For the first time in more than thirty years, I am considering quitting cycling in London. Why? Well the drip, drip, drip effect of depressing news reports has got me thinking, why bother? Is the undoubted joy of being able to make my way quickly and efficiently under my own steam through the city worth the daily disrespect and the lack of legal support that I can expect should I unfortunately need it?
The first story that got me really thinking was the one about the abusive cyclist punched by the Audi driver. It was covered here on road.cc and I knew at once that it would only be a matter of time before Britain’s foremost sensationalist rag, The Daily Mail, would gleefully run the story. Cards on the table, I think the cyclist must be an absolute fool to think that behaviour like that would likely go unpunished in London, but in any case that isn’t what really interests me.
The thing that interests me most is the readers’ comments in response to the article and the amount and ratio of likes to dislikes.
Here is a list of the 10 most ‘popular’ comments:
1 Probably the same cyclist who runs red lights and cycles on footpaths. 7193 Likes 1975 Dislikes
2 The cyclist was provoking him. They think they own the roads. 6364 Likes 1486 Dislikes
3 This is unacceptable but the Cyclist did kind of bring it upon himself by needlessly chasing after the car. 5458 Likes 734 Dislikes
4 Personally i blame the cyclist, he was the one shouting his mouth off and seems a bit too big for his boots, fair play to the audi bloke for showing him the floor. 4862 Likes 1152 Dislikes
5 Towards the end of the video another cyclist goes through a red light. They do seem to think they are a law unto themselves. I'm not saying the car driver is in the right by any means, but................ 3611 Likes 405 Dislikes
6 I'm a cyclist, i ride over 3000 miles a year on the roads of the UK and i'm on the side of the guy in the Audi, red arrow away but it is not the job of a man on a bike to aggressively approach a car, you don't know who was driving, maybe it was a 17 year old girl and the man in the back was her father, no one knows, the cyclist was too aggressive and he is not a police officer, leave policing the roads to the people that are paid to do so or the CCTV controllers. I see people driving like idiots every single day, life is short, let things go. 3401 Likes 299 Dislikes
7 Cyclist = total nightmare....They think they can do whatever! The most annoying people on the road....They put every driver at risk.....99% of the time, it is cyclist fault but in the eyes of the law SADLY it is always the driver fault. In London all cyclist should be banned. They should get penalties, fine, road tax.....TOTAL NUISANCE 2520 Likes 715 Dislikes
8 From what i can see the cyclist deserved it. They are becoming pests on our roads again. Especially with their sad little cameras they wear. Cowards 2212 Likes 656 Dislikes
9 Hope the driver reports the cyclist for starting it all. 1958 Likes 548 Dislikes
10 About time cycles had number plates so those that continually jump red lights can be prosecuted. 1928 LIkes 246 Dislikes
There are many, many more like that from commenters who rather than restrict themselves to comments about the specific incident, they have seized the opportunity to damn all cyclists as red light jumping, tax dodging pests. There exists an overwhelmingly depressing consensus.
Now it is tempting to write these comments off as just the sort of thing one would expect from readers of the Daily Mail but it is apparently Britain’s most visited newspaper website. In any case as a regular London cyclist, I see no reason to dismiss these views as being unrepresentative of Britain’s general attitude.
Some might say, “Who cares? It is a free country and people can think what they like of us.”, except of course that the consequences of this hostility are far reaching and potentially devastating for cyclists and their families. This brings me to news story No. 2:
“Lorry driver who crushed Boris Bike rider fined £620”
Now the details of how the collision actually occurred are not clear but reading between the lines from the 9 point penalty on the licence (the maximum possible for this offence), the fine (3 times the average), that the level of ‘carelessness’ was adjudged to be right on the limit of being classified ‘dangerous’. To support that view, the driver was originally arrested on suspicion for dangerous driving and to make matters worse the driver was also found guilty of operating a vehicle in a dangerous condition. If you were trying to build a strong case for the more serious charge, this lorry driver has provided plenty of ammunition. So why did the CPS back down?
I am speculating that pressing for the less serious charge meant that the offence would be tried in a Magistrate’s Court and there would therefore be a much better chance of securing a conviction without a jury. The more serious charge of causing serious injury by dangerous driving would most likely be heard at Crown Court in a trial by jury, probably ending in a mindboggling failure to convict if these recent examples are anything like typical:
“Minibus driver cleared over Southampton cyclist death”
“Lorry driver in Mary Bowers case receives ‘insulting’ £2,700 fine for careless driving”
“Sam Harding bicycle death: Kenan Aydogdu cleared of manslaughter”
As Roger Geffen, Campaigns Director of CTC says:
... the apparent reluctance of juries to convict for “dangerous” offences makes the CPS reluctant even to attempt to prosecute them, particularly where the driver is willing to plead guilty to a lesser “careless” offence. And the upshot is that driving which has caused obviously foreseeable “danger” is routinely dismissed as mere “carelessness”, with derisory penalties being the all-too-common result.
Which brings us full circle back to the Daily Mail and its ‘lovely’ readers or to put it another way, the likely jury in the trial of the absent minded goon that put you in a wheelchair for the rest of your life. If attitudes like the ones cited above are representative of the public as a whole ... well it only takes three people like that out of 12 on a jury and your case is fucked.
I cannot say that I blame the police, the CPS, or MPs for this state of affairs. If juries will almost invariably side with motorists and not convict, it doesn’t matter what laws you pass, how thoroughly you investigate and how stinging you make the penalties. At face value, if the CPS are unable to secure convictions in trials by jury like the three cited above where the evidence would seem to be very strong, I don’t blame them for not continuing to waste public money trying to prosecute unless it can be verified by multiple independent witnesses that the driver was drunk, drugged, blindfolded and having sex at the wheel at the time of the collision with the cyclist ... and even then I imagine some of the Daily Mail readers will find a way to decide that somehow it was the cyclist's fault.
Should I feel safe sharing the roads with the majority of other road users who seem to regard me as a ‘pest’, a ‘nuisance’, a ‘law unto myself’, a ‘nightmare’? Should I have any confidence in receiving justice if I happen to find myself a victim of a careless or dangerous driver?
It seems to me that it doesn’t matter a jot whether the public’s perception of cycling and cyclists is wildly inaccurate, spot on or more likely somewhere in between, we should be thinking about what we can do as individuals and collectively to promote understanding and improve our relationship with other road users because the current level of hostility is toxic. If we do nothing or are unsuccessful, expect plenty more where this 'gem' came from today:
So what are we going to do about it?