This week 2,500 Metropolitan Police officers will be deployed to London streets in an ‘intensive’ effort, according to its Safer Transport Command, to ‘reduce the appalling number of people who die or are injured on London’s roads each year’.

Following a series of cyclist fatalities in London – all involving HGVs, buses or coaches – 650 officers will be posted at busy London junctions dealing with anyone they see breaking the law. Leaflets will be handed out with fixed penalty notices, a mixture of enforcement and education.

It’s about time. Anyone who walks or cycles in London (indeed across the UK) will tell you their day to day experience on our roads is made to feel dangerous by the actions of the few who don’t seem to care if they hit someone.

Although many drivers behave safely on the roads, some simply do not know how to manoeuvre around cyclists: too many overtake too closely, and, because they don’t understand why cyclists ride assertively, attempt to intimidate those who take primary position, interpreting it as arrogance or deliberate obstruction of their vehicles. Some prefer to overtake even when it’s not safe to do so.

That’s before we get to those breaking the law: those who speed, skip red lights and drive while texting or phoning. According to London’s Green Party leader, Jenny Jones, who calls our roads ‘lawless’, there are an average of 62 hit and runs a week in London, a city where half of drivers with 12 points on their licences are still allowed to drive.

The problem is perhaps one of attitude, not just of individuals but of society as a whole. We see driving as a right, rather than a privilege: we won’t even take away drivers’ licences when they repeatedly break the law.

Our infrastructure is also weighted in favour of the least vulnerable, the motorist, from the road layout, designed to move as much traffic as possible in a short time, to the fact too few resources are invested in policing those roads.

A long-term downward trend of traffic policing (with an average of 13 per cent policing reduction in five years across Britain) has left us with this situation where one can drive or ride dangerously with virtual impunity. That includes some dangerous cyclists. The mantra for a few is: “those with the most to lose had better get out of the way”.

Last week a PCSO told me that even in his hi-viz uniform drivers overtake him too closely at speed, and that he was nearly knocked off by a van driver recently, which sped up when he tried to turn right.

It is not just private cars creating hazards: every day someone is killed or injured by London buses, and, though many have very high safety standards, some lorry operators still don’t invest in decent training for their drivers, while allowing them to drive illegally dangerous lorries for illegally long periods of time.

The fact is we are not going to get radical redesign of our roads overnight. While we are waiting for our streets to become cycle friendly we can at least learn how to share those streets as safely as possible, and deal with those who refuse to do so. Now it is time for the rest of the UK to follow suit.

Related links

London cycling in crisis: Now is the time for change

Cyclist dies after incident involving lorry in London

  • Samuel Gee

    Terry’s comments made me smile. Everyone passes the cycling proficiency test. Some of it is better than nothing for kids, some of it though is very dubious indeed bordering on dangerous for modern roads. My kids did it. The eldest about six years back. There are some very dodgy instructors who don’t seem to know one end of a bike from another. The lady instructor told him his saddle was too high and that he needed to have both feet flat on the ground whilst still in the saddle to be safe or the bike would fall over. Absolutely bonkers. Likewise his giving a parked car a wide berth was deemed dangerous despite the Highway code advice to do just that. When he mentioned he always stayed out of the door zone like his Dad said to she asked what the door zone was.

    Most adult cyclists are also drivers. I am, every adult cyclist I know is. The big experience gap comes not from adult cyclists who have experience of both cycling and driving but from motorists who don’t also cycle.

    There is a myth extant that it’s cyclists that don’t know the highway code or the rules of the road. But since most adult cyclists are also motorists they are at least as knowledgeable as the average motorists and I would say more experienced road users.

    You only need to hear the crazy interpretations of the Highway code that some motorists have to know that they have never even read the sections on cycling or dealing with cyclists. I was told that I must always ride inside the white line at the side of the road by one twit that wound down his window to remonstrate “It’s in the highway code” he shouted.

    The Highway code has become a bad drivers mantra. When I take the car to work I watch, speeding, tailgaiting, lack of indication, cars pulling out in front of traffic, drivers forcing their cars into traffic queues, cars crossing double white lines or finishing off overtaking in a solid boundary hash zone. I can see that every day of the week as regular as clock work. Bad drivers citing the highway code at cyclists is a bit of joke really. It’s a joke because most of them don’t know it anyway, especially the bits about cycling and the vast majority don’t obey it whether they know it or not.

    Here’s an indication of the issue at hand. Last week, or maybe the week before, a study found that the timings on pedestrian crossing lights that were set in a different and more courteous era based on the walking speed of the average post war pedestrian were out of date. Many more older people and the increased mobility of disabled people coupled with more aggressive driving culture meant that some older people were only half way across when the green man disappeared and the amber lights started flashing to let motorists proceed if clear. The study recommended that on average 3 secs should be added to the green man lumination.

    Up pops the AA to say that this would slow traffic down and frustrate drivers. That, in a nutshell is the driving culture you are up against in the UK when even 3 secs extra is too much to ask the motorist to give to save the old dear worrying she’ll be run over. And all so that the motorist can speed along to join the back of the stationary traffic without frustration.

    But your comments did amuse me Terry.

  • Adrian

    “ALL vehicle drivers must take bike awareness training then maybe we might see some improvements.”
    I think that would have a much more significant impact on safety than compulsory cycling proficiency, seeing as a larger fraction of deaths & serious injuries are caused by motorists. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/cyclesafety/article3758677.ece

  • Terry

    As a cyclist of some 50+years and having passed the Cycling Proficiency Test back in the 50′s, I believe ALL cyclists should undergo compulsory training in the current traffic conditions, just as motorcyclists have to pass their CBT.
    By the same token ALL vehicle drivers must take bike awareness training then maybe we might see some improvements. I’m not holding my breath as many cyclists still undertake in traffic queues and ignore basic traffic regulations.