AA President Edmund King has called for an end to the “two tribes” mentality and the effect it has of polarising opinion between ‘drivers’ and ‘cyclists’ in the road safety debate. As he points out, often they are one and the same person.
In a column published in the Autumn 2012 edition of The AA Magazine as well as on its website ahead of his giving a speech at the Road Safety GB Annual Conference in London’s Docklands today, King said: “We really must get past the dangerous ‘them and us’ mentality that sours interactions between different groups (and even sub-groups) of road users – be they pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists or drivers of vehicles large and small.
“Cycle campaigners often do themselves no favours in this respect, and motorists can be just as bad. Motorists see cyclists running red lights. Cyclists see motorists cutting them up.”
King wrote that far from driving everywhere, as many assume someone in his position would do, he chooses the appropriate mode of transport for the journey he’s undertaking – sometimes that means a car, while on other occasions it could be a train, on foot or by bicycle.
He’s certainly not alone in taking that approach. Research consistently shows that regular adult cyclists are more likely than the national average to hold a driving licence – and they’re also more likely to live in a household with access to more than one car.
He also underlined AA policy relating to cycling and some broader issues as follows:
THE AA WANTS
All road users to follow the Highway Code
More cycle routes/lanes where quieter alternative routes do not exist
More widespread cycle proficiency and truck/cycle awareness training
More cycle-safety elements in the driving test
THE AA DOESN’T WANT
The licensing of bicycles
Compulsory cycle helmet use
The AA’s website also has a section on drivers and cyclists including advice on how to share the road safely written with the help of Carlton Reid, executive editor of trade journal BikeBiz and founder of the I Pay Road Tax website.
“We need better behaviour all round,” King added. “We’re not yet like the Netherlands, owning lots of cars, but moving around town by bike. Yet the majority of motorists have bicycles at home and the majority of cyclists have cars. When we release our grip on the steering wheel or handlebars, the differences disappear.
“We need to change things culturally, and I think this is happening – slowly. It’s all about modifying attitudes, particularly at a young age. It would help to get more youngsters cycling, and that means improving facilities for everyone. Existing cycle routes could be better designed. Cycling needs to be incorporated into the planning stage of developments, not added as an afterthought in the form of ridiculous 10- yard cycle lanes painted in the gutters of busy roads.
“Many people are put off by perceived or actual danger, and some parents won’t allow even their teenage children to cycle. But if they haven’t done so by the time they obtain a provisional driving licence, they probably never will – instead becoming drivers who have no empathy or understanding of the issues that cyclists face.
“We also need more cycle training across the UK because figures from the AA Populus opinion panel [an opinion panel that canvasses the views of 150,000 of its members, the largest such panel in Europe] show that less than a quarter of the 1.5 million AA Members who cycle have ever received any. Two of my children recently completed Bikeability cycle proficiency courses via their school. These courses should be offered more widely.
“Notwithstanding these problems, cycling is enjoying a renaissance even in busy cities such as London, and cycle shops are doing well in spite of the recession. This is to be welcomed because the more cyclists there are, the safer and better accommodated they will be.”
After outlining some of the specific initiatives that the AA has undertaken in terms of cycle and wider road safety such as its helmet giveaway last year – an initiative many saw as incompatible with its stated opposition to helmet compulsion – King concluded by issuing an appeal to those AA members not currently riding bikes.
“Come and join us,” he said. “Get out your bike, dust it down and enjoy the freedom of two wheels. It will be fun, it will get you fit and it will save you money. Win, win, win.”
The AA President’ comments come on the same day as yet another national newspaper published a depressingly familiar by-the-numbers anti-cyclist rant, this one penned by Camilla Tominey in the Daily Express. In a novel twist, however, she acknowledges that her dislike of cyclists stems from her mother having had an affair with one – more Lycra Lothario than Lycra Lout, perhaps?
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.