That it has come to this

'Just riding to the shop for a paper, dear'

At half past one this morning, I finally finished the rough draft minutes for the start-up meeting for the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. Please feel free to peruse/comment/laugh at them. When you’ve had your fill and informed me of any additions or omissions, I shall be turning it into a formal document (maybe with some pictures if you’re lucky). I haven’t included any snide comments or backchat implying that I drew anyone to the meeting under the false pretence of free Fererro Rocher.

Anyway, I had no idea this week was ‘Culture of Fear Week’.

On Tuesday, BBC Breakfast decided to run a feature on the use of cycle helmets to secure convictions.

‘Ben Porter, a stagehand from London, bought a camera to show incredulous friends and family just how dangerous his daily commute could be.

Like many others, he uploaded clips of the worst driving onto YouTube and would discuss them on cycling forums like CycleChat.

For most cyclists, “naming and shaming” drivers is as far as it goes. But Ben decided to take things further after one van driver overtook him too close and then jumped out to confront him, shouting abuse.

“I think he wanted to teach me a lesson. It wasn’t very nice, but he didn’t notice the camera,” he said.’

This may have been prompted by the story of Martin Porter QC, Barrister and writer of the sublime Cycling Lawyer blog

From the BBC Website

Martin Porter, 48, of Sunningdale, has been knocked off his bicycle and has had drivers threaten to kill him.

He says he is collecting evidence of serious incidents to hand to police.

He said: “Earlier on this year I had a man in a car force me to the side of the road and threaten to follow me home and burn my house down.”

Firstly I would like to say that I have nothing against helmet mounted cameras or people who use them. Cases like these are not everyday occurances, it must be said. I commute 24 miles a day with not much in the way of incident (touch wood). In both instances, they have publically highlighted not only the abuse and dangerous standards of driving that many cyclists have to face day-to-day, but also the ridiculous lengths people have to go to to get a whiff of justice. I urge you to read Martin Porters account (and indeed the rest of his blog) as he writes far better than I.

I simply find it very sad that we have arrived at a point where people have felt compelled to go to these lengths just because they choose to ride a bicycle for their commute. If grown men feel that they not only have to armour themselves with a helmet but put surveillance measures on it too, then what hope is there for our nations children that would like to cycle to school?

It would appear that Northern Ireland are also keen to follow Jerseys lead and let the Culture of Fear prevail by trying to make helmet wearing compulsary. I find it incredibly perverse that despite all the troubles that the Province has faced up to, the powers that be maintain the fearmongering by making all bicycle riders wear protective headgear for getting to the shops, work and school without looking at the bigger picture. It disregards the motorists duty of responsibility to vulnerable road users and will of course have a negative effect on cycling numbers – like everywhere else it’s been implemented.

Although I am staunchly pro-choice, to me a helmet already makes cycling look like an alien activity and a camera, to me, distances cycling even further from the everyday activity that it should be.  As I’ve written before, if we honestly believe that putting protective clothing such as helmets or high-viz tabards on people should be considered the best way forward for something as simple as riding a bicycle then we have collectively failed; The Government has consistently failed to deliver on sustainable transport policy, Local Councils have consistently failed by installing infrastructure that is always a poorly designed, dangerous insult to cycling, Highways Authorities have consistently failed by upgrading main roads to the point that they become effectively unusable for cyclists and pedestrians whilst providing no decent alternative, Road Safety experts have consistently failed to address what the real issues are regarding road safety, motorists have failed with their scant regard for other road users in the self-important delusion that they own the roads, cycle campaigners and campaign groups have all consistently failed by entering a protracted dog fight that is ultimately doomed to failure. The ‘War on the Motorist’ is already over without a meaningful shot being fired and yet still produces thousands of dead and injured each year. As I look at an AA road atlas, I still note that one can drive to all points of the British Isles without let or hindrance. Cycling to all points is a different matter.

Another treat, launched this week to increase society’s sense of fear was a website pinpointing where crimes are being committed in your area (I tried to look up Midsomer but the place doesn’t exist apparently).

As stated earlier, these are very sad days indeed where, despite being rare incidences, people are facing abuse and intimidation on the roads to the point that they are compelled to wear protective clothing and cameras. Where the act of doing something so deliciously simple is made to look complex to the point of an extreme sport, just to pop out to change a library book or buy a pint of milk. Where people have to check a website to see what crime is occurring around them thereby increasing their sense of fear and keeping them behind locked house and car doors as opposed to getting out on foot or by bicycle and actually being a part of the community and realising that it’s not all bad.

The answer really is as easy as riding a bicycle and providing the infrastructure for the general public to do it.

I’m just glad all this didn’t happen during Bike Week.

19 thoughts on “That it has come to this”

  1. The Northern Ireland helmet decision is even more objectionable in the light of very recent history.

    In a bleak twist, it comes barely a week after the driver found guilty of killing the cyclist David McCall by dangerous driving, near Belfast Airport, had his conviction quashed, on the grounds that the option of conviction on the charge of causing death by careless driving had not been put to the jury.

    “Gerard Croome was sentenced to five years in jail in March last year for causing death by dangerous driving. Croome claimed at his trial that he was rushing to catch a plane and that Mr McCall who was taking part in a road race at the time had swerved to avoid a small dog and in to Croome’s path causing the collision.

    David McCall’s bicycle was broken in to two pieces by the force of the impact and the rider himself thrown in to the air and fatally injured. Croome was said by witnesses to have been driving aggresively at the time of the incident – he did not stop at the scene but did return a short time later.”

    McCall was wearing a helmet.

    Setting aside the lunacy of even considering whether rushing for a plane and killing someone through negligence is merely careless, rather than reckless or dangerous, it is a bizarre world indeed that, with these kinds of cases continually appearing in the news, the main priority seems to be getting cyclists to armour up, instead of addressing the actual causes of their lack of safety.

  2. I do the “cam” thing sometimes. It can be quite fun… at least untill you get attacked… 😉

    I have wanted to be able to have a head cam for years but it’s only recently that they have become small and cheap enough to be practicle for me. You are right that it’s a chilling judgment on the state of play that anyone would feel they need this. Having said that, it is by bringing this stuff out into the light that we can start to change it. There is also a liability issue in that the cam helps when it is your word against theirs in a prang. Proffesional drivers very often have the same systems fitted to their vehicles. Strict liability would help with this of course but a wider acceptance of cyclists would help more.

    The punch (?) line to that BBC story is that the van driver only got a fine. Only a fine for a clear road rage assult. The police/CPS are not doing a good job for cyclists and that needs to change NOW.

    1. Just a point of information – the van driver’s conviction was for driving without due care and attention, and not for the assault. Or the alleged assault, depending upon how legalistic we wish to be.

      1. Thanks for the correction. I stupidly assumed that there was a charge of some sort of assault, can’t imagine why that would be.

        Doesn’t that just say it all though? The van driver passes him before the bend where he squeezes him. The guy probably saw him before he passed. That’s careless. But then the cyclist gets ahead and is clearly in the middle of the lane and in front of the van having just done some shouting too. Van man does it again. In my opinion, that is dangerous as there is an intent there. He knew exactly what he was doing as he MUST have been aware of the cyclist by then. Once he is out of the van it’s hard to see if he hits the rider but it’s threatening behavior at least.

        “driving without due care and attention” is the very least that could have happened and i’m sure the idiotic and aggressive driver considers the fine worth the bragging rights.

        Legal system….Fail!

  3. It’s sad that that we should need personal cctv cameras. This cannot be the way forward.

    And all this with our national policy background of “we want more people to travel by bicycle” but then going on curing the symptom not the cause. A paradigm shift away from nanny into the lap of common sense is badly needed.

    Simply because

  4. Yet again, sadly, people find themselves in a situation where they have to fight like mad to get any common sense applied to motor-traffic-related acts of aggression. Threatened with a shot-gun or baseball bat?: no problem getting support from the legal system. Threatened with a motor vehicle?: forget the legal system being interested at all.

    It’s a catch-22:

    If people wanting to use bicycles as transport say “we need safer roads, look at the evidence of how dangerous they are: build Dutch-style cycle facilities now!! Give us more protection from motorists!!” – the opposition pounce and say “no-one should be cycling, it’s clearly too dangerous”. This is, roughly speaking, the Embassy’s message.

    But if people who use bicycles say “Come on everyone, cycling is fun, healthy and safe! You only need a bit of training, and you can ride on the roads.” – the opposition pounce and say “No need to build decent facilities then!”. This is, roughly speaking, the CTC’s message.

    Of course the truth is more complicated: cycling is intrinsically safe, healthy and fun. It is _currently_ a little bit risky in the UK, but only because of the threat from motor vehicles. So both messages (“Cyclists need more safety” and “Cycling is safe”) are in fact correct.

    I, personally, think that Joe Public already thinks that cycling is one of the most dangerous things you can do in life. Helmets, Hi-viz, and video evidence on YouTube almost certainly helps to re-inforce this attitude. But I think that attitude is already there: these things don’t change the minds of people who don’t ride bikes much.

    The Good Thing about this is that cyclist safety is at least being discussed on national news, instead of being completely ignored. This will only increase as more people turn to cycling as a mode of transport, as they surely must do in future.

    The Challenge for the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is to find a way to get these two seemingly-conflicting messages across to the general public (and hopefully our car-focussed leaders, too!).

  5. I think it should be pointed out that these incidents are the exeption not the rule. I have been riding in London for nearly 30 years and can honestly say it has been a pleasure… mostly. Bad things happen when you drive/walk or whatever too. Collecting them on video/youtube tends to make it look worse then it really is.

    I use my cam for fun too…

    @Anthony Cartmell

    I don’t really see the two views you are presenting as opposed. They work at different levels so don’t conflict. Let’s learn to use the roads, which as you say are actually quite safe to use AND let’s push together for our fair share(or more) of the space on those roads in terms of infrastructure too. There are never going to be lanes absolutly everywhere but we need much more to encourage a mass takeup. Let’s do stuff for those who already ride or are nearly ready to ride AND for those who need a bit more help. It’s all good.

    There are people who will always oppose any cycling measures… I think it’s a historical thing. They will use any pretext so there is no point worrying about those regressive types.

    1. @Londonneur: No, they aren’t opposed, that’s my point. We can see that the two views are different, but the Daily Mail and the BBC (for example), and hence the general population, don’t understand that. I don’t think.

      We need to find a sound-bite that says “Cycling is fun and healthy and intrinsically good for both individuals and society, but is currently more risky than it needs to be because of motor vehicles and their lack of respect and understanding of cyclists needs.” without being interpreted as “cycling is dangerous”.

      1. Very true…

        I think the soundbite will be worked out by the agency who are paid to do it once the government decides to follow it’s own advisers. They well know what has to be done and now. They have known for ages but no one in wesminster can remember where the testicle is kept.



        Maby it’s not a soundbite. Maybe it’s an image…

  6. I agree with the sentiment that we shouldn’t /have/ to wear helmets, or reflective tabbards.

    But, y’know what? The shit I put up with every day doing a school run of a scant 3 miles makes me /want/ to wear them.

    Apparently I’m invisible. And yes, I do ‘take the lane’.

    What next? A flashing light on top of the helmet? Hang on, I saw a chap cycling exactly like that this week…

    1. @Ken: you might find it useful to read up on Risk Compensation, particularly the research by John Adams. A car driver is much less likely to take care passing you if you seem to be nice and safe: they’ll take much more notice if you seem to be taking risks – so try leaving off the helmet and reflective clothing, and ride in dark clothing with random wobbles so you look more unstable. Your actual vulnerability will be unchanged, but your apparent vulnerability will be much greater – just what’s needed.

      If you were invisible, you’d have been hit by now. You’re not invisible, you’re just not worthy of much attention and care, quite possibly because you’re just another well-protected cyclist (people generally believe that helmets are useful in bicycle-car collisions).

      There is is research evidence that shows that wearing a helmet and being male results in cars passing significantly closer than if you don’t wear a helmet and look female. Clearly the passing distance is controlled to a significant extent by how you look.

      We find that having our 5-year-old children on trailer bikes results in a little more respect from cars, but the most effective is to ride something unusual like a tricycle or recumbent. The difference is quite amazing and unbelievable until you’ve actually experienced it.

      1. Depends – about a week ago a Kingsmill lorry driver bumped me just because I was male and had long hair. He swerved into my path three times in as many minutes between Kings Road and Victoria Street, with the passing shot of “Get you hair cut”. He actually said three times as much as that, but just because he uttered those words, doesn’t mean I’m going to type them…

      2. @Sheidan: Yes, risk compensation doesn’t work if the motor vehicle driver is intentionally putting you at risk, only if they’re trying to be nice.

        I hope you reported this to the Police, and, so that this illegal aggression is recorded.

        It’s also well worth politely reporting dangerous lorry driving to the company that owns it: Kingsmill management would be horrified to hear about this, and the driver would get a good talking to, if he was lucky enough not to lose his job.

  7. @Anthony, thanks for the advice – but I am a experienced cyclist, reckon on over 25 years in the saddle, on roads. I have tried all the options, believe me.

    I’ve seen all the reports about motorists driving closer to helmeted riders, but the evidence is scarcely apparent. Both sides of the argument have been known to flex the stats.

    Plus, you assume I haven’t been hit, yet I never touched upon that subject at all.

    On two occasions I have been glad of the crash helmet, it /has/ come into play and saved me from potentially lethal head injuries. Having said that, I’m all for *choice *.

    1. @Ken. I too am an experienced cyclist, with a good 25 years of experience, starting in my late teens in Scotland doing weekend tours on a Raleigh roadster with Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub gear 🙂 Before I started working from home I cycled 5,000 miles per year on urban and dual-carriageway roads, and I have done many Audax long-distance rides up to 600km in length.

      Cycling is not dangerous enough to warrant protective headgear. Cycling in motor traffic is most certainly dangerous, but a polystyrene hat is no use against a tonne-and-a-half of steel and glass. Much more effective to remove some of the danger (speed reduction) than to try to protect yourself against it.

      Sorry, I perhaps rashly assumed you hadn’t been hit by a fast-moving car as you appear to be still alive!

      I agree that the argument that motorists pass helmetted cyclists with less space than non-helmetted cyclists is a weak one. The research was however statistically significant, and, given the choice, I’d rather motorists gave me more room rather than less. for the summary and raw data.

      If you avoid the twisted statistics, and look merely at facts, then you’ll see what a cycle helmet is physically capable of protecting against. A good readable summary of the facts was written by a helmet testing laboratory for the CTC magazine. The testing laboratory knows all there is to know about helmet protection levels: and are two very useful resources for anyone wanting to make an informed decision.

  8. @Anthony All good, the only comment I’d like to add is that I would never advise that helmets are of any use against a vehicle. They are useful, however, in terms of hitting the tarmac, admittedly at speed of 10mph or less.

    On the road, I’ll take those few extra percentage points. Belts n braces 😉

    I’m not sure the public perception of helmets is that they protect against a vehicle hitting your head, but if that’s the case then the fight should be against that distortion of the facts, not against the actual wearing of the helmet.

    In the final analysis, the Brit view that we should have fluorescent jackets and helmets goes hand in hand with British vehicle density, and attitude toward cyclists. The European model is to be lauded, but I think I’d rather get the ball rolling with better motorist habits, than having to give up safety equipment in a soft attempt to change perceptions.

    More police please, more enforcement. Likely? Nope.
    (I’m depressing myself now…)

  9. @Anthony …back to that point you make about trailers. That certainly is true, when I had even an empty child seat on the back I noted more cars that held back and gave me the benefit of the doubt.

    Our tandem with child stoker has a similar effect.

    Perhaps we should start a business selling lightweight child dummies for these seats, which could double as drinks coolers? 😉

  10. Certainly the public think helmets protect against collisions with cars, that’s part of the whole problem of bicycle helmet wearing. Not only does it make cycling look particularly dangerous, putting most ordinary people off, but the reason most people wear a helmet is almost always “because of the danger from car traffic”. We often have people saying “shouldn’t you be wearing a helmet in today’s traffic?”. Of course people have been cycling without helmets for over a century, without any major impact on society.

    My family don’t wear polystyrene hats, because having looked at the facts we think that (a) there is almost no point from a protection point of view, (b) these hats certainly make it more likely you’ll hit your head (inside the helmet) because it’s bigger, and (c) because of the risks of diffuse brain injury (MUCH nastier than direct impact injuries) and neck injury. I also think it’s useful for my growing children to instinctively protect their heads from impact when they fall over: and not to rely on padding which they don’t always wear.

    Motorcycle helmets take rotation problems into account, which is why they’re smooth, should never have stickers added, and are called “skid lids”. They also extend down to the shoulders in most cases, to protect the neck. Cycle helmets on the other hand are soft and riddled with holes, making a sharp head rotation on impact extremely likely.

    But, getting back to the original point, cycle “helmets” are, in my opinion, a dangerous red herring in the road safety debate. We can never protect cyclists from being hit cars, we have to either reduce the danger from cars significantly (so you’re no longer likely to be killed if hit by one: i.e. 20mph limits) or provide segregated facilities for cyclists so they don’t have to mix with cars.

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