Friday, 13 November 2009

Cycling against the car culture

[Warning:this is a long blog.  A shortened version has now been published in the New Law Journal]

            Last year (2008) 2,538 people were killed in the United Kingdom due directly to the presence of motor vehicles on the roads.  A further 229,000 a year were injured.  Countless others suffer detrimental effects from the emissions, noise and even fear of road traffic.  Motor vehicles are furthermore a major source of carbon emissions, whose contribution to global warming is now surely doubted only by those with a strong vested interest and the mildly deranged.  A human activity which causes this level of carnage ought to be subjected to serious scrutiny and control.  However the convenience of the personal automobile has led over the last century to the development of a car culture which largely exempts motoring from the strict regulation of other areas of life in which poor practice costs lives (construction sites, workplaces, product liability, aviation, infectious disease and even dangerous animals).
            The main tenets of this car culture can be summarised as follows:
1.         The inevitable attrition is a price well worth paying (by unknown others) in return for individual autonomy and convenience (often now described as necessary to the way in which we live our lives).
2.         Every physically competent adult has a right to drive, removable only as a punishment for serious or repeated criminal offending and, even then, only temporarily.
3.         Conduct which might be regarded as dangerous in any other walk of life is, in a motorist, merely careless and that which would otherwise be careless is excusable.  This tenet is coloured by a sense of ‘There but for the grace of God, go I’ in the mind of the individual scrutinising the conduct in question.
4.         Road safety efforts should be focussed upon segregating the vulnerable road user from motorised traffic (at the expense of ensuring the safe sharing of road space) and upon encouraging, or even mandating, personal protection to ameliorate the consequences of the collisions which are accepted as inevitable.
5.         A myopic view of the fundamental laws of physics which permits motorists to argue that their responsibilities and actions in controlling 1,000+ kgs at up to 70mph should be judged in a similar manner to those controlling less than 100kgs at up to about 20mph.  It is not necessary to be an apologist for red light jumping or pavement riding cyclists to point out that the risks they pose are many orders of magnitude less than the risks to pedestrians and cyclists from poorly controlled motor vehicles

            There are some signs that the car culture runs deep within our justice system, which arguably lags Parliament’s and Governments’ (central and local) efforts to restore a balance between motorised and alternative modes of personal transport.  The bicycle is not only an inspired individual response to the difficulties of getting around but also a solution to the general problem of traffic congestion.  The individual cyclist who leaves the car at home is freeing up road-space, reducing risk for all other road users and benefiting the environment for all.  Even the cyclist who makes a trip that would not otherwise be made by car presents a negligible risk to others.  The number of pedestrians killed by cyclists is similar to the number killed by golf balls; in each case too small to register on statistics, but on the few occasions per decade that it does occur accompanied by much publicity.

            Cycling is not, on any rationale scale, a dangerous activity.  It is, however, often perceived as dangerous because of the cyclist’s inherent vulnerability and it remains, per mile travelled, significantly more dangerous than driving, a trend that the recently released statistics for the second quarter of 2009 reveal to be moving in the wrong direction.   The perception of danger is heightened by the suggestion that protective headgear is a necessity.  In a collision between a bicycle and a motor vehicle the cyclist will come off worse, with the motorist virtually invulnerable (save to any subsequent legal sanction).  While bearing the relative risks in mind, it is nonetheless worth reminding cyclists that in a collision with a pedestrian, the pedestrian will often come off worse (though the cyclist will still not have the invulnerability of the motorist).

            It is a mark of a civilised society that the law protects the weak from unwarranted harm inflicted by the strong.  It is important for cyclists to know that they share the roads with motorists who have an obligation to take care around them and that those who do not will be called properly to account.  When a motor vehicle strikes a cyclist, and particularly when a fatality results, it is of the utmost importance that a thorough investigation take place, that where the facts warrant it a prosecution is pursued for the appropriate offence (without requiring a near certainty of conviction), and that following any conviction a deterrent sentence is passed.  The car culture needs addressing at each of these levels.

Investigation and prosecution

            In early June 2008, Marie Vesco, a 19 year old from France who had recently settled in this country, was cycling in a group of around a dozen from London to Brighton.  They were travelling on the A23 and had to negotiate a junction where the nearside lane of three became an exit slip road.  To travel straight on the group had therefore to cross the nearside lane.  This is what Ms Vesco was doing when she was hit first by a car taking the exit and then by another car following close behind.  A short police report concluded, somewhat lamely, that Ms Vesco and the driver of the first car had either separately or jointly failed to judge each other’s intentions.  There was no proper analysis of whether the car should have been attempting to overtake the cyclists in those circumstances or whether the cyclists were afforded sufficient space or whether the next car was following a safe distance behind.  The CPS decided not to prosecute, a decision that was unhappily communicated to the distraught family too late for them to consider a private prosecution.  The A23 is not a motorway (perhaps it should be but that is a separate matter), it is thus a road available to all traffic.  However the car culture tenet of segregation suggests that the cyclists should not be anywhere near fast moving traffic, detracting from the fact that motorists should recognise that the nature of the road and junction, combined with the awful consequences of a collision at speed, called for extreme care in overtaking the cyclists.

            It is worth noting that in Ms Vesco’s home country it is a requirement that traffic overtaking a cyclist allow a margin of 1.5m (5 feet), and this self evidently needs to be increased with the speed of the passing vehicle.  Here the Highway Code (rule 163) requires motorists to give vulnerable road users they are overtaking ‘at least as much space as you would a car’ implying (though not without some unfortunate ambiguity) a similar, roughly 5.5 foot, margin.  In no industrial or other context would a reduction in a like margin of safety be regarded as acceptable, yet on the roads it is both commonplace and excused.

            One month after Ms Vesco’s tragedy, in July 2008, Anthony Maynard, a 25 year old experienced cyclist was on an evening training ride with other members of the Reading Cycling Club.  By the time he reached Bix on the A4130 dual carriageway near Henley he was with just one other club-mate.  Both were struck by a van that had overtaken another vehicle and then pulled in to the nearside lane killing Mr Maynard and injuring his companion.  No prosecution was brought apparently on the basis that the van driver had been dazzled by the sun and could not therefore see what was, or was not, in the road space that he was driving into at speed.  Again some might be forgiven for suspecting that the car culture assumed that vulnerable road users should be out of the way and that it need not occur to a motorist that the space he is blindly driving into might contain cyclists.

            In contrast one can only gape in astonishment at the series of choices made by the police, the CPS and District Judge Bruce Morgan that, in 2006, led to Daniel Cadden’s conviction for inconsiderate cycling.  His offence was using the road on his commute home through Telford where he was cycling at around 20mph.  Initially the police stopped him for riding in the road position which is recommended by the cyclists’ bible ‘Cyclecraft’ and taught on bikeability cycle training courses; that is, he was cycling in a position well out from the nearside edge of the road.  It was belatedly appreciated that, wherever Mr Cadden was positioned across the road, traffic could not overtake him, in accordance with rule 163 mentioned above, without crossing double white lines in the centre of the carriageway.  It is partly to discourage dangerous attempts by motorists to ‘squeeze by’ that a cyclist should often take the position Mr Cadden was adopting.  District Judge Morgan, who had the benefit of expert evidence from the author of ‘Cyclecraft’ John Franklin, nonetheless convicted Mr Cadden on the basis that it was inconsiderate to ride on the road at all, rather than on a separate cycle path.  Interestingly, advice from the Department of Transport in its proposed Code of Conduct for Cyclists is, “As a general rule, if you want to cycle quickly, say in excess of 18 mph/30 kph, then you should be riding on the road.”  Mr Morgan’s credentials as an adherent of the car culture cannot be faulted; he had earlier acquitted of speeding and dangerous driving PC Milton who was clocked driving an unmarked police vehicle at well over twice the speed limit on a motorway and other roads.  Both of DJ Morgan’s decisions were overturned on appeal but there remains a striking contrast between the police, prosecution and judicial time and effort directed towards the literally harmless Mr Cadden and that directed towards motorists who have run down cyclists.

Sentence

            In September 2009 two appeals against sentence came before the Court of Appeal.  In one, Darren Hall appealed a sentence of seven months detention in a young offenders’’ institution following his guilty plea to the offence of wanton and furious carriage driving contrary to section 35 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 (a bicycle being deemed a carriage in Victorian legislation).  He had in August 2008 been riding his bicycle on the pavement in Weymouth when, after turning a corner at speed, he collided with Mr Ronald Turner who died some days later from a pulmonary embolism attributable to the collision. Mr Hall was young (20 at the time of the collision) and stopped to render assistance (had Mr Hall been a motorist, the sentencing guidelines relating to causing death by driving make clear that this would be treated as a mitigating factor). 

His appeal against his detention was dismissed by the Court of Appeal who observed that he ought to have realised that if he collided with an elderly or infirm pedestrian it was entirely possible that serious injury might ensue. “It was the sort of cycling which, in our judgment, created at least some risk of danger.  It was, therefore, not far short of dangerous cycling”.  The logic of this cannot be faulted, although it is worth pondering why cyclists not infrequently ride on pavements.  They should not do so, but so long as the car culture sends out the message that cyclists are not welcome, or safe, on the roads but should be separated from, and thus out of the way, of motor traffic, the unfortunate practice is likely to persist.  It is rather encouraged by the strategy adopted by many Highway Authorities of providing for cyclists by painting bicycle paths on the pavement instead of ensuring that traffic is calmed appropriately for shared use of the road.

In the other case Matthew Rice appealed a sentence imposed at Peterborough Crown Court of 20 weeks imprisonment and a two year driving ban for the offence of causing death by careless driving introduced by section 20 of the Road Safety Act 2006.   Mr Rice had been driving home along a narrow country lane near Fenstanton in Cambridgeshire at about 6pm on a Friday in November.  He was third in a line of three vehicles headed by a car travelling at 40 to 45mph.  This was not a sufficient rate of progress for either Miss Buckingham (driving the car second in line) or Mr Rice.  Mr Rice pulled out to overtake both the cars ahead of him but Miss Buckingham then pulled out to overtake as well.  Mr Rice could no longer see what lay ahead but nonetheless remained behind Miss Buckingham to overtake the lead car.  A fit cyclist, Mark Robinson, was riding in the opposite direction.  His front light was seen by the driver of the lead car and was described by another witness as ‘quite brightly lit’.  Miss Buckingham saw him just in time and was able to regain her correct side of the carriageway without a collision.  Mr Rice did not see Mr Robinson until it was too late.  The road was not wide enough for two cars and a bicycle and there was a head on collision, at a closing speed of about 70 mph, in which Mr Robinson tragically died.

Mr Rice was driving fast on the wrong side of the road in circumstances where he could not see what was coming towards him.  In any ordinary sense of the word this is dangerous.  Using the words aptly applied to Mr Hall’s cycling, it was the sort of driving which created at least some risk of danger and was, therefore, not far short of dangerous driving.  However the Crown had agreed with the Defence that this was not close to the border of dangerous driving but was in the middle range of careless driving.  Comparisons were then made with the fate of Miss Buckingham who had been convicted of careless driving and failing to stop and received a fine of £300 with a disqualification from driving for nine months.  It was thought that the levels of culpability were the same with a difference only in the consequences.  This seems charitable to Mr Rice; Miss Buckingham could see where she was going and, albeit late, saw Mr Robinson in time to avoid a collision.  Had it not been for Mr Rice’s actions no accident would have occurred and (as any cyclist who has tried reporting a ‘close shave’ will know) it is inconceivable that she would have faced any prosecution. 

There was further concern expressed about the far lower powers of sentencing available had the accident resulted in serious injury rather than death, though the Court did acknowledge that Parliament had singled out the consequence of death as calling for particular sanction.  Of course the lack of draconian sentencing power, had the consequence been serious injury, results also from the peculiar reluctance to condemn as ‘dangerous’ actions which in any context, other than driving, would be unhesitatingly so described.   Charging decisions are important.  Judge Peter Moss when sentencing a man (R v Robertson Guildford Crown Court 10.11.09) who had used his car to run down and seriously injure a cyclist rightly expressed his sentencing powers (2 years custody) for dangerous driving as “absurdly low and incomprehensible” given the facts of that case, but he may have been assisted by a more imaginative decision to prosecute for assault occasionally actual bodily harm which carries a maximum of 5 years.  Prosecutors here might learn from the course taken by Los Angeles prosecutors in the case of Dr Christopher Thompson, who was this month convicted on seven counts including assault with a deadly weapon after a road rage incident resulting in two injured cyclists.  [January 2010 - now sentenced to 5 years.] 

In the event in Rice’s case, the Court of Appeal decided that it was not sufficiently clear that the Judge had considered suspending the custodial sentence and since the Court of Appeal thought that was the appropriate course, they duly suspended the sentence.   This could be said to be different from Mr Hall’s treatment, though it may be that there was some good reason, which is not clear from the report, why a suspension of Mr Hall’s sentence would have been inappropriate.

The Court of Appeal then considered Mr Rice’s appeal against his two year driving ban.   The Court sympathised with the predicament of a man who had chosen a life-style which made a driving ban a serious impediment to keeping his job and reduced the ban from 2 years to 12 months.  This is the same period for which Mr Hall was disqualified from holding a driving licence as a consequence of his offence committed on a bicycle.

Finally it is to be noted that the sentencing guideline’s aggravating feature of failing to take extra care around vulnerable road users was not invoked against Mr Rice.  True he did not know he was in the vicinity of a cyclist until it was too late but he was driving nearly literally blindly into a space which foreseeably contained a cyclist.

In May 2009, Denis Moore, received a suspended prison sentence at Durham Crown Court following his conviction of causing death by careless driving.  He had struck and killed a cyclist, Mr Jorgensen, as a consequence of failing to accord him the right of way on a roundabout.  As noted, the causing death by driving sentencing guidelines identify cyclists, amongst others, as vulnerable road users, and state that a driver is expected to take extra care when driving near them.  Driving too near to a bicycle or horse is an aggravating factor.  The guidelines go on to indicate that where the actions of the victim or a third party contributed to the commission of the offence that should be acknowledged as a mitigating factor.  In passing sentence Judge Lowden referred to defence counsel’s submission that Mr Jorgensen’s lack of a helmet was a mitigating feature.  It is not clear whether this is in fact what tipped the balance against an immediate custodial sentence and it would be deeply disturbing if it was.  There appeared to be few other potentially mitigating features (and indeed Mr Moore had been habitually driving for years unsupervised with a provisional licence).  The absence of a helmet clearly did not contribute to the commission of the careless driving, and the section 20 offence is more serious than careless driving because of the consequences, not the other circumstances, of the offence.  Whether a helmet would in fact have made any difference is highly questionable and is unlikely to have been investigated at a sentencing hearing.  But in any event, even if Mr Jorgensen was more vulnerable as a consequence of being helmetless, then, as Darren Hall’s case illustrates, the vulnerability of the victim is no mitigation.

Presumptions of Liability

            A storm was recently provoked when it emerged that the Government advisory body, Cycling England, planned to recommend that, in civil cases, an onus of proving that the accident was not their fault be placed on motorists who collide with vulnerable road users.  The details of the recommendations, still less their prospects of acceptance, remain unclear.  Press reports of a strict liability, regardless of fault, are probably a distortion.  More likely is a proposal to adopt a system akin to that which is widespread in other European countries; that the motorist is at fault unless proved otherwise.  Variants include a general assumption that the driver of the larger vehicle is to blame, thus the presumption is against cyclists in collisions with pedestrians.  Few cases in practice turn upon the burden of proof.  The heavier and faster the vehicle you chose to control, the more danger you present to others.  A recognition that this imposes a correspondingly greater duty and, in the event of accident, comes with a burden of proof may constitute one small step towards the shift in culture required and would be a useful precursor to any trials of innovative traffic solutions which involve the removal of traffic lights and other junction controls.

Conclusion

The car culture has developed over generations and will not change overnight.  Rising levels of congestion, pollution, obesity and recognition of climate change have led to Government action to encourage cycling, particularly as an alternative to motoring.  To an extent these efforts are succeeding and there has been a rise in the number of cyclists on the roads in recent years.  Cycling remains though a minority activity and one major challenge is in enticing individuals to trade the virtual invulnerability of a motor car, where the risks are borne by others, for the vulnerability of the cyclist to the mistakes of motorists.  The risks to the cyclist are not in truth as high as they are often perceived and are more than counterbalanced by the health benefits of exercise.  However the perception, aided and reinforced by segregation and requirements for personal protection, feeds the reluctance of cyclists to take to the roads.  Potential road cyclists as a consequence remain in the car or ride on the pavement.  Mr Turner, no less than Ms Vesco, Mr Maynard, Mr Robinson and Mr Jorgensen, was a victim of the car culture.

It is crucial that when cyclists do take to the roads the risks to them posed by motorists are minimised and this requires a willingness to challenge the car culture.  Police, Prosecutors and Judges, as well as legislators, have an important role to play in achieving this. 

48 comments:

  1. Absolutely right. Makes a pleasant change to hear some common sense coming out of the mouth of a member of the judiciary on this matter. Sadly I think it will be a long time before such views are in the majority - particularly in terms of the legal system. I don't drive (cyclist) but under current legislation the best way to literally 'get away with murder' is to mow someone down with a motorised vehicle.

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  2. Excellent, well written post. I often find myself screaming at supposedly pro cycling articles and news stories because of their poorly structured arguments full of hole which allow easy picking and justification by the motoring brigade to knock down any augments presented with. Well done.

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  3. Excellent post, some insightful analysis

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  4. What a thorough and informed commentary this is - thank you, cycling silk!

    As a comment specifically following on the case of the tragic case of Marie Vesco, I was struck down myself some 20 years ago at this same place, M23 feed-off from A23 Brighton Road. I was aware of a screeching of tyre; next thing I was picking myself off the road, dazed but happily not too damaged. The car, I noted, was a Daimler. The driver was ranting about me riding in the middle of the road (I had been hard by the nearside). I then became aware of a man running back down the road from his car ...
    Motorist number 2 was a friend indeed. "I saw you hit that cyclist - he was riding perfectly well. If you don't pay him everything he needs to put things right, I'll stand right beside him in any action'" Daimlerman's attitude changed drastically to one of grovelling apology. He gave me and my guardian angel motorist his details, and I got a prompt cheque for all I asked for.
    My club uses this junction regularly. In the midst of a group of a dozen or so brightly-clad bikies, I feel some measure of safety. If passing that way alone, I always keep hard left in the cycle lane, stop at the end of it, and scoot rapidly across to the A23 when completely clear. Should we need this measure of caution, though?

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  5. Just a comment on Royg's response. I'm not in any way justifying the Daimler driver's response but I think to be realistic we must realise that anger is a common initial emotional response to *any* perceived shock like that. Rationality comes later. Its very clearly is his fault for not having sufficient awareness not to hit you but many people just don't operate that way. Me - I always think its my fault but peoples' emotional responses after an accident probably reflect the way they interact in other areas of life - some people are more aggressive than others for example.

    Of course there is no place for emotional reactions at all in such a situation - what it needs is calm rationality - but many people are not built that way.

    I'm not justifying it at all, just saying we will be able to behave more intelligently ourselves if we understand it.

    I tend not to complain when people cut me up for a similar reason for example - because it often will achieve nothing but will inflame a situation. People tell me that when I'm in the US I should not make eye contact with drivers for the same reason.

    And the single most important rule for staying alive as a cyclist ? NEVER assume anything about the motorists behaviour and ALWAYS take it as your own responsibility to avoid being hit rather than their responsibility not to hit you. Its completely unfair but its how it is. To stay alive - NEVER trust them, trust only your own skills. Never be complacent. Never go across ANY slip road assuming they will avoid you unless you negotiated with them that they do (eye contact). Its your life, you MUST assume the responsibility because they wont.

    andy

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  6. Thank you for such a well thought out and presented post.

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  7. Superb post; I just hope your preaching is heard beyond the choir.

    And now let's see what sort of sentence Dr. Thompson receives...

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  8. A well-written and interesting blog - thanks very much!

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  9. Thank you for this informative article.

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  10. Superb post! So nice to see a sensible legal angle on this, though sadly it goes to show you can never assume that you're seen on our roads.

    Keep up the great work,

    Mark
    i b i k e l o n d o n

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  11. Excellent post and have retweeted to ensure it continues to be widely read - thank you

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  12. While your article is great in highlighting the terrible car culture and unfair legal situation, I believe you are wrong to criticise separated cycle paths. Normal everyday cyclists want separation from the motor traffic, it makes us feel safe and is more enjoyable than vehicular cycling. I know cycle paths are statistically more dangerous, but they encourage more cyclists and have lead to REAL cycle culture in countries like Holland and Denmark. A true cycle culture will be safer overall.

    Have you noticed that the countries with the highest cycling rates and the safest roads also have the most separated infrastructure?

    Have you seen the Beauty and the Bike short film from Darlington? Real cycle culture is not about lycra and riding at the speed limit, it is about comfortable bikes used everyday to replace car journeys.

    Vehicular cycling is a gift to the car lobby, because while bikes have to share the main roads only a very small percentage of people will ride their bikes everyday.

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  13. Can we get this sort of message on Top Gear?

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  14. You should submit this to the comment pages of nationals.

    comment is free, or the guardian bike blog will definately be receptive

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  15. Thank you all for your comments. I am very pleasantly surprised at the number of people who can be reached by posting a blog. Of course, I am mostly preaching to the converted here, but for the nationals watch out for an article by Paul Bignell in this Sunday's Independent. I tend to get my pieces published in the legal press (where I hope they may be read by prosecutors, judges and other lawyers); I would happily write for a wider audience but this requires persuasion of sceptical editors.

    I have considered the comment that 'vehicular cycling is a gift to the car lobby' and looked at the Darlington video. However it is no coincidence that the most vocal supporters of segregation are the motor lobbyists. We came perilously close in this country (with a poor proposed Highway Code revision and the Cadden case) to the position where any cyclist could be ordered off the road onto an unsuitable track and be blamed for any accident by being on the road. I do not see this integration/segregation as wholly black and white as I have no problem with motorways or with leisure tracks for the less confident. Even in Holland I believe shared roads are the preferred solution where 85% of traffic travels at no more than 30kph. Here the first, and surely easiest, priority should be to calm traffic and educate drivers to the point where even the less confident cyclists are undeterred by the perceived risk of collision.

    If we abandon the roads to the cars then we will have truly lost and will be passing on a terrible and fearful legacy.

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  16. Superb article that should be required reading for police officers, the judiciary and town planners. Car culture is, as you say, pervasive and insidious and it is not easy to know where we start to restore balance.

    Two thoughts:

    (1) A dedicated police phone number for the reporting by cyclists of dangerous/careless/aggressive driving, manned by officers with appropriate training, would be a major step forward. So often the police response is apathy, sometimes verging on derision. A driver stopped by the police after a potentially serious near miss, or act of road rage, might re-evaluate such conduct and lives might be saved down the line. Currently, the police seem to require a death or serious injury before they will investigate, so the horse has to bolt before anyone thinks about shutting the stable door.

    (2) The CTC currently assists its members in bringing civil claims (in tort) for injuries and damage for which other road-users are responsible. Could it be encouraged to bring
    private (criminal) prosecutions where the CPS are declining to bring action against a driver, where there is at least an arguable case?

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  17. Agree with the above re quality of the article - thank you. Also agree that a blind insistence on cycle paths could well lead to a ban from public roads - I suspect a referendum, on it might well result in a majority.

    You reference: a system akin to that which is widespread in other European countries; that the motorist is at fault unless proved otherwise.

    That is what we should be lobbying for - equality of arms! Cyclists and pedestrians are so much more vulnerable and so require greater protection in law. Instead we get less, as the Cycling Silk's article so clearly shows.

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  18. Excellent article, which made my blood boil. We should be following the European system

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  19. This is a brilliant article, which would make a good argument if a case should be brought in the European COurt of Human Rights against the UK Goverment for it's (fairly obvious) failure to protect the right to life of vulnerable road users.

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  20. An excellent piece. I would echo the suggestion of others that this deserves a wider audience.

    Matthew

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  21. A quick update on the newspapers. Paul Bignell's article in the Independent is postponed a week to next Sunday.
    The Times, who proudly brought us Matthew Parris's homicidal rant, has today published an article called "Beware ipod zombie cyclists are on the rise." I submitted a shortened version of my post to them a couple of weeks ago, they promised to look at it and respond but did not. I left a post under their 'zombie' article last night suggesting that the Times appeared to be interested in stirring up anti-cyclist sentiment. They censored out the post. I am afraid it is clear where the sympathies of at least one major national lie.

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  22. Hi Martin,

    I just heard about your blog on CTC's newsnet and read the above post with great interest. I did some research on exactly this topic a couple of years ago, comparing the sentences received by drivers and non-drivers from a set of 80 court transcripts. My findings were very similar to yours: over the years the criminal justice system has gradually become more and more lenient towards drivers, thus eroding the rights of cyclists and other vulnerable road users. You can read a brief summary of the research and download the full paper here:
    www.jake-v.co.uk/cycling

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  23. Hi Martin,
    brilliant post. I am in despair in this country.
    Having been involved in a serious accident 22/12/08, the police, attending the accident did not even know the diffence between "careless" and "dangerous" driving. I got nearly killed -- was this careless?
    The motorist who drove into me, being on the cycle path, was convicted for not having been insured and not having a driver's licence. No mentioning about me ( ended up in hospital and many month of physio) at the hearing. Anyone who hits someone is procecuted. It is like all the odds are stacked against cyclists.
    Barbara

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  24. Hi Martin,
    forgot to say that I am a continental and the laws are truly different over there.
    Barbara

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  25. An excellent well written piece, that should be in the National Press and read as pre requisite of the driving test

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  26. Thanks for the well reasoned article.

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  27. Dear Mr Porter, thank you for taking up our just case. On the 23rd Jan 1991 I was nearly killed by a woman who drove into my back on an empty country road in Northamptonshire. By her admission no one should have been on the road while she adjusts the in-car heating. Yet the Police declared it was an accident trusting only her version. They only took my statement after I threw my weight as a GP. Had I been a poor paper-boy or a single old man they would not have took a statement. A lawyer from Preston recovered more than £2000.
    God's Providence chose not to leave my son an orphan and my wife a widow.
    I had thought that after 19 years things had improved but the facts show a worsening as you have so ably demonstrated.

    Please keep up this good work.

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  28. Hi Martin,
    Anti-cyclist prejudice is what I have come to expect from the Clarkson brigade on the roads but I find it disturbing that our courts dish it out as well. All people should be treated equally under the law. I thought this was a principle of jurisprudence that all civilised countries subscribed to?

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  29. martin

    Fellow Velo member with a propensity for being hit by cars.

    fantastic to read your blog- it resonates!

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  30. The law has, as so often before, failed. Surely the only answer is to take the law into our own hands. Damage the car, or aggressive and, if necessary, violent personal retribution.
    Make the car driver aware of how seriously upset you are by the physical threat they posed you. You can always get away quickly if they have a weapon, and of course you are not identifiable. Use these advantages.
    I know of several car drivers who will now think twice before cutting up a cyclist. I may already have saved another cyclist's life.
    Relying on the law is clearly not working. Good luck with this blog, but it (and any amount of earnest chatter) - will have zero effect where it counts.

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  31. Why bikes shouldn’t have to follow the rules of the road: http://ecohustler.wordpress.com/2009/09/16/why-bikes-shouldn%e2%80%99t-have-to-follow-the-rules-of-the-road/

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  32. While I can entirely see your point on this I would like to just mention a few mitigating factors, as far as motorists are concerned. Your article focuses on a few situation in which the motorist was clearly to blame and I do not wish to suggest that there are not motorist who are careless, reckless or dangerous.

    However, there are a few things to take into account. Firstly the road infrastructure in this country is, in many cases, unsuited to cycling. A three lane dual carriageway where one lane goes off as a slip road is not a safe place for a cyclist to be. The differential between the speed limit and the speed the majority of cyclists will be travelling at is not conducive to a safe journey. I don't wish to exclude cyclists from our roads - far from it I enjoy cycling myself - but, as sad as it is, it is the infrastructure we have.

    The second point I would like to make is that cyclists are by no means whiter than white. On my commute to work every day I pass a cyclist who is a lot braver than I as he cycles up a busy dual carriageway. He is lit up like a Christmas tree. Every surface is a covered with a reflective strip or a flashing light. If ever he gets hit then the driver will have serious questions to answer. As the dial carriage way goes into town there is a major junction, controlled by 4 phase traffic lights. At these lights I see a host of cyclists, mainly wearing dark colours and without lights, shooting across queues of traffic gambling between red lights. In my 18 months of commuting this route I have seen two hit. These cyclists are a menace and more than balance out the good work done by other cyclists to show cyclists in a good light.

    The risk of injury to a cyclist is high and, as any good H&S type blokey will tell you, you should try to mitigate the risk. The threat of discipling any transgression of rules should be the last resort scenario and as such other solutions to the problems should be sought before resorting to changing the law. Besides, would you not rather be cycling on cycle friendly roads rather than lying in hospital with serious injuries with the only consolation being that a reckless driver is rotting in prison? I know which I'd pick.

    Punishment it not a big enough deterrent.

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  33. Saying that the UK's roads are unsuited to cycling is like saying that a swimming pool is not suitable for swimming, because it happens to be full of people zooming about on jet skis. You do not get cycle friendly traffic conditions by asking nicely - or by dressing up in bright colours. As soon as you focus on blaming the victim, the next step is a defence agent pleading that it is not a driver's fault that they ran someone over, because they could not be expected to anticipate the possibility that someone might be wearing dark clothing. I don't notice a lot of people wearing flourescent jackets when they go to work, or out socialising, but perhaps they are just being reckless? I find the sight of kids on school trips, all wearing floursecent "safety" vests, a pathetic, gruesome admission that no-one is prepared to confront the real issue, which is the way people drive, and the system that perpetuates this. A good H&S person would say that you identify the hazard (the ton or more of metal moving at speed) and first try to reduce the risk at source. Requiring people to drive much more slowly, and allow a wide margin of overtaking and braking distance for cyclists and pedestrians (including anticipating the possibility that they may well not currently be visible), is the appropriate way to manage the situation - and a properly enforced change in the law to strict liablity for drivers would go a long way to achieving this. Many non-cyclists cite a fear of cars hitting bikes as one of their reasons for not cycling, but when the same people get behind the wheel, the immediate, serious possibility of a collision doesn't seems to bother them much. Because it is seen as a "cyclists' issue", the drivers rather central role in determining danger levels is almost completely ignored, until they are picking up the pieces, and calling it an accident. Let the driver feel that there is serious risk inherent in behaviour that they currently perceive as benign - even if it is only a risk of prosecution, not injury to themselves. If such a law were brought in, it would only reduce fatalities if the police were given the resources and the attitude to enforce it properly, until we as a society learn to stop blaming victims, and ensure that the prevailing attitude of "driving with your fingers crossed" becomes socially unaceptable.

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  34. oh yea..when election time comes around, you will see that they beef up police patroling to make u feel as if they are on top of things...booker is selling the city of Newark to the highest bidder..he has more interest in ppl who will bring business here than the safety of the residents..not realizing that business will only survive if ppl feel safe to bring there business here..not to mention the shoppers...

    attorneys

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  35. "I tend not to complain when people cut me up for a similar reason for example - because it often will achieve nothing but will inflame a situation. People tell me that when I'm in the US I should not make eye contact with drivers for the same reason."

    to Andy, from a US-born cyclist: London is the only place I have ever cycled where I can look a driver in the eyes as a method of being completely sure they see me, and still be nearly driven into. Drivers here seem uniquely likely to drive at you or cut you off or just behave strangely behind the wheel than anywhere else I have cycled. And I rode in NYC. Looking into a driver's eyes there does not piss them off, it lets them know you know they see you.

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  36. Excellent (if very depressing) article! Strato that seems a reasonable view that's easy to adopt and too many people have but as nowwashyourhands says we should "try to reduce the risk at source" If the kettle at your work has a habit of electrocuting employees at brewtime H&S won't rule that all employees should now where rubber gloves and stand on polystyrene blocks while using it, they'll say get rid of the kettle.
    I wear a helmet and fluoro gear whilst commuting cos it is sensible to do so but if I just nip to the shops on my bike in normal clothes I don't want people thinking it's ok to run me down.

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  37. We need drivers to start treating cyclists like they do horse riders. Waiting behind patiently then passing leaving plenty of room.

    At the moment being a cyclist seemingly automatically removes your rights to be on the road.

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  38. I have been pretty lucky on the roads although I do ride as carefully and according to the law as I can.

    I recently took up cycling on my retirement, but not having ever ridden a bike and having a couple of health issues I opted for a tricycle. The back of which carrys my very small dog securely in a pet carrier.

    Maybe it's because I am a larger vehicle or maybe it's because motorists can see my little dog looking out at the back, but they do give me plenty of room when overtaking me.

    I always look on a map for quiet roads and sometime cycle a mile or so out of my way to avoid busy roads and roundabouts.

    I believe on all roundabouts an outside circle of solid white should be painted (cycle lane) to make motorists aware that cyclist to tend to stay on the outside even if they need the far exit (as quoted in the highway code as advisable for cyclists).

    There are many things that local councils can do that wouldn't break the bank to make roads safer for cyclists. Unfortunately it's a catch 22. Money wont be paid out until the roads are full of cyclists and people wont cycle until the roads are made safer.

    Sharing the roads with cyclists safely should be part of driving instruction and the driving test.

    I have only come close once to a nasty accident. An old man overtook me at a junction as I was going straight across and he wanted to turn left. He managed to screech to a halt just before he hit me in the middle of the road.

    After the initial shock at what could have been very nasty, I had to chuckle as his wife (the passenger) slapped her husband across his head and I cycled off leaving him in the middle of the road with his wife giving him such a tongue lashing.

    But the point is, he had no right to drive up from behind me around to my right and try to cut across left. All because he was in a hurry and he thought I would be making a slow getaway.

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  39. Came across you recently and every item i have read is well thought out and worth reporting to other blogs so that more are able to visit !

    Inspirational blog for cyclists !

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  40. Great article. Thank you.

    How many cyclist deaths will it take for motorists to be more considerate toward cyclists?. Why do motorists value the life of a horse over that of a human being?.

    If you can't get the CPS to listen to your video analysis of the moron that wanted to 'kill you', then what chance does anyone else have?.

    The funniest altercation i heard recently was a cyclist friend of mine having a similar incident to yourself and whilst the driver pulled over and stopped to verbally abuse the cyclist he swung around to the other side of the car and removed his keys, then rode off with them!.

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  41. I'm a female cyclist who commutes in my daily clothes on an upright bike, and while you'd think that ought to spare me some of the motorist road rage, it doesn't. I've been reporting bad drivers on the RoadSafe site, but I'm not sure that will make much of a difference. I also think segregation of the road is a great idea - at least within the London city limits. It would encourage more casual cyclists like me, and nothing makes the roads safer than a higher number (and resulting higher awareness) of cyclists. As a female cyclist I also have the added aggravation of drivers honking or swerving dangerously in front of me (or passing too closely) just so they can make crude gestures, catcall, or yell at me in a foreign language (these are primarily white van and addison lee drivers).

    But I also have recently realised that maybe this gives me some power. What if we stop treating cars like the enemy? What if we smile at them before explaining that they really ought to stop before the ASL box or give us a wider berth when they pass. Make them feel guilty, not angry. Obviously smiling at the ones who seem bent on killing us won't help, but I'm going to at least try to supplant my "teacher stare" with a smile when it seems like the cause of the offense is confusion or ignorance. Being a woman on a bike when most of the dangerous drivers (white vans, addison lee, & lorries) are male, maybe they'll listen (or at least pretend to).

    I also think that much of the problem has to do with ignorance. The average motorist doesn't fully understand a cyclist's vulnerability, or the fact that riding in the gutter or too close to parked cars is dangerous for cyclists. They need to know more about the danger of being "doored" or passed too closely. This should be included in driving tests, as hopefully seeing cyclists in London will become an increasingly common occurrence. And lorry drivers should be made to cycle across London at rush hour before they are allowed to get behind the wheel.

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  42. Damn fine article, cuts to the heart of the matter.

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  43. ACPO are planning to revise their road death investigation guidelines, with input from the general public.

    http://www.govtoday.co.uk/home-affairs/50-police-emergency/12195-public-invited-to-contribute-to-police-road-death-policy

    I'd respectfully suggest that a copy of this article should be sent to them, and they should be forced to read every word.

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  44. Excellent and thoughtful blog. My wife and I (in our 60s) got rid of our car in 1997 and have never looked back. We are fitter, healthier, happier, thinner, meet more people, see more of nature by walking or cycling everywhere. It makes us smile to see 9 out of 10 cars carrying obese people and 1 in 10 transporting a mass of human tissue that would be otherwise immobile!

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  45. Agree 100% with the exception of the second half of item 4 " and upon encouraging, or even mandating, personal protection to ameliorate the consequences of the collisions which are accepted as inevitable."

    No, sorry, if we do it properly, then protective equipment will not be required in order to ride a bicycle unless you are taking part in an event such as a sportive or time trial... Do you see many Dutch & Danish people cycling in protective gear? No, only those who are going fast when training or competing. Everybody else is cycling about in their everyday clothes.

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    1. Paul, that was intended to be part of a description of the main tenets of the car culture which my article was attempting to attack.

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  46. I think it would encourage more casual cyclists like me, and nothing makes the roads safer than a higher number (and resulting higher awareness) of cyclists. As a female cyclist I also have the added aggravation of drivers honking or swerving dangerously in front of me and more that Drivers here seem uniquely likely to drive at you or cut you off or just behave strangely behind the wheel than anywhere else I have cycled..

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