Here is a copy of an email I sent to the Department for Transport on 28th April 2009, 5 days before Major Rhys-Evans's tragic death and (above it) a copy of the response I received on 7th May (4 days after the tragedy). Note that the Department focuses its resources on advice to child and teenage cyclists rather than to the vehicle drivers who present the danger. The car culture runs deep.
Thu 07/05/2009 11:36
FW: Campaign for cyclists?
Dear Mr Porter,
Thank you for your email and your interest in road safety, and my apologies for the delay in responding to your enquiry.
Firstly, let me highlight to you some of the information we already provide which is relevant to your concern about cycle safety and motorists awareness of cyclists. We provide, via the THINK! Education programme, a range of advice, resources and activities to encourage children and teenagers to cycle safely. This includes resources for teachers and parents to encourage them to teach these messages. You can see some examples of this work here - http://www.dft.gov.uk/think/education/early-years-and-primary/. In addition to this the main THINK! website provides guidance and advice on cycle safety (http://www.dft.gov.uk/think/focusareas/cycling?whoareyou_id=&page=Overview) and on the various issues for drivers themselves (http://www.dft.gov.uk/think/focusareas/driving/?whoareyou_id=&page=Overview).
The DfT's THINK! campaigns are developed in consultation with stakeholders and creative advertising agencies. As you can imagine, we have a limited budget available and our priorities are decided by the issues which cause the greatest levels of deaths and serious injuries on our roads, as ultimately our target is to reduce these numbers. This means that a majority of our budget goes on campaigns to reach adults on issues such as drink-driving, speeding, use of mobile phones and wearing seatbelts, as well as campaigns to reach children and teenagers to teach them good road safety behaviour.
Our approach is informed by research into driver attitudes and behaviour which comprises monthly tracking research to measure effectiveness and also creative research with representative samples of our audiences to ensure creative approaches have salience. Therefore we don't accept ideas not developed through our rigorous campaign development process.
With regard to your suggestion for a “share the road” campaign, therefore, I hope some of the above information explains why we are not able to take forward this idea, and also why our campaigns are focused on issues which ultimately have a greater impact in terms of deaths and injuries.
Department for Transport
Great Minster House
76 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DR
From: Martin Porter QC
Sent: 28 April 2009 16:47
To: ROAD SAFETY
Subject: Campaign for cyclists?
I write to ask that consideration be given to a publicity campaign directed at motorists to give adequate room to cyclists. I know that you have launched a high profile campaign aimed at motorists to look for motorcyclists. I believe a campaign in relation to the safety of cyclists would also be beneficial.
There are two respects in which many motorists need educating. The first is that the Highway Code requires (rule 163) that at least as much space be given to cyclists as to cars. The second linked factor is that a cyclist is entitled to occupy the lane that he or she is in. The two are closely linked because the motorist who believes that it is safe to pass a bicycle with inches to spare, will also feel that a cyclist adopting the primary riding position, occupying the lane, is holding him up by forcing him to change lane (something which in reality he needs to do to give adequate space in any event.)
The benefits of such a campaign would be not only greater safety for cyclists (both because passing margins would increase but also because aggression from motorists who are better informed would decrease) but also a reduction in the most powerful disincentive to cycling, a perception (often greater than the reality) that cycling is dangerous. Although in reality the greater risk to cyclists may be at junctions, it is the close passing motorist that most intimidates cyclists, often leading to riding on pavements with greater risks to cyclists and pedestrians or leading to riding too close to the kerb.
In my professional role I have acted at an inquest for the family of a cyclist who died when a motorist passed too close on a major road leaving insufficient room when she misjudged the intended path of the deceased.
In a personal capacity I am often passed far too closely, in particular on a dual-carriageway where many motorists are reluctant to cross to the offside lane to pass notwithstanding that the offside carriageway is clear. I recently experienced aggression from an HGV driver who deliberately forced me into the side of the road.
A ‘share the road’ campaign emphasising the cyclist’s right to use the carriageway and the motorist’s obligation to pass wide, very wide, is urgently required in order to save lives and to encourage cycling.
I hope this will receive serious consideration and I look forward to your response.