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An open letter on the Nice Way Code

An open letter on the Nice Way Code

I was among the “key stakeholders” who were consulted on the Nice Way Code advertising campaign, I strongly advised against the approach taken and tried to warn them that it was likely to result in a backlash from many ordinary people. However, my advice was ignored (I should add that I was not alone in expressing unease at the tone and message being sent by the Ad campaign). It was clear from the outset that it was never going to create a “culture of tolerance” on Scotland’s roads, after all this sort of respect approach has been around for 100 years, and there is no evidence that any such campaign has worked so far.

Sally Hinchcliffe, one of the organisers of Pedal on Parliament, who helped draft the letter, said: “I’ve never seen such anger online – and this was in response to what should have been an innocuous campaign asking people to get along. Instead, we’ve felt we were being demonised for running red lights, treated as though we’re a separate species, and told to ‘grow up’ for cycling on pavements. The tone was really misjudged and seemed, if anything, to make out that it would be our fault if we were hit by a car – even though statistics show that when people are knocked off their bikes it’s far more likely to have been the driver at fault than the cyclist. I’m a law-abiding cyclist, like everyone else I know who rides a bike, and to have our own government seemingly pandering to this stereotype of cyclists as lawless and a danger to themselves is really galling.” It also has to be remembered that this campaign has been launched at a time when the number of people being killed on the roads while riding a bicycle is rising (as are the number of pedestrian fatalities). This is something which Cycling Scotland would rather not talk about, prefering to state that the total number of deaths on the roads is down (this is due to reduced numbers of fatalities among car occupants, at a time when people are driving less distance and at lower top speeds due to the recession).

The Nice Way Code was launched by the Scottish Transport Minister Keith Brown MSP on the 5th August 2013, and was immediately met with large scale derision. Many people, across Scotland and beyond, feel that is it a massive waste of public money and as a result they have joined forces to write an open letter to the Scottish Government, asking for the Nice Way Code campaign to be scrapped. The campaign, which was intended to promote ‘mutual respect’ among road users, has triggered widespread anger among cyclists who feel that the adverts – particularly one showing a cyclist running a red light. The adverts have attracted controversy on social media with thousands of negative comments, blogs and tweets (and spoof twitter accounts) coming from cyclists and non cyclists alike, far beyond Scotland. The letter immediately garnered dozens of signatures as soon as it was posted on Facebook and tweeted, with over 80 people signed up in just over 24 hours. This letter has now been sent to a wide range of Scottish newspapers, the First Minster Alex Salmond MSP and cc’d to Keith Brown MSP.

The letter reads:

The Nice Way Code is failing in its own terms

At the launch of the Nice Way Code, Transport Minister Keith Brown said, “The Nice Way Code campaign seeks to build a culture of tolerance and patience between cyclists, motorists, pedestrians and all other road users across Scotland.” However, everything that has come out of this campaign – which was paid for out of the Active Travel budget – seems likely instead to create conflict, reinforcing divisions between people based merely on their mode of transport. One advert encourages cyclists not to run red lights simply in order not to give other cyclists a bad name (and not because it’s dangerous and discourteous, not least to pedestrians) – lumping all cyclists together and implying bad behaviour by a tiny minority justifies hostility to everyone who chooses to ride a bike.

As cyclists we are used to hearing from a few uninformed drivers that ‘all’ cyclists run red lights, ride on the pavement, hold up traffic and generally deserve to be treated like obstacles on the road. But we never expected our own government to run adverts saying the same thing. As nine cyclists have died on Scotland’s roads already this year, it’s unsurprising that this campaign seems to have angered almost everyone who regularly rides a bike.

Safer roads will not come from lecturing people and pandering to stereotypes. We believe they will come from rethinking our current emphasis on designing roads purely for motor traffic and redesigning them to remove the sort of conflicts these adverts reflect. Pending that, it’s clear that many people who don’t ride bikes themselves are unaware of the needs of cyclists on the road. A campaign that really aimed to build a culture of patience and tolerance could have helped to educate them about these things, and to get cyclists, drivers and pedestrians to see things from each others’ point of view. Calling cyclists names is not it.

We urge the Scottish government to recognise that it has made a mistake and to pull this campaign before it ramps up tensions on the road even further. We suggest that it takes this opportunity to start a real dialogue between road users about how we can recognise that we are all people, and behave accordingly.

Signatories

Adrian Roberts, Dalkeith
Alan Munro, Pedal on Parliament, Glasgow
Andrew Lamberton, Edinburgh EH6
Andrew W.D. Smith
Andy Lulham, Crawley
Andy Preece, Glasgow
Anthony Robson, Edinburgh, EH15
Barnaby Dellar, EH15
Barry O’Rourke EH23
Ben Cooper, Kinetics, Glasgow
Bill Kennedy, Currie, Edinburgh
Bill Telfer, Langholm
Brian Mackenzie, Inverness
Bruce MacDonald, Edinburgh, EH11
C.A. Looby, Edinburgh
Chris Byrne, Edinburgh
Chris Hill, CityCyclingEdinburgh.info
Christine Helliwell, Edinburgh
Colin Davidson,
Colin Lindsay, Edinburgh
Dave du Feu, Linlithgow
Dave Holladay, Glasgow, G3
David Brennan, Pedal on Parliament, Glasgow
David Edgar, Glasgow
David Gardiner, Laid Back Bikes, Edinburgh
David Hembrow, Assen, The Netherlands
David McKeever, Glasgow
David Monaghan, Edinburgh, EH10
David Morrison, Edinburgh, EH6
David Wilcox, Bristol
Davie Park, Edinburgh, EH11
Denise Marshall, Falkirk
Diana Laing, Edinburgh
Diane Adams, Edinburgh, EH10
Dougie Overbars, Edinburgh
Duncan MacLaren, Edinburgh
Duncan Wallace, Edinburgh, EH11
Eva Viktoria Ballin, Edinburgh
Fran Henderson
Garry Dawes, South Shields
Graeme Hart, Hart’s Cyclery, Edinburgh
Grant Mason, Edinburgh
Heidi Docherty, Edinburgh
Henry Whaley, Edinburgh, EH12
Hugh Thomas, Pedal on Parliament, Edinburgh
Ian Bruce, Edinburgh
James Thomson, Kinross
Jemma Smith
Jenny Wilson, Edinburgh
John and Rosie Rutherford, Dumfries
Karen Sutherland, Gorgie, Edinburgh
Keith Walters, Dumfries
Ken Murray, Edinburgh
Keridwen Jones, Edinburgh, Spokes member
Kim Harding, Pedal on Parliament, Edinburgh
Lee Kindness, Edinburgh, EH15
Lynne and Ian McNicoll, Edinburgh
Mark Macrae, Edinburgh
Mark Treasure, Chair, Cycling Embassy of Great Britain
Martyn Wells, Edinburgh, EH10
Neil Bowie, Carse of Gowrie, Perth
Niall Anderson, Edinburgh
Nigel Shoosmith
Paul Jakma, Glasgow
Paul Milne, Dunbar
Philip Ward
Richard Pelling, Fyvie, Aberdeenshire
Robert Gormley, Edinburgh
Ronald Brunton, Edinburgh
Rory Fitzpatrick, EH11
Ros Gasson, Edinburgh
Ruari Wilson
Ruth Kirk, East Kilbride
Sally Hinchcliffe, Pedal on Parliament & Cycling Dumfries, Dumfries
Sara Dorman, Pedal on Parliament
Scott Hutchinson, Edinburgh
Scott Simpson
Sean Allan, Edinburgh EH8
Shan Parfitt, Aberdeen
Shaun McDonald, Edinburgh / Ipswich
Stephan Matthiesen, Edinburgh
Sweyn Hunter, Kirkwall, Orkney
Tom Orr, Edinburgh EH21
Tom Russell EH15
Tony Stuart KY11
Ulli Harding, Edinburgh
Verity Leigh, Edinburgh

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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