Judge wants to ban cyclists from some A-roads

Safer cycling through victim blaming

by John Stevenson   October 7, 2012  


Judge Simon Tonking of Stafford Crown Court has written to The Times urging that cyclists be banned from riding on many A-roads.

Judge Tonkin suggests that it would improve safety “to remove all cyclists from any dual-carriageway which is not subject to a speed limit of 30, or possibly 40, mph.”

He goes on to say, “This would not prevent cyclists from using dual-carriageways in urban areas but would take them away from some of our more dangerous trunk roads where traffic is both heavy and fast moving.

“Any cyclist, particularly a lone cyclist who is not wearing high-visibility clothing, is at huge risk on such roads from vehicles approaching from behind at a (legal) closing speed of up to 60 mph. At such a closing speed a relatively small and very vulnerable “object” is coming into view at the rate of 60ft per second and in a moment’s inattention irreparable damage is done.”

As Carlton Reid has pointed out, there are a few problems with this idea. Even if it only applies to dual-carriageway A roads, in some places such a road is the only way to get fro A to B. Judge Tonkin is effectively saying that non-urban cycling should be banned from such areas.

He also overlooks that it's already possible for A-roads to be restricted so that cyclists cannot use them, via traffic regulation orders.

What's more worrying than a judge forgetting that particular bit of the law, is his use of language. Judge Tonkin speaks of “huge risk”' but in fact the number of deaths of cyclists as a result of being hit from behind on an A-road is small. To solve the problem by banning cyclists from such roads, and to therefore set the precedent of overturning cyclists' general right to use the public highway, is using an atom bomb to crack a walnut.

Judge Tonkin mentions a “lone cyclist … not wearing high-visibility clothing” but presents no evidence that when he has had “the painful duty of sitting on cases involving the death of or serious injury to cyclists caused in road traffic accidents” any of them have been caused or made worse by the lack of high-visibility clothing.

In fact, in the opening paragraph of his letter, he judge admits that “several (but not all) of [these cases] have been accepted or found to have been caused by dangerous or careless driving of motor vehicles.”

It's peculiar then, that Judge Tonkin isn't calling for better driver training or more severe penalties for drivers who kill or injure.

The judge concludes his letter by saying: “Lest it be said that cyclists have a right to use such roads and it is up to other road users to be vigilant, the fact is that no cyclist, or even motorcyclist with a machine of small capacity, is permitted to use any motorway. As a matter of logic and realism the same should apply to dual carriageways where the speed limit is not significantly restricted.”

It hardly needs to be pointed out that motorways are purpose-built for motor vehicle use (the clue is in the name) and are almost never the sole route between two points a short distance apart, whereas even dual-carriageway A roads often have numerous minor junctions.

In some jurisdictions, Australia for example, cyclists are permitted to use motorways while in others such as Holland and Germany fast and congested A-roads are usually accompanied by high-quality bike paths that obviate the need for a ban by providing a far more appealing option.

In response to the same Times article on the rise in cyclist deaths that prompted Judge Tonkins' letter, a letter from the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group said:

“The economic and social benefits of cycling in improving public health, tackling obesity and reducing congestion and pollution are being lost through inaction. And the splendid Olympic cycling legacy risks being overshadowed by an unacceptable death toll.

“Leadership, commitment and investment across government in new policies and infrastructure are all that can reverse this trend of innocent lives lost and encourage more people to ride their bikes on Britain’s streets.” [emphasis ours]

That surely is a far better idea than a blanket ban on cyclists using any class of public road.

49 user comments

Latest 30 commentsNewest firstBest ratedAll

He is right.

I already avoid dual carriageways because of the speed involved and the volume of traffic. But as we all know some 'bike users' have no sense of their vulnerability.

posted by jimmyd [109 posts]
7th October 2012 - 22:10


what planet is this guy from?


posted by OldRidgeback [2586 posts]
7th October 2012 - 22:24


"momentary inattention"? That'd be Careless, then. It's almost as if the law had already considered the question (albeit it's barely enforced).

posted by steff [81 posts]
7th October 2012 - 22:48


On one thread, people are arguing against cycling on shared use paths, and then here we're suggesting we should use a path. I'm struggling to understand where my place is when cycling, not all of us have the luxury of a 'good' traffic free alternative to using A roads, but where there are good traffic free alternatives, cyclists are often criticised for using them..

the_mikey's picture

posted by the_mikey [155 posts]
8th October 2012 - 7:26


There are dangers, we can all appreciate that .. and I understand where he's coming from .. but don't agree

I toured Eire a few years back and the vast majority of "A" roads or their version thereof had very adequate cycling provision - a good width of well surfaced tarmac ....

I came back singing their praises ... the drivers had WAY MORE RESPECT also..

Me, Myself and I

posted by phax71 [325 posts]
8th October 2012 - 7:55


As a general principle it has merits but so many loopholes and possible errors that practically it may not work. How ever I can think of places where it would make perfect sense for both cyclists and car drivers. After all cyclists don't moan about being banned from motorways. Banning mopeds as well would be good.

posted by mattsccm [316 posts]
8th October 2012 - 8:10

1 Like

In my view, the half-way-house that is the dual carriageway A-Road is a dangerous anachronism- they've often (from a driving point of view) got horrible dangerous junctions, many are cramped and narrow etc. Really, they should all be Motorways, with properly engineered junctions etc- and both a local access road and a seperate, non-shared-use (segregated) cycle route roughly paralleling them.

It would be unpopular in many places, yes, and hideously expensive, but the end result would be a much more pleasent driving and cycling experience.

posted by Al__S [886 posts]
8th October 2012 - 9:18


If you support banning on A roads why not any road?? A dual-carriageway has lots of room to overtake and visability is amazing. Small country lanes have poor visability, hedges, farm animals crossing, mud on the road etc. Sounds far too dangerous. B roads often are much more twisty with a speed limit of 60mph. They are narrower- cars give little room to overtake. Urban roads- there is so much going on, how could the poor drivers be expected to see every little bike on the road.
Lets just get those pesky bikes off the road once and for all. Maybe we should let them do the odd sportive a couple of times a year.

Perfect cycle lanes would be fine- I have never seen one that allows me to get from A to B at a decent speed safely.

posted by ilovemytinbred [164 posts]
8th October 2012 - 9:19


"A dual-carriageway has lots of room to overtake and visability is amazing."

Personally I think this is one of the most misperceived points of dual carriageways. When the road is quiet the above may be true but as a daily driver on a 70mph DC (on which I would never ride) I can confidently state that when the road is busy the exact opposite is true: it is very often, for a number of reasons, *extremely* difficult to spot cyclists. I would choose a 60mph rural road over any busy dual carriageway with even a 40mph limit, any day of the week.

I agree 100% with the statement that "the half-way-house that is the dual carriageway A-Road is a dangerous anachronism". Horrible things for drivers but even more so for cyclists. Time we built good cycling alternatives alongside them and perhaps made more use of the "An (M)" classification.

Bez's picture

posted by Bez [538 posts]
8th October 2012 - 9:37


I have to admit that I hate using and try to avoid using dual carriageways, but I'd be loathe to agree to a cycling ban on their use.
As mentioned, in reality, these roads should offer high levels of safety, being straight, wide, with great visibility and loads of overtaking room. Only challenge is vehicle volume and speed, which apart from being no fun at all to be around, shouldn't jeopardise safety.
I see this ban being for less about safety and far more about convenience for the judge and other car drivers. As has been said many times before, the rage felt by many car drivers is intact a knee jerk reaction to being made aware of their own incompetencies... Oh shit a cyclist, what do I do... Do I overtake now, is it safe... Oh shit.... Terre fecking cyclists!
I digress.
Why not just include a wider path at the side of these dual carriageways like in other countries... Problem solved.

posted by Jimmy Ray Will [433 posts]
8th October 2012 - 9:45


Imagine the furore if a judge wrote to a national newspaper saying that it is dangerous for black people to walk alone in certain areas, so they should be excluded from any borough or constituency where, to draw a similarly arbitrary line without consideration for the practicality for those affected, racially-motivated attacks exceed 10% of crimes reported.

posted by handlebarcam [545 posts]
8th October 2012 - 9:45


I am a big fan of riding on busy A-roads and dual-carriageways - for me I find it the obvious choice for longer rides.

I am lit-up like a Christmas tree and I am inside the white line and pose zero risk to traffic unless they are driving along the hard shoulder!

Generally traffic passes at a safe distance, partly due to the light I emit, but I think also because of the unusual nature of seeing a cyclist on that road - some douchebag drivers come too close - but that can happen on any road.

I wouldnt however ride these roads without lights or wearing non-refelctive black, I think thats just asking for trouble - and in the event of a collision then the newspaper would report that I wasn't lit up or visible and bad driving would be excused!

posted by themartincox [494 posts]
8th October 2012 - 10:32

1 Like

Martin, dual carriageway A-roads don't always have a hard shoulder . Indeed, that'd be unusual up here in Scotland. Having to cycle *in* a lane with 60+ mph traffic is not fun. Close passes at that speed can be terrifying, especially if by larger vehicles.

posted by Paul J [816 posts]
8th October 2012 - 11:20


Martin, this is not atypical for the A1: http://goo.gl/maps/u7uJ8

There is though a very narrow cycle/footpath (fgood luck if there's a cyclist coming the other way) on the opposite side of the road. Enjoy!

posted by Al__S [886 posts]
8th October 2012 - 12:08


PaulJ - I actually got pulled off the A1 just outside Edinburgh by the police as you cant cycle on it, I had managed to not see the road-signs informing me of such thing! Even then though I had no fears about cycling to the left of the solid line despite some of the larger vehicles passing.

re the A1 in England, i regularly ride along it as part of my training rides, from peterborough way (where it turns to the A1M) up to Doncaster, I really enjoy it as a good road to ride on!

I've probably done a 1000 miles on in and never had any issues - but I am always lit up well - normally 2 or 3 lights on the back to alert drivers!

posted by themartincox [494 posts]
8th October 2012 - 12:59


I think we should ban Judges from talking to the media.... Devil

posted by londonplayer [671 posts]
8th October 2012 - 14:36


Was one of m'learned friends comments mis-reported. It says "60mph dual carr...", where in fact the national speed limit as we all know being responsible road users and familiar with the Highway Code, is 70mph, as another poster has noted. The same as a motorway.
Interesting approach, ban the victim and the crime stops. None of which helps someone hit from behind by a driver paying insufficient attention to conducting his 600kg-44 tonne piece of machinery along the road in a safe way.


posted by doc [167 posts]
8th October 2012 - 15:48


Hey I have good idea, Why don't we have a Highway Code? Oh we do. Why don't we use it, I see more drivers texting and using there phones then ever before, not seen a cyclist doing this yet. I see cyclists jumping red lights cars sitting in cycle lanes the list goes on. Yes we need more and better cycle lanes but more importantly we need to pay care and attention and mutual respect on her majesty's highways. We don't need another judge getting above his station he should stick to applying the laws correctly and sentencing those who break the law. Not to difficult is it and yes I do cycle on dual carriageways and 99% of motorists give you plenty of room but there's always an idiot or someone not paying attention. Keep safe.

posted by theincrediblebike [41 posts]
9th October 2012 - 11:43


A blanket ban would be stupid.
There are several road near my hometown where the only direct route is a dual-carriageway A road.

If you really can't see and react to an object in front when driving at 60mph you either need to slow down or mail your licence back to the DVLA.

posted by thereverent [356 posts]
9th October 2012 - 13:01


Martin Porter QC has written a response to The Times:


Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2418 posts]
9th October 2012 - 13:05


around Cambridge there's huge numbers of cyclists texting and making calls on their phones. Morons the lot of them. Often swerving all over the place. Makes life dangerous for other cyclists- but not as dangerous as motor vehicle drivers doing likewise.

posted by Al__S [886 posts]
9th October 2012 - 14:25


'....The whole thing was made completely out of matchsticks!'....... 'took it off below the knee'....'a rather striking mustache..'...... 'SNAKE, SNAKE!'... 'well I did laugh I'm afraid...' ..... 'Her husband had been entombed in ice.'.....'Like this.'... 'but I'm afraid that I was very, very drunk.'

posted by james-o [229 posts]
9th October 2012 - 20:23


It doesn't mention it but I presume the judge is a regular cyclist - I mean he's not likely to be some arrogant buffoon that thinks he's an expert on cycling while being chauffeur around in a jag!

TheHatter's picture

posted by TheHatter [811 posts]
9th October 2012 - 20:36


Good for the judge. Totally independently and to much derision from some cyclists like Carlton Reid, I have been, with the welfare of cyclists in mind, been raising the self evident: For humans to mingle, mix, often compete with and be in the path of large fast moving essential machines operated by any Tom Dick & Harry, has to be daft. May I say that I do it too and I am daft because it is a mad lottery.

Carlton is far too tunnel visioned to be a cyclist's best advocate and predictably spoils his contribution by blaming drivers and seeking more punishment for them too. But it is not they who are creating this dangerous scenario. Politicians, trying to deal with their own economic failures, green agendas, and in some case from ideology are irresponsibly donning convenient cycle clips & exploiting cycling for their own ends.

Carlton's blame stance doesn't alter the fact that when dead you may well have right on your side. Worse yet: If crippled or turned into a vegetable state, you may well have been in the right too. Wonderful Carlton. Completely missing the point as usual.

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

posted by Sedgepeat [91 posts]
10th October 2012 - 18:35


Well, of course the judge is right, and showing the good commonsense of so many judges of his ilk.
People who injure or murder others should be given full control of their environment and those that are injured, upset or killed by those dangerous individuals should have their freedom circumscribed for their own protection.
In the same spirit of common-sense, I look forwards to any person with a history of GBH or who arm themselves with guns being given control of the high-streets and anyone who might suffer injury to be confined to their own houses.

If people who DON'T cause injury were to venture outside their houses, they must be subject to the full force of the law for exposing themselves to danger.

Yes, that should stop accidents nicely.
Better still:
It would be good for the gun and 4x4 industry too.

posted by Phytoramediant [23 posts]
10th October 2012 - 20:16


if you restrict cyclists to roads with 30 or 40 miles an hour limit you might as well make cycling illegal as many of the minor roads we use are covered by national speed limit which is 60 anyway. Dual carriageways should be safer as although the speeds are greater the roads are generally straighter so unless the cyclist is wearing camouflage there should be no supprises encounters, but how often have you been passed on a empty dual carriageway, whilst riding side by side, by a fist waving motorist inches off the bars

Zero emissions so Zero tax

posted by petethegreek [23 posts]
10th October 2012 - 20:21


I ride 10 miles each way along the a256 into margate . It has what many might regard as a high quality cycle path alongside it but it is in fact crap because the Tarmac is corrugated and littered with broken glass fragments ( something you don't realise unless you try to ride on it with road tyres). I use the main carriageway and its fine ...perfectly safe because its straight and all the vehicles are travelling the same way. My other route is a country lane route and I have a near death experience on it at least once a week or so. There is no way this judge has any idea of the actual risks to cyclists per km cycled on different road types. A roads are the safest type of road to cycle on statistically.
Another thing, ban cycles then also ban 30mph mopeds. What is the difference ?

Think long and hard.....if bicycles start to loose the right to use all roads cycling is in trouble and ceases to be a viable means of transport.

I also wanted to add that in 4 years of cycling on a 50mph dual carriageways day In day out, the only events that could be construed as dangerous that have happened to me have been deliberate acts of aggression by drivers who have seen me but clearly thought I shouldn't be there. I shall expect a bit more of these from times readers I suppose. Thanks judge. FYI this dual carriageway is the only way I can make it in time to pick up my daughter from after school club on time. 10 miles takes me 29 minutes on the dual carriage way, 40 minutes using the toy town path next to it(with daily punctures), and 55 minutes on my far more dangerous country lane route )15 miles). And I frequently overtake mopeds btw.

posted by wyadvd [126 posts]
11th October 2012 - 10:11


Maybe a dangerous thing to do, but what if we were to flip the argument on its head? What about banning HGVs from town centres? The Judge's arguments stand up just as well to this kind of action as removing more vunerable road users rom faster roads.

posted by Matt eaton [707 posts]
12th October 2012 - 13:31


Typical attitude of a judge who thinks he can pass judgement on subject he actually knows nothing about (as he demonstrates by his stupid comments. What chance do cyclists have of getting justice in court when idiots like this are in such positions? What makes him think he has the right to make such statements about road traffic issues when he clearly has no real understanding of the issues. How arrogant. Time he retired.

posted by Grumpyoldbiker [16 posts]
17th October 2012 - 6:07


Municipal Waste wrote:
Thinking Here's an even better idea... Any road like this should have a decent tarmac surfaced cycle path alongside it.

[[[[ Now then....seeing as how cars present such a danger to cyclists, perhaps Judge Stonkin'ought to be proposing that cars be banned from all A-roads, at least until drivers have learned to drive safely....


posted by PhilRuss [332 posts]
18th October 2012 - 3:03