Are bad drivers using ‘stay back’ stickers as an excuse?

Stories emerge of bus drivers treating cyclists as second class road users

by John Stevenson   June 9, 2014  

Cyclists stay back sticker (CC licensed image by happy days photos and art:Flickr)

Transport for London (TfL) says it has no evidence that its ‘Cyclists stay back’ stickers encourage the mistreatment of cyclists on the roads of the capital. But it has emerged that in at least two incidents drivers seem to have been influenced by the stickers to treat cyclists as if they have no right to be on the road.

In a letter to Leon Daniels, TfL’s managing director of surface transport, obtained by Dr Robert Davis of the Road Danger Reduction Forum, Rob Sowerby details two incidents where drivers of buses appeared to have deliberately blocked him, and then justified it by saying he had no right to be there.

Passengers shout at driver

In the first incident, Sowerby, who describes himself as “Cyclist, Motorist, Pedestrian” and “an everyday cyclist who cycles a Brompton in normal work attire”, says a bus driver deliberately pulled left across him and when he protested told him to “stay back.”

Sowerby wrote: “I was cycling through the new Euston Circus interchange and down Gower Street at a good speed when a bus which was progressively attempting to overtake me pulled sharply to the left with the sole aim of intimidating me into jamming my brakes on. I was halfway down the length of the bus.

“This action was repeated until I had a hand on the side of the bus and was on the point of jumping off my bike as I was being squashed against the curb.

“I bashed on the side of the bus and passengers shouted at the driver to stop. When he did I told him what he had done and he tacitly agreed as his sole response was that I ‘stay back’. I took his picture and at that point he got out of the cab and threatened me both physically and with the police.

“His whole attitude stank from beginning to end and I believe that much of it stems from the indiscriminate use of these signs on the back of buses.”

A right to pull  in on cyclists?

Sowerby criticises Transport for London for promoting use of the stickers which he says, imply that it’s up to cyclists to avoid unsafe practice; suggest that at all times it is unsafe to cycle alongside a bus when many times it is perfectly safe to do so; and lead bus drivers to believe “that they have ‘a right’ to squeeze any cyclist the find to their left when pulling in regardless of the fact that the cyclist was been overtaken and not the bus being undertaken.”

In another incident, Sowerby was riding on Oxford Street when a bus drier pulled left to stop him filtering and then told him he was “not allowed” to ride down the inside of the bus.

“Not allowed” to ride down inside of bus

He wrote: “I was slowly filtering on both sides of stationary traffic. I filtered down the inside of a bus about 100 yards before Oxford Circus going west but absolutely nowhere near a bus stop or any other reason for a left turn manoeuvre.

“As you are aware the speeds possible on Oxford Street are dictated more by the problem of errant pedestrians than anything else so I am going at walking pace. The bus driver … decided he didn’t like it and pulled the bus over to the left as I was cycling along.

“Note I know this because I was watching him in his mirror and the act was one of pure aggression and passive violence.

“I walked down the pavement after being left with less than an inch of road to cycle on. I confronted the driver and his simple response was that I was ‘not allowed’ to cycle down the inside of his bus.

“I suggested that firstly this was not true (and incidentally would invalidate 90% of the inadequate cycling infrastructure in the United Kingdom) and secondly even if it was that his act was dangerous and could have led to injury.

“He was adamant that cyclists must stay back and he was ‘within his rights’ to stop me from filtering by whatever means. I can think of no other reasoning for this attitude but for the new signage on buses.”

Echoing points made by campaign groups such as CTC, London Cycling Campaign and Road Danger Reduction Forum, Sowerby said out that a “new attitude is being bred in the bus depots as a result of the misuse of the signage that I believe was intended for very different vehicles with restricted views such as HGVs”.

He added: “to allow your bus drivers this ‘get out clause’ has increased dramatically the safety concerns I have cycling around London.”

No evidence

TfL recently claimed it had no evidence that the stickers were affecting driver behaviour in London. Rob Sowerby’s experiences suggest otherwise.

Have you been harrassed by a London driver in a vehicle with a 'Cyclists Stay Back' sticker and told you shouldn't be there? Let us know in the comments.

31 user comments

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“He was adamant that cyclists must stay back and he was ‘within his rights’ to stop me from filtering by whatever means. I can think of no other reasoning for this attitude but for the new signage on buses.”

If this isn't exaggeration, then those TfL signs are going to cause some serious problems, especially as ones like them start to spread across the country...

posted by brooksby [243 posts]
9th June 2014 - 11:44


How frustrating... I was previously supportive of stickers seen on other lorries that read something like 'cyclists, do not undertake on left side of this vehicle'

Seems TFL have taken a different and more aggressive stance.

posted by Jimmy Ray Will [429 posts]
9th June 2014 - 11:45


As a daily commuter in London from 2nd zone to Holborn, I think that the whole article is exaggerated. The stickers in the back indicate one thing: you shouldn't ride inside the buses, period. I do it myself, overtaking a bus from inside, which is, calmly seen, stupid and dangerous. If you linger too long on the inside of a bus, you would be inevitably cut as the bus needs to stop at the station. You either go ahead full speed and overtake the bus or try to overtake it from right, like everybody else. Can understand that a bus driver gets frustrated. Quite contrary, I think bus drivers are more careful than cab drivers in London, which, after the delivery vans, are the worst (not to mention the diesel exhaust).

posted by ckk [1 posts]
9th June 2014 - 11:50


You have to be pretty thick to qualify as a bus driver. To be expected

posted by anarchy [66 posts]
9th June 2014 - 11:50


Bad drivers will blame anything and everything apart from themsleves. Because they are perfect drivers never doing anything wrong, simply as they got away with it and no harm done.

To be honest, I don't think it's an issue particulary with TFL as First drivers in Yorkshire definately have a death wish on cyclist. As for the Keighely buses that drive down the cycle lanes!

posted by Yorkshie Whippet [384 posts]
9th June 2014 - 11:56


So two bus drivers treat cyclists badly. Its hardly news, and you can't conclude a direct link to those awful stickers..

People who have bad attitude towards cyclists probably don't need a sticker on the back of their vehicles to behave like tw@ts, do they?!

posted by 700c [610 posts]
9th June 2014 - 12:12


Despite using bus lanes regularly I can honestly say I've not had any problem with bus drivers so far...but coach drivers on the other hand...utter psychos (actually a minority are of course).

They've done the above to me while I've been in a cycle and bus lane and have no concept of how dangerous their actions are (or dont care).

"professional drivers" who work to a strict timetable or who get more money for taking less time need to be watched carefully if possible...of course normally they overtake then left hook you so you really need to be on your toes.

Complain to TFL if you want to waste time.

posted by StoopidUserName [64 posts]
9th June 2014 - 12:31


Unless he's improbably claiming that before these stickers appeared, our bus drivers were better drivers, it doesn't really demonstrate cause and effect. Individual encounters don't tell us anything, except that individuals can be arses.

I generally find bus drivers amongst the best trained for the size and category of vehicle. The amount of times I get some acknowledgement from a bus driver, tells me how well they've been trained to look for cyclists.

But yes, TfL should still revise the stickers. The danger is the message they send to other drivers, and that they may encourage private vehicles to copy them (but without the training requirement).

posted by bikebot [949 posts]
9th June 2014 - 12:39


Just spent the weekend in London, these stickers are everywhere. I saw them on a small van as well as buses, and they are aggressive. Also every vehicle that had one (except) buses seemed to drive like an idiot.
Sensible use of stickers, such as the ones on lorries about not riding up the inside are fine, but a van about the same size as my car having one is stupid!

posted by mlimburn [23 posts]
9th June 2014 - 12:41


That kind of thing happened with busses long before these stickers. The certain type of individual who drives like that will always drive like that. I had a bus driver cut in to the left as I was filtering past at some (red) lights years ago. I got on the pavement (just past the barrier thankfully or i'd have been stuck) walked in front of the bus and was told that 'cyclists make a real mess under a bus' and various other comments. There was no sticker on his bus.

posted by md6 [168 posts]
9th June 2014 - 13:00


So when are buses getting pedestrian and cyclist detection and collision avoidance systems to prevent the morons that sometimes drive them from coming good on their threats?

Fixing road safety with these stickers is like trying to repair a broken collar bone with elastoplast.

posted by Initialised [236 posts]
9th June 2014 - 13:42


I think the issue is moreover that of entitlement. These stickers add to that sense of entitlement and are percieved by some to shift the responsibility of checking that no one is passing them on the left to the person passing on the left to not do so, despite most infrastructure encouranging/demanding cyclists use them. If a bus needs to pull in to a bus stop, then it is their responsibility to ensure that there is no one using the cycle lane when doing so.

posted by Wolfshade [120 posts]
9th June 2014 - 14:05


If Rob Sowerby's accounts are correct then both drivers need to be taken off the buses and given another job! Stickers or not, you can't just run people off the road...

I was sitting in the front seat one of the new Routemasters last week and the side mirrors give fantastic visibility - you can see right down each side of the bus all the way to the rear end - so if drivers are pulling into cyclists filtering then either their observation is inadequate or they're doing it deliberately...

posted by Brooess [49 posts]
9th June 2014 - 15:20


I think most of those commenting above have missed the point, clearly expressed in the article.

Yes, today's bus drivers don't appear to be any more considerate to vulnerable road users than they were before TfL introduced the stickers. The problem is that they now believe they not only have carte blanche to bully people on bikes, but that they also have the tacit approval of TfL to drive recklessly and lecture other road users.

The stickers are a really bad idea that's spread far beyond its original intention. Essentially, drivers using them assume they can now be exonerated from the outcomes of their bad driving as it's up to everyone outside their vehicle to read the notice and take avoiding action.

posted by congokid [184 posts]
9th June 2014 - 15:30


the interesting thing for me is that the driver was so averse to being on film stating these facts and offered violence to back them up. If he genuinely believed them to be true it shouldn't have bothered him that anyone disagreed or would report them.

The reason I find that interesting is not to do with the sticlers per se but the response by some drivers that they are being filmed. I use a bar cam. A fair while ago whilst carefully overtaking stationary traffic on the outside (very little oncoming traffic) a chap got out of his car up ahead to confront me for "breaking the law". Aparrently his special version of the Highway code said this was illegal. I very politely pointed out the bar cam before starting to counter his point and then he claimed the bar cam was illegal and it was illegal to film him. He couldn't remember why video was illegal in a public place but he was sure it was.

You have to laugh. The point was that as soon as he saw the camera his demeanour changed from threatening / ready to physically stop me, to just having a chat about the HC did you know....?

Cycling is like a church - many attend, but few understand.

posted by oozaveared [833 posts]
9th June 2014 - 15:43


"Stories emerge of bus drivers treating cyclists as second class road users"...

aaahhahahahahahahahahahah Laughing oh that tickled me, it's not really news to people is it?

Bus drivers, and coach drivers for that matter, have always used the bus/coach they're driving in a manner which is intimidating to all road users. They use the size and weight of vehicle to bully other road users with a laissez-faire attitude to the damage they'll cause. Even taxi drivers usually have a vested interest in not having your blood dirtying their taxi as it's there livelihood.

I agree with congokid absolutely that

congokid wrote:
Essentially, drivers using them assume they can now be exonerated from the outcomes of their bad driving as it's up to everyone outside their vehicle to read the notice and take avoiding action.

posted by rore [23 posts]
9th June 2014 - 17:13


I was almost hit by a van driver when I was about to pass through a "cycles only" entrance to a quietway in west Edinburgh (road blocked from kerb to kerb by bollards, but with short sections of red cycle lane either side of the bollards to allow cycle access).

The driver reversed around a left hand corner on the other side of the bollards and then parked right in front of them, blocking the cycle entrance. Had I not seen him and stopped before the bollards, he would've hit me. His van bore one of these stickers and he pointed it out to me in defence of his behaviour, saying "the sign's pretty clear mate - stay back". I was on my way to work and running late so didn't hang around to argue, other than to say "nah mate, the sign's bullshit - look where you're going and don't park like an arse".

The van was short wheelbase Citroen Dispatch (about the same size as a people carrier) with Kelly Group livery, subcontracting for British Telecom. We don't see those godawful stickers all that often up here, but when we do it's almost always on nationwide fleet vehicles such as this.

seven's picture

posted by seven [125 posts]
9th June 2014 - 17:50


Start writing "shit driver" on them in permanent marker. See how long they last then.

posted by teaboy [208 posts]
9th June 2014 - 18:35


I have noticed a big increase in these stickers on vans more than anything and it had occurred to me that they were seen by drivers as a convenient way of shifting blame / responsibility onto cyclists.

Its a shame because some riders are v naive and need to be told to stay back / out of blind spots / left turn zones but it does seem likely that its being used as an excuse to drive less courteously and that is not good. I still maintain that most drivers mean well however.

posted by hh45 [1 posts]
9th June 2014 - 18:51


The irritating thing about these stickers are that they seem to be telling cyclists how to ride. Most riders are pretty sensible actually, and would automatically stay back.

On the other hand I have lost count of the number of times I've been passed by a car/van, on my bicycle, approaching a junction.

posted by Saintlymark [9 posts]
9th June 2014 - 19:13


These stickers are not unique to london, I've seen them in lancashire and merseyside on the back of wagons and vans. They are bonkers, at this rate bike will have to sit still in traffic just to prevent the going past a sticker


Beefy's picture

posted by Beefy [224 posts]
9th June 2014 - 22:10


brooksby wrote:
... especially as ones like them start to spread across the country...

It's already happening. I've seen those exact stickers on Transit-type vans in Exeter.

posted by graham_f [132 posts]
10th June 2014 - 10:57


Stick some space for cycling stickers over them.


posted by rich22222 [146 posts]
10th June 2014 - 11:21


They've also started appearing on large signs at the side of the road too, A2202 Addington Road for example (a 40mph limit A-road)

posted by ribena [160 posts]
10th June 2014 - 11:24


As someone else suggested, these stickers do seem to invite creative annotation with a marker pen:

'cyclists stay back because I havent got a clue what I'm doing'

'cyclists stay back but buses and lorries tailgating me is fine'

'cyclists stay back because I just farted'

'cyclists stay back and be grateful you passed your GCSEs and don't drive this bus'

Northernbike's picture

posted by Northernbike [187 posts]
10th June 2014 - 19:38


I didn't realise that it was actually illegal to overtake/filter past a vehicle bearing one of these stickers - is that what is being suggested?

If so, maybe they should make it illegal for cars and vans to block ASLs too.........oh, wait............

How about we all attach 'stay back' signs to our bikes and maintain primary position at all times?

posted by Matt eaton [532 posts]
10th June 2014 - 22:18


tag the bus up! I like the idea, I think short and simple is best: how about "PLEASE" at the start and "because I can't drive" at the end.

posted by downhilldirtjumper [2 posts]
11th June 2014 - 1:52


ribena wrote:
They've also started appearing on large signs at the side of the road too, A2202 Addington Road for example (a 40mph limit A-road)

"Cyclists - do not pass this sign" (???)

posted by brooksby [243 posts]
11th June 2014 - 8:03


Many bus and lorry drivers are good drivers and reasonable people, the odd one or two are thick as s*#t. And nasty with it. It's primitive thinking: my bus is bigger than your little bike, therefore I am more important and can tell you what to do. As is proved by my sticker telling you to keep back. It reminds me of the school prefect at my school who thought she could tell all other pupils what to do about everything, and prefaced every order with 'You see this badge?', holding out the silly little prefect's badge on her lapel.

If they must use these dumb stickers, why don't the bus companies put 'please' before it, and just tell their drivers what it means, i.e. that it's advisory, to protect cyclists from being caught if the bus turns left? I hope that there is by now instruction in both PSV and HGV training, and a component in driving tests, about cyclists, including the dangers from turning left. It is also necessary to instruct drivers on how roads are funded, on all the reasons cycling is desirable and to be encouraged, on how vulnerable cyclists are, and that cyclists are NOT second class road users, in any sense, rather should be seen as superior road users.

posted by bikeylikey [181 posts]
11th June 2014 - 8:11


"TfL recently claimed it had no evidence that the stickers were affecting driver behaviour in London."

Of course, if they ignore any evidence, then they aren't likely to see any are they?

posted by maldin [40 posts]
11th June 2014 - 21:45