BBC to air helmet cam documentary

Controversial doco is called 'The War on Britain's Roads' - how will cyclists be portrayed?

by Sarah Barth   November 27, 2012  

Cyclists at traffic lights (©Toby Jacobs)

The BBC has announced that it will air its one hour special documentary on cyclists and motorists, fueled by helmet cam footage, at 9pm on BBC1 on 5th December.

The documentary has come under fire for appearing to be more than a little confrontational.

The broadcaster describes the programme as “an adrenaline-filled one-off film for BBC One."

They go on to say: “As more and more people take up cycling as a way of beating the traffic or just keeping fit on their commute, the potential for conflict between cyclists and drivers has increased massively,” the BBC said.

“Now cameras installed on bikes and in vehicles will use heart-stopping footage of interactions between road users to reveal a shocking picture of life on Britain’s roads. The film will follow current cases as they go through the courts and revisit the tragic stories of some of those who have lost their lives on Britain’s roads.”

The documentary has been made by Leopard Films, whose Chief Executive Officer, Todd Austin, commented: “This timely documentary highlights a growing issue on Britain’s roads, from the viewpoint of both the motorist and the cyclist. BBC One is the perfect home for this insightful and at times shocking film.

"Viewers are parachuted into the middle of the battle that is raging between two-wheeled road users and their four-wheeled counterparts."

Helmet cams are a mode of documentation, legal protection and downright fun for a growing number of cyclists, but portraying commuting as a 'battle', or 'adrenaline fuelled' goes against the vision the vast majority of riders would wish to see on the roads as more people take to two wheels.

Thomas Stokell, MD of Challenge for Change, which runs workplace cycle projects, told BikeBiz:

"There is clearly a risk here that this documentary will only portray cycling to be a dangerous, tragedy-filled activity. While clashes between people who drive cars and people who ride bikes do occur, it may seem to people who watch this documentary that they happen everyone time you ever ride your bike. This will clearly not be conducive to encouraging more people to take up cycling.

"Personally, I ride everyday, mainly in Bristol, but in cities all over the country as well, and I have hardly ever had a hostile confrontation with someone in a car. Positive interactions with other road users on one ride far far far outweigh any negative incidences.

"I really do hope that the documentary makers plan to show viewers at the beginning and the end of the documentary that hundreds of thousands of people ride everyday in the UK, and the vast majority of them have very pleasant rides. Why would they cycle if it wasn't highly enjoyable to do so?"

41 user comments

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When I'm not on my bike I'm in my two tons of Ford Ranger.

Invariably every week I get people cutting me up, pulling out in front of me and generally behaving like I've got a stealth shield as an optional extra in my pick up.

When I go out on my bike I still get the same problem. (The difference is that I've not got my steel coat on to protect me then).

I don't think it's a case of drivers going out of their way to give cyclists grief - I just think its general bad driving skills in the majority of cases.

We've all had near misses and some of us (me included) have been knocked off our bikes so I'm not denying that there is a risk there - there is driving or being a pedestrian too. Unfortunately this type of documentary will do sensationalise any problems there are with cycling on our roads and just make people think that the risk of getting hurt and injured is higher than it is.

This will ultimately put people off from cycling on the road and using the bicycle as a means of transport which is a bad thing in anybody's books as I feel the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Going off topic slightly the best solution I feel is a compulsory re-take of part or all of the driving test every 10 years for every driver - there are people like my dad driving who learnt way before the introduction of motorways, never mind cycle lanes and ASL's.

Velotastic !

Too many hills, but too little time.

badback's picture

posted by badback [298 posts]
27th November 2012 - 17:49


Steven_L wrote:
I've found that when you catch people at the lights who've done something silly like cutting you up, or shouting out the window to tell you to use the cycle lane (which happened twice last week; the cycle lane filled with leaves & debris and totally unfit for purpose), they tend to back down significantly if you present a reasoned argument.

I cant find the original but this is a great example of how a reasoned approach to bad road users completely takes the wind out of their self righteous sails:

I spoke with a friend who was asked early on to be involved with this docu and he turned it down, precisely because its a very divisive "us and them" approach. It wont be about how all road users are people [A major complaint i have about the Times campaign] and starts out from the angle that its a "war" (therefore has to be "won" and "lost" by the sides they have matched).

Its bad journalism, will do nothing to to make our cities and town more progressive and I bet you will have a rise in incidents of assault against cyclists shortly after it.

It will be interesting to view the reaction on twitter from all users during, and after, the airing of the programme.

zanf's picture

posted by zanf [726 posts]
27th November 2012 - 17:52


To the driver of the builder's van who shouted a stream of obscenity at me on my bike in Filton on Friday. When I tapped on your window you didn't give me a chance to let you know this because you were shouting and then you drove off. It's possibly too late now but all I wanted to tell you was that your rear door sprang open as you went over the speed bump and your tools were falling out of the back. Still, you have probably found that out by now.

Mixte Rider

posted by adriank999 [83 posts]
27th November 2012 - 18:03

1 Like

Whoops this was from a local letter to the paper

Mixte Rider

posted by adriank999 [83 posts]
27th November 2012 - 18:03


andyp wrote:
Frankly, I'm astonished.

I commute daily and rarely a week goes by without some t*sser in a car cutting me up severely then getting bent out of shape if I have the cheek to complain.

Manchester daily commuter here, can probably count on the fingers of one hand such incidents in the past 7 years. What are people getting up to?

Ditto me - don't come up against much wankerage from drivers on my commute at all, beyond not indicating (pedestrians thoughtlessly striding into the road without looking are my commuting issue #1).

Weekend sorties out of the city are a different matter...

Ghedebrav's picture

posted by Ghedebrav [1133 posts]
27th November 2012 - 18:06

1 Like

They'll most likely use most of the footage that comes from helmet cam users that don't really paint cyclists in a good a light. You know the ones - the ones who are hell bent on conflict and literally go out of their way to get something Youtube worthy on camera to such a degree they'll almost orchestrate an incident.

I hope that doesn't happen of course, but I wonder with these types of docu's....

posted by Critchio [145 posts]
27th November 2012 - 18:24


What friggin battle? Let me tell I dont know much but I know that a 20lb piece of carbon/alloy is no match for a 1.5 tons of motor vehicle.

posted by pmr [193 posts]
27th November 2012 - 18:26


I largely agree with Badback above - Most bad driving is that simply bad driving which everyone else suffers regardless of their mode of transport. These people cut everyone up. turn at the last minute without indicating. Drive at night with no/side/fog lights on (delete as appropriate) and are just generally b*st*rds to everyone else

There is however a proportion of motorists who actively think people riding bikes should not be on the road, and treat us like a sub-species and abuse and berate us, and a lot of the time try to kill us.

I don't commute by bike, but do cycle as much as I can at other times mainly in urban areas, and have a near miss nearly every time I go out. I have bought and have started using a cheap action camera due to this.
I do get almost no abuse for riding a bike though.

If this "documentary" turns out to be as confrontational as the trailer etc suggests then it will be a massive disservice to cycling and put the cause back quite a bit.

I wont be surprised though as the BBC has form for being at least passively anti-cycling by not getting us, and often actively feels pro-driver.

posted by gazza_d [421 posts]
27th November 2012 - 19:13


Steven_L: If you were knocked off by someone opening a door, then that's completely their fault blame-wise AFAIK. Via §105 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986", the contravention of which seems to be an offence via §42 of the Road Traffic Act, 1988. There may have been things you could have done to reduce the risk of dooring, but, regardless, the blame lies with the person who opened the door (if a passenger, the driver may still bear some responsibility). Apparently...

posted by Paul J [817 posts]
27th November 2012 - 19:34

1 Like

It will just put people off cycling despite it actually being quite safe. Even one death is one too many, but all the time people are hearing how unsafe cycling is, we'll have fewer cyclists on the road.

More cyclists would mean willingness from government to spend more on infrastructure and would mean better attitudes. Since I've explained to my mother in-law why cyclists might be riding primary at a pinch point or why they might not be in cycle lanes, she's become a lot more tolerant and by her own admission gives them more room because it could be me. Every new cyclist has that effect on someone to some extent.

We need to encourage cycling and this isn't the way to go about it!

CraigS's picture

posted by CraigS [135 posts]
27th November 2012 - 19:55


Round where I ride, it's not direct aggression that's the problem, it's general numptiness.

I can deck my my bike with as many lights as I can fit on it and dress myself head to to with hi-viz and cars still don't seem to be aware of my presence.

Couple that with crap road design, cars parked half on the kerb and endemic speeding and it's a recipe for disaster.

posted by j1mmy76 [66 posts]
27th November 2012 - 19:56


It's disappointing that the BBC has fallen for the production company's pitch for this programme - another angle on cycling to extend the story of the year. Of course it has to be presented tabloid style and sensationalised.

Hopefully the tosser count (motorists and cyclists) is about even.

posted by Campag_10 [153 posts]
27th November 2012 - 20:38

1 Like

"The War On Britain's Roads"; Correct me if I'm wrong, Leopard Films, I'm guessing by the title that there will be plenty of collisions, clashes, fights, swearing and arguments.

As a cyclist, I don't put myself in a situation where I'm in any real danger from motorists, although there are a few cyclists that do.

As a former professional driver, I have plenty of time for cyclists and give them plenty of room when I overtake, although there are plenty of motorists that don't.

We all know that motorists are potentially selfish, dangerous morons; treat them as such only when they act like it.


cyclist67's picture

posted by cyclist67 [18 posts]
27th November 2012 - 20:58


I commute on Manchester roads too. I find the standard of driving varies quite considerably according to area. in Gorton, rusholme, and Hulme its pretty dire for instance. In my eyes is is simply because the driver knows they won't get caught, and even if they were seen the police won't stop them.

Although it is the minority of drivers that are bad (just as it is the minority of cyclists) if it is ignored it won't be long before an ever increasing number perceives it to be normal behaviour.

posted by GREGJONES [251 posts]
27th November 2012 - 21:10


This smells of sensationalistic journalism from the unbiased scumbag that is the BBC, whoops I might not have sat on the fence with that comment Wink . Have they cut the budget for their war correspondents that much that they can’t get to a proper warzone so they manufacture one a bit closer, reminds me of Drop the Dead Donkey Big Grin . I wonder if they will have Clarkson as the narrator. Devil

cidermart's picture

posted by cidermart [493 posts]
27th November 2012 - 21:41


best year ever to be a cyclist...ruined by dopers and now the bbc...great.

i got my kicks before the whole shithouse went up in flames

posted by betweenbikes [20 posts]
27th November 2012 - 22:29

1 Like

Word from some of the headcam crowd is that their footage has been pulled - and no preview sent....

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

A V Lowe's picture

posted by A V Lowe [560 posts]
27th November 2012 - 23:53

1 Like

Commuting in London is fine as long as you keep your eyes and ears open for the numpties. 90% are just bad drivers and the others are out to be dickheads to you I reckon. I agree with one comment above that pedestrians one of the worst problems in central London (and at Elephant & Castle...). "Stop, look and listen" has now become "step out, look the wrong way, wonder where the "aaaaggggghhh sh****t" noise is coming from, look the right way, jump a mile and crap yourself".

I think this documentary is going to make everyone angry - remember, there is absolutely no TV value in showing clips of people having a nice calm normal ride to work or whatever - it's all going to be "adrenaline fuelled" (their words) confrontation and drama, otherwise it would just be boring. When did you ever hear a news headline that said "man goes to work, does not much all day, goes home, goes to bed, nothing happens"?

posted by Paul99 [20 posts]
28th November 2012 - 11:04

1 Like

Arno du Galibier wrote:
...And the missus will probably watch it, freak out and I'll never hear the end of it! Crying

This is what worries me about this sort of programme - and in fact, what annoys me about people riding like idiots, without lights, running reds, etc.

Recently I've been waging a 'hearts and minds' campaign by pointing it out to her whenever I see a cyclist do something stupid. "Look dear: look at the stupid thing he's just done. He's the sort of pillock who ends up on the accident statistics."

Note: none of the above forgives SMIDSY or the times when Addison Lee drivers actually try to hit cyclists (there are at least two with dents in their sides put there by me). But as far as I'm concerned every single time a cyclist gets squished by a left-turning truck at a junction, that's because the cyclist shouldn't have been there.

Boardman CX Team '14 | Cannondale CAAD8 '12 (written off, SMIDSY) | Scott Sportster '08

Gizmo_'s picture

posted by Gizmo_ [1251 posts]
28th November 2012 - 13:27


Gizmo_ wrote:
Note: none of the above forgives SMIDSY or the times when Addison Lee drivers actually try to hit cyclists (there are at least two with dents in their sides put there by me). But as far as I'm concerned every single time a cyclist gets squished by a left-turning truck at a junction, that's because the cyclist shouldn't have been there.

I agree with you here 100%. I get infuriated by idiots out without lights, jumping lights, or generally behaving contrary to Darwinian principles.

posted by Steven_L [48 posts]
28th November 2012 - 13:49

1 Like

Cheers BBC and Leopard Films. Let's see what happens the day after.

disco's picture

posted by disco [34 posts]
28th November 2012 - 21:42


I have decided to watch the film.............................................................................................and then comment. Thinking


ironbloke's picture

posted by ironbloke [61 posts]
28th November 2012 - 22:10


Mmmm, can't help but worry that the programme will bring the headcam loonies to a wider audience.

I've seen the stuff on Youtube, and a percentage (not all) of it appears to be generated by people on bikes almost looking for a confrontation.

I agree with Ironbloke above - I'll watch the film, then comment.

posted by Littlesox [89 posts]
28th November 2012 - 23:07


Second that. Mostly uneventful commute, main annoyance is drivers turning left without indicating, but you can avoid that with caution at junctions.

It does make me wonder if the shouty type cyclists are those who pack helmet cams.

drmatthewhardy's picture

posted by drmatthewhardy [586 posts]
28th November 2012 - 23:44

1 Like

" But as far as I'm concerned every single time a cyclist gets squished by a left-turning truck at a junction, that's because the cyclist shouldn't have been there."

Strictly speaking I agree, but it doesn't help when 'cycle lanes' direct the cyclist down the inside of traffic towards a left turning junction. Another reason I don't always use them.

posted by matthewuniverse [17 posts]
29th November 2012 - 0:00

1 Like

Littlesox wrote:
Mmmm, can't help but worry that the programme will bring the headcam loonies to a wider audience.

I've seen the stuff on Youtube, and a percentage (not all) of it appears to be generated by people on bikes almost looking for a confrontation.

Publication bias. I've recorded hours of footage of open roads, considerate drivers and so on. You don't upload that to YouTube.

We're not all loonies, but if you reckon on one nutter a week per average commuter cyclist, as well as a few trouble-seekers, there's more than enough footage to spin this any way they like.

posted by a.jumper [833 posts]
29th November 2012 - 8:39


Gizmo_ wrote:
But as far as I'm concerned every single time a cyclist gets squished by a left-turning truck at a junction, that's because the cyclist shouldn't have been there.

I've had a few occations where a lorry has overtaken me and immediately turned left across me. I've managed to see it coming and brake/avoid going under the lorry.
It's lazy to say it always it the cyclist at fault.

posted by thereverent [357 posts]
29th November 2012 - 15:47

Mikeh789's picture

posted by Mikeh789 [142 posts]
30th November 2012 - 21:19

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Drove though central London last week during peak evening traffic. May be due to inexperience of the conditions but quite an eyeopener. Motor traffic generally kept to lanes at a modest pace. Cyclist and motorcycles all over the place weaving in and out of traffic.

It was also clear that those cyclists who were more passive were tempted to follow the practice of the more "assertive" and were clealy uncomfortable in some of the positions they found themselves.

All road users must relise that the roads are not race tracks and need to be shared. Stop jumping lights, stop racing and stop expecting all others to accommodate your bad habits.

Commuting is just that and nothing more. Ride in a manner that is appropriate for the conditions.

The attitudes shown by motorists to cyclist are also the same as those shown by some cyclists to motorists. Get used to sharing this common facility.


posted by Posh [47 posts]
1st December 2012 - 13:20


I think Posh is suffering from observation bias: if you're sat in a stationary car, you only see the cyclists who overtake it, not those who wait in line or who take quieter alternative routes. Of course, some of those who are happy to "mix it" with cars are nuts, while some make mistakes. Likewise, if you're on a bike on a quiet road, you don't see the cars moving at modest speeds in tidy lanes on the main roads - you see the rat runners.

The key things are to share the road, don't sink to the level of the nutters and remember not to overgeneralise about any type of road users.

posted by a.jumper [833 posts]
1st December 2012 - 20:21

1 Like