golf and Passat models.

In addition to paying for the recall, VW faces fines that could add up to billions of dollars. There may also be criminal charges for VW executives. The EPA said that the fine for each vehicle that did not comply with federal clean air rules would be up to $37,500 (£24,000). With 482,000 cars sold since 2008 involved in the allegations, it means the fines could reach $18bn.

That would be a considerable amount, even for the company that recently overtook Toyota to be the world’s top-selling vehicle maker in the first six months of the year. Its stock market value is about €66bn ($75bn; £48bn).


Investigation: VW has ordered an external investigation, although it has not revealed who will be conducting it. “We do not and will not tolerate violations of any kind of our internal rules or of the law,” Mr Winterkorn said.

The German government said on Monday it would rely on the US authorities to assess whether VW had done anything wrong in Europe. “We expect the car companies to pass on reliable information so that the Federal Motor Transport Authority, the responsible authority in this case, can investigate whether similar manipulations took place with the emissions systems in Germany and Europe,” a spokesman for the German environment ministry said.

‘Big problem’

The scandal comes five months after former chairman Ferdinand Piech left Volkswagen following disagreements with Mr Winterkorn. “This disaster is beyond all expectations,” Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, head of the Center of Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen, said.

The VW board is due to meet on Friday to decide whether to renew the chief executive’s contract until 2018, and some analysts speculated Mr Winterkorn may be on his way out. “No question that this is a big problem for Volkswagen and could lead to [the chief executive] losing his job,” said Prof. Christian Stadler from Warwick Business School.

He compared the scandal to Toyota recalling nine million cars between 2009-11. “To some extent, the cheating by Volkswagen seems more blatant, but the numbers are lower and there are no fatalities involved.

“This suggests that in the heat of the moment the long-term effect on Volkswagen maybe overstated. Sure it will hurt, but maybe not quite as bad as we expect right now.”

Legal action

VW had been promoting its diesel cars in the US as being better for the environment.

The US law firm Hagens Berman is launching a class-action suit against VW on behalf of people who bought the relevant cars.

The models cited by the law firm are the diesel versions in the US of:

  • Jetta (2009 – 2015)
  • Beetle (2009 – 2015)
  • Audi A3 (2009 – 2015)
  • Golf (2009 – 2015)
  • Passat (2014 – 2015)

While Volkswagen tells consumers that its diesel cars meet California emissions standards, vehicle owners are duped into paying for vehicles that do not meet this standard and unknowingly pay more for quality they never receive,” the firm alleged.

January 2015

Russia has listed transsexual and transgender people among those who will no longer qualify for driving licences. Fetishism, exhibitionism and voyeurism are also included as “mental disorders” now barring people from driving. The government says it is tightening medical controls for drivers because Russia has too many road accidents (Source BBC News).

On 19th November 2009 the Government of the Russian Federation hosted the First Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety. The Ministerial Conference – requested by the UN General Assembly – represented a historic opportunity to make progress on addressing an important public health problem. International agencies, Road Safety organisations, Ministers all supported the initiative.

Now that junk science has been dressed up as a Road Safety initiative, how many of these “supporters” will rock the boat and question the scientific assumptions that have led to this action?

Another example of the “Do not do as I do, do as I say” attitude has emerged. Honda a funding partner of the Global Road Safety Partnership, says on the GRSP website:

Road safety policies at home in corporate culture. 28 September 2012

“A modern corporation can be seen as a miniature of the world in which we live. Rules and regulations must work hand-in-hand with moral principles to effectively and responsibly organise and govern.

With the road safety message gaining greater social awareness, it is more and more often being seen within the Codes of Conduct of major corporations. GRSP partners who advocate for road safety within the community are prime examples, actively encouraging their employees to take the lead as role model citizens, further contributing to the expansion of the road safety culture.”

With such high moral aspirations, it was disappointing to read on January 8th 2015,


Honda Fined $70 Million For Not Reporting Death, Injury Complaints

Honda Fined $70 Million For Not Reporting Death, Injury Complaints

The fine on Honda is the largest civil penalty levied against an automaker.

WASHINGTON:  The Obama administration said Thursday it is fining Honda $70 million — the largest civil penalty levied against an automaker — for not reporting to regulators some 1,729 complaints that its vehicles caused deaths and injuries, and for not reporting warranty claims.Honda Motor Co.

Honda’s violations came to light late last year as investigations into a global crisis over defective air bags cast doubt on the diligence of some automakers to tell the government about all potential product defects. In a synopsis of an internal review filed with NHTSA in November, the Tokyo-based automaker blamed its underreporting on “inadvertent data entry or computer programming errors” that spanned 11 years.

“We have resolved this matter and will move forward to build on the important actions Honda has already taken to address our past shortcomings in early warning reporting,” Rick Schostek, Honda North America’s executive vice president, said in a statement today. “We continue to fully cooperate with NHTSA to achieve greater transparency and to further enhance our reporting practices.”

The civil penalties include two separate fines of $35 million, each the maximum allowable under U.S. law. One covers Honda’s failure to report 1,729 death and injury claims to NHTSA from 2003 to 2014. The second fine covers lapses on completely reporting warranty claims and repairs offered under “customer satisfaction campaigns.”


We might ask the question “Why is Honda allegedly supporting Road Safety”? The same may be asked of Toyota who last year (2014) received a massive fine. U.S. federal prosecutors announced a $1.2 billion payment by Toyota to avoid prosecution over safety problems linked to 37 deaths and closes the chapter on a dark moment for the world’s largest automaker — just as General Motors struggles to answer questions about its own delayed recall of 1.6 million vehicles linked to at least 12 deaths.

But the Toyota settlement and the GM ignition recall both highlight the key flaw in the safety net that’s supposed to protect Americans from dangerous flaws in their vehicles: Just because you have a defect doesn’t guarantee anyone will hear — or believe — you.

Put simply, Toyota’s conduct was shameful,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holden. “It showed a blatant disregard for systems and laws designed to look after the safety of consumers. By the company’s own admission, it protected its brand ahead of its own customers. Other car companies should not repeat Toyota’s mistake: a recall may damage a company’s reputation, but deceiving your customers makes that damage far more lasting.


In May 2014, the federal government struck a $35 million settlement with General Motors after the company failed to act for 10 years on an ignition switch defect that led to the death of at least 13 people and recall of approximately 2.6 million vehicles. Gary Pittam performs a recall service on a Chevrolet Cobalt at Al Serra Chevrolet in Grand Blanc

The U.S. Department of Transportation said GM’s fine was the highest civil penalty amount ever paid as a result of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation of violations stemming from a recall. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx touted the fine while pushing for reform legislation that would increase his ability to send a stronger message.

“Safety is our top priority, and today’s announcement puts all manufacturers on notice that they will be held accountable if they fail to quickly report and address safety-related defects,” said Foxx in a statement. “While we will continue to aggressively monitor GM’s efforts in this case, we also urge Congress to support our GROW AMERICA Act, which would increase the penalties we could levy in cases like this from $35 million to $300 million, sending an even stronger message that delays will not be tolerated.”

“We have learned a great deal from this recall,” said GM CEO Mary Barra, who took the helm in January, in an open statement. “We will now focus on the goal of becoming an industry leader in safety.”

GM began recalling vehicles earlier this year over problems with the company’s ignition switches, which would shut off while driving, disabling airbags and even anti-lock brakes and power steering if the key was too heavy. However, it was later revealed that GM employees knew of the problems as early as 2004.

Honda, GM and Toyota support GRSP.

2014 Decade of Hypocrisy?DoH2

A few years ago, in an African city, I asked the passenger in an American Consulate vehicle to put his seat belt on (pictured). He just looked at me and turned away. I reported the incident to the Consulate and that’s the last I heard of it. I imagine they buried it. It got me thinking, why that man, who in his own country would doubtless wear a seat belt, would not wear one in Africa? I came to the conclusion, he would not because he could get away with it in Africa but he had to wear one on the flight to get to Africa.


This raised a further thought, that if he wore a seat belt, he wasn’t wearing it for the right reason. He would do it if there was a chance of being penalised but not if he could get away with it. He wasn’t wearing a seat belt for personal safety reasons; if he wore it at all, it was just for a quiet life.

I am sure that the Union Rural Development Minister did not intend to die in a car crash and would have worn a seat belt while sitting in the back seat of the car that was taking him to the airport. He could well have averted the injuries that claimed his life. Others may be less concerned about safety, like the deputy Prosecutor General of a Southern African country, arrested for a second time for alleged drunken driving. The modern road safety message is “Do not do what I do, do what I say”.

This highlights a particular weakness in the National Road Safety Councils and Committees. These organisations, when they fall under Government control will never confront bad behaviour by ministers, politicians, police and leaders. These civil servants who run road safety would be put down or lose their jobs if they spoke out against them, so they will stay silent. The same is true of international safety bodies, because they know that if they explicitly criticise bad behaviour, they will be denied access to the country. Of course, I do not expect anyone in the road safety community who is being paid by the motor industry and the international aid agencies to step out of line and criticise these shortcomings. This is why road safety is so often compromised.

If we cannot get a commitment from leaders of nations, a top down approach, then we will find great difficulty getting any long term commitment by the public.

One of life’s annoyances is being told to do something by people who do not do it themselves. I saw an African chief giving a speech at a road safety conference, saying all the right things. Then afterwards, he jumped in the back of his 4 x 4, which sped away without him having his seat belt on. I have met doctors and trauma surgeons in developing countries who see each day, the damage inflicted by crashes. Many do not wear seat belts but they do advocate them. I have seen Police chiefs and politicians all demonstrating that they are above the rules of the road and exempt, so they think, from the laws of physics but they will all tell you to obey the rules of the road.

This behaviour sends a clear message to other road users and that is, road safety is not a serious issue.

It is of greater concern when those sponsoring the Global safety initiatives do not police their own associations.

Promotion of road safety and a desire to decrease the number of serious road accidents led to a new law being set in Europe. On 25th May 2007 sturdy, rigid bull bars were made illegal and new bull bars being produced and fitted to vehicles had to comply with EU legislations to ensure the bars fitted do less harm and are more ‘pedestrian friendly’. Many manufacturers will no longer refer to bull bars or nudge guards but will now label items as frontal protection, front bars and A bars. This avoids association to bull bars accessories in their original use.

It is unfortunate that the UN who supports the Decade of Action do not have a stricter international policy (or any policy at all) on these fittings which as the picture shows are being fitted to new vehicles that are used in urban environments. This vehicle was collecting goods from a garden centre (but it was only being used, so I was told, because the normal vehicle was not available).

WFP1   WFP2     Unicef

A spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP) said, “these bumpers are no longer installed on our vehicles and are being phased out with all new replacement vehicles which carry a fairly standard grill protector/nudge bar, our light vehicles have a maximum life span of 5years or 150K Km whichever comes first.  The fittings on  the front of vehicles are related to the Minimum Operating Security Standards or MOSS, These requirements are mandatory for UN Staff/vehicles and are imposed on all operations by UNDSS”. A request for information on standards from the UN road safety team did not get a response.

The Red Cross do not fare much better. Vehicles carrying their livery still have bullbars. The vehicle has to be protected but at the expense of pedestrians.


What about the manufacturers? Toyota invest huge amounts in developing safer, quality vehicles but do they police their own industry? I wrote to ask them why they allow their brand to be associated with dealers marketing vehicles with bull bars and why they market them also.

Toyota BB

I wrote to Toyota and after the letter had been passed around it ended up in Australia. This was the response:

“Toyota Motor Corporation Australia (TMCA) supplies bull bars for a range of its vehicles, which are designed to address the diverse needs of its customer’s requirements.  TMCA and its suppliers carry out extensive testing. Further, TMCA complies to a range of different legal and design rules of a variety of Australian governmental bodies.  TMCA, however is unable to comment on issues beyond the manufacture, as much is dependent on the operation and maintenance of a vehicle, as well as the purpose of its use, which ultimately is the responsibility of the driver / owner”.

TMCA were asked what the design rules were and if they offered any benefits to pedestrians. They have not responded to these questions, yet they can move very quickly when they want to

All of these organisations support road safety and do some excellent work. It is sad that the examples given here undermine the credibility of a Decade of Action by sending a practical message that some behaviours are dangerous but acceptable. Why should we change?


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