It was with some trepidation that I watched this Leopard films production last night. Thank heavens for Michael Hutchinson on the Today programme this morning. It is a great shame that he was not on last night's film to explain rather better certain aspects of cycling to a largely non-cycling public.
The shots from helmet camera cyclists has been done before (and I think rather better) on the BBC's One Show back in February 2011, without the false 'them and us' dichotomy which the programme makers took care to emphasise by, for example, filming all cyclists in cycling jerseys.
The positive side of the programme was the portrayal of the courageous way in which Cynthia Barlow, Chair of Roadpeace has worked tirelessly for the last 10 years, since the tragic death of her daughter, first to find out what happened to her and second to minimise the risk that the same happens to others. The work done by her and also Kate Cairns (similarly affected by tragedy) and others would have made great television.
'War on Britain's Roads' has had a gestation longer than an elephant's. I was approached by Leopard Films some 18 months ago and certainly got the impression then that the planned show would be more focussed on road safety. It is almost as though someone has looked at a proposed script at some stage and required it to be spiced up with a lot more focus on the trading of insults. Since happily no punches were thrown, I do not care what happened after the black taxi driver who had cut up a cyclist had stopped and I care nothing for his acknowledgement in subsequent interview that he had overreacted. Having tracked him down I would have liked the filmmakers to ask why he apparently makes a habit of passing cyclists with inches to spare and whether he has any familiarity with rule 163 of the Highway Code. Above all I would like to know whether he acknowledges that even if, by some good fortune, he has yet to run into a cyclist, his behaviour contributes to intimidating would be cyclists off the road. The unfortunate fact is that it suited the program's thesis better to portray the taxidriver and cyclist as two sides of a coin whilst both were standing on tarmac having a row, rather than beforehand when the driver was driving a substantial vehicle badly around vulnerable roadusers and the cyclist was not presenting any danger to anybody.
Sadly many people will take from this programme whatever they like to reinforce their own existing prejudices. My own view is that one group that come over badly are the Police, and particularly the Metropolitan Police.
-Why did Cynthia Barlow have to spend her money on a private investigator to find out what happened to her daughter?
-With all the clips of bad driving shown on that film, why is that only one has resulted in prosecution (and no, the one was not the dreadful tanker on the roundabout)? The black cab driver referred to above was guilty of driving without due care and consideration when he passed cyclists who had nothing to do with his subsequent confrontation. As it is he is left still believing that his driving is acceptable.
- Why did the police not investigate the Bexley assault properly, leaving it to the victims to identify the assailant?
- Why did the Cycle Task Force officer depicted (the one who did not hesitate to thread through a junction against a red light to catch an errant cyclist) allow a taxi driver, who had intimidated a variety of cyclists and passed close enough to have his cab bashed, on his way with reassurance he had done nothing wrong? (I thought the deferential tone adopted with the driver in contrast to the silly patronising 'get a whistle' tone he adopted with the cyclist spoke volumes). Unfortunately, as Sgt Castle of the Task Force explained to me when I met them, they do not believe in taking motorists up on close passes because they regard it as 'too subjective'.
There is no 'war' on the roads in the conventional sense or in the sense that the programme implied, with two sides fighting it out. The death and destruction is all on one side. We do not need 'peacekeepers' to keep the two sides apart. There is however a battle in getting the authorities (who after all encourage us onto two wheels) to do sufficient for our protection. Cycling is reasonably safe but it has an image problem and is often not perceived as safe. I have recently completed my submission to the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group and have tried to emphasise that there should be a very low level of tolerance towards those who harm, endanger or threaten vulnerable road users.