John Humphrys asks: who's to blame for cycle safety?

Veteran presenter mulls over the implications of London's most recent cycle death

by Sarah Barth   August 4, 2012  

road.cc news

Veteran BBC broadcaster John Humphrys has weighed into the cycle safety debate in the wake of the death of a London cyclists outside the Olympic Park.

In an article entitled Cycling: Do we take it seriously enough? the Today programme and Mastermind host lit the touchpaper with the question 'who's to blame?'

After mulling over the views of motorists vs. cyclists, he then threw caution to the wind and entered the helmet debate, saying:

"After all, motorcyclists have been compelled to wear helmets for the last forty years or so.

"There seems to be no logic behind forcing one group of road users to wear helmets and not the other.

"It’s true that motorcyclists are likely to be travelling much faster when they have an accident and so risk greater injury to their brains if they are not wearing a helmet.

"But cyclists, riding at slower speeds, can still suffer fatal brain damage."

It's not Humphry's first foray into cycle safety (click here to see him take on shoddy supermarket flat-pack bikes) but he may find himself surprised at the strength of feeling in the community about the issue.

Or maybe not. He writes:

"Cyclists complain that motorists drive too fast, that they are too careless and that they often simply fail to see cyclists before it is too late to avoid an accident.

"Motorists complain that some cyclists seem to think they own the road, ignoring traffic lights, swarming round slow-moving cars and recklessly cutting in on the inside of traffic.

"Too many of them seem to think they don’t need to have lights at night. Accidents seem inevitable."

Humphrys is not the first broadcast star to become involved in cycle safety talk either; Jon Snow, Channel 4 news anchor and CTC President addressed Parliament earlier this year about the lack of provision for cyclists in the UK.

 

59 user comments

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Why is it always the drivers fault?

Sensible precautions (helmets and hig-vis clothing) will help a cyclist be seen and be safe, there is no reason other than personal choice no to take these precautions. If you don't want to wear high-vis clothing don't, but don't then blame a driver for not being able to see you if they legitimately can't, not through inattentiveness or poor driving but through your own poor visibility.

Drivers aren't evil, in fact some of them are even cyclists too Surprise Until we stop just knee-jerk blaming drivers for every problem and take some of the responsibility on ourselves for our own safety then no-body is going to listen. In fact, I don't think I can be bothered to listen to the 'it's all the motorists fault that cyclists get knocked off/injured/killed' anymore and I cycle, how do you think politician's feel? Blaming motorists helps no-one, personal responsibility and co-operation will be what fixes the problems.

posted by drheaton [3429 posts]
6th August 2012 - 11:08

4 Likes

@giff77

Well said and great constructive comments..

Challenge yourself..

uksportives's picture

posted by uksportives [33 posts]
6th August 2012 - 12:27

2 Likes

Problem is DrH. It doesn't matter how much we make ourselves visible. A significant percentage of drivers are either blissfully unaware or dont give a toss about other road users. They are a danger to themselves and others everytime they put that key in the ignition. Maybe I was fortunate when I was learning to drive my instructor drilled me in looking out for other road users and not just vehicles. This I hope has stood me in good stead over the years.

I totally agree with you that personal responsibility and co-operation is the way forward.

@uksportive -cheers!

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1068 posts]
6th August 2012 - 13:44

2 Likes

Anyone stupid enough to call people who argue that helmets are unproven stupid, should be made to wear one, even in bed.

For the fact is that helmets ARE unproven, at least as regards normal road cycling conditions. The fact that they provide some measure of protection in no-other-involved falls at speeds of up to 20kph and from heights of up to 1.2m is in no way proof that they provide any protection whatever against collision with a 1.5 tonne metal box travelling at 30mph or more, or that they protect against limb or torso injuries.

It may be the case that wesring a helmet does no harm (although some would argue that certain types of njury are actually exarcebated by helmets) but there is really very little indeed to show that it does much good.

And comparisons such as John Humphries makes with motorcycle helmets (and some will no doubt make with car seat belts) are meaningless. BOTH have considerable, conclusive evidence to support the proposition that they have a substantial mitigating, even life-saving, effect. Perhaps a cycle helmet might rate up with a motorbike helmet - if it were built the same way, but that would make it unusable due to the weight and to the self-generated heat of exertion which would cause extreme discomfort.

posted by Paul M [325 posts]
6th August 2012 - 14:30

2 Likes

drheaton wrote:
Why is it always the drivers fault?

Sensible precautions (helmets and hig-vis clothing) will help a cyclist be seen and be safe, there is no reason other than personal choice no to take these precautions. If you don't want to wear high-vis clothing don't, but don't then blame a driver for not being able to see you if they legitimately can't, not through inattentiveness or poor driving but through your own poor visibility.

Drivers aren't evil, in fact some of them are even cyclists too Surprise Until we stop just knee-jerk blaming drivers for every problem and take some of the responsibility on ourselves for our own safety then no-body is going to listen. In fact, I don't think I can be bothered to listen to the 'it's all the motorists fault that cyclists get knocked off/injured/killed' anymore and I cycle, how do you think politician's feel? Blaming motorists helps no-one, personal responsibility and co-operation will be what fixes the problems.

It isn't always the driver's fault. But most of the time it is. The DfT has published data saying cyclists aren't responsible for most of the accidents they're involved in.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2308 posts]
6th August 2012 - 15:32

1 Like

As a cop i have to wear body armour, not because i regularly get shot at or stabbed but because one day it might happen and the powers that be deem that wearing it, no matter how small the risk is, it is better than no protection at all.

It's not comfortable or "looks good" and generally wont stop a bullet (the trauma would probably kill us) but it might one day stop me from getting hurt.

Sounds very similar to helmets if you ask me Thinking

There are no stupid questions, just stupid people.

stumps's picture

posted by stumps [2843 posts]
6th August 2012 - 19:25

1 Like

- and we're back to helmets again! See how easy it's to be distracted by the side issue? Big Grin

I'm not suggesting drivers are at fault. Cyclists who ride dangerously and use iPods or phones when riding are at fault as well. Drivers are only at fault to the extent that they expect to drive over the speed limit and if their reduced reaction time causes intimidation, injury or death expect to debate who is to blame. Speed reduction is the quickest, cheapest and logical solution. It works already and should be expanded.

How did we get to the state where we want our kids to ride to school but we also want to continue driving in residential streets at speeds which intimidate those that take the risk? It's just bizarre that we have allowed this to develop and still think separating others onto expensive alternate routes so cars can continue as they are is the solution. I imagine my grandparents coming back from the beyond for a day and being horrified at what we've sacrificed in safety, freedom and quality of life just to sit in a tin box and be carried around in convenience. It's blinkered madness and long over due for complete reevaluation - not tinkering around the edges with bike lanes, Hi Vis and protective head wear.

I advocate 20mph for suburbs and all school areas, 50 mph for the lanes where we once could walk, and as a pacifier for those that need 'make up time' 80mph on motorways.

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1093 posts]
7th August 2012 - 1:11

2 Likes

So Stumps. Whilst your body armour may or may not protect you and your colleagues fro injury. Does it also help reduce the levels of crime on our streets? Same thing then for helmets - they may/may not protect from head trauma. But you know what. The wearing of them will most definately not reduce the 'carnage' on our roads. I am against helmet compulsion. It is up to the individual. I do though want speed limits that will allow me to interact with motorists without fear. For the police to actually be. Arsed when I report a motorist for dangerous driving. For the courts to actually come up with realistic penalties rather than the 8 hours community service and a 50 pound fine. Maybe if motorists realised that they were facing a 10 year driving ban or min 2 years imprisonment for killing a vunerable road user then we would see less grim statistics.

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1068 posts]
7th August 2012 - 9:37

1 Like

giff77, why twist something i said or did you not read it properly ?

So here it is again - body armour wont stop a bullet but it might help me from getting hurt - helmets wont stop a ton of metal from squashing me but it might stop other minor injuries.

At no time did i say they reduce crime or that helmets reduce driver errors.

Obviously you dont care about the "minor" injuries and just accept them as part and parcel of your desired sport / activity hence your inability to see that helmets MAY stop an injury.

Helmet wearing will always be down to personal choice and i hope that it remains that way.

There are no stupid questions, just stupid people.

stumps's picture

posted by stumps [2843 posts]
7th August 2012 - 19:03

1 Like

How many people commenting on here are drivers?

How many of you have taken steps to improve your driving post-test? (eg. IAM or RoSPA)

Just curious, like, but I'd be willing to bet my house that it's very, very few. The same will be true of the non-cycling masses.

Most people (including those who are also cyclists) think they are good drivers. Most will NEVER undertake advanced training. Most will not take kindly to suggestions that they are bad/not good/poor/below average/average drivers.

Helmets, are not the issue. Speed limits are not the issue. High-profile cyclists could work wonders in communicating a 'give us room'-style message to the wider population. There has never been a better time to implement a co-ordinated campaign. Sky should fund it.

ColT's picture

posted by ColT [225 posts]
7th August 2012 - 20:18

2 Likes

CoIT - very good point mate, i have taken an advanced driving course which does help but without going into the ins and outs of it all does not make you a better driver in the long run.

The Sky idea might work though Thinking

There are no stupid questions, just stupid people.

stumps's picture

posted by stumps [2843 posts]
8th August 2012 - 9:44

1 Like

I love the notion of cyclists not being visible enough. If your eyesight/attention is so poor that you cannot see a cyclist then what are the chances of seeing a child? If you don't know what's there what hope have we? The SMIDSY is no excuse at all. I drive and try to maintain a good mental picture of what it all around; if something suddenly disappears it has either been kidnapped by aliens or may well be in my blind spot! Let me think... Thinking

Felix

Felix's picture

posted by Felix [111 posts]
8th August 2012 - 15:15

2 Likes

Aliens - blame them for everything Devil Devil

There are no stupid questions, just stupid people.

stumps's picture

posted by stumps [2843 posts]
8th August 2012 - 15:20

2 Likes

Hi, I am a driver and I passed my advanced driving test back in 2006, so that's two of us here at least Smile

I have to say I think it was one of the most worthwhile things I've ever done, I'd recommend it to anyone that is serious about improving their driving.

The IAM also actively promote better cycling through their cycle training and publications.

www.iam.org.uk

A better way to understand road speed and whether it's appropriate for the conditions and area you are driving in is to use this simple formula:

MPH x 1.5 = Feet Per Second.

So 30mph is 45 feet per second. Can you justify driving in a narrow street lined with parked cars at that kind of speed ? 1 second reaction time = 45 feet along the road.

Remember, it's a speed LIMIT, not a TARGET.

posted by mickdann [45 posts]
8th August 2012 - 16:09

1 Like

Stumpy, did you do a Skills for Life course with the IAM or ROSPA equivalent ? If so, did you go on to pass the Advanced Driving test ? Every advanced driver I know makes a point of trying to improve their driving long after they have taken the test.

posted by mickdann [45 posts]
8th August 2012 - 16:20

1 Like

Felix wrote:
I love the notion of cyclists not being visible enough. If your eyesight/attention is so poor that you cannot see a cyclist then what are the chances of seeing a child? If you don't know what's there what hope have we? The SMIDSY is no excuse at all. I drive and try to maintain a good mental picture of what it all around; if something suddenly disappears it has either been kidnapped by aliens or may well be in my blind spot! Let me think... Thinking

So, on a dark night in driving rain, when you're backlit by car headlights so the bike front lamp is all but invisible, the car driver who hits you is still in the wrong? The law says so, but are you prepared to put your life on the line by trying the experiment?

ChrisS

posted by Chris S [44 posts]
8th August 2012 - 16:46

1 Like

Of course speed is a factor in every accident, including walking into a lamp post. It's a silly proposition and is simply used to foster the notion that 'speeding' is a factor. It isn't. Physics will not support the notion that to exceed a number on a pole, especially arbitrary and unscientific ones, often based on political parochialism and no expertise, can cause anything at all. Just as daft is the notion that not to 'speed' will be safe and cause nothing. Fact is most accidents are below the limits and in those above, 'speeding' is merely coincidental even if present. For example in dangerous driving. To explain. On a motorway speeding commences at 70+. So clearly 150 MPH, 80 mph above 'speeding' can't be 'speeding'; it is dangerous where 'speeding' is coincidental.

The helmet debate misses the point entirely in 2012. I am a cyclist but cyclists hate me pointing out that under any other circumstances to mingle with and among many large pieces of essential machinery on the move, operated by those with a tiny demanding qualification, is madness and would be banned under ElfnSafety if it were a fairground ride. No concidence then that since politicians have been promoting cycling so the attrition rate has increased. Don't they get the connection? Don't cyclist? Indignance is not much good when turned into a cabbage with right on one's side is it? When St Peter says to the child cyclist at the Pearly Gates 'come in child it was the driver's fault'.

Keep slowing a major infrastructure at about £3 billion be annum per 1 MPH, (Say £30 billion a year) How many lives could we save in the NHS, Emergency Services, A & E with that kind of money? Slowing road transport & prosecuting perfectly safe drivers, whilst the Road Safety Industry fills its coffers as it does, is not addressing the problem but actually killing people in other sectors.

Wake up guys. It aint 1912 it's 2012.

Road safety 'experts' are often folk who's CV doesn't cut the mustard.

posted by Sedgepeat [67 posts]
8th August 2012 - 17:59

1 Like

Did the Police advanced driving course.

We got taught a multitude of skills but unless you use those skills on a daily basis then little habits start to creep back in and although you can say i'm an advanced driver you probably aren't unless you keep up with what you were taught virtually every time you get into a car.

There are no stupid questions, just stupid people.

stumps's picture

posted by stumps [2843 posts]
8th August 2012 - 18:18

1 Like

Haven't read all of this, but everyone rattles on about education. How worthy and PC. Many people are just plain thick and too nstupid to be educated. maybe if we had a decenst sytem of justice instead. 60 quid for speeding is just condoning it not saying it's wrong. Why not stick a zero on the end? No, make it a round £1000. That would slow people down.
It's all part of our desire and the precieved norm of getting some where fatser being important.
I do have mixed feelings when I see the idiots on a bike though. To go down the road f the car driver being presumed guilty isn't fair. It's a bit like the idea of bull bars being wrong. Somewhere, some time ago , I read a report that roughly said that most (90%+) car/pedestrian collisions were a result of the pedestrian doing something stupid. Why then does the car driver get the heat?

posted by mattsccm [280 posts]
8th August 2012 - 18:27

1 Like

I might as well put my penny's worth in!

Firstly, there are no cyclists or motorists. Why? Well, most cyclists drive and anyway, all of us are road users. We all have a responsibility to use the road safely and courteously. Most of us do, most of the time. We've all seen motorists do stupid things and we've all seen cyclists do stupid things. The only difference is that the consequences for those not in a metal box tend to be worse. This does not make bad behaviour worse. If you jump the lights on a bike, are you being any less dangerous. I don't think so.

Second,do you remember when seatbelts were made compulsory in the front of cars. Many people were outraged and used the same arguments. 'Speed is the issue'; 'They won't prevent you being hurt in all conditions' etc. etc. Now ask yourself, would you turn the clock back and repeal that law. I don't think so.

There will be no knee-jerk reaction to this debate. There can't be. The debate has been going on for too long.

Do I wish other road users would be more careful? Yes. Do I think I have a responsibility to myself and my family to wear a helmet? Yes. Does anyone have agood reason NOT to wear a helmet? NO. I have a brain-damaged but LIVING brother in law because he wore a helmet. I have a good friend who is well on his way to recovery because he wore a helmet.

Let's just put them on and then we'll be in a position to say 'Look. We're doing all we can. Now can the rest of the world take notice and help save our lives too.'

posted by thehairs1970 [24 posts]
8th August 2012 - 19:14

1 Like

"There seems to be no logic behind forcing one group of road users to wear helmets and not the other." Quite right, Mr Humphrys. FACT alert: the leading cause of death for car drivers is head injuries. They too must me made to wear helmets.

But hang on, obesity is a much more common cause of death than road accidents. So before we bring in a helmet law we really ought to protect fatties by reintroducing food rationing. Food coupons will be available from public weighstations, so long as you achieve the state sanctioned BMI. This would save infinitely more lives and NHS spending than a piddling reduction in cylists' head injuries.

posted by nick h. [30 posts]
8th August 2012 - 23:40

1 Like

@thehairs1970, lots of well-made points. I'm a 100 - 150 mile a week cyclist, who for my sins also drives upwards of 40k miles a year, so I see a lot of poor driving and a lot of poor cycling, too. The key thing there is, it's all poor road use.

I wear a helmet 99% of the time when cycling, though it's mostly a matter of habit now - it just feels like something is missing when I go out without one on - but I do resent the idea of being *compelled* to wear what amounts to body armour - at least in part to protect myself from the inadequacy, inattention or ignorance of others.

I don't think I am alone in that rationalisation. It's not that wearing a helmet is or isn't a bad idea per se - it's the fact that one day we may be forced as a result of legislation to do something that were others in better control of what they were doing *some of the time* we might not have been forced to do.

There is a lot of worrying stuff in this argument here, too, about matters around "make yourself more visible" ... Cyclists will probably loose out in the "how bright can we make our lights" wars (hence opposition from the CTC to DLR regulation for motor vehicles), and if we become educated at some deep, subliminal level into thinking that anything *not* wearing a dayglo jacket and showing a 350 lumen front light can't be a vulnerable road user, then where are we? Parts of Europe are already part-way there, with a legal requirement to carry a high-viz in a motor vehicle ...

Education really is the key, backed up with harsh penalties on both "sides" of the argument - cyclists and other road users - if the education doesn't take root. It's been done with drink driving (though it needs constant vigilance as the Simon Richardson case shows), it's reasonably effective in other areas of life - but it isn't a vote winner. Sadly until it is, we'll have to put up with the circumstances we have now.

This week I have mostly been riding a Mondiale in Deda V107 with Campagnolo Super Record 11 ...

posted by velotech_cycling [75 posts]
8th August 2012 - 23:48

1 Like

Driving faster means it takes longer and further to stop meaning that driving within the 30mph limit will enable a driver to stop short of actually hitting that pedestrian or cyclist.

As for helmets, they're light, take a couple of seconds to put on and aren't a problem. It will save your life in the event of a head injury. I suppose you don't have to wear it all the time, you only need to put it on just before you have an accident.

You would be right in thinking they don't protect from chest injury, but that's OK;- again, just put some body armour on just before you're about to have an accident involving fatal chest injury, you'll be fine, as you can take the body armour home, leave it in your cupboard until you need it next time.

tommy2p

posted by tommy2p [85 posts]
9th August 2012 - 0:35

2 Likes

Except that a bike helmet, unlike a motorcycle one, offers support only up to about 12mph. I wear one all the time, but I don't think it will offer me any safety, unless I fall off, on my own, at low speed.

I completely support the right of people to make their own choices. And the obligation on drivers of motor vehicles not to hit us.

There is evidence that some drivers go closer to people on bikes wearing helmets.

There is no evidence that people with helmets are in fact safer. There is evidence that where helmets are compulsory, cycling becomes less safe.

Don't let "common sense" trump evidence. And don't let drivers think that they aren't responsible when they hit us.

Edgeley

posted by Edgeley [195 posts]
9th August 2012 - 10:38

2 Likes

As I have said in the past and yet again if we all keep arguing amongst ourselves gutter journos are going to pick the ball up and run with it (in the wrong direction) please people stop! you opions are your own and you are entitled to them, but continually stating your views on various websites may not be the way forward. (I'm not claiming to know what the answer is) but I do wonder how much media attention Mr. Humphrys' comments would receive if we didn't go up in flames everytime.

FATBEGGARONABIKE's picture

posted by FATBEGGARONABIKE [605 posts]
9th August 2012 - 10:54

2 Likes
ColT's picture

posted by ColT [225 posts]
9th August 2012 - 12:37

2 Likes

Bike helmets do have an 'upper speed limit' but this is does not mean that beyond 12mph they stop being useful. It just means that they must provide a specific amount of protection at 12mph.

Being forced to do something rather than make the choice is sometimes necessary. Much of the debate here has been made about poor driving. If we didn't have legislation that tried to remove bad driving, eg 60mph in a residential street, what would people decide it was OK to do.

Let's put on our helmets, which it seems most of us already do, take the legislation if and when it arrives, and pressure the government to make sentences for poor road use, particularly that puts others at risk, much stiffer.

Safe cycling

posted by thehairs1970 [24 posts]
9th August 2012 - 14:05

2 Likes

20mph in residential areas should be the norm. Some areas, around schools for example, already have them. Lower speed limits on designated cycle routes should also be standard. There's already a proposal for a 50mph limit on rural roads and this would also benefit cyclists.

posted by paulfg42 [379 posts]
9th August 2012 - 15:52

1 Like

Kingy wrote:
Having been knocked off by a hit and run driver,change is needed too many motorists do not know the law when passing cyclist education and clarity is needed on the other hand group riding not alot of cosideration is given to drivers faults on both parties but clarity is needed

I'm all for education. Let's start with full stops.

posted by arowland [101 posts]
9th August 2012 - 15:58

1 Like

Ah, now I understand. I find it interesting that as you had to do the course as part of your job you take a different view on keeping up with the skills you were taught.
I paid for the IAM course myself and it was my decision to improve my driving ability; every day I get in the car I do a cockpit drill, set off in "advanced driving" mode and I'm always looking to improve what I'm doing.
I admit that on some days I'm more easily distracted, maybe not paying as much attention as I'd like to be, but overall I'd say doing the course has definitely improved my driving and I've improved more since I passed my test.
PLUG: Have you considered taking up observing with an IAM group close to you ? Most observers say that coaching others improves their own skills too, plus you'll be helping to reduce the number of incidents you have to attend Smile

posted by mickdann [45 posts]
10th August 2012 - 7:58

1 Like