At the end of a major road safety operation in London, the debate on how we tackle the daily hazards we all face on the roads, and in many cases what is the cause of road accidents, is coming up with all the wrong solutions.

Among the clamour, the Daily Mail seems to be seizing every opportunity to blame cyclists for their own injuries and deaths, through jumping red lights, riding on pavements, etc., etc.

In its latest attempt at stirring up animosity against cyclists, the Mail lists the number of cyclists fined for cycling on pavements and jumping red lights at the top of an article (from an FOI request) along with last year’s London cycling deaths. The implication is the two are linked.

The Mail then chucks a few terrorism terms at those who ride their bikes to work, saying among them are ‘extremists’, ‘hard-line militants’ and ‘fundamentalists’.

The idea cyclists are some sort of commuting suicide bombers, intent only on annoying other people and, ideally, killing ourselves on our ways to work may be yet another depressing attempt at headline grabbing, but to a greater or lesser extent the sentiment is widely shared. The latest to join in is an equally ill-informed Birmingham MEP who wants cyclists registered and wearing hi-vis ‘to increase accountability’ for running red lights and ‘putting pedestrians in danger’.

Accountability for what, though? According to CTC between 2003-2012, 23 pedestrians were killed by a bicycle and 585 seriously injured. In that time 3,330 pedestrians were killed by cars and 46,081 seriously injured by them.

What’s more, risky cycling, non-wearing of hi-vis, etc. is the cause of only 2% of collisions where the cyclist is seriously injured.

Almost two thirds of incidents where cyclists are killed or seriously injured occur at junctions, and in almost 60% of cases drivers failing to look properly was a key contributory factor.

Now to red light jumping. In only 1% of incidents involving pedal cycles red light jumping was a contributory factor – about the same percentage as for cars. Of course that’s not to excuse doing it.

Just to highlight that this is a human problem, not one related to those on two wheels alone: during Operation Safeway 1,113 FPNs/reports for summons were issued to motorists for red light jumping, 1,277 for cyclists. Some claim police targeted cyclists under the same misconceptions that they were the ones causing harm, hence the high relative numbers.

Meanwhile the CTC points out that of pedestrians hit on the footway in London 1997-2007 58% were hit by cars/taxis mounting the pavement (37 fatal), 20% by buses (nine fatal) and 2% cycles (none fatal).

Then there’s the lorries – a factor that deserves far more attention than the distractions of red light jumping or pavement cycling. Half the cyclist deaths in London year-on-year are the result of a rider ending up in a lorry’s blind spot.

While police operations to make our roads safer are laudable and overdue, as we’ve learned from London, well-intended safety campaigns can too often fall foul of overemphasising the importance of things like hi-vis, which, research shows, doesn’t protect cyclists from those 1-2% of drivers who will overtake too close regardless of what they wear. This is just the latest in a long line of well-intentioned but ill-informed police advice that lays the responsibility for cyclist safety on those not causing the harm – those on bikes.

While the Met’s successful Operation Safeway targeted dangerous cyclists, motorists and lorries at dangerous junctions, the latest spree in Chichester to target cyclist safety sees police stopping cyclists without lights, issuing fines and then revoking them if cyclists later produce lights.

Cyclists are legally required to use lights at night, but again the evidence is that in only 2% of cases ‘not displaying lights at night’ was a contributory factor in incidents. Again, the focus is on cyclists, and on the cause of a minority of accidents. If we are using our resources to improve safety, why not target the main causes of accidents first?

The focus on cycle safety is welcome – the safer the roads are for those on bikes, the safer they are for everyone. However, it must be done in the right way, targeting those things actually implicated in the majority of accidents, not fringe issues in a group some people happen to find irritating.

Sure, fine cyclists who jump red lights, but please don’t be under any illusion what is causing the harm on our roads.

 

  • Diesel Cummins

    My first clue was “in the Daily Wail”? I read no further!

  • Robert

    Robin, thanks for your comments. Caution always needs to be taken when using terms such as ‘fascist’, not least because it is such a slippery concept to define, but there can be no doubt that the sort of authoritarian mindset which underpins fascism as a political ideology is identical to that which leads to prejudice, hostility to out groups in general (including cyclists) and the whole ‘Daily Mail reader’ perception of the world. In fact, what psychologists would now call the Authoritarian or Hierarchical mindset was originally termed ‘The fascist personality type’. You might also like to search the web for an electronic copy of the book ‘Murder most foul: a study of the road deaths problem’ which was written by a journalist called J.S. Dean and published in 1947. In this Dean highlighted just how closely the fascist mindset mirrored that of those determined to literally ride roughshod over the bodies of those killed in ‘the toll of the roads’ in order to uphold to power of motorists. Well ahead of its time many of Dean’s arguments have subsequently been vindicated by modern research into the psychology of prejudice and hostility to social out groups. This is from Dean’s introduction…………………………”Never before in the history of civilisation has it been so easy to kill and maim without incurring punishment or even censure. Never before in all history has it been a common custom to kill and maim people because they get in your way when you are in a hurry, or even when you are not in a hurry but merely wish to feel you are. It is a fantastic and unprecedented situation; a fit prelude to race extermination and Belsen. Murder, indeed, most foul, strange and unnatural………………………..But there is a further side to the motor slaughter. As will be found below, among the Great Powers, before the war, the worst road records those of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, with Britain third. This is not just another “road accident.” Nor is it an accident that in Fascist ltaly and Nazi Germany leaders of the motor interests were among the most prominent supporters of the regime; that in various’ other countries, including our own, leaders of the motor interests over many years expressed feelings of the most tender regard for Hitler and Mussolini and supported movements that were, or later became, openly Fascist; and that in the invaded countries leaders of the motor interests were among the most ardent collaborators. Nor, finally, are accidents the other close similarities between the motor slaughter and the political activities of Fascism that are noted below. For there is, in fact, a close Parallel between the two and in their respective spheres – on the one hand, the roads, and on the other, politics – a certain similarity in outlook between those engaged in them. Scratch a road hog and you’ll find a Fascist.”

  • Robin

    Robert, that is one of the most outstanding comments on British society I’ve read in the last decade. Britain, quasi-fascist? No, of course not. Well not, at least, if you happen to be one of those in a powerful position, wealthy, upper middle class, property-owning, car driving, and so on…. to the rest of us who struggle relentlessly to get anywhere at all in this society, its rather like drying to batter the castle gate down while being rained on by boiling oil from above. And people wonder why London and other cities exploded the way they did back in 2011. Cyclists of course have to routinely tolerate naked aggression and unthinking attitudes from drivers as a matter of course. That’s not to say they are all like it, only a minority fortunately, but that minority is large enough and vocal enough to make cycling in cities fraught with danger at the best of times. And because the UK is naturally and seemingly eternally structured according to the wishes of motor vehicle drivers, who really gives a monkeys at the end of the day?

  • Robert

    Liam, what you say is along the right lines. What happened was that the first motorists were members of the social elite, and as such were powerful, well connected and determined to protect their interests, whilst those who were run down were overwhelmingly members of what was termed ‘the lower orders’. Consequently, a precedent became established whereby motorists were all but absolved of responsibility for the safety of others, who were told that they simply had to learn to ‘keep out of the way’ of motorists or suffer the consequences. As more and more people gained access to cars such attitudes, originally a product of Britain’s class system, became an entrenched part of how the whole ‘road safety’ debate is viewed, with similar attitudes persisting right up to the present. The determination to protect the interests of higher status individuals against the massed ranks of the ‘lower orders’ worked in other ways too. For example, reading court reports and so forth from the 1920’s and 30’s it appears that many judges and magistrates regarded any demand for ‘Gentlemen motorists’ to be held to account for their actions as being essentially ‘Bolshevik’ in nature, and so treated motoring cases in way that was calculated to do nothing that might undermine the existing hierarchy of power, both on the road and in the wider social sense. One outcome of such attitudes was a tendency of judges to treat drivers with excess leniency, with a ‘Gentleman motorist’ who killed someone often receiving no more than a ten-shilling fine. Conversely a magistrate might well fine a miner caught cycling home without lights £2. Similarly, the motoring press were not slow to portray any attempt to highlight the danger from cars as being part of a ‘class war’ against the rich, as with a 1936 Gaumont public education film called ‘Death on the road’, which the Motor dismissed as being nothing more than “a foul piece of anti-motoring cant calculated to instil class enmity”. (Of course, the well-off running down the children of the poor was not seen as constituting ‘class warfare’…) Orwell once wrote that ‘Britain is the most class-ridden country under the sun’ and not much has changed, other that, perhaps, how ‘class’ is defined. Cyclists of England, know your place, keep ‘out of the way’ when using ‘the motorists’ roads and, as Clarkson put it, ‘when you are cut up, shut up’. Demand change and all this is likely to happen is that the police will open a file on you as a ‘Domestic extremist’ alongside all those from Reclaim the streets, Critical mass and so forth!

  • Robert

    Pete, unfortunately it wasn’t just the Daily Mail that supported fascism in the 1930’s. Even the Mirror ran pro-fascist headlines and Britain’s motoring press practically worshiped Hitler, praising him for his love of motoring speed and for forcing cyclists off the road on to cycle paths ‘only 2 foot wide’. For example, following a ‘fact-finding’ trip to Germany the Motor of June 29, 1937 argued that “Germany to-day is the nearest approach to Utopia, with a single political creed, whole-hearted worship of the Fatherland” concluding, “Germany was a motoring paradise”. Similarly, on July 12, 1938 the editor of the Motor railed against a question that was raised in the Commons regarding a published car test where speeds of 109 Mph were recorded on the public road writing, “If a similar question had been asked in Germany, where they are motor-minded, the questioner by now would have been speeding himself towards a concentration camp.” Many others in Britain at the time also thought that Hitler’s fascism offered the ideal model for the UK and a way to counter such ‘threats’ as socialism and trade unionism, from Admiral Sir Barry Domvile to the publishing magnate Lady Houston, who was a particular fan of Mussolini, personally inviting him to Britain in order to use his castor-oil treatment on British “Reds and Pinks”. Of course, all of this has been pretty much buried now, but the underlying attitudes haven’t changed much, as is evident if you ever read the Daily Mail!

  • Michael

    Surely nobody with half a brain is saying people being killed by lorries are riding on the pavement (you know, that part of the road that lorries don’t drive on)… oh it looks they are.

  • Peter Evans

    Fair enough to have a go at the Mail but it did also run a piece by Jeremy Vine (Mon, Jan 13) on the perils of cycling in London and the dangers and abuse cyclists face.

  • Liam Kellehar

    If you want to understand the British attitude to cyclists. You should bare in mind that you can ride a horse through the Royal Parks but not bike. British cyclists have been traditionally good at a time trials where the cyclist sets off individually rather than in groups of more than three, the traditional minimum number to constitute a riot. That gentlemen ride horses and that the working class ride bikes. The car is the new horse. Enough said.

  • Pete

    In an ideal world the Mail wouldn’t exist. Worth remembering that in the 1930s, the Mail thought Hitler and Mosley were great men. Sadly millions of cretins still read this reactionary rag.

  • Ken Evans

    Daily Mail ! Just about any article on any subject, is full of hate, bile, and ignorance. “News” ! What news-paper ?

  • Robert

    P.s. For a further illustration of how Britain’s underlying political culture influences attitudes to car use and other road users, consider how the dominant ethos in British society has essentially become one of selfishness where the individual is responsible only for themselves and their immediate family. Can’t get a job? Need medical care? “Sorry, you are on your own, or at least will be once we finishing dismantling ‘the welfare state’ and the NHS.” Against such a background it should be no surprise that drivers often fail to drive with due consideration, especially if this means putting the needs of others above their own. Similarly, in a society that seems increasingly dedicated to a so-called ‘libertarian’, minimal government ethos (something that predominantly favours corporations and the elite) can there be any surprise when individuals perceive speed control and driver regulation in general as being symptomatic of ‘Big government’ interference in the ‘rights’ of individuals to act that they think fit?

  • Derek Biggerstaff

    Whenever the truth is convenient you can rely on the police to tell it.

  • Wayne

    While I laud the efforts of policing I think the focus has been completely wrong. Time and time again
    motorist overtake cyclists with no due consideration. Motorist have the attitude that cyclist have no
    right to be on road and media is as much to blame for this. There would also seem to be never any traffic
    enforcement on the roads and officials dont take adequate to address concerns raised by cyclist
    even when presented with evidence video or otherwise.

  • Robert

    Unfortunately, the sort of victim blaming and demonization of cyclists discussed in this story is likely to continue (as it has for at least the last 100 years) as long as Britain remains the hierarchical, authoritarian, inequitable and essentially right wing ‘society’ that it always has been. One dominant characteristic of such societies (to use the term in a very loose sense, after all there is supposed to be ‘no such thing as society’ in the Britain) is a hostility to minorities and low-status ‘out groups’. (For example, the unemployed, single mothers, refugees… and cyclists.) Conversely, everything possible is done to maintain existing hierarchies and power structures to the advantage of the already powerful and privileged (such as motorists) with the hierarchy of the roads being but a mirror of how the wider society operates. Further, no amount of rational argument concerning the relative risks posed by cyclists as opposed to motorists will ever change attitudes, given that prejudice is essentially instinctive, not rational. It is also no surprise that such attitudes should be most strongly expressed in publications such as the Daily Mail, given that its quasi-fascist outlook is the purest expression of the right-wing authoritarianism that forms such a dominant part of British politics and attitudes. It is also no coincidence that the most cycling friendly societies, such as Denmark, have a long history of holding egalitarian values in high regard and protecting the interests of minorities against the ‘mob rule’ of the majority. The very opposite of the UK in fact!

  • glenn mealing

    Been following this. What do you expect from The Daily Mail (owner’s forbear founder was a Nazi, I believe)? Doesn’t this all sound a bit like the early persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany?