Road Danger Reduction Forum

Subscribe to Road Danger Reduction Forum feed Road Danger Reduction Forum
Safer Roads For All
Updated: 57 min ago

REVIEW: “BIKE NATION: How Cycling Can Save the World” by Peter Walker

6 April, 2017 - 00:49

This book is “…above all, a story of hope”. Those of us with a cynical mindset might be put off by such optimism and the extravagant claim of the title. But don’t be: Peter Walker is more or less spot on in each chapter of a book which clearly argues for cycling as a key solution to urban transport, health, social and environmental problems. Indeed, it should be read by all professionals – as well as campaigners and the general public – with  an interest in transport policy, not just those who find themselves in a “cycling” niche.

So let’s see how Walker, who has been writing on cycling matters for the Guardian over the last decade, sets out his stall. First and foremost, cycling has to break out of its niche: there may well be sports and leisure enthusiasts, but if it is to fulfil its true potential it has to be done by ordinary people, wearing ordinary clothes, making ordinary everyday journeys.

He kicks off with the latest research on the health benefits of cycling.  This should be persuasive – why hasn’t the “miracle pill” been adopted here?  The answer is “political inertia, powerful vested interests, a lack of real ambition and leadership, and a set of curious but persistent and damaging myths about cycling and cyclists” (p.35). Indeed, and it is so good to see a willingness to tackle everyday prejudice – of which more later.

Next up is a review of danger: the problem is simply one of “normalisation”. We have “ …a complacent, entitled, careless driving culture, where millions of people who would describe themselves as moral, kind and careful people nonetheless get into a motor vehicle and routinely, unthinkingly, put others’ lives in peril.” (p.43)

Then we have a couple of chapters on the social justice/equity argument and the economic case for cycling. We get a brief reference to a review of what economists call the “external costs” of motoring, which I think could have done with some more exposition – after all, a key prejudice against cyclists is that they do not “pay their way”, when in fact that argument would be more appropriately directed against motorists. It’s a tricky one – should we embrace cost-benefit analysis, with a clear indictment of the unpaid costs of motoring, if it implies that paying more should entitle drivers to endanger, pollute, congest etc.? (Incidentally, the one detailed reference to calculation of costs – using the USA as its basis – has a typographical error in including “not” before showing that “car owners pay only 35% of the total costs incurred”(p.95).)

For me the best parts of this book are Walker’s willingness to tackle – indeed to make a forensically detailed analysis of – two key areas where polite society fears to tread: anti-cyclist prejudice and cycle helmets. My view is this: don’t think these areas are unimportant or will just fade away with changes in transport policy. They are central to the way cycling and cyclists are conceptualised in this society, and are related to and affect the way cyclists are treated on the roads. And even if changes in provision of highway infrastructure are all you’re interested in, the opposition to this will be linked in with the kind of prejudices study of these areas reveals.

Anti-Cyclist Bigotry

What makes cyclists such an easy target, not just for pub bores and the usual hate-mongers in the tabloid press, but for supposedly enlightened journalists in the “quality” media? The first point for me is that it isn’t cyclists. Walker gives an historical portrait of prejudice going back over a century.  I have found it in the media for as long as I can remember. I remember personally confronting it in the 1980s, well before one might see an adult pavement cyclist or someone riding through a red light.

In a splendid chapter, Walker discusses social psychology’s theory of “the out-group”, and where anti-cycling bigotry might be picking up its tropes, such as the notion that anybody who rides a bicycle is somehow responsible for the actual or alleged behaviour of other cyclists. In just one chapter on anti-cycling ideas he manages to link in the ludicrous notion held by a minister responsible for cycling that the Dutch have a worse record on cyclist casualties than the UK  with the disproportionate attention  to incidents where pedestrians are hurt by cyclists as opposed to motorists. This anti-cycling bigotry – and we don’t even have a word for it to use in discussion – is also implicated in the refusal of politicians to support cycling: “For them it is an add-on, a sop to enthusiasts, something to be squeezed onto a road if there’s a bit of spare space and spare cash left over from the main task of motor traffic” (p.139).

But where anti-cyclist bigotry – and I call it bigotry because that’s what it is – is really important is in how drivers behave to people on bicycles in everyday situations. Walker gives evidence to detail precisely how anti-cyclist attitudes can exacerbate bad driving. The bottom line is, as he concludes this chapter, referring to pieces of anti-cycling prejudice articulated in the media, ”Every one of these, I am convinced, places me, my loved ones and anyone else on a bike, marginally yet incrementally in more danger every time we get onto a saddle. And that can’t be right”. (p.150)

I think that the general prejudice against cycling and cyclists is important for that reason. Even driving instructors claim that driving is a task which can’t be put on automatic pilot, and requires constant care and attention and a positive commitment towards a driver’s obligations. Any negative attitude towards other road users – including simply because they are using a particular form of transport – exacerbates an already unsatisfactory potential to hurt or kill. At the very least, prejudice which I claim is present even in the police forces, impedes the kind of law enforcement we need .

The “H” word

In his chapter “If Bike Helmets are the Answer, you’re Asking the Wrong Question”, Walker correctly identifies helmet advocacy along with hi-viz clothing advocacy as a victim-blaming red herring without a firm evidence base. Or to be more precise, he wears a helmet and doesn’t object to them or hi-viz: “But when it comes to genuine efforts to make cycling safer, they’re a red herring, an irrelevance, a peripheral issue that has somehow come to dominate the argument”.

He gives a good discussion about risk compensation (adaptive behaviour) by both helmeted riders and other road users, referencing myself (thanks) and Ian Walker respectively. The latter’s work on how drivers decide how much space to give when passing is salutary in bringing us back to what Walker – and all of us – should actually be looking at. So too is his consideration of the politics of hi-viz in a section aptly titled “Seeing, but choosing not to see”.

He quotes Goldacre and Spiegelhalter at length: “…current uncertainty about any benefit from helmet wearing…is unlikely to be substantially reduced by further research”. Popularity of bike helmets as a road safety measure was based less on any direct benefits, but more on people’s often very skewed personal perceptions of risk (p.186).

But if anything, he seems to give (although this may just be my reading) the benefit of the doubt – albeit slightly – to helmets, with repeated reference to not objecting to helmets, despite:

“…whatever the benefits in each individual case, a population-wide increase in helmet use, for example after legislation, is not generally matched by similar reductions in overall head injury rates” (p.176)

The problem with his discussion is precisely that he attempts to derail ideological pre-judgement simply by rational discussion. His persistent – and correct – claim that helmets mustn’t be seen as a panacea and that the danger from motor vehicles needs to be tackled won’t, in my view, cut it as long as helmets are seen as basically a good thing. Yes, I too think that people should be allowed to wear helmets irrespective of the lack of evidence of benefits. Insofar as risk compensation/adaptive behaviour is central to why the lack of evidence of head injury rates declining persists, at least other road users – unlike those adversely affected by car and highway safety engineering – are not going to suffer significantly as a result.

But I have seen apparent acceptance of Walker’s incontrovertible argument that motor danger needs to be tackled by government and “road safety” professionals for the last 30 years. And what have we had? Precious little in the way of helpful infrastructure, a recent glimmer of light with regard to close passing policing – and that’s about it. Perhaps some of the cycle training programmes have been genuinely empowering – but that’s dubious. The benefits of safety in numbers – such as they exist – have happened largely without any officially inspired increase in cycling.

And during this time we have moved from total absence of helmets to widespread wearing (although substantial pockets of lidlessness exist in, for example, outer London suburbs outside commuting hours) with its attendant message of cycling as inherently hazardous. While motorisation and car dependence have massively increased, and motor danger has not been properly addressed, “road safety”, medical and other professionals have continually acknowledged that something must be done, and that helmets are not a panacea. Yet their efforts to reduce motor danger have been minimal or negative, and their advocacy of helmets substantial and absolute.

Walker is excellent in this chapter – but in the current context I would consider the benefits of a slightly more circumspect approach to helmets than his.

The hope question

No doubt reservations I have are formed by a longer period of seeing official support for cycling bear little fruit. One of the first cycling-related conferences I attended was “Ways to Safer Cycling”, where the then Minister, Lynda Chalker, claimed she was there to “encourage cycling”. That was in 1984 – if you have some moments to spare you may wish to look at the change in cycling’s modal share since then, along with the figures for the growth in motor transport. That experience makes me more worried about the effects of prejudice and wary of red herrings.

It may also make me more circumspect about prescriptions for success. Peter Walker is a firm advocate of the new orthodoxy: success will come from networks of segregated cycle lanes. That strategy is not only central, but it apparently claims to be more or less sufficient for victory.

The RDRF position is to support this strategy and to push with Cycling UK and others for proper funding for such infrastructure. It also, regrettably, looks as though it will be necessary to make a stand against backsliding by politicians in London and elsewhere who have nominally committed to this approach. Existing cyclists should realise that new infrastructure isn’t necessarily for us, but for a new generation of cyclists inhibited by a hostile environment.

Nevertheless, a number of issues should be raised, and not just because of a pessimistic frame of mind.

Firstly, it needs to be made absolutely clear to motorists that cyclists are not going to disappear from their vicinity on most roads. Separated cycle lanes may be on main roads, but not the rest, and drivers need to be aware of that – logic should make that obvious, but in a world of the kind of prejudice that Walker outlines, separation may back up the ideology that sees cyclists as not belonging on the road.

That also means that we have to think of how danger will be addressed on such roads: will 20 mph limits, even if complied with, be enough? What of rural roads where, even with sophisticated traffic management, mixing will occur? Arguably reducing car dependency is more necessary in suburban and rural areas than the urban ones Walker focuses on. The kind of societal shift where close passing policing comes to be seen as necessary and commonplace will have to happen. Luckily – and here I can be allowed some optimism, there are cases where increased cycling modal share can lead to reduced cyclist casualty rates, due to a form of risk compensation known as Safety in Numbers.

Secondly, will the design features of separated lanes be adequate? Will give ways at junctions happen properly? Will less direct bi-directional lanes predominate over better mono-directional ones? Will bus stop bypasses and all the other features of segregated lanes fit in to a society not used to them and/or mass cycling?

Thirdly, what about all the other features of a society where cycling is commonplace? Simple but necessary things like secure and convenient home parking. Or accessibility of basic equipment: the lack of accessibility of sufficiently cheap bicycles and accessories for those on low incomes could be part of the reason why they don’t cycle much. Perhaps, if we have the necessary feature of normal clothing use as a key signifier of mass cycling, in the UK we need to make breathable waterproof and winter garments available to counter the drop in cycling that happens every autumn.

My suggestion is that in a society where cycling as a basic form of transport has been largely forgotten, direct one-to-one support may be necessary for people who have never cycled. Infrastructure can only be part of the solution.

And even if it is that important, it isn’t going to happen without the kind of struggles and cultural shift that Walker alludes to. He rightly talks about how dissuasion of car use (pace Stevenage) is going to be necessary, and refers to some of the problems of car-centred thinking. My view is that if cycling is to progress, there is a whole host of problems emanating from car culture which will need to be grappled with.


Conclusion: Hope revisited

At the start of my career, congestion and energy use were the key problems with car-centredness and the motorisation agenda. Then we got worried about noxious emissions, and then in the late 1990s climate change and transport-generated greenhouse gases. There were some concerns about the loss of local community and children’s independent mobility, and the founding of the modern road danger reduction movement. This century we have elaborated the health (active travel) agenda, and re-discovered noxious emissions.

In short, there have always been reasons to support cycling as a solution to car and motor traffic generated problems. My (cynical and pessimistic) suggestion is that we will need more than the fine optimism of this book. But with its concern to expose prejudice and red herrings, its exhaustive work on health and the other benefits of simply making cycling a normal way to get about, it’s an excellent – and necessary – start.

And even if it is that important, it isn’t going to happen without the kind of struggles and cultural shift that Walker alludes to. He rightly talks about how dissuasion of car use (pace Stevenage) is going to be necessary, and refers to some of the problems of car-centred thinking. My view is that if cycling is to progress, there is a whole host of problems emanating from car culture which will need to be grappled with.



Categories: Views

Making London’s lorries safer

16 March, 2017 - 19:41

Here is our response to Transport for London’s consultation on making lorries in London safer, made with our fellow organisations on the Action on Lorry danger working group:

Click on:gerresponsewithlogosDirectVisionStandard15March2017Final


Categories: Views

What kind of policing do we need?

9 March, 2017 - 23:48

We think road traffic law enforcement is a key element in potentially reducing danger on the roads. Whatever changes in highway and vehicle engineering occur, the safety of all road users will depend at least partly on how the law is enforced. Of course, what happens with sentencing is also key, but here we address the way the police operate. Most importantly, how the police behave should be seen as a central element of how society accepts or stigmatises behaviours.

Our view is that the attitudes of the police will at least partly reflect the prejudices of ordinary members of the public in what is a motor-centred society. We have criticised elements of policing in the past  and suggested ways in which it can be improved. In the worst cases we have argued that the response (or lack of it) to rule- or law-breaking driving makes this society “nothing less than fundamentally uncivilised”.   

But we have recently seen what appears to be a fundamental change in some police forces with the adoption of policing of close passing of cyclists .We will be monitoring and reporting on developments in this area. Most importantly, along with what happens with other elements of the legal system, we note that the way policing is done is a reflection of whether road danger is seen – as it would be in a civilised society – as the problem it is.

Below we comment on the good and the bad in police services at the beginning of 2017.

The good…

The key development is the close passing of cyclists operation devised by West Midlands Police. For us it has key ramifications for policing to protect all road users in that it:

(a)  Addresses danger at source. There is a clear statement that while errant behaviour is a feature of people using all modes of transport, the potential to harm others is central to specifying what problem behaviour should be targeted – and that means prioritising misbehaviour by drivers.

(b)  Goes beyond KSIs. While contributory factors in manoeuvres leading to cyclist Killed and Seriously Injured casualties are considered in identifying close passing as a key problem, the simple fact of intimidation is seen as a problem requiring the attention of the police.

(c)  Considers the transport policy implications. Law enforcement policy, as with all interventions affecting safety on the road, has transport policy implications. The West Midlands Police (WMP) initiative was clearly and correctly based on supporting not only people who cycle now, but also those who may wish to do so and are deterred by behaviours like close passing. The views of at least some WMP officers expressed here show that traffic police officers may be willing to give a high level of commitment towards a road danger reduction agenda.

I was privileged to address a training day on close passing policing by West Midlands Police, along with the Police and Crime Commissioner (former Road Safety Minister David Jamieson):

As a consequence of the WMP initiative, we have seen a similar initiative from Camden Metropolitan Police Service , and the following forces are near or in the process of developing their own programmes:

  • West Yorkshire Police (in partnership with Leeds City Council) – confirmed.
  • Devon & Cornwall Police – “looking to develop”.
  • Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Hertfordshire Road Policing Unit – “interested”.
  • Dorset Police – “considering”.
  • Hants and Thames Valley Police – joint operations unit (roads policing unit) due.
  • Police Scotland – up and running: pilot in Edinburgh in partnership with Cycling Scotland’s: “Give everyone cycle space” campaign.
  • Kent Police – to implement as part of “Think Cycling” campaign
  • Sussex Police and Northumbria Police – 3rd party reporting being organised
  • Greater Manchester Police
  • The Metropolitan Police Service’s Cycle Safety Team– the UK’s only permanent cycle-borne roads policing team – are working on a new tactic to be introduced in early summer, which incorporates elements of close passing policing.

In addition, WMP are actively taking 3rd party video reports (2 mins before and after a close pass) on a private link. (WMP also place their close passing policing alongside the introduction of 20 mph areas and cycle-friendly infrastructure in Birmingham).

Camden MPS have also been shown explaining to drivers the road positions that cyclists may need to take here: ITV London News, Evening News: 24/01/2017 and have publicised the Met’s online road traffic incident reporting site

All of this should be backed up by the substantial coverage  in the transport media (e.g. ) , cycling media (e.g. ) and local press:

(On a minor point, I note the somewhat loaded connotations of descriptions including “undercover” and “sting” – these operations should not be seen as in any way underhand simply because an officer is in plain clothes).

All this indicates a substantial move towards road danger reduction policing.  And more police services are asking WMP for information: apologies to those developing close passing policing that I haven’t included, as more are coming on stream.

Against this, we have to consider the negative elements of policing, present in all too many police services – even some of those carrying out close passing and other road danger reduction types of policing

…and the bad

First of all, let’s be clear about traffic police officers. They have one of the toughest policing jobs, frequently criticised by sections of the media. More importantly, there is the risk they face from errant drivers on the roads, leading to injury and death: it is a good reminder to use a search engine to see how often this happens. (Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry on “British police officers killed in the line of duty” excludes “those who die in more regular circumstances such as traffic collisions”!). Most of the traffic police officers I have met are appalled at, and passionately committed against, rule- and law-breaking driving. Our basic position is therefore one of respect and support.

However, there are two issues. Firstly, their views may not be shared by senior officers managing them.

More importantly, we have a general problem of how their views will inevitably be formed by the society they are a part of.


The question of “institutionalised discrimination”

Throughout the eighties and onwards, staff in public services – the NHS, local government and also the police and armed services – have been told to be aware of the prejudices they may hold. These are primarily prejudices against people on the basis of their sexuality, gender, ethnic group or disability, the central point being that people will tend to reflect the beliefs of the society they are brought up in. If these beliefs are discriminatory, people will hold prejudices, often quite unwittingly, which will result in disadvantageous treatment of some people, and resultant failure in the effectiveness of the services they are required to provide.

That is a very brief definition of the equal opportunities policies that public service professionals are required to adopt. The emphasis is on getting public servants to question basic ideas that they may not even be aware they hold. It is not about blaming people for holding these views – rather, it is about assisting them in their work by showing how they may quite unwittingly be mistaken. It is critically important to remember this point: far from being “political correctness”, this is about remembering that people reflect the belief systems of the society they are brought up in.

And in this area, we are talking about the various ways in which most people have accepted the dominance of the car and motorised transport, specifically in tolerating everyday rule and law breaking by motorists.

There is of course, the “choice” question. It is often argued that an equal opportunities model doesn’t apply as the issue of, for example, riding a bicycle, is essentially a question of choice. It is self-selected. One does not have to ride a bicycle. While this is correct, it is also true that one does not have to drive a car – or at least not in a rule- or law-breaking manner.

Anyway, there is also the model of Health and Safety regimes in areas such as Health and Safety at work. Under these regimes, workers – or people who have chosen to work as, for example, construction workers – are protected by regimes where it is ensured that the environment they work in is as safe as possible. If that idea were to be dominant on the public highway – with the danger from motor vehicles to other road users treated in the same way as danger to workers on a construction site – we would have a completely different attitude prevailing. On that basis it seems that we are entitled to expect that police officers should question the dominant car-centric views that hold sway in British society, in the sort of way that they are in West Midlands Police.

Against this, it might be felt that traffic police officers – who, it must be repeated, are often putting themselves at a high level of risk in their work – have good intentions. But good intentions are not only not enough, but frequently “pave the road to hell”. Traffic police officers are the first to know that most road crashes are caused by otherwise good people doing bad things. Being a good person is simply not good enough when it comes to the causes of road danger.

Let’s see how prejudice against cyclists and in favour of rule/law-breaking drivers exists with the examples of just one county police service and the Metropolitan Police Service.

Hampshire Police:

I asked the author of an analysis of one police service over six months, comparing them to West Midlands Police,  what the problems might be:

Fining cyclist for riding through amber, urging cyclists to wear hi-viz and be considerate to other road users after a cyclist wearing hi-viz is left for dead after a hit and run ,  criticising cyclist killed in broad daylight for not using lights  , spending winter evenings pulling over entirely law-abiding cyclists, presiding over one of the highest rates of increase of cyclist serious injuries in the country, refusing to look at video evidence of bad driving, unilaterally failing to include close passing of cyclists in their definition of dangerous driving, never engaging in related discussions on social media—shall I go on?”

This is a selection of cases in one police service. It is not too cynical to suggest that similar problems may exist in other police services in the UK. Also – noting that Hants Police have made a commitment towards close passing policing – it is quite possible that some good work can be done at the same time as questionable attitudes prevail elsewhere in the same force.


The Metropolitan Police Service:

As the largest police force in the UK by far, it’s worth having a look at some current issues with the MPS. This is not any kind of systematic analysis, rather a selection of some views expressed at the highest level which give cause for concern.

The strange case of cyclists not using cycle facilities

Detective Chief Superintendent Paul Rickett is OCU Commander of the Roads and Transport Policing Command (RTPC). Jointly funded by Transport for London (TfL), the RTPC is the largest operational command in the MPS, comprising 2,350 officers and staff, whose role is to provide safety and security across London’s road and surface transport infrastructure.

On 24th January 2017, at the centenary conference of the London Road Safety Council, he highlighted and denounced: “A symptom of post-modern libertarian democracy” which troubled him. His concern? “I can’t believe that cyclists are not required to use the Cycle Superhighways”. I think it’s worth spending some time on this issue and DCS Rickett’s vexation with what may be happening on some 0.145% of the roads he oversees.

There are of course numerous laws which require behaviours of all road users. The 30 mph speed limit in most of the Metropolitan Police area was set in (the modern) 1935, and has been broken by either a substantial minority or majority of motorists whenever they can, ever since. Behaviours which can be prosecuted as careless or dangerous driving are visible to anyone observing London motorised traffic. Indeed, law breaking (and certainly rule breaking threatening other road users as specified in the Highway Code) is so commonplace as not to excite much public attention. One would have thought DCS Rickett was concerned enough with the amount of persistent breaking of existing rules and laws by the motorised not to feel the need for additional laws. Take the following two incidents reported in the four days either side of his comments, in just one of London’s 33 Boroughs:

The first is described by the Fire Service, which as an emergency service frequently partners the MPS, as “Elderly man helped out of his car by firefighters after the vehicle reverses into a priest’s home in Hounslow”. (Note the lack of human agency.)

In the secondstaff at a luxury hotel in Hounslow were left shocked when a car ploughed through its glass entrance, coming to a halt inches from the reception desk

In neither case were arrests made. So why the need for new laws, when existing ones are routinely flouted with a minuscule chance of arrest?

DCS Rickett at the APPCG hearing

In his evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group on 22nd February 2017 (you can hear it here ), DCS Rickett was asked if the current suite of offences was adequate. His only suggested addition was, yes, the problem he has that he cannot enforce the non-use of Cycle Superhighways, and that the CSH outside his office is often “empty and the road filled with cyclists”. You can hear his evident vexation and the amount of time expressing it from 30 – 36 minutes. I think this tells us something about the attitude towards cyclists and cycling of the officer overseeing policing of London’s roads, and it’s worth looking at in detail.

It troubles him that the CSHs are there “at huge expense”. But the expense, certainly nationally, is trivial compared to the spending on other road infrastructure. Even in London, there is plenty of new road building, and the usual spending on “safety engineering” to accommodate rule- and law-breaking driving. One can furthermore argue that motorists impose massive external costs with regard to their danger, pollution, space consumption etc., which they don’t pay for, and are therefore subsidised “at huge expense”  .This is not an abstract academic issue: in a culture where drivers see themselves as paying tax (“I pay road tax”) and cyclists not, emphasising the spending on CSHs feeds into a commonly held prejudice.

There’s an echo of the Secretary of State’s infamous remarks about cyclists “not being road users”  . All transport professionals know that the CSHs are part of the public highway or “road” – yet DCS Rickett persistently describes them as being distinguished from “the road”.

Now the likes of DCS Rickett should be answered using rational argument. For example, the building of segregated cycle lanes on CSHs seems to have generated more cycling – which rather contradicts the idea that cyclists are using “the road” instead. Or it can be mentioned that there are often obvious reasons for not using a CSH lane: most are bi-directional, requiring additional movements across traffic to enter and leave if going from or to the other side of the road. These additional movements increase delay and also possibly danger.

But while rational argument is necessary, as with so much else, it won’t win the day because what is at issue is essentially ideological. The matter in hand is essentially about something unspoken: who the roads are for and how, when and why they may be used. My suggestion is that for DSC Rickett and much of mainstream culture, the roads are for motorised traffic, with almost all driving (including rule and law breaking driving) being acceptable. On the other hand, cycling is seen as suspect and problematic, with cyclists as a problem.


“Getting them out of the way”

There is a long history of cyclists being concerned about segregated cycle lanes/tracks on the basis that they would marginalise and “ghettoise” them. Part of this is based on the fact that much supposed “provision for cyclists” has been inadequate by today’s standards: inconvenient and potentially more hazardous for cyclists. Part of it is that, even with a network of high quality protected cycle lanes, most cycling will still be on the public highway in the immediate vicinity of motor vehicles: so drivers still have to be aware that they cannot expect cyclists to be somewhere else on most of the roads they use.

This worry is that provision for cycling based on the principle of segregation on main roads holds a fundamental danger for cyclists. It will allow drivers to think that cyclists are a problem to be got “out of the way” (e.g. where drivers feel they have a right to proceed at whatever speed they feel is right for them). The RDRF view is that we should proceed with the current nominal official commitment, most notably in London but also elsewhere, towards networks of segregated cycle lanes as a means of encouraging people scared of the hazards of cycling to cycle. That doesn’t stop us from being wary and watchful of attitudes based on seeing cycling as a problem to be got “out of the way” of drivers.

There are other reasons for cyclists not using existing cycle “facilities”. They may be blocked by parked cars or debris. As such, Cycling UK has successfully defended the right not to use them  . Many will not be fit for purpose under the current best practice design standards. Many cyclists have had the experience of being hooted at by irate drivers for not using a supposed “facility” which it was not appropriate for them to use. Indeed, DSC Rickett notes in his APPCG evidence that any legislation requiring cyclists to use segregated cycle lanes would have to be very specific.

I think that even with carefully drafted legislation, it is likely that plenty of drivers would still feel that a cyclist would be required to be “out of their way” even with a cycle lane /track which didn’t get covered by such legislation. Again, we are dealing with prejudice rather than rational argument.

Indeed, even just restricting campaigning to achieving the objective of a network of high quality segregated cycle lanes, such negative attitudes pose a threat to the well-being of actual and potential cyclists. And it seems that they exist at the top of the MPS with the officer (who reports to the Deputy Mayor for Transport, Val Shawcross, who plays a key part in overseeing provision for cycling).


A special present?

I think there are other things to be said here. I get the impression that the installation of protected cycle lanes on some 0.154% of the capital’s roads, with the (now questionable)  hope of this rising to some 0.45% during the current Mayoralty, is seen as some sort of special present to cyclists. But it is not. It is there to attract potential cyclists rather than those who are proficient and willing to cycle on London’s roads. One could argue that it is there for motorists, so that they don’t have to worry about the presence of cyclists (as explained above). Above all, allocation of dedicated space to cycling is supposed to be there to provide part of the solution to London’s problems generated by excessive dependence on motor vehicles, particularly private cars. It might be worthwhile seeing any favours as being done by, not for, cycling and cyclists.


Some other issues

I’ll spend less time on some of the other views expressed by DCS Rickett. Suffice it to say that they betray inadequate or negative views of cycling.

There is lots of evidence out there that lots of lives could be saved if helmets were made mandatory” (1 hour 7 minutes). It is clear that there is no evidence to justify a mandatory helmet law, and little if any of beneficial effects in reducing serious injury rates. As Bez  has concisely argued:

It’s also worth looking at some comments in a recent tweet by Jamie Juggins on the mandatory helmet law in Australia:

As with helmets, so too hi-viz (1 hour 6 minutes), although no evidence is claimed and this is “just my opinion”.

DCS Rickett seems cool on policing 20 mph areas (37 mins), seems to be more concerned with policing cyclist behaviour – as with “cyclist rideouts”, whatever they are –  (59 minutes), and unaware of the discussion raised about use of Section 59 of the Police Reform Act (discussed among officers at our award event  last year).

Finally, we have the case of Barry Mason, killed while cycling in London in February 2014,  which we have discussed here   and here . The case is notorious because of the decision of the MPS to not pass the papers on to the Crown Prosecution Service. The family raised funds for a private prosecution. DCS Rickett defends this decision (49 minutes 30 seconds); our view is different. We’ll see what happens in the private prosecution, which is due next month.


A(nother) case of non-prosecution

Before we leave the Met, let’s have a look at a case reported last month where a woman cyclist knocked down by a van driver suffered “bleeding, bruising and a black eye and said that it was only because a black cab had been following at a distance that it was able to avoid running her over as she lay sprawled in the road.” And once again there was a failure to prosecute for even the charge of careless driving. It is worthwhile reading the account of this case in detail – including the comments below – here  .

Suffice it to say that we agree with Cycling UK’s view:

If this represents Met Police policy they might as well say that they are just not bothered about careless driving, as long as nobody suffers a life-changing injury. This driver’s lack of attention and bad driving was no less careless just because Ms Singh was lucky, and was merely bloodied and bruised rather than paralysed.

Careless driving is driving below the standard of a careful and competent driver. This was way below that standard. The Met however have applied their own “nobody died” interpretation of the law, and offered a re-training course. Somebody should be asking themselves what message they are sending regarding road safety and the standard of driving they expect on London’s roads

Of course, this is just one case – albeit reported recently and following persistence from the victim. It’s unlikely that we even hear about most such cases. We need to repeat the point: what kind of messages are the MPS sending out about the standard of driving that should be – and legally is – required on London’s roads?


Conclusion: The good and the bad

In the past we have criticised the Met about its traffic policing  Sometimes this has been a little unfair – for example, some of the prejudice against cyclists may have come from officers drafted in to Operation Safeway who don’t have the expertise of traffic officers. We repeat our support for traffic officers throughout the UK, and feel they deserve recognition for the necessary – and often hazardous – work they carry out. In particular, we look forward to the close passing of cyclists policing that is developing throughout the UK following the West Midlands initiative.

Nevertheless, this will be only part of the work that the police can – and more importantly in our opinion should – be doing to reduce danger from careless, dangerous, criminally negligent, rule and/or law breaking driving that increases danger to other road users. Some good features of policing do not remove the failures in attitude and practice that we refer to above.

Obviously this review is not a systematic study of the MPS and all other UK police forces. It also does not address the fundamental issue of what happens after policing, with courts giving lenient and non-deterrent sentences to offenders. That is a matter deserving of separate attention – although we feel that a senior police officer giving evidence to the APPCG could at least suggest the need for deterrent sentencing.

But we believe that we have highlighted areas of concern that need change if we are to have the civilised approach to road danger of which policing is an integral part. The close passing policing initiatives show that there is a desire for road danger reduction measures among traffic police officers of all ranks. That will require eliminating old prejudices, and we are here to assist with this.


I will be speaking on this subject at the Public Policy Exchange conference 16th March and the Hackney Cycling Conference


Categories: Views