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Safer cycling through victim blaming

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.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

49 comments

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antonio [1122 posts] 3 years ago
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After Abu Hamsa gave the judicial system the run around for over eight years at a cost of millions I think a judge should have better aims than targeting Cyclists.

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The Rumpo Kid [589 posts] 3 years ago
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Given Judge Tonkings apalling track record for sentencing in careless and dangerous driving cases (Google him), the best thing he can do for road safety is put his own house in order.

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thebongolian [47 posts] 3 years ago
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Can we complain about him? Strikes me as kinda inappropriate for a judge to be making remarks like this - he's not an expert on road safety and it isn't up to him to set the law, just to adjudicate on it. If he wants to right letters like this, fine, but he should do so as a member of the public rather than trying to gain false credibility using his title.

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Municipal Waste [239 posts] 3 years ago
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 39 Here's an even better idea... Any road like this should have a decent tarmac surfaced cycle path alongside it.

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Karbon Kev [688 posts] 3 years ago
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bloody judges really don't live in the real world.

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georgee [162 posts] 3 years ago
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Office for judicial complaints, just google it and complain online.. Spread the word.

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jackh [119 posts] 3 years ago
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Municipal Waste wrote:

 39 Here's an even better idea... Any road like this should have a decent tarmac surfaced cycle path alongside it.

Quite, couldn't agree more. What a negative argument from the judge. Every fast and dangerous road in Britain with significant cycle use should have a high quality surfaced wide cycle path alongside it.

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Paul J [882 posts] 3 years ago
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He is sort of correct about the dangers of fast A-roads for cyclists, particularly whenever the conditions are anything other than ideal. How many stories of cyclist deaths here on road.cc (outside of London ones) have been about fast A-road fatalities. Personally, I really hate them. I'll go out of my way to avoid fast A-roads on my rides (and I'm a fairly confident cyclist).

If an alternative, high-quality (as judged by cyclists, & this includes maintenance & cleaning) cycle path were available for any route served by some section of fast A-road, I could easy live with being barred from that A-road. Generally, if the former was the minimum requirement for a ban, I could live with that.

In the Netherlands, cyclists are banned from autowegen, the dutch equivalent of A-roads. Belgium has something similar - though Belgium also has an exception for peolotons of cyclists over a certain number (14 to 16 or thereabouts iirc).

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PaulVWatts [111 posts] 3 years ago
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Returning to my car from a walk in the hills on Saturday I walked three miles on country A roads. Most of the time on the road as there was no pavement. Using this idiots logic this also should have been against the law. Slightly off topic but the strange thing I noticed on my walk was that all the cyclists that passed me gave me more room than the cars.

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Furry Mommy [32 posts] 3 years ago
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Without sounding as if I am agreeing with Judge Simon Tonking (Stafford Crown Court) he does have a point that many of us will have seen on all categories of roads (excluding motorways) - those cyclists trying to win Darwin awards by having neither hi-viz clothing nor lights while cycling in low light conditions.

His conclusion or at least suggestion that banning cyclists from “any dual-carriageway which is not subject to a speed limit of 30, or possibly 40, mph.” is wrong - what he should have said is that all these dual carriageways should have dedicated cycle paths running beside them!

Now we all know that's not going to happen any time soon so the best step forward is increased education for both cyclists and motorists....though that is as likely as a snowball lasting more than 30secs in hell!

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mrmo [2070 posts] 3 years ago
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I commute to work by bike, rural area their is no choice but to use the A46 in places. Admittedily it isn't dual carriage on the section i use but IMO a dual carriage way would be easier and safer simply because there is more room and less chance of motorists trying stupid overtakes.

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GrahamH [21 posts] 3 years ago
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video of judge Simon Tonking in action this week

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VgwxKW0J6I

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Simon E [2681 posts] 3 years ago
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Loads of time trial courses use DCs, for better or worse. Even our club '10' uses a short section of the A5 where it is dualled and it feels to me the safest section - surface is great, no blind corners and drivers give me plenty of room.

While I can imagine that some DCs are not safe to cycle on at certain times that does not justify banning one class of road users (the one that poses the least danger to others, naturally).

While camouflaging yourself to appear indistinguishable from your surroundings isn't the best idea for self-preservation, hi-viz is no panacaea. Most deaths and injuries to cyclists on these and other roads are caused by driver inattention.

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Jasonnz1 [23 posts] 3 years ago
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Municipal Waste wrote:

 39 Here's an even better idea... Any road like this should have a decent tarmac surfaced cycle path alongside it.

100% agree

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Dropped [88 posts] 3 years ago
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Absolute classic stupidity. Such a ban would mean that (possibly) the most famous cycling cafe in Britain, The Eureka, would be inaccessible to all cyclists as it sits on a non-urban dual-carriageway main trunk road (A540) with a 50mph limit.
Many people have been fighting for years to get a cycle path/lane built along the length of the A540 but without any success or even a prospect of success, and this dual-carriageway is possibly the most used by cyclists on Merseyside.
The ban won't happen and the cycle paths won't happen.

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spen [127 posts] 3 years ago
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At 60 mph a car does 89 feet per second not 60 (a rule of thumb is to multiply the mph by 1.5 to get feet per second)

As for banning bikes from A roads, that's simply wrong. I did, however suggest o my local authority that all roads with a sped limit in excess of 40 should have a segregated facility next to or parallel to it, should people want to use it without having to mix with traffic. They apparently think it's an interesting idea but I'm not expecting a raft of new paths in my lifetime

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Lungsofa74yearold [281 posts] 3 years ago
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Totally agree -this the real issue. This is what they've done on the new bits of the A46 in Notts when they dualled it Z- it's great  1

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Lungsofa74yearold [281 posts] 3 years ago
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Municipal Waste wrote:

 39 Here's an even better idea... Any road like this should have a decent tarmac surfaced cycle path alongside it.

Sorry, this is what my previous comment refers to - still getting my head round this modern tech  1

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Ghedebrav [1100 posts] 3 years ago
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Municipal Waste wrote:

 39 Here's an even better idea... Any road like this should have a decent tarmac surfaced cycle path alongside it.

Very much agree. Or even make use of the (often rarely used) footpaths that exist beside these roads by designating them as dual-use.

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jimmyd [108 posts] 3 years ago
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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.

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OldRidgeback [2616 posts] 3 years ago
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what planet is this guy from?

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steff [81 posts] 3 years ago
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"momentary inattention"? That'd be Careless, then. It's almost as if the law had already considered the question (albeit it's barely enforced).

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the_mikey [158 posts] 3 years ago
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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..

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phax71 [287 posts] 3 years ago
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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..

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mattsccm [330 posts] 3 years ago
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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.

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Al__S [1018 posts] 3 years ago
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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.

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ilovemytinbred [161 posts] 3 years ago
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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.

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Bez [592 posts] 3 years ago
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"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.

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Jimmy Ray Will [468 posts] 3 years ago
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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.

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handlebarcam [609 posts] 3 years ago
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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.

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