Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Cycling on Dual Carriageways - An Open Letter to The Times

I wrote to the Times yesterday in response to the letter from HHJ Tonking that they printed last week about banning cyclists from dual carriageways where the speed limit is more than 30, or possibly 40, mph.  There is no sign that The Times is interested in printing my response.  They used to print stuff from me but that is before I morphed from a lawyer to a cycling-nut.



Sir,

In recent times cycling in this country has enjoyed massive highs with a summer of almost incredible sporting success but also tragic lows when individual cyclists (like Rob Jefferies of British Cycling and Mary Bowers of The Times) have been killed or have sustained quite devastating injury.  Like The Times’s campaign to make our cities fit for cycling, British Cycling’s campaign for justice for the victims of traffic collisions is soon to be debated at Westminster.  How telling that His Honour Judge Tonking’s (letters 03.10.12) response is a call to ban cyclists from many of Britain’s roads.  Cyclists historically were huge supporters of the construction of motorways, hoping that this would civilise the non-motorway network.  Many roads that by-pass existing provision (Baldock by-pass, Hindhead tunnel, Hammersmith Flyover to name but a few that spring to mind) are not open to cyclists.  Mr Tonking’s suggested blanket ban would cover many roads that form a cyclist’s most convenient direct and fast route from where she is to where she wishes to be.
Mr Tonking sits in the Crown Court and therefore deals with the most serious cases.  Sitting at the pinnacle of the state’s post collision response, he has the power conferred by Parliament to ban the worst drivers from our roads for substantial, even life-long, periods.  His language of ‘accidents’ and of ‘a moment’s inattention’ and his focus on cyclists using ‘dangerous trunk roads’ and to high visibility clothing typifies the exculpation of those responsible for, and the blaming of the victims of, bad driving.  It is a demonstration of how deeply the car culture is ingrained in our criminal justice system.
Cycling is both a leisure activity and a viable and responsible means of transport.  Cyclists will be attracted to roads that enable them to cover distance swiftly and efficiently without numerous stops and junctions.  Dual carriageways make passing slower vehicles easier and have sight lines which render  talk of momentary inattention, at any legal speed, wholly inappropriate.  By all means make better provision for cyclists so that they can reach their destination at the same speed on better infrastructure but let us not stifle cycling by withdrawing the existing facilities.
Happily Mr Tonking does not have the power to make the law.  He does though have the duty to enforce it and this is where his contribution to the safety of cyclists on our roads should lie.
Yours faithfully,
Martin Porter QC

36 comments:

  1. A very good letter that once again highlights the concerns of us cyclists; I grow weary of being marginalised by other road users and this restriction would certainly only reinforce that.

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  2. 3rdWorldCyclinginGB9 October 2012 18:35

    I hope your letter gets published, and I echo what James says. But, can someone explain why judges aren't filling the letters pages of daily newspapers with missives calling for motorcyclists to be banned from dual carriageways? After all, the figures indicate that motocyclists are nearly twice as likely as cyclists to be KSI'd (per biillion km), and about half of their KSIs occur on A roads.

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  3. Martin,

    Do you think it would be worth writing to the Office for Judicial Complaints about this letter? How can he fairly judge dangerous driving cases involving cyclists when he essentially seems to think that cycling on a dual carriageway without high-viz is asking for trouble?

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    1. I doubt it but I think it would be unfortunate were he to sit in any further cases involving the death/injury of a cyclist.

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    2. I have written to Office for Judicial Complaints about this letter. I suggested that it was inappropriate for a judge having presided in such a case to make statements that appear to suggest that any cyclist (or pedestrian) on a dual carriageway where the speed limit is more than 30, or possibly 40, mph (his words) is behaving in a negligent manner.
      No idea whether it will make any difference!

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  4. Sad to think that " Justice " is dispensed by those with Blinkers ! Does he really think that he will solve " driver attitudes " by excluding Cyclists from some of the roads used by errant motorists ?

    Once the Cyclist is barred from " Dual Carriageway type roads ", we will find that those with an agenda will start to feel they can misbehave on the urban streets . Women & children will rapidly find that their safety is compromised by the impatient .

    Writing to the Office of Judicial Complaints will only encourage others to show solidarity for this foolish notion !

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  5. Splendid letter Martin. Maybe more likely to get printed if trimmed a bit - always difficult, I know. Still, The Times is supposed to be running a cycle safety campaign, so they should - certainly if they are printing the bollocks from "His Honour"

    best,

    Dr. Robert Davis, Chair, Road Danger Reduction Forum

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    1. Yes, though they would not hesitate to trim it themselves if the only problem is length. The Times and Sunday Times have a bit of a history of printing articles which assert that cyclists should get off the roads. I do not think my letter fits their Agenda.

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  6. There is growing support for the notion that cyclists have no place on trunk roads.

    Remember the recent comments from our Minister for Transport?.

    I suspect it feeds through into more aggressive attitudes from drivers and, perhaps, greater danger for cyclists. The judge is entitled to his point of view but very disappointing that the Times would not publish this excellent counter-argument.

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  7. Thank you for putting the argument so eloquently. There are none so blind as those that will not see. I do hope that when he (Tonking) drives himself around he isn't quite so blinkered and myopic.

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  8. We need someone to fight for cyclists and to explain that we are largely the victim not the cause. Mitigating drivers for their inappropriate actions is not in the safety interest of any road user.

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  9. Making our roads safer by banning cyclists; This would be like taking the canaries out of the coal mines because too many of them are dying. History tells us back 100 years ago canaries were placed in cages in coalmines to monitor the lack of oxygen. When they died, the miners knew it was time to get back to the surface. The judges argument that cyclists should be banned from the roads is much like saying no canaries in the coal mine. What about enforcing the laws to make sure our motorways are 'well oxygenated?' Motorist should be held very accountable for attentive and safe driving practices. Removing cyclists is not the answer, especially in these days of rising energy costs. Instilling civil values, courtesy, respect and decency for government and natural resources and other members of humanity is what those in power should concern themselves with, not running interference for those harried folks so self-absorbed they can't be bothered to remove cyclist splatter from their windscreens as they rush about God knows where. Hey?

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  10. Philip Ashbourn13 October 2012 00:56

    I am afraid Martin that you are not the only one not to get well constructed and thoughtful letters challenging motor vehicle dominance and exposing the failure of the police and legal system to protect cyclists from offending motorists - blame the victim - published in both national and local newpapers. Editors seems more concerned not to upset motor vehicle advertisers rather that present a balanced view to their readers. Sad to say, even the Guardian can be guilty of this.

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  11. "Mr Tonking’s suggested blanket ban would cover many roads that form a cyclist’s most convenient direct and fast route from where she is to where she wishes to be."

    Do you have any evidence for this? Most dual carriage ways were built to replace old single carriage way turnpikes that have become clogged with traffic. These original trunk roads still exist in many cases often running parallel to the dual carriage way. Taking the old road, often downgraded to an A or even B road to make the journey would not add significantly to the journey time and may even be faster in some cases.

    Judge Tonkin is very careful not to suggest a blanket ban on cyclists using dual carriage ways in built up urban areas with speed limits set at 40mph or less where the alternatives are much less convenient just the more dangerous trunk roads where traffic is both heavy and fast moving. Although why he feels it necessary to advocate such a blanket ban escapes me as I believe existing traffic laws make it possible to exclude cyclists from specific stretches of dual carriageway anyway.

    Motor ways are often the most convenient, direct and fast route from A to B with good sight lines for passing slower traffic. Why not campaign for cyclists to use motor ways? Time trialists would love it, no junctions, dead (unfortunate choice of word) flat, good surface and all those HGV’s passing at speed to give a quick assist with their passing wash. Sounds perfect to me.

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  12. I am a commuter cyclist and travel in the same area that Mr. Kenny had his accident. I know this stretch of road very well and while i have great respect for this man's achievements i believe that he should not have been cycling on the a38. It is a very busy road and quite narrow for an A road. It also has many bends and you could easily be surprised by a cyclist in the road when coming round a corner. There are other routes that are safer and indeed a cycle path/pavement next to the road. I would never choose to cycle down this part of the a38 and i believe by doing so Mr. Kenny put himself and other road users at unnecessary risk. I don't think that cyclists should be banned from roads but roads that are particularly hazardous, such as this one, should have special no-cycling rules and instead should be made a priority for a purpose-built bike path.

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    1. Classic flawed argument, wonderful example! Is a bend inherently dangerous? Why be 'surprised by a cyclist in the road'? I might be surprised to find one in, say, a swimming pool, or hanging from an electricity pylon, but please, 'in a road'?! Try this - replace 'cyclist' with 'fellow motorist, having crashed and blocked the carriageway': when, Helen, you plough into the poor victim of the first crash, whose fault would it be? When I learnt to drive one of the basic principles was 'don't drive at such a speed that you can't stop within the clear road ahead'. Was anyone else taught differently?

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    2. Can you really believe that the victim of criminally poor driving was 'putting himself and other road users [!!} at..risk'. I think you have a seriously skewed moral compass. I have some very easy to follow advice to those who wish to avoid killing cyclists on dual carriageways:
      1. Scan the road ahead.
      2. Do not tailgate the vehicle ahead of you. (3 second gap)
      3. Do not exceed the speed limit.
      4. When you see a cyclist slow if necessary and move into the offside lane to pass.
      Simple really. If you cannot do it, Helen, surrender your driver's licence.

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    3. Oh, and the report states 'Mr Kenny was killed by Andrew Mylrea, who was driving “about 60mph” ... [and] ... convicted of causing death by careless driving at Stafford Crown Court and banned for driving for a year.' You use the phrase 'Mr Kenny had his accident'. Call me pedantic but I suggest it was Mr Mylrea's crash.

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    4. Careful Helen anything that smacks of taking any sort of personal responsibility is immeadiately jumped on round here as being victim bashing. Although I did like the JRA's comment about being surprised at seeing a cyclist in a swimming pool, reminds me of an argument I once had about drag coefficients but I digress.

      Like you I would not choose to ride down the A38 under any circumstances let alone during rush hour but then I am strictly a leisure only cyclist. Does any one know why Mr Kenny was on the A38 at all when he could have been using the B5008 Repton Rd? Presumably he was not on his way to work.

      BTW yes bends are inherently dangerous. You can't see round them and the extra centripetal force makes a skid and loosing control more likely especially at speed. Obviously the sharper the bend the greater the risk.

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    5. What you describe is 'driving too quickly for the road conditions is dangerous', which is a different matter altogether. I am incredulous at the number of motorists who choose to blame the engineers for their own failings - I suggest you take your own advice regarding 'taking ... personal responsibility'

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    6. And it might be worth reminding people that when we are in charge of a motorised vehicle, the greater onus is on us to take responsibility for more vulnerable road users. It's one reason we need a licence to drive on the road, while pedestrians and cyclists use it by right.

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    7. Quite agree (Isn't that what I said) It's what I meant anyway. RTA's are nearly always caused by drivers driving too fast for the prevailing road conditions(as well as a number of cycling accidents, anyone else skidded on a bend or ridden clean off the road at night?). Occasionally this means driving at less than the stated speed limit.

      And yes being encased in a ton and a half of steel does place a greater responsibility on the driver to drive with greater consideration for more vulnerable road users such as cyclists something which I accept many car drivers fail to do. But it doesn't completely absolve those vulnerable road users from all responsibility either.

      Note the RoSPA figures show that a significant proportion of accidents in urban areas are caused by cyclists entering the road unexpectedly from pavements and cycle paths and SMIDSY was cited as an excuse by the cyclist in 43% of accidents involving a motorised vehicle.

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    8. Apologies if I misinterpreted your comments. And yes, I cycle as well as drive and I am also incredulous at how some cyclists behave (so, er, yes, depending on the circumstances I might find myself verging on the victim-blaming: one can hardly blame the tube train driver for the suicide of a jumper, for example, so there are limits!). I cycle both defensively and assertively, use lights, hi-vi, rear view mirror and hand signals but every bloody day my life is put at risk sharing the road with, um, let's call them impatient optimists like Helen. I've recently cycled in Denmark, Germany, France & Italy: different laws, different cultures; all with greater motorist liability, all safer environments for cycling. I'm sure no motorist goes out with the intention of killing a cyclist but until the culture in the UK changes even cyclists such as Helen will continue to blame some, who are obviously victims for being unexpected obstacles. Is it worth pointing out, again, that Mr Kenny was killed as a result of a criminal act?

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    9. I really don't see why you all have it in for Helen. All she said was that she thought that Mr Kennny had put himself and other road users at risk by riding down the A38 and that roads like the A38 should have a dedicated cycle path. I don't see how that deserves the level of opprobrium that has been heaped on her head by some commentators.

      Intuitively I would tend to agree with Helen, the A38 is a particularly busy stretch of road and nothing on earth would tempt me to ride down it for any reason but after studying the RoSPA figures I wonder if dual carriage-ways like the A38 are as dangerous as they might at first seem.

      A deeper analysis is needed comparing accident rate per miles travelled and nature of injury incurred but I can see that the accident rate might be considerably less than on the minor roads I would advocate using. Although when an accident involving a vehicle does occur on an A road like the A38 it is probably nearly always fatal.

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  13. When does a public highway become dangerous?
    When you apply traffic.
    Perhaps all traffic should be banned from public highways due to the high mortality rate and injuries that occur when they are used by high speed vehicles.
    What if motorised vehicle manufacturers we're
    compelled to restrict their products to eighty mph. The list is endless but penalising cyclists is not the answer
    PDC

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  14. As one who was with Pat Kenny two days before he was killed, and who knows the road well, I just cannot believe Helen's description of it. It is not narrow; it is a dual two-lane carriageway with each carrigeway being the standard 7.3m width. It doesn't have any "corners". Such curvature as it has can comfortably be driven at the permitted 70mph with full safety, if you are looking where you are going. Helen should remember that one is supposed to drive at a speed such that one can stop in the distance one can see to be clear. This driver couldn't even deal with catching up a cyclist going in the same direction.

    The cynics amongst us thought that the sentencing may have reflected the fact that the driver was such a terribly important man for the British economy; it would have been so difficult to fill his position at Rolls-Royce.

    During the last year I have been involved in a case where a cyclist was killed by a driver who was, in my judgement , less culpable that the Kenny killer. He received a harsher sentence comprising 26 weeks imprisonment, suspended for two years, a two-year ban, an order to re-take a test before driving again and a four-month tagged nightime curfew. He was just an ordinary lorry driver. In my view he got what he deserved whilst Pat Kenny's killer escaped with an unbelievably light sentence.

    Truly Judge Tonking belongs to that school of judicial thought that says there would be no crime if only the victims would kindly absent themselves from the scene.

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  15. Joking aside would cyclists using motor ways be such a bizarre idea? After all there is a ready made cycle lane called the hard shoulder running down the side of every 3 lane motor way in the land and as long as some arrangement were put in place to hold traffic up on slip roads to let cyclists cross the idea could (just) work although why anyone would want to do so is beyond me.

    RoSPA figures for 2011 put the number of cycling related injuries at 19,215 of which 107 were fatal 3,085 were seriously injured and 16,023 slightly injured. The figures only include those reported to police and elude injuries sustained away from roads. The figures also show that 10 - 15 year olds are most at risk until the age of 60 and males are proportionately more at risk than females.

    Most accidents occur on urban roads where most cycling takes place and two thirds of those killed or seriously injured were involved in collisions at or near a road junction with T junctions being the most common. Roundabouts are particularly dangerous for cyclists.

    Not surprisingly the severity of injury increases with speed meaning that riders are at more risk on higher speed roads with almost half occurring on rural roads which are d restricted of course. 80% of accidents occur during daylight with the most dangerous times being from 3pm to 6pm Monday to Friday however those happening at night are most likely to be fatal.More accidents occur during Spring and Summer than in Autumn and Winter however the casualty rate is higher in Autumn and Winter for some reason.

    The most common contributory factor in a collision with a car was “failed to look properly” (SMDNSY). Failure to look was attributed to the car driver in 57% of cases and to the cyclist 43% of the time in cases of serious collisions at junctions. The second most common contributory factor attributed to cyclists was entering the road from a pavement or pedestrian crossing. The most common type of vehicle involved with a cyclist was a car or taxi with the cyclist usually being hit from the rear however HGV’s present a particular danger for cyclists especially in London and other built up areas where the lorry is turning left at a junction.

    It is difficult to extrapolate from one group of road user to another but it is well known that you are 3 times more likely to suffer a fatal RTA in a car driving on d restricted country road than on a motor ways or dual carriageway. In fact for the average car driver, mile for mile, motorways are probably the safest roads there are. Perhaps the same might also be true for cyclists, motorways also have the added benefit of KFC and MacDonalds every so often. Yummy. Oh and Star Bucks.

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  16. Riding on motorway hard shoulders would be nothing short of suicidal. Many fatalities occur on hard shoulders when vehicles drift onto the hard shoulder and ram into broken down vehicles. Yes it happens all to frequently.
    PDC

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  17. Now we're getting silly.

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  18. Un fortunately John it is not as silly as you may think, many vehicles that have stopped on the hard shoulder for whatever reason have been struck by other vehicles, often with fatal consequences.
    PDC

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  19. As a nation it seems we see through glasses made by General Motors. It doesn't take much to take them off for a moment, and what you see is quite awful.

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  20. I cycled home along the A1M one night when I was a student but I was VERY VERY drunk at the time.

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  21. Sadley the words of this judge are only typical of the Government in this country. They will pay lip service to cycling campaigns waged by the CTC, British Cycling, The Times et al while pandering to the transport and motoring lobbies in the country. When all said and done these two lobbies carry a lot of weight politically, no matter which party is in power. I don't recollect seeing a letter from Mr King of the AA condeming the judge's comments.

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  23. I was really sorry to hear about your crash - what a terrible thing to happen to you! I see you haven't updated your blog for a while. Just a little line to say I hope you are feeling better, I know it is horrible when you come off your bike, but I hope you get better soon and start blogging again. You have lots of bloggy followers, and I especially appreciate your legal viewpoint on things. Keep up the good work and hope to read you soon! x

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  24. Hi, I have read the comment above and hope that you are okay as it implies you have had an accident. Anyway, best wishes not least because we need you to keep blogging and to keep fighting for the right of cyclists to be relatively safe on our roads. Get better soon BTW I note it is fashionable in the last day or two to be in a bike accident - Bradley Wiggins and Shane Sutton are sadly keeping you company which only highlights how much more work there is to be done to make the road network safer..

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