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Cyclists must help themselves?

Cyclists must help themselves?

Hardly a week goes by without another victim blaming letter to the papers, the latest was entitled Cyclists must help themselves (quoted below in full):

Wearing a helmet while cycling may be a “peripheral issue”, according to W Henderson (Promote cycling, not use of helmets, Letters, July 27).

However, surely it is highly desirable in urban traffic? We do not enjoy the excellent traffic segregation and social cohesion of “Denmark and The Netherlands”, nor are we ever likely to. The antiquated and cramped fabric of our towns and cities and our unwillingness to think, and spend, boldly – it’s the British way after all – have seen to that.

No-one disagrees that cycling is good for you and should be encouraged and funded more, but if the increasingly shrill cycling lobby insist on their right not to do everything reasonable to be seen and be safe, then “strict liability” – the proposal that in the event of a collision the motorist is presumed to be at fault – cannot be seriously entertained. In particular, the perverse refusal to use high-visibility accoutrements, good lights and a warning bell is unacceptable and stupid. Legislation is the only way.

 

I am saddened by the knee jerk victim blaming attitude expressed in this letter. Repeated studies have failed to find evidence that wearing “Hi-visibility” clothing make any significant difference to the frequency of cyclist or pedestrian road casualties. It is important to note that the UK has one of the worst records in Europe for pedestrian safety. Before anyone said that the numbers of pedestrians killed or seriously injured on our roads is declining, this is entirely due to the fact that people are walking less, once that is taken in to account pedestrian KSI rates are rising.

The evidence from repeated studies of collisions involving motor vehicles and vulnerable road users, that in over 85% of cases it was the drivers that was solely at fault. In under 15% of cases was there joint liability between drivers and vulnerable road users, and in only about 1% of cases was the vulnerable road user solely at fault for the collision.

It really is time that we learned from other countries that there is a better way. All but five countries in Europe (those being the UK, Cyprus, Malta, Romania and Ireland) have some form of “strict liability”. Why is it that the opponents of the current campaign for introduction presumed liability in Scots civil law, are not holding up Romania as a beacon of freedom and liberty?

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Do cyclists really need more insurance?

Do cyclists really need more insurance?

From time to time I get e-mails from PR people asking me to write something on this blog. Recently the same e-mail from a PR person (working on behalf of a firm of insurance brokers) has arrived in my in-box from several different directions, evidently several people felt that I might like to write something about it. So what were the contents of this e-mail? Just in case you are interested, here it is:

Hi,

With the relationship between motorists and cyclists often being reported as at boiling point, Policy Expert [a firm of insurance brokers] has just published the results of a survey into differing attitudes between the two – with some surprising results.

Cyclists fared well in the survey overall, with 15% of motorists saying they wished there were more cyclists on the roads, and a further 30% considering them completely harmless.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the survey also found that 35% of cyclists believe they should have insurance to be allowed to cycle on the road, and a third of cyclists would drink and bike, with 31% saying they would cycle after having two or more pints of beer or large glasses of wine.

These, and the rest of the findings are available here: [Link to insurance brokers website]

If you’d like to see the full survey results I’d be happy to send those across to you.

Thanks, let me know what you think.

So what do I think about it? Now, where do I start? Maybe with “the relationship between motorists and cyclists often being reported as at boiling point”. Is this really true? In the real world: No. The media like to play up idea of a “war” on Britain’s roads, but no such war exists. There is however there is a problem with a culture of bullying among a few reckless motorists, and the promotion of a casual disregard for the lives of others by the motor industry and its marketing agents.

Before going further, maybe I should make it clear that there are not two different species, one called “cyclists” and one called “motorists”. There are just people using the roads, everyone has a right to mobility, but there is no right to drive. As I have pointed out on this blog before, the operating of heavy and potentially dangerous machinery in a public place is an activity which is only permitted under licence, and with that licence come responsibilities, something I will come back to later.

Having visited the Policy Expert website and looked at the blog post “Motorists vs cyclists – The Results!”, I wasn’t clear on what exactly the point of this survey of their customers was, I can only assume that is was to find a way to draw attention to their insurance brokering service by suggesting that people need to buy more insurance.

You will notice that I am not linking to the site. This is because I have no desire to give them free advertising or increase their search engine optimisation (if you want to find it, there is enough information provided above to search for it). But having been invited to give my thoughts on the survey, I intend to do so.

According to the PR person: “Cyclists fared well in the survey overall, with 15% of motorists saying they wished there were more cyclists on the roads, and a further 30% considering them completely harmless”. What is that supposed to mean? Let’s just look at a few facts here, on average 3,000 people are killed by badly driven motor vehicles on UK roads every year, whereas fewer than two are killed by recklessly ridden bicycles in an average year (and that’s two too many in my opinion). The simple truth is that cyclists do very little harm to others but motorists have the potential to do a great deal of harm to others (both directly and indirectly). It is the potential to do harm to others that caused Parliament to pass the Motor Car Act 1903, which introduced “the crime of reckless driving”, and imposed penalties. It also introduced the mandatory vehicle registration of all motorcars, and made it compulsory for drivers of motorcars to have a Driving Licence (although the driving test was not made compulsory until 1934). This Act was replaced by the Road Traffic Act of 1930, which in turn also introduced the driving offences – dangerous, reckless and careless driving and driving whilst being unfit and under the influence of drink or drugs (although it wasn’t until 1967 that an alcohol limit was set and testing brought in). The Act also brought in a requirement for compulsory third-party insurance for all motor vehicles driven on the public highway. The reason for these changes? The level of harm done to others by the drivers of motor vehicles. The first death caused by a motor vehicle in the UK occurred in 1896, but it wasn’t until 1926 that detailed records began to be collected (in that year there were 4,886 fatalities, bear in mind that there would only have been a handful of cars on the roads in 1926, compared with today).

However, the PR person tells me that “the survey also found that 35% of cyclists believe they should have insurance to be allowed to cycle on the road”. This is rather curious, why should cyclists be required to have insurance to be allowed to cycle on the road? As I have just pointed out, cyclists do very little harm to others, even the results of this survey suggests that they are “completely harmless”, so why would they need insurance to be on the roads? Well the PR person suggests that this is might be because “31% [of cyclists] saying they would cycle after having two or more pints of beer or large glasses of wine”. Um, so what? Would anyone suggest that people going to the pub and then walking home should have 3rd party insurance? Of course not.

Other findings on the “Motorists vs cyclists – The Results!” site include the admission by 16% of motorists surveyed that cyclists keep traffic levels down. This is at least a small positive, but then it goes on to talk about “road tax”, blithely ignoring the simple fact that Road Tax was abolished in 1936, and that Vehicle Excise Duty is a tax on pollution not on road use. The fact that they bring up this spurious rubbish shows two things, one: motorists have a dangerous and unwarranted sense of ownership of the roads (even when the Road Fund was in existence, 1920 -1936, the majority of the cost of road building and improvement came from general and local taxation) and two: that the people who carried out the survey haven’t bothered to do a bit of basic homework before carrying out the survey, so how can they call themselves “Experts”?

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How much space should you give a cyclist when overtaking?

How much space should you give a cyclist when overtaking?

Some time back I wrote a post called Give cyclists room. I have noticed over the following years that this post gets regular traffic, from people coming with search terms such as “How much space should you give a cyclist when overtaking?”. So I thought, as an ex-driving instructor and a regular cyclist, this would be a subject worth revisiting.

Let’s start with the basics, as a driver you should first ask your self two questions before overtaking: “Do I need to overtake?” and then “Do I really need to overtake?” Many drivers don’t seem to have the ability to consider their journey as a whole, instead they merely concentrate on the next 100 metres of road (if that much). Let’s be realistic, yes that cyclist might be going slower than you, but is it really worth putting their life at risk to get to end of that queue of stationary traffic waiting at a red light 10 seconds earlier? Most of the time the cyclist will probably catch up, pass you while you are sitting waiting for the lights to change, so what have you gained?

Likewise, on a rural road that group of cyclists might only be travelling at 20 mph and you may have to wait behind them for a mile before you can find a safe place to pass them. But in terms of your overall journey time, it will probably delay you by less than a couple of minutes. Therefore, unless your journey is genuinely part of a life and death emergency, there is probably no real need to overtake at all. They have just as much right to use the road as you do, and yes they are allowed to ride two abreast. When riding as a group, it is generally safer for all concerned if cyclists ride two abreast than than be strung out in a long line. If the road is clear and it is safe to overtake, then treat them as if you were overtaking a large vehicle which can not move out of your way.

Having decided that you are going to overtake, it is very important that you make make sure that:

  • the road ahead is sufficiently clear
  • other road users are not about to overtake you, and that
  • there is a suitable gap in front of the road user you plan to overtake

This is all laid out in Rule 162 of the Highway Code, which then goes on to say in Rule 163 “Overtake only when it is safe and legal to do so. You should: … give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car”

Give vulnerable road users space

This is followed up in Rule 212 which states “When passing motorcyclists and cyclists, give them plenty of room (see Rules 162-167). If they look over their shoulder, it could mean that they intend to pull out, turn right or change direction. Give them time and space to do so.” So the advice in the Highway Code is clear. However, it is just that, advice, the Highway Code only tells drivers that they should give vulnerable road users space on the roads, not that they must. This is an important distinction, because where the Highway Code uses the word must, it is indicating the Rule is a legal requirement and there is a penalty if the Rule is disobeyed. Where the word should is used, failure to comply with the Rule “will not, in itself, cause a person to be prosecuted, but may be used in evidence in court proceedings to establish liability”. It is perhaps unfortunate that the Highway Code isn’t a bit firmer on this, but this is what we have, unless Parliament can be persuaded to change it.

Many drivers consider themselves “good drivers”, some even consider themselves to be “advanced drivers”. However, before we go any further, I would like to make it absolutely clear that driving fast or simply being a member of the “Institute of Advanced Motorists”, does not make you in any way an advanced driver (although some advanced drivers may do these things). Advanced Driving is about recognising hazards in good time and responding to them appropriately, which generally means slowing down. Rather than trying to explain how this would work in real life situations, I have found these videos which show clearly how it should be done.


At the end of the day, it is important to remember that roads are not for cars, but are for people, however they choose to travel. Holding a driving licence confers on the driver no more right to the road than that of any other road user, but does permit them to operate potentially lethal machinery in a public space. This is a privilege and not a right, and one that comes with responsibilities.

Addendum: This post was accidentally lost and recreated from Google’s cache.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Give cyclists room

Give cyclists room

One of the things which puts people off cycling on the road is the tendency of some drivers to pass far too close. So how much room should a driver give a cyclist or other vulnerable road user when overtaking? Well, the Highway Code in Rule 163 says “Overtake only when it is safe and legal to do so. You should: … give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car”

Give vulnerable road users space

This is followed up in Rule 212 which states “When passing motorcyclists and cyclists, give them plenty of room (see Rules 162-167). If they look over their shoulder it could mean that they intend to pull out, turn right or change direction. Give them time and space to do so.” So the advice in the Highway Code is clear. However it is just that, advice, the Highway Code only tells drivers that they should give vulnerable road user space on the roads, not that they must. This is an important distinction, because where the Highway Code uses the word must, it is indicating the Rule is a legal requirement and there is a penalty if the Rule is disobeyed. Where the word should is used, failure to comply with the Rule “will not, in itself, cause a person to be prosecuted, but may be used in evidence in court proceedings to establish liability”.

Where does this leave vulnerable road users? Well it leaves them vulnerable without proper legal protection. In other countries, notable France and the USA (in 19 states) there are laws which require drivers to give cyclists road space, in the US at least 3 feet (0.9 m) and in France at least 1.5 m (4.9 ft). Shouldn’t it be the same in the UK? There is currently a petition to the Prime Minister to introduce legislation that would mean all motorists must allow a minimum of 3 feet in distance between their vehicle and any cyclist that they are driving past. If you would like to add your signature, you must do so before 06 January 2010.

Personally I would prefer that any legislation forthcoming apply to all vulnerable road users and follows the French model, requiring for a minimum distance of 1.5 m when overtaking. We all have an equal right to use the roads, drivers need to realise that they are not more equal than other road users. It is high time that we did something about the Sacred Bull in Society’s China Shop!

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