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.