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Riding without helmet or flourescent clothing among the behaviours cited in magazine's research...

Motoring magazine Auto Express has claimed that its reporters saw three out of four cyclists – 719 in total – break what it calls “road rules” during morning rush hour at a busy London junction, compared to just one in eight motorists. Closer inspection of the feature published in this week’s edition, however, reveals a very different story.

In a three-page ‘Inside Story’ feature called ‘Cars vs Bikes,’ the magazine sought to answer the question, ‘When it comes to breaking the rules of the road, are drivers or cyclists the bigger sinners?’

The magazine’s reporters spent two hours at Highbury Corner in North London to try and ascertain the answer. During that period, they observed 3,140 motor vehicles and 976 bicycles passing by. Coincidentally – and not mentioned in the article – that suggests that cyclists make up nearly one quarter of rush hour traffic at the junction in question.

The main picture accompanying the article shows a motorist looking angrily at a cyclist, who happens to be wearing headphones, the car complete with a big dent above the wheel arch.

If there has been a collision, the cyclist and his bike seem to be somehow entirely unscathed despite that damage to the vehicle, which in any event appears to have been pulling out of a parking bay when whatever is supposed to have given rise to the staged road rage incident happened.

The story was trailed on the magazine’s website under the heading, ‘Cyclists break more road rules than motorists,’ with the online article going on to say, “We witnessed more than 1,000 breaches of road rules in a two-hour morning rush hour period. These were committed by three quarters of the cyclists but only one in 10 drivers.”

It added that of the nearly 1,000 cyclists observed during the survey, which took place between 7.30am and 9.30am on a Monday morning, 719 “committed offences” compared to 380 motorists “caught breaking road rules.”

The detailed findings of the research appeared in the print edition. Here’s what they were.

Cyclists  %*   Fault                      Cars    %**

287      29.4  No reflective clothing      NA      NA
104      10.7  No indicating               49     1.6
 90       9.2  No helmet                   NA      NA
 84       8.6  Pulling out without looking 25     0.8
 58       5.9  Jumping lights              12     0.4
 44       4.5  Wearing headphones          42     1.3
 33       3.4  Almost causing collision    17     0.5
 16       1.6  Mounting pavement            0     0.0
  0       0.0  Waiting in cycle box        83     2.6
  0       0.0  Crossing a stop line        83     2.6
  2       0.2  Using phone                 38     1.2
  1       0.1  Eating                       9     0.3
  0       0.0  Blocking crossing           22     0.7

719      74.2  Total                      380    12.1

* Based on sample of 976 bicycles during a two-hour, morning rush hour
** Based on sample of 3,140 vehicles passing during the same period

Source: Auto Express magazine

The full article in the print copy, but not the online version, which omits those detailed findings, does address each issue in turn and point out where laws are being broken rather than common sense or recommendations in the Highway Code.

Wearing a helmet or reflective clothing, for example, are recommended for cyclists, it’s true, but they are certainly not compulsory – and on the question of high visibility kit, the survey was in any event conducted in summer, not midwinter.

Yet in lumping everything together under the erroneous heading of “road rules,” that’s the impression that the article gives at first glance. Those two categories alone account for more than half of the supposed breaches that cyclists are guilty of.

Moreover, while Auto Express says that the cyclists or motorists in question “were guilty of at least one of breach of the road rules” – misleading phrasing, since in many cases they are not guilty of anything – it does seem that a cyclist riding without a helmet or reflective clothing, for instance, will have been counted twice.

As the article acknowledges, failure to indicate, whether you’re a motorist or a cyclist, isn’t in itself an offence, the Highway Code simply saying that you should give plenty of warning.

Likewise, pulling out without looking, wearing headphones, eating at the wheel (or handlebars) aren’t in themselves illegal, irrespective of whether you are riding a bike or driving a motor vehicle, although in the latter case they could form the basis of a careless driving charge.

Nor is using a mobile phone illegal if you’re a cyclist – but it is if you are a motorist.

Auto Express acknowledges that its category of “almost causing a collision” is “an entirely objective one” but that it felt “duty bound to include it” because it saw so many instances of it from both cyclists and motorists.

What isn’t said, however, is that organisations such as the AA urge drivers to give cyclists as much room as possible because they can change direction suddenly to avoid obstacles such as potholes.

There is no mention of the fact that a motorist will be much better protected in the event of a collision, even one they may have caused themselves, than a cyclist will.

That’s not to say the above wouldn’t be considered examples of bad riding or bad driving, and in some cases can form the basis of a charge of careless driving – but they aren’t in themselves specific road traffic offences.

So what does that leave? Well, for cyclists, jumping red lights and mounting the pavement, for a total of at most 64 occurrences, assuming no double-counting.

Home Office guidance is that cycling on the footway should only be punished when considered dangerous, as outlined in Bikehub’s Cycling and the Law article.

Auto Express points out that legislation currently in the pipeline will, however, allow local authorities and Transport for London to impose tougher penalties on cyclists “who put pedestrians at risk by riding on footpaths.”

As for drivers? Well, blocking a junction or waiting in a cycle box aren’t offences, although the latter may well become one in London under that same legislation mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Using a handheld phone is, however, as is crossing the stop line and jumping the lights, for a total of 133, again assuming no double counting.

Other potential offences not considered at all – some of them impossible to tell from looking at a vehicle – include failure to wear a seatbelt, driving an unroadworthy vehicle, failure to display a valid vehicle excise duty disc, or driving while uninsured.

So, taking just the behaviours that breach a specific law, and assuming no double-counting, at most 7.0 per cent of cyclists were observed committing an actual offence, compared to 4.2 per cent of motorists.

Yes, a higher proportion of cyclists than motorists committed a traffic violation assuming that the observations of the Auto Express staff were accurate, but less than a tenth of the proportion implied by that headline figure of 3 in 4 bike riders.

And that comes to perhaps the crux of the complaint that many cyclists would have with the article.

Ask a driver in London what proportion of cyclists jump red lights, for example, and the answer is likely to be much higher than the 1 in 17 that the Auto Express researchers established; it’s figures such as that misleading reference to 3 in 4 cyclists breaking “road rules,” whatever those may be, that sticks in the mind.

We’ll leave the last word to the magazine, which concluded its article with a paragraph headed ‘Our Verdict,” and which twice made a misleading reference to those vague “road rules.”

“Neither party fared well in our survey. However, in this tarmac turf war it’s clearly the cyclists who behave worst [sic], with three out of four breaking at least one road rule during our study period. We were shocked by standards in both camps overall, though, witnessing more than 1,000 breaches of road rules in only two hours.”

Most readers – the site generates more than 1.3 million unique visitors a month, more than 20 times the print copy’s circulation of 56,000 - will only see the online version which omits that detail. Inevitably, that misleading statistic will stick in the minds of many.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

49 comments

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Sarah Barth [87 posts] 5 years ago
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Argh, this makes me cross!

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koko56 [330 posts] 5 years ago
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Trolling IRL

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captain_slog [416 posts] 5 years ago
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Heaven forbid that they might be pandering to the prejudices of their core readership.

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northstar [1107 posts] 5 years ago
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LOL, only 2 of which are "illegal". They clearly are so worried about the truth they feel the need to lie.

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Jon [33 posts] 5 years ago
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Desperate rag invents road rules and holds biased survey to keep hardcore anti-cycling lobby onside and prop up dwindling readership, claims road.cc reader...

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JohnS [198 posts] 5 years ago
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You can add your comments to the 31 already there on the Auto Express website here

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apsykes [4 posts] 5 years ago
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Interesting article; I just wrote about my own experiences as a driver in London during the Olympics. I am a committed cyclist at other times having abandoned the car some years ago. It was an interesting period being behind the wheel for a while rather than behind the handlebar... I was shocked at how many cyclists ignore red lights; read more at http://cyclingeurope.org/2012/08/18/driving-cycling-in-london-the-though...
Andrew
CyclingEurope.org

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Chuck [590 posts] 5 years ago
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Laughable. Or at least it would be if there weren't so many people willing to lap it up to reinforce their prejudices without bothering to switch on their brains.

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Gkam84 [9111 posts] 5 years ago
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I do all of these on a regular basis

No reflective clothing (never infact)
No helmet (hardly ever)
Wearing headphones (most of the time)
Using phone (sometimes)
Eating (of course)

But why are car's wearing headphones  19

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sean1 [177 posts] 5 years ago
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Ludicrous. Pandering to MAMIMs (Middle-Aged Men in Motors). No doubt the target demographic of this rag.

There seems to a be a core of journalists desperate to show how dangerous and law-breaking cyclists are, and will make up any kind of "statistics" to prove their point.

The statistic that 25% of the rush hour traffic was cyclists is fantastic. Hopefully this will encourage more and better provision for cyclists on the road. Good survey  1

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notfastenough [3728 posts] 5 years ago
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Road rules?! FFS.

Since we're including anything that goes against the highway code, did they look into every stationary car to check that the gearstick was in neutral and the handbrake applied? Did they check that all motorists gave the cyclists adequate space when passing? If I were to go over the white line at the lights in order to occupy an advanced start position, does that count as running the red?

What a load of inflammatory, us-and-them BS.

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fretters [53 posts] 5 years ago
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interestingly 2 of the "offences" committed by cyclists are N/A for motorists anyway. As such surely these should be discounted as you are not comparing like for like, especially as these count for over 52% of the cyclists supposed misdemeanours. in addition as these area advised and not law, then they are hardly giving a balanced view.

as the old saying goes, there are lies, there are damn lies and then there are statistics.

BTW who was the author? a Mr J. Clarkson per chance?

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Simon E [3154 posts] 5 years ago
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The problem is there are ignorant people out there who swallow this stuff, as Chuck says above, then use it to justify their own aggression.

Also, AE's trolling hacks obviously don't consider that any of its readers may cycle as well; that cyclists breaking the rules of the road (the real ones, at least) may have less of an impact than drivers breaking the rules. Perhaps they would like to send a scribe to ride with some commuting cyclists and compare their 'crimes' with the deliberately endangering behaviour exhibited by a significant number of drivers.

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Doctor Fegg [148 posts] 5 years ago
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Auto Express is published by Dennis Publishing. Dennis are also just about to launch a new title called Cyclist. Sorry, chaps, I don't think I'll be buying it.

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mrmo [2096 posts] 5 years ago
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Would it theoretically be possible to seek legal redress for these sort of articles, At the end of the day it is little more than incitement and we have seen people jailed for incitement in relation to the riots last summer.

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mrmo [2096 posts] 5 years ago
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something else, where is the parking on yellow lines for motorists, using a cycle/bus lane, etc.

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dave atkinson [6330 posts] 5 years ago
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telling that cyclists made up 25% of the traffic. I wonder if they get 25% of the transport spend on the chosen route?

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Jon Burrage [998 posts] 5 years ago
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Its not illegal to wear a helmet but imo its daft, why wouldnt you want to protect your head in case of an incident with traffic or misjudging a corner etc. The points auto express raise are poor but lets all be sensible, a lot of people who ride bikes to flout the law...red lights, pavements, crossings etc. It is no wonder that drivers who dont cycle get pissed off with people on 2 wheels.

Im a cyclist, a driver and Im in the cycling industry but it is a frustration when Im sat at red lights and see other lycra clad 'proper cyclists' running reds then giving drivers the finger when the driver nearly clips them.

Auto express has done exactly what it wants to, fuel a debate and get lots of publicity. Im sure that the number of comments that are likely to be committed to an article helps road.cc decide what to publish too...its normal.

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mrmo [2096 posts] 5 years ago
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Quote:

Its not illegal to wear a helmet but imo its daft, why wouldnt you want to protect your head in case of an incident with traffic or misjudging a corner etc

A helmet may help a helmet may not help, there are cases when it makes things better and cases when it makes it worse. But if the choice is being hit by a car whilst wearing a helmet and not being hit by a car not wearing a helmet i think i, along with most people, will chose not being hit. After all a helmet is little more than a couple of inches of polystyrene, and that isn't much protection.

As for you other points, all part of the motorists victim mentality, look how much we have to pay in tax, vat VED, duties, etc etc. and those cyclists don't pay a penny. Obviously motorists on the whole forget that roads existed before the car, that there are plenty of zero VED cars, that they have to have a licence that comes with conditions such as don't speed, don't park on double yellow lines etc. I see plenty of drivers breaking laws every day, in fact i would go as far as saying most motorists break at least one law every time they drive, but that isn't newsworthy is it?

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thelimopit [144 posts] 5 years ago
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I posted a comment on the Auto Express article about how it's a blatant disregard of the Press Complaints Commission's editor's code, but oddly the comment never made it to through the submissions process. I encourage everyone who's reading this to take it up with the PCC - it's a completely unfair article that misrepresents cyclists.

Well done - as ever - to road.cc for highlighting this ghastly piece.

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Sam Saunders [28 posts] 5 years ago
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Two things are at work here. Firstly, people are not very good at following (or even knowing) "the rules". This applies to -ists of every kind. Motorists, cyclists and journalists.

Secondly, journalists are rarely trained to conduct robust social research. Like most of the population they are not interested enough to care. They are paid to write stories that attract attention. Here is a "good story". Like all good stories it is a fiction, based loosely on the writer's experience of real life.

My opinion is that it's best to ignore such dross because no amount of erudition, scorn, complaint, sanity or information can undo the mischief already done by its first publication. Nobody loves a smartarse - especially when they are right. If we have time and effort to spare it would best be spent writing better stories that illustrate our alternative experiences.

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a.jumper [850 posts] 5 years ago
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thelimopit wrote:

I encourage everyone who's reading this to take it up with the PCC - it's a completely unfair article that misrepresents cyclists.

And how does one take things up with the PCC? pcc.org.uk/complaints/makingacomplaint.html or is there a better way?

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OldRidgeback [2826 posts] 5 years ago
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Just posted a comment - not that it really matters or that any of the idiots at Auto Express will take note.

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sanderville [350 posts] 5 years ago
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How many of those cyclists "mounting the pavement" were 2-foot detours to get past white vans* that had deliberately pulled right over to the left into cycle lanes to stop cyclists getting past?

*or addison vermin/black cabs

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Doctor Fegg [148 posts] 5 years ago
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The new 'Cyclist' magazine is currently running a subscription page that exhorts you to "See inside Auto Express". Oops.

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bikecellar [268 posts] 5 years ago
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Too many motorists riding bikes nowadays, they ignore regulations when driving so why does auto express expect them to comply when riding a bike?

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downfader [213 posts] 5 years ago
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I find it interesting that scanning the area in Google Maps and Streetview that I cant find any lights to jump..?

Am I looking in the right area?

https://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=Highbury+Corner+in+Islington&hl=en&ll=5...

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rggfddne [221 posts] 5 years ago
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Jon Burrage wrote:

Its not illegal to wear a helmet but imo its daft, why wouldnt you want to protect your head in case of an incident with traffic or misjudging a corner etc.

You might feel like a lycra-clad dork. You might feel hot and uncomfortable. You might not want to spend the money. You might like the wind over your head. You might not want to carry something around with you when off the bike, and worry about theft if you left it with the bike.

That's five reasons you wouldn't want to wear one (possibly 4 and 2 are the same). You couldn't think of any of these? There must be something wrong with your brain.

Just because these might not apply to you doesn't mean they don't apply to anyone, it's perfectly possible to conclude that your circumstances make the pros outweigh the cons whilst acknowleging that there are cons, that for some people will outweigh the pros.

Oh: Auto Express, it's a rag, well known for publishing 'scoops' of new models entirely from photoshop that end up looking nothing like the real thing. Maybe 'cyclist' mag will claim 3 out of 4 drivers break the rule of not driving grey cars, which are hard to see, and driving whilst fabulous ;).

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Simon_MacMichael [2504 posts] 5 years ago
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downfader wrote:

I find it interesting that scanning the area in Google Maps and Streetview that I cant find any lights to jump..?

Am I looking in the right area?

https://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=Highbury+Corner+in+Islington&hl=en&ll=5...

You're looking in the right area but I don't know why you can't see them - Street View confirms traffic lights on the junction itself at the Upper St and Canonbury Road entrances, traffic-light controlled pedestrian crossings a few yards from it on St Paul's Road and on Holloway Road outside Highbury & Islington tube.

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wormscoffer [15 posts] 5 years ago
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I live in France and recently spent a couple of days in London during which I spent a few hours riding round London.

I'm pretty sure I was the only cyclist stopping at red lights.

Apart from it obviously being dangerous how can this be acceptable?

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