A powerful British government committee, responsible for overseeing the work of the Department for Transport (DfT) on cyclist and pedestrian safety in the U.K., has recommended targeting the ‘anti-social behaviour’ of cyclists in its recently published report.
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, made up of a cross-section of Members of Parliament (MPs), on several occasions fell back on their own anecdotal evidence, much of it critical of cyclists, rather than rely on much expert evidence that was put before them. This was aimed at reducing deaths amongst pedestrians and cyclists.
Three of the six MPs present highlighted irresponsible cycling as a big issue. Here are a few examples:
David Curry (Conservative MP for Skipton & Ripon) seemed to veer wildly from the remit of the committee when he asked the DfT witness, ‘Why are cyclists such irresponsible and arrogant road users?’, adding soon after ‘If a cyclist or any driver of a car drove his car like cyclists ride their bikes there would be nobody left on the roads of Great Britain at all.’
The gist of Mr Curry’s questioning soon became clear when he asked directly, ’…can we not make rules which would…actually be a constraint on irresponsible cyclists?’
Curry later suggested to the DfT witness that there should be ‘far more police officers armed with speed guns getting hold of irresponsible cyclists’ to which the witness replied ‘…the police have got a lot of other priorities.’ Curry also described recumbents as ‘flat bikes’ and ‘incredible death traps’.
Geraldine Smith, Labour MP Morecambe & Lunesdale commented: ‘..with irresponsible cycling …there is an attitude where it seems to be dismissed as something trivial’ and later ‘so what are you doing to improve responsible cycling?’
The MPs comments do not correlate with real data on the causes of pedestrian deaths. Statistics have shown that UK cyclists kill around two pedestrians a year, while motor vehicles kill around two a day.
The main findings of the committee, concerned with whether proposed policy measures give value for money, were:
* Priority should be given to road safety campaigns in deprived areas where child casualty rates are greatest
* Speed is a major factor in causing pedestrian and cyclist injuries – chances of survival diminish rapidly at speeds over 20 mph
* There is substantial evidence that fewer deaths and serious injuries would take place if the country put the clocks forward by one hour throughout the year
* The Department for Transport should devise measures to target anti-social behaviour by cyclists. This recommendation seems to come from the Department being “unaware of a strongly held perception that, through the irresponsible behaviour of some cyclists, they are a hazard to themselves and other road users” rather than actual evidence.
Some of these measures are already happening to a greater or lesser degree, such as the implementation of 20 mph speed limits. More radical - but not yet even past the starting gate - is re-examining whether the clocks should change at the end of British Summer Time.
The report summary manages to give the impression that the woes of cyclists are in part self-induced, comment on anti-social cycling being immediately followed by information on an 11 percent rise in cyclists killed or seriously injured since 2004.
What is not mentioned is that the number of ‘billion vehicle kilometres’ cycled over the same period – according to the governments own statistics - has risen by around 12 percent.