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Dear Mr Johnson,

you may be aware that there was a hit & run in Stoke Newington on the evening of Wednesday 10th February, which resulted in serious injuries to the victim, Damien Doughty. He suffered what the doctor treating him described as a level four laceration to his liver. The most serious level is five. He is still in hospital, recuperating from his injuries, though thankfully his recovery seems to be progressing well.

According to Damien, the driver followed him after Damien had made unfavourable comments about her use of a mobile phone, which he says nearly caused her to collide with him. She then deliberately drove into him, causing the severe injuries to his person.

The case is being investigated by the Serious Collision Investigation Unit of the Metropolitan Police. Damien says that they are taking the incident very seriously, and are investigating diligently and carefully. I am sure that the police officers in charge of Damien’s case are doing everything they can to find the driver, and I have every confidence that they will determine the facts to the best of their ability.

I know that you will share in my feelings of shock and horror at the circumstances of Damien’s experience, assuming that his account is true. Without wishing to prejudge the case, I know that you will agree with me that no matter what Damien may or may not have said to the driver concerned, he, like every Londoner, or indeed any visitor to London, should be able to use the highways of the city without fear of being the subject of a potentially deadly, deliberate assault with a piece of heavy machinery.

I am sure that you will do everything to help the police to get to the bottom of this matter. Please do make sure that every effort is made to solve this case. I have worked in the same day courier industry for many years, first as a bicycle messenger, and subsequently as a controller (dispatcher) of couriers. I can assure you that incidents such as this, where drivers have used their vehicles as weapons after a few cross words, are depressingly frequent, and that many of my friends, colleagues and, indeed, myself have been the victims of this type of assault, though, fortunately, rarely with such terrible results.

I would also urge you, using your seat at the Cabinet table, to press for all such cases to be treated in the same way as would any assault with a deadly weapon would be, with commensurate penalties for those found guilty.

I would like to draw your attention to the death of Chicago bicycle messenger Thomas McBride, run over and killed by Carnell Fitzpatrick, who was driving a large car. A jury later determined that Carnell Fitzpatrick was guilty of murder, having considered the evidence that Fitzpatrick had chased McBride and deliberately run him over, again after a few cross words. Surely such incidents should be treated the same way in the UK?

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter. I have every confidence that you will do everything in your power to help.

By Selim Korycki

A report from Transport for London's 'Safety and Sustainability Panel' on 'Cycle Safety' was published last week. In the backwards world of road traffic speak, the 'Safety' in the title actually refers to fatal danger from lorries (Heavy Goods Vehicles, also known as Large Goods Vehicle) to people cycling.

I would have missed it, had I not seen a tweet from Boriswatch: “next time Boris tries to pretend [London Assembly Member] Jenny Jones is just being silly about rates of cycling KSIs, that paper suggests TfL believe her.” This is a reference to claims that Jenny Jones made last year that the risk of injury & death whilst cycling in London had gone up under Mayor Boris Johnson's tenure. These claims were disputed by the Mayor at the time.

I would recommend that every London MP is sent a copy, or is emailed link to the report. There isn't a lot in it that is new in terms of numbers collated or trends identified, but the report is an excellent primer for anyone that isn't familiar with the topic. I don't want to reproduce too much here, as the report is relatively short, and can be read in a few minutes, unlike more technical reports.

I tweeted a couple of the salient statistics, HGV making up 6% of traffic during the morning peak, and 5% during the rest of the day, yet were involved in 53% of cycle fatalities between 2008 & 2012. These numbers won't surprise anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with the statistics on cycling fatalities in London. HGVs were identified as the number one danger to London's cyclists nearly 20 years ago, in a British Medical Journal report that I have been linking to for at least 8 years.

Also not new is the identification in the report of lorries working for builders, mainly skip or tipper lorries, being more likely than other lorries to kill cyclists. 7 out of 9 fatalities in 2011, where the collision was between a large goods vehicle and a cyclist, involved a construction lorry. In 2004 the HGV working group set up by the Mayor of London's office identified construction lorries as over-represented in cyclist fatalities.

What is new is language like this:

This research identified a systemic failing in road safety cultures within the construction sector, a lack of ownership of road risk throughout the supply chain and an imbalance between work place safety and road safety.

This is pretty strong language for an official report. There is a list of some things that need to be done, and in what looks very much like a 'to do' list for the Mayor & TfL the report suggests that

urgent attention is given to: greater enforcement of operator, vehicle and driver non-compliance of existing regulations;

I was a little bit disappointed to find that a conditional ban on HGVs was way down the same list at 'g' or 7. At least it's on the list for urgent attention. On the other hand, I take the fact that enforcement is right at the top of the list as an indication that, as I have said before, the construction hauliers do not regard compliance with regulations as anything like as important as they should do. The rules & regulations, after all, are there to keep road haulage operations safe for other road users like children, old people, people cycling, people walking, as well as people driving other motor vehicles.

I understand the pressures that the hauliers are under. I have worked in the transport sector most of my adult life. I know the margins are low, that there is constant pressure from customers to shave time & money, and that everywhere you turn someone is trying to fine you for something or other. However, Operation Mermaid, which is run by the Vehicle Operator Services Agency and police forces all over the U.K. and is virtually a random road-side MOT for HGVs, routinely show contravention rates of over 50%, which shows that there are a lot of illegal lorries out on the road.

I have some sympathy with the drivers. I am sure, as The Lorry Lawyer says, that no driver sets out to kill someone. However, the hauliers keep droning on about how professional they are, and blaming cyclists for not being sufficiently trained, or not wearing helmets etc etc.

(For an example of how the haulage industry thinks about it, have a look at the survey that was commissioned by Commercial Motor from ComRes on 'cycle safety' – do have a look at ComRes' numbers as well. The slant of the questions, offering cycle helmets, training etc as options for clearly indicates to me that the haulage industry thinks it can evade increased regulation & enforcement by blaming cyclist behaviour for the fatalities.)

The evidence from Operation Mermaid, which has been going on for years and years, suggests that hauliers routinely send out onto the roads vehicles which are not compliant with current legislation. Is this pattern of behaviour, of sending out poorly managed heavy machinery to interact with the public, consistent with claims of professionalism? Obviously, I don't think so. I would suggest that, along with greater levels of enforcement, a strategy of making the hauliers employers take responsibility for their contractor's safety record has been shown to be fruitful, taking as an example the Olympic site in east London, during the construction of which the danger from the lorries going to and from the site was taken very seriously by the builders.

At the end of the report there is a section on the Construction Logistics and Cycle Safety Project. The principle aim appears to be to get the construction industry to accept that the high cab tipper lorry is not fit to be driven around London, and to buy a design of tipper lorry which doesn't have any blind-spots at the front, rather like a conventional bus or a modern design of refuse lorry. Yes, we know it will be expensive to replace the current fleet of tipper lorries. It will be very, very expensive.

But how much does it cost when someone is killed or seriously injured by a lorry whilst cycling? I don't know, I'd be interested to see some estimates, but I bet it's a lot more than the cost of a new tipper lorry.

In closing, I don't want to overplay the dangers of riding a bike in London. If you cycle regularly, even in London, all the evidence that you will live longer than someone who does not cycle, even if you don't wear a helmet, hi-visibility clothing, and you sport high-heels and use a set of noise-cancelling head-phones playing Public Enemy's back catalogue. Cycling in London can be unpleasant, very occasionally wet & cold, but fatal & serious injuries are rare.

 

This was forwarded to all the attendees by Jenny Jones’ office.

Findings from ‘Cyclists and the Law’ seminar, 22nd May 2013

 

Andrew Gilligan’s opening comments

  • It is not just cars but also motorcycles that often fail to stay out of ASLs. He would be in favour of signage warning of £50 fines for vehicles that encroach on ASLs.
  • Cyclists currently are prohibited from entering ASLs via any means other than the feeder lanes and can be prosecuted for doing so. This needs to be changed.
  • Red bicycles on crossings are not allowed whereas red pedestrians and red horses (in Hyde Park Corner junction) are permitted. Why not red bikes?
  • Mayor’s sentencing unit recently set up – monitoring sentences for those convicted of causing death to a cyclist by dangerous or careless driving is a ‘priority’
  • Cycle Task Force to be expanded by 25% – there will be an average of approx. 2 officers per borough
  • Commercial vehicle unit (8 officers) to monitor commercial vehicle safety

Kevin O’Sullivan’s opening comments

  • A big step forward would be for the injury caused to be mentioned in a criminal charge. This would communicate the seriousness of the collision and make the process not just a judgement on the driver’s driving but also on the injury they caused another person (and the impact on that person’s life).

Andrew Gilligan – main comments

  • Suggests we could learn from the Olympics re: restrictions on HGV movements during peak hours – the Games were delivered on time and with restrictions enforced well
  • Stricter liability makes sense especially if we look at the cyclist as the ‘vulnerable road user’ – motorists cannot be classified as vulnerable
  • Bad road design produces bad cyclist behaviour e.g. pavement cycling

Kevin O’Sullivan – main comments

  • Police officers are often reluctant to share CCTV footage after a collision, citing ‘insufficient resources’ as the reason. DCS Wilson agreed with this reasoning
  • ‘Death by careless driving’ is the routine charge in the event of a cyclist fatality
  • After a collision, police should as a matter of course check drivers’ ‘phones to see if they have been used shortly before the incident

Scott Wilson – main comments

  • Re: HGV driver who caused a cyclist’s death not being immediately arrested – this was because the police did not want to use up allowed questioning time before knowing the details of the incident

Darren Johnson AM – main comments

  • Current shift in engineering thinking is not being accompanied by shift in law
  • TfL should insist that boroughs sign up to HGV safety training code of procurement before money is made available to them

Ideas from the floor

  • Stricter penalties should exist for drivers (including police officers) who park their vehicles in cycle lanes. At the moment no penalties
  • Charges of ‘careless’ (introduced in 2008) instead of ‘dangerous’ driving are lessening burden of blame on drivers who have caused injury or death Since 2008, prosecutions for dangerous driving have nosedived. CPS need to look again at this distinction
  • Proximity used to feature in previous incarnations of the highway code but has been dropped. This remains in place on the continent
  • Restrict HGV movements during peak hours (it worked during Olympics)
  • A legally binding inspectorate is lacking (unlike rail or aviation accidents) – if one existed it could prosecute councils for bad junction design Gilligan pointed out this could discourage innovative thinking from junction engineers
  • Poor performance of cycle safety working group. Police do not enforce road traffic laws properly
  • ASLs to be treated the same as yellow box junctions. Kevin O’Sullivan pointed out that this would be best enforced using CCTV, as yellow boxes are enforced
  • Re: the police saying ‘we are not going to enforce 20mph limits’ – elected representatives make these decisions, not the police.
  • More one-way systems which are two-way for cyclists only
  • Junction outside Victoria Station (Palace Street and Victoria Street) lacks safety features such as ASLs. Police cars are often seen inside ASLs all over London. Accidents should be visible on a map like crimes are on the crime map. Signalling in the city also seems to be optional – why can’t this be enforced with CCTV?

Initial vote – 15 initiatives

Initiative Ranking
Stricter liability – the assumption that injured cyclists deserve compensation unless it can be proved otherwise, or the Dutch scheme where at least 50% of responsibility for all cycle-related collisions lies with drivers 1st (82 votes)
The courts should make greater use of driving bans in sentencing and should be much firmer in resisting pleas of ‘hardship’ 2nd (79 votes)
Enforcement of 20mph limits by police 3rd (53 votes)
Implement 20 mph limits on main roads, unless a case for exemption has been made and approved 4th (41 votes)
Advanced Stop Lines to be treated the same as yellow box junctions 5th (40 votes)
All KSIs to be properly investigated and the police should adhere to the Road Death Investigation Manual 6th (35 votes)
All major new developments should include Crossrail-type clauses on HGV safety training and joining the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) 7th (26 votes)
Road crash victims of speeding, drunk and careless drivers should be included in the Government’s Code for Victims 8th (22 votes)
‘Stop at red’ campaign 9th (21 votes)
Cycle lanes should continue across side roads 9th (21 votes)
Continental standards on vehicle design and fitting safety equipment, especially HGVs 10th (20 votes)
Coroners should make greater use of their powers to make “Section 43” reports to highlight solutions that might prevent deaths, and particularly the recurrent causes of deaths 10th (20 votes)
Combat pavement cycling 11th (11 votes)
Legal priority for ‘straight across’ movements at junctions 11th (11 votes)
Close proximity collisions should be prosecuted using plain clothes police officers with cameras 12th (6 votes)

Follow-up Vote  (Audience ideas in red)

 

Initiative Ranking
Stricter liability – the assumption that injured cyclists deserve compensation unless it can be proved otherwise, or the Dutch scheme where at least 50% of responsibility for all cycle-related collisions lies with drivers 1st (34 votes)
The courts should make greater use of driving bans in sentencing and should be much firmer in resisting pleas of ‘hardship’ 2nd (9 votes)
Enforcement of 20mph limits by police 3rd (8 votes)
Advanced Stop Lines to be treated the same as yellow box junctions 4th (6 votes)
Decriminalise ASLs and mandatory cycle lanes 5th (5 votes)
Implement 20 mph limits on main roads, unless a case for exemption has been made and approved 6th (4 votes)
Tie cycle education to parking permits/DVLA 7th (3 votes)
‘Careless’ driving should not be default CPS choice 7th (3 votes)
French rules on close proximity 7th (3 votes)
Continental standards on vehicle design and fitting safety equipment, especially HGVs 8th (2 votes)
All drivers automatically arrested in the event of a death or serious injury 8th (2 votes)
Mayor should refuse to fund boroughs until they sign up to HGV training contracts 8th (2 votes)
No more road building in London 8th (2 votes)
Legal priority for ‘straight across’ movements at junctions 9th (1 vote)
Police to automatically look at CCTV and check mobile ‘phone records after collisions 9th (1 vote)
Focus on reducing number of potholes 9th (1 vote)
All KSIs to be properly investigated and the police should adhere to the Road Death Investigation Manual 9th (1 vote)
Larger road traffic unit 9th (1 vote)
Create a legal inspectorate similar to that which operates on the railways 9th (1 vote)
Police report form ‘accidents’ does not mention cyclists and should be changed 9th (1 vote)
Tougher rules on dirty vehicles – air pollution 9th (1 vote)
Speed limiters in London 9th (1 vote)
Bigger, clearer cycle signage 9th (1 Vote)
Trial covering repeater traffic lights (should result in better adherence to signals) 9th (1 vote)
Ban on HGVs during peak hours (Games model) 9th (1 vote)
Close proximity collisions should be prosecuted using plain clothes police officers with cameras 9th (1 vote)
Ban taxis from bus lanes 9th (1 vote)
‘Stop at red’ campaign 9th (1 vote)
Cycle lanes should continue across side roads 9th (1 vote)
Coroners should make greater use of their powers to make “Section 43” reports to highlight solutions that might prevent deaths, and particularly the recurrent causes of deaths 9th (1 vote)
Combat pavement cycling 0 votes
All major new developments should include Crossrail-type clauses on HGV safety training and joining the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) 0 votes
Road crash victims of speeding, drunk and careless drivers should be included in the Government’s Code for Victims 0 votes

Ideas for ‘legislative wants shopping list’

  • ·         TfL should insist that boroughs sign up to HGV safety training code of procurement before money is made available to them
  • ·         Minimum proximity between drivers and cyclists – Gilligan commented that this was ‘interesting’
  • ·          All KSIs need to be more thoroughly investigated and that the police should be obliged to adhere to the Road Death Investigation Manual – over a year has passed since Roadpeace, LCC and CTC got TfL and the Met to agree to their demands to publish an annual report on the legal outcomes of KSIs in London. Road death investigation unit overall do a good job but the same cannot be said for borough police
  • ·         What can be done to deter motorists from using mobiles whilst driving? Urgent action also needed to get drivers with 12 points off the roads. 8,000 drivers in the UK are still driving with 12 points on their licence
  • ·         TfL have control over the taxi fleet. Why not use this leverage to influence taxi drivers’ behaviour and oblige them to fit sensors? Or limit parking permits to those who have undergone appropriate training? Power over taxi drivers lies in taxation, duties to be paid or licensing arrangements. Behaviour can be changed in these ways, leaving criminal action as a last resort

Update:

Jenny Jones’ office sent out the following emali:

We’ve realised that the ‘Cyclists and the Law – Summary of Findings’ report which you recently received contains a factual error.

 Specifically, the comment ‘Stricter liability makes sense especially if we look at the cyclist as the ‘vulnerable road user’ – motorists cannot be classified as vulnerable’ was incorrectly attributed to Cycling Commissioner Andrew Gilligan. This comment was in fact made by a member of the audience and not Mr. Gilligan who has emphasised that he does not have any position on stricter liability.

I was looking back through some notes, and found something I took down whilst at one of the Commercial Vehicle Educations Unit’s ‘changing places’ demonstrations, designed to illustrate HGV/LGV/lorry ‘blind-spots’ to cyclists.  This is from 2007, so a little bit out of date.  I don’t know why I didn’t put it in my original post.

I was speaking to one of the CVEU officers, and he expressed surprise at their strike rate, when stopping LGVs, i.e.  how many times CVEU officers stop an LGV (lorry) and find something wrong.

Dr. Robert Davis and the remains of a City Hall buffetI went to the ‘Cyclists and the Law’ panel discussion at City Hall the other night.  It was a little disconcerting to find myself back in the cycle-campaigning fold, however slight my current association to any cycle-campaign group is.  I wasn’t surprised to see that Dr. Robert Davis is still well capable of clearing any buffet put before him, but I was pleasantly surprised to see some new faces in the otherwise familiar crowd of old friends.  The formal outcome of the evening I’ll leave for another post. (Updated: a fairly complete account of the proceedings was forwarded by Jenny Jones’ office.)  I wanted to put down some opinions and impressions.

Andrew Gilligan is very impressive.  I was initially very sceptical of his new calling, viewing his appointment as ‘cycling tsar’ (his ironic title) as a crony sinecure, and doubting his ability to make real changes, but I was very wrong.  He appears to have mastered the brief (get more people cycling), and is committed to evidence-based policy, as opposed to anecdotal subjective stuff, such as we have seen from Boris before.  As was said in our chat on the Bike Show, I estimate that this is because Boris was genuinely dismayed by how badly he was received in the cycling hustings before the last election, and realises that he has to do something serious and substantial if he is not, in the words of Sonia Purnell, to be seen to have failed London’s cyclists.  I was especially struck by the fact that Jenny Jones of the Green Party, who was chairing the discussion, was pretty fulsome in her praise of him, and Jenny is usually very selective in her use of praise.

People use statistics in a very slap-dash way, even people from a well-educated and well-briefed audience such as this.  One chap got up and said that no cyclists get killed in Paris, which is a big load of pony, complete and utter rubbish.  He used the 2011 ‘Paris 0 London 16’ canard, which I discussed in one of my first posts.  He also seemed totally unaware that 5 cyclists were reported killed in Ville de Paris in 2012 (remember that Ville de Paris is much, much smaller jurisdiction than Greater London, roughly equivalent to Zone 1).  From this I deduce that he got the numbers from the media reports last year about the garbled Paris numbers, which shows the danger of taking statistics from secondary sources, and not looking a bit harder to find out what the real story is.

I find it totally reprehensible that people use whatever dodgy number comes to hand to make a case, no matter how unreliable the number may turn out to be.

Detective Chief Superindent Wilson also used what I thought was a questionable metric to support his assertion that UK traffic police have nothing to learn from their continental counterparts about reducing road death and injury.  The metric was road deaths per head of population.  He had the UK (I think it was UK, but may have been England & Wales) at 31 per million, Germany at 49 & France at 61.   I’d like to see this number correlated against average vehicle speed, modal share, total distance travelled at the very least for a like-by-like comparison.  The number by itself is far too crude a measure to tell us anything very much.

I read somewhere (apologies for lack of source!) that France has 5 times the length of road as the UK, which seems plausible, as France is much, much bigger topographically.  With roughly the same number of vehicles, this is likely to mean much higher average speeds, which in turn is likely to lead to increased injury and death.  This is not the result of the UK’s authorities doing anything particularly clever, just the natural outcome of having congested roads on which it is not often possible to go very fast.

20 miles per hour speed limits are really important.  David Arditti thinks they are virtually irrelevant, as he has again said, to the goal of achieving mass-cycling (no need to call me ‘Chidley’, David, you can just call me ‘Bill’), but Wednesday night showed me that if you are interested in getting more people cycling, you need to support 20 mph limits.  All the walking organisations, and especially those representing special interest groups like Guide Dogs, are passionate supporters of 20 mph limits.

Darren Johnson, chair of the London Assembly, who said during the evening that there was a growing cross-party consensus in the Assembly forming behind the ‘cycling agenda’ isn’t a cyclist.  He doesn’t  use a car at all, as far as I know, but, like most Londoners, uses public transport to get around.  He is very, very concerned that the pro-cyclist agenda does not impede or impinge in any way on pedestrians and public transport users.

Clerkenwell Road looking west towards St John StreetAt some point, bicycle lanes will start to interfere with buses, if a segregated and safe bicycle path is built alongside every main road, as David Arditti is pressing for.  When the narrow width of some of London’s main roads is raised as a potential obstacle, the ‘Go Dutch’ answer is to lose a motor-carriageway, making the road 2-way for cyclists, but one way for motor traffic, and diverting the other carriageway to some other street.  As I said before, this is likely to be necessary on parts of Clerkenwell Road.  This will inevitably mean diverting buses around a longer route.  Given that the Bus must always get through, to borrow a phrase from the 1920s, at least as far as TfL seems to be concerned, this is likely to be a sticking point, and not a minor one either.  To push major alterations to the London transport network such as this through will require lots of political will and support.  Given that cycling is in a single figure minority, it will require the help of other groups apart from cyclists, such as those representing pedestrian interests.  It is therefore very, very unwise to go around saying that 20 mph limits are irrelevant or unimportant to cyclist’s interests.

The Cycle Task Force nick a lot of cyclists.  I was shocked by the numbers, really shocked.  The breakdown was 50% motor-vehicles, 26% HGV & PSVs and 24% cyclists, which seems an awful lot of cyclists, given how little injury is caused by bicycles.

I’m not suggesting that London cyclists are paragons of law-abiding road-users.  In fact, I have argued elsewhere that because the laws of the road manifestly do NOT protect law-abiding cyclists, it makes no sense to obey the law, because the laws aren’t there to keep cyclists safe, they are there to make motorists life easier.  On reflection, however, there may be something in these numbers that is really interesting.  The share may actually be yet another indicator of how many of the vehicles in central London are bicycles.  That is probably a number for someone with a very big brain, like Geography Jim, over at Drawing Rings blog to crunch.

It’s not a great idea to suggest to a bunch of hardened cycle-campaigners that they should be wearing helmets.  Kevin O’Sullivan of Levene’s solicitors suggested that it might be, and he was lucky to escape with his life.  There were howls, full-throated wails, of protest at this.  Top marks for courage, zero marks for wisdom.

Cyclist using a mobile: a major threat to public safety or a minor irritant easily avoided?I think it was Dr. Robert Davis, author of Death on the Streets, that said the following:

Complaining about cyclists jumping red lights is like complaining about queue-jumping in a bank whilst an armed robbery is taking place.

If it was someone else, my apologies for misattributing it, but it does sound like something Bob would say.

Disclaimer: I am actually a pretty law-abiding road-user these days, probably as law-abiding as anyone,  in any class of vehicle, on the road.  I used to be a bicycle courier (or messenger if you prefer), and if I obeyed the law, I lost money in earnings because I was slower than the other riders I was competing against for work who did not obey the law some or most of the time.

I guess my attitude now is that I really can’t be bothered to break the law if no-one is paying me to do it, but when I was a courier, it didn’t make sense to obey the law, everything else being equal.  I did try to be careful to respect the safety of other road users, particularly vulnerable ones.  Balanced against the economic imperative not to stop was the economic imperative not to get injured.  Nearly all couriers are classified as self-employed sub-contractors, and so do not receive pay when off work due to injury (or sickness).  In other words, if you rode like a crazy person, and crashed all the time, you wouldn’t make any money, because you would be on your back instead of on your bike.

I noted in this article that a courier had been stopped and ticketed by the Met for red light jumping (RLJing), and told that the police were cracking down on RLJing because a cyclist had recently been run over by a lorry.  This despite the fact that cyclists involved in collisions with lorries (HGVs) are almost always in compliance with the law at the time of the collision.  Another courier was stopped by the police, and given the option of attending a safety course instead of a fine.  The safety course was this week. It was a session in a lorry, observing the blind-spots.  The courier’s offence? Riding on the pavement.

As I said, I totally get that the police get more complaints about misbehaviour by cyclists than any thing else (including violent crime etc), so they need to be seen to do something; I also get that if you break the law, you should be prepared to accept the consequences, but I do find the association between anti-social behaviour and critical injury to cyclists by lorries really quite offensive.

There’s a lot of talk about ‘subjective safety’, notably by the kerb nerds, but also by cycling advocacy groups generally.  Subjective safety is what stops more people from riding, according to the surveys.  Subjective safety probably explains why a female friend found cycling in London too daunting, and now rides a motor scooter, despite the scooter being objectively more dangerous as a mode of transport than the bicycle.

Subjective safety explains why cyclists are far more concerned about being crashed into from behind whilst moving along in a straight line along a straight road, when in fact they are much more at risk when stationary, or moving off from stationary, at a junction.  Subjective safety explains why the public view cyclists as a major threat to public safety, when in fact cyclists are, almost without execption, an irritant, and that pedestrians are far more likely, by a factor of several hundred, to be killed whilst walking on the pavement (sidewalk for any N Americans) by a motor vehicle.

Subjective safety explains why, at the conclusion of a lengthy twitter debate about patronising advice given to female cyclists, someone tweeted:

Please – & I think it is more women doing it TAKE OUT THOSE F* EARPHONES. Too many die for music.

If you’re relying on hearing danger, as opposed to having a good look around you, I would suggest that you are likely to come a cropper whether you’re listening to bird-song or the latest offering from Motorhead.  Most headphones are totally inadequate in a competition with road-traffic noise, and some motor-vehicles are virtually silent, as are cyclists & pedestrians.  Cycling with head-phones does look dangerous, but objectively, it’s probably not any more dangerous than cycling without a hi-vis vest.

The RLJ debate comes up again and again and again, I have heard it raised by serious policy-makers at serious policy conferences, as if it were a proper threat to public order and health on the order of something like obesity, or alcohol abuse, when in fact, it is of little more concern than illegal parking.  So I welcomed these two items from the internet, the first a letter to the Montreal Gazzette, which I’ll reprint in full:

Re: “Cyclists must be made to obey rules” (Letter of the Day, May 6)

Elazar Gabay says “bicyclists have the same rights and duties as other drivers” then just a few sentences later complains that “at times they (bicyclists) occupy the entire lane …”.

Well, if they have the same rights, and motorists have the right to use the full lane, then shouldn’t bicyclists, too?

In fact, it doesn’t make sense that the exact same rules should apply to motorists and cyclists (and indeed it’s not the case). The difference in speed, mass and size means that sometimes they should be treated differently.

Everyone breaks whatever rules they think they can safely get away with. Motorists speed all the time; cyclists can’t because their vehicle can’t. Cyclists go against one-ways all the time; motorists can’t because their vehicle is too wide.

Where motorists think they see cyclists breaking so many rules, they are only seeing different rules being broken, due to physical differences between vehicle types. Motorists have long since internalized their own rule breaking as socially acceptable.

Cyclists are no more scofflaw than motorists.

Sean McBride

Montreal

The correspondent correctly, in my view, identifies that it is subjective safety that is the issue here.  Motorists do dangerous things in their vehicles, but this behaviour (speeding etc) has been normalised and is socially accepted, the way drink-driving was 30 years ago, whereas cyclists’ behaviour is unusual and doesn’t fall into social norms and so looks dangerous.

The second article is much longer and appears in Atlantic Cities, with the delightful title  Why We Should Never Fine Cyclists. It’s quite long, but worth a read.  The author goes much further than me, and to use Anna’s paraphrase, proposes that traffic lights are for traffic, not cyclists. A brief excerpt will give the flavour:

On balance, cyclists’ illegal behavior—like that of pedestrians—adds much, much more convenience to life than danger. Aggressive enforcement of traffic laws could upend the fragile system of incentives that leads thousands of people to undertake a long and sweaty commute each day.

Why should people riding 20-pound bicycles obey laws designed to regulate the conduct of 4,000-pound cars, to say nothing of accepting the same penalties? In terms of the damage we can cause and sustain in an accident, cyclists have more in common with pedestrians than cars and should be treated accordingly.

I know that there is a discourse about respect, recently advanced by a cycling writer that I respect, Ned Boulting, who got a bit backward when I pulled him up on it, more or less running that if we want to be taken seriously, we need to behave seriously, i.e. if we don’t stop running red lights and riding on the pavement, we won’t deserve to have decent provision.  This is total pony, and the argument doesn’t stand up to any examination.  Objectively a majority of motorists break the law relating to speed.

Since when did anyone get up and say ‘well, until the motorists stop speeding, we’re not going to build that new motorway, because they’ll only use it drive even faster than they are doing now’?

I was delighted, overjoyed to see what seemed like immediate action after the publication of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s report, ‘Get Britain Cycling’.  In the wake of the report’s publication, the Roads Minister appeared to signal national government’s willingness to tackle the HGV problem saying that the government could not let lorries continue to run over cyclists.

The action was a sweep of HGVs by the Met Police’s lorry unit, checking for vehicle defects and illegal driving, as reported by the Standard, which also published an editorial calling for more action to protect cyclist from lorries.

Keen students of the HGV / cyclist issue will remember that Jenny Jones MLA and Boris Johnson, Mayor of London had the following exchange in October 2009:

Jenny Jones: Could you confirm the number of HGVs stopped by police in London for each year since 2000, the proportion that were found to be driving illegally, any breakdown of offences and the proportion that were stopped by specialist traffic police?

Answer from the Mayor: The MPS did not, until 2008, keep a record of the number of HGVs that were stopped. In 2008/09 3,000 vehicles were stopped (all types including lightweight vans). Of these 1329 were ‘trucks’ over 7.5 tonnes [note: vehicles over 7.5 tonnes are defined as HGVs]. Proportion found to be driving illegally: Offences were found in an average 80% of these vehicles.

At the time Boris suggested that the high proportion of offences found was down to diligent police-work, but however you dice the numbers, that is a lot of illegal lorries.  As was pointed out by nearly everyone with access to the numbers, lorries are 5% of traffic, and yet are responsible for over 50% of cycle fatalities in London, and in some years, closer to 100%.  Lorry drivers that have run over cyclists have been driving vehicles subsequently  found to have illegal defects, such as the Hanson HGV driver than ran over Lisa Pontecorvo, who had removed the mirror that might have, had he been looking in it, allowed him to see her.

And, by the way, despite the EU directive requiring that all HGVs / lorries registered since 2000 retro-fit the so-called ‘blind-spot’ mirror, there are still a lot of tipper trucks driving around without the mirrors fitted.  Whether this is because they were registered before 2000 or because they are simply breaching the law, I don’t know, but I saw 6 out of 8 tippers without the other morning.  I know that isn’t a sufficiently rigorous study, but they were all around Old Street and Clerkenwell Road in the morning, i.e. likely to be using one of London’s busiest cycling streets in the morning peak.  If the Mayor brings in a modified lorry ban, these vehicles would no longer be permitted.

I say all this to demonstrate how important it is that the law is enforced on the roads.  Manifest failures to enforce the law on the roads lead to public outrage, such as in the case of Stephen Perrin.  As has been widely reported all over the cycling web, the CPS and police failed to take any action after being presented with Mr Perrin’s video, which clearly shows an unprovoked and violent assault by a driver.

Almost every cyclist I know has either been subject to an identical or worse assault, or has witnessed one.  It is this wide-spread experience of violent behaviour on the roads, and the total failure to use legal remedies on this driver,  that lead to the hounding of the driver and his family.  I have to say that I have little sympathy for the driver, even if resorting to illegal and violent threats is inexcusable.   He should have been subject to exemplary punishment for his behaviour, precisely because it is so common, so that all road users were reminded that being on the road does not mean that the normal rules of common decency and behaviour are not totally abrogated, as many people appear to believe.

As I said elsewhere, the current penalty for running over a cyclist, either killing or inflicting what the police chillingly call ‘life-changing injuries’, is currently very slight.  Even where the police are able to prove negligence by the driver, the driver often receives a trivial administrative penalty and small fine.  The police are often hampered in these cases because the key witness is frequently deceased.  Generally the only person who sees what happens is the cyclist.  The driver wasn’t looking, (not didn’t see didn’t look) and by-standers only turn to look after the noise of the collision draws their attention.  But even so, the sentences seem extremely light.

To me, and to most cyclists, the sentences, often contextualised by the magistrate with the words ‘momentary inattention’ or some similar formulation, are a manifest failure of justice.

To tie red-light jumping by cyclists to lorries running over cyclists compounds that sense of injustice. This is what a policeman did at an operation to catch RLJing cyclists on City Road last week.  I totally accept that some members of the public view RLJing as a major problem requiring the urgent attention of the police.  I also totally accept that if you break the law, you should be prepared for the consequences.  I am not seeking to excuse cyclists that jump red lights, or argue that they should be shown leniency.  But I am saying that issuing a fixed penalty notice to a cyclist for jumping a red light with the words “we’re doing this because a cyclist got run over by a lorry last week” is grossly stupid and displays a near total ignorance of the reality of collisions between cyclists and lorries.

In numerous cases, too many to list (if you’re looking for examples, surf the contents page of Moving Target, and click on the ‘HGV’ section), the collision happened as both vehicles pulled away from a green light, i.e. the cyclist had waited for a red light to turn green, as required by law.  Reports suggest that this is exactly what Dr Giles did, to quote the most recent example.  Sebastian Lukomski definitely did.  They rarely, so rarely that it has happened perhaps once or twice in the last 20 years in London, are the result of the cyclist having run a light.

And don’t think that this ignorant policeman is an isolated example.  Policemen and women have often said something like ‘we have to scrape you off the road’ to me when chastising me for running a light, or riding the wrong way up a one way. (I used to be a bicycle messenger.  I got paid to get there quickly; obeying the law was discouraged by economic imperative).  I have the greatest respect for traffic police, who really do know what they are talking about, but no traffic cop has ever said this to me. It was always the police equivalent of white van man.

This ignorant behaviour extends to the higher reaches of the police force, as evidenced by the incredibly stupid use of Sebastian Lukomski’s crushed bicycle by the City Police in ‘education’ lectures given to RLJing cyclists instead of a fixed penalty.

I support the police.  I wrote to the Mayor when he tried to cut funding for lorry police. I support their initiatives to educate road users.  But when police make statements like this, they undermine respect for the badge, respect for the law and confound our already low expectations that justice will be done on the roads.