Cyclists are getting some bad press in the UK, on account of how we’re all murderous outlaws intent on mowing down pedestrians without a shred of pity. The situation has become so bad that transport secretary Chris Grayling is looking into extending dangerous driving laws to bicycles. That’ll be the Chris Grayling who knocked down a cyclist with his car door and failed to give his details.
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A lot of recent blame lies with this man, Charlie Alliston, who hit and killed a pedestrian crossing the road. His Planet X fixie had no front brake, which is illegal, and Alliston made it clear he felt it was the victim’s fault. The fact he was 18, irritatingly unremorseful and a bit of a hipster with stretched ears and a face piercing was obviously ignored in the pursuit of truth and justice… no, not really. It made him a convenient hate figure.
Obviously, this was a terrible and senseless accident. Alliston claims to have shouted "Get out of the way!" twice, but if he’d had proper brakes he could have pulled them instead of yelling — and Kim Briggs could still be alive. It’s clear evidence, as if it were needed, that riding without brakes because it looks cool is tragically stupid.
What this one sad death is not evidence of is a huge, unacknowledged problem that’s going to kill us all and needs new laws to prevent it, though you wouldn’t know that if you read the news.
More recently a 73-year-old pedestrian was knocked down and killed by a cyclist outside Oxford Street tube station, and the story was given prominent space by the BBC, Sky News, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail and more. You’d be forgiven for thinking this was blowing up as a big, pressing new problem.
Certainly then-transport minister, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, thought so in 2015 when he told the House of Lords that cyclists posed more dangers to commuters than trucks and cars. As this site reported at the time, statistics from his own department show that 19 pedestrians were killed by cyclists between 2010 and 2014, while 1,203 were killed by cars and trucks. The minister felt that '63 times less danger’ was equal to ‘more danger', and in those quaint old days, most people thought that was stupid.
But this is 2017, and we’re all sick of experts, facts and objective reality. Poor Lord Ahmad was simply ahead of his time. So now we can all become hysterical about the killer cyclist plague, even as we wail about the missing Big Ben bongs, because lord knows there’s nothing else to worry about, such as Brexit (which is going really splendidly, thanks for asking, even though it makes you unpatriotic). Or thermonuclear war. Or terrorism. Or climate change. Or the rise of far-right hate groups.
Distractions are the answer. Nice simple ones. Happily, the Killer Cyclist Problem is super-easy to solve, simply by showing even less respect for riders’ lives when you’re driving, because now you have the moral right. Cyclists?! Psychos, more like! Screw them.
Not that those other problems need solving, of course, because they don’t exist.
Demonising cycling purely to sell papers — especially now, with pollution, climate change and congestion problems rapidly heading towards breaking point — is short-sighted, irresponsible and dumb.
Charity organisation Cycling UK had a go at rehabilitating bikes a few weeks back, placing stories about ‘car-dooring’ in papers as big as The Times, The Telegraph and the Evening Standard. Between 2011 and 2015, five UK cyclists were killed by people opening car doors into their path, so it’s a serious thing — even if Chris Grayling doesn’t think so. The charity even told everybody about the Dutch Reach, which is apparently not a sexual thing after all, but what do I know.
None of this is to say that reckless riders shouldn’t be punished. They should. And there are already laws to cover it. Charlie Alliston’s brakeless bike was already illegal, for instance and he’s just been sentenced to 18 months. There’s little point making it more illegal. And if it’s a case of toughening up punishments… well, the law’s not strong on cycling deaths, either. Kill a rider with your car and the maximum fine is £1,000. Meanwhile, the fines for reprogramming a phone SIM are unlimited.
The reality is there’s no huge pattern of deadly cycling, simply because most riders realise they’re far, far more likely to come off worst in any collision. That doesn’t stop a reckless minority, but what will?
Would classifying ‘jogging while fat’ as terrorism have stopped the Pultney Bridge Jogger shoving a pedestrian in front of a bus? Arguably he already knew that things like assault and murder were illegal. He did it anyway. Arguably he was a dick.
But loss is loss. Somebody always argues that even one death from Thing X is too much, and one death justifies even draconian action to prevent further casualties.
Fair enough. Breathe a sigh of relief that this boy was revived, because you nearly just lost the right to eat hot dogs. And in 2014, you actually did lose all moral rights to hold hands with somebody who has scabies, climb a tree, get caught in a thunderstorm or have a bath, after at least one person died doing all of those things. Horrible. I mean, that’s the itinerary for one of the best weekends I ever had.
But wait. We mustn’t lose sight of the the real issue, which is this: finding some nice easy scapegoats to distract people with. Never mind the planet heating up so fast that the coming nuclear war will actually cool it down, and never mind the self-inflicted chaos. The real issue is killer cyclists. And clowns! OMG THE KILLER CLOWNS ARE COMING TOO!