AA president's branding of cyclist-hating drivers as "idiots" wins fans on social media

Cycling blogger says he'll switch from RAC to AA after Edmund King's remarks, others pledge to follow suit

by Simon_MacMichael   December 7, 2012  

AA car (picture credit The AA).jpg

High-profile comments made in the London Evening Standard by AA president Edmund King in which he branded drivers who hate cyclists as “absolute idiots” have sparked an impromptu boycott of the RAC on social media sites with cyclists who drive cars urged to join the AA instead.

Reacting to the BBC One documentary screened earlier this week, The War on Britain’s roads, Mr King said of drivers who display aggression, whether verbal or physical, against cyclists: “They’re absolute idiots. There are some motoring groups who are talking absolute nonsense and who wind up cyclists. That is pathetic.”

His comments, which appeared in an article under the headline ‘AA boss says cyclist-hating drivers are absolute idiots' unsurprisingly grabbed the attention of cyclists on Twitter, with Danny Williams of the Cyclists in the City blog tweeting: “As a cyclist with a car, I'm renewing with the AA next year. Sod RAC who seem to think cyclists don't exist. Here’s why,” with a link to the Standard’s article.

While the AA regularly reports on cycling-related issues – indeed, its website has a page with advice on how motorists and cyclists can share the road safely – the RAC focuses very much on motorists exclusively.

Road safety charity RAC Foundation was, like the commercial RAC business, originally part of the Royal Automobile Club, though all there parted ways in 1999. Given the similarities in their names, it’s a distinction that would be lost on most.

As a result, statements such as one by the head of the RAC Foundation in 2009 urging Mayor of London Boris Johnson “to think less about attention-grabbing policies linked to niche modes of travel like cycling” and instead tackle issues such as congestion in Outer London boroughs – “with the best will in the world, encouraging a few more people onto their bikes is not going to solve the relentless jams in the suburbs,” he said, are unlikely to result in the RAC being viewed favourably by bike riders.

Of course, not all cyclists have been in favour of the mayor prioritising initiatives such as London's bike hire scheme or the Barclays Cycle Superhighways over other initiatives - among those to miss out on funding as a result of those flagship schemes was the funding of cycle routes in Outer London boroughs that could have gone some way to helping relieve that congestion the RAC Foundation lamented.

Yesterday, others quickly seized on Williams’ tweet and said they would do likewise, although as BikeBiz points out, the AA isn’t the only motoring organisation that has a positive view of cyclists, citing the Environmental Transport Association as another vehicle breakdown and recovery service worth considering – moreover, it also also provides cycle insurance and a cycle recovery service.

It’s well known that Mr King is himself a cyclist. Despite heading the UK’s biggest motoring organisation, he has made no secret of the fact that he sees the car as just one mode of transport among several options, depending on the journey to be undertaken.

Last month, ahead of a speech he gave at the Road Safety GB annual conference, he called for an end to the “two tribes” mentality that often sees motorists and cyclists portrayed as two entirely separate species – a case in point being that BBC programme this week, which failed to acknowledge that most adult cyclists drive cars and that millions of motorists ride bikes.

As someone who sits on Transport for London’s roads task force, Mr King is also in a position to help influence Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s transport policy. This week, the mayor revealed that TfL will have close to £1 billion to spend on cycling over the next decade. Mr King believes that money can make a huge difference, depending on what it is actually spent on and highlights junctions as the single most important area where improvements can be made.

“Blackfriars, Bow, Waterloo — anyone who uses them, whether you’re a cyclist or a bus driver or a car driver, you know there are problems there and they haven’t been sorted,” he maintained. “More safe, secure cycle paths would be incredibly helpful.”

The efforts of cycle campaigners, some politicians at local and national level and, from this February, The Times newspaper with its Cities fit for Cycling campaign have all helped push the issue of cycling, and cycle safety in particular, up the political agenda.

“Ten years ago, at meetings I would go to at the Department for Transport, cycling was not represented. There is now a realisation that it shouldn’t all be left to the traffic engineers,” reflected Mr King.

He also explained that while some motorists seize on certain cyclists jumping red lights, drivers had to examine their own behaviour, singling out the illegal use of mobile phones at the wheel as presenting a particular danger to road safety.

“A lot of drivers have to look at their own habits first. It’s appalling. We’ve got to get through to drivers that they’re killing people.”

On his own travel habits, Mr King, who lives in St Albans, said: “I never drive in central London — the hassle isn’t worth it.” Instead, he commutes into London by train, and also takes to a bike when the journey warrants it.

He’s not the only senior person at the AA who is a fan of two wheels either – he revealed that both the chief executive and the marketing director there are regular cyclists, as are nearly one in five AA members according to a survey.

“I actually think it’s getting better. We should encourage the explosion in cycling rather than resent it.”

As for that erroneous claim by some drivers that cyclists don’t belong on the road because they don’t pay ‘road tax’ – abolished in the 1930s – Mr King countered: “It’s a complete nonsense. I quite often wear an ‘I Pay Road Tax’ cycling jersey and an AA helmet.”

 

23 user comments

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Is the AA still part of Saga? Since privatisation, it's been owned by British Gas, venture capitalist job-axers and Saga. Who next?

posted by a.jumper [696 posts]
7th December 2012 - 17:08

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Now sister company of Saga within under Acromas Holdings.

If Mr King carries on like this, it will probably end up being owned by Sustrans or CTC Wink

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [8018 posts]
7th December 2012 - 17:36

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Simon_MacMichael wrote:
Now sister company of Saga within under Acromas Holdings.

If Mr King carries on like this, it will probably end up being owned by Sustrans or CTC Wink

Ironically it grew out of the CTC in the first place

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4135 posts]
7th December 2012 - 17:45

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"Cycling blogger says he'll switch from RAC to AA"... shouldn't that be the other way round... I'm confused Thinking

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posted by gazpacho [80 posts]
7th December 2012 - 17:50

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Ignore last comment, senior moment... D Oh

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posted by gazpacho [80 posts]
7th December 2012 - 17:54

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St Albans to the West End is 21 miles. If that journey doesn't warrant I bike ride I don't know what does.

Ah! Condor

posted by Bedfordshire Clanger [309 posts]
7th December 2012 - 19:24

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Both cyclists and vehicle drivers need to respect the law and one another. There were people from both lobbies on the programme who need to learn this and not set themselves up as upholders of what they consider right and proper.

I must admit that when you ride on the road, and I have never ridden in such a congestion situation you experience drivers who seem to deliberately skim close to you which is terrifying! The only conclusion I can reach is that such drivers see a cyclist and develop a hate moment, whether that is because they feel guilt because the cyclist is exercising and they are not or whether its just an insane hate of Lycra, cycle gear, helmets et al I don't really know!

www.hedcamz.com if you want a bullet cam, like I'm getting for Christmas

Mike262

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posted by Michael Edwards [6 posts]
7th December 2012 - 21:10

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The RACV here in Victoria also tends to try to keep a bike-friendly bublic image with its name on the bikeshare scheme and sponsoring of big bike events.
But there is something else going on if you read between the lines.
All those organisations encourage the use of helmets. In Victoria the RACV were actively involved in putting in the helmet law. In fact central to the whole thing. This had an immediate effect of reducing the use of bikes by about 40%. Utility cycling, like we hear about in Europe, completely died and cycling only ever revived as a sport.
Our car advocate organisation maintains an appearance of being friendly and caring about cyclists while working hard to prevent any laws that might restrain the behaviours of drivers around bicycle users, like the laws that exist in the Netherlands, and to prevent any public money that might otherwise go to vehicle roads being used for bike infrastructure.
Back in 1978 a government study had concluded here that improvements in infrastructure and laws would help with bike safety but that also there was this idea of helmets.
We only ever got helmet law and absolutely nothing else.
In the meantime the Dutch worked on laws and infrastructure and reduced thir bicycle casualty rate by up to 95% while increasing modal share of bikes. Statistically we in Australia achieved nothing. In fact went backwards.
Your motoring advocate groups want to look like they care but they are wolves in sheeps clothing.

posted by Pjrob [21 posts]
7th December 2012 - 21:26

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I like the cut of his jib. Maybe it's all part of Edmund King's cunning plan to replace Boris as Major of London when Boris replaces Dave.

Silly me. You're probably right....

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posted by MercuryOne [1056 posts]
7th December 2012 - 21:32

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I wouldn't get taken in by this - it is basically a way for the AA to raid some cyclists who are RAC members, and Danny has fallen for it.

The AA is still not going to do anything real to control danger from motorists to cyclists. It has a history of supporting rule and law-breaking motorists, resisting proper amounts of fuel tax etc. Most recently it had the grotesque cheek to stage a stunt giving out helmets and hi-viz to cyclists: see http://rdrf.org.uk/2011/04/18/what-a-nerve-how-dare-the-aa-lecture-cycli... for this episode.

The only half way reasonable organisation for motorist with a conscience is the ETA. See ww.rdrf.org.uk for some blogging on this.

posted by ChairRDRF [119 posts]
7th December 2012 - 23:21

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Bedfordshire Clanger wrote:
St Albans to the West End is 21 miles. If that journey doesn't warrant I bike ride I don't know what does.

He spends a lot of his time in Basingstoke, which is 43 miles from St Albans. I suppose that's doable too.. Rolling Eyes

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [8018 posts]
8th December 2012 - 0:13

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ChairRDRF wrote:
Most recently it had the grotesque cheek to stage a stunt giving out helmets and hi-viz to cyclists: see http://rdrf.org.uk/2011/04/18/what-a-nerve-how-dare-the-aa-lecture-cycli... for this episode.

I find it hard to dislike a company giving safety equipment to cyclists, even if their motives could be questionable, more cyclists in helmets is a good thing right?
I read this in Cycling Plus (issue 269 p40):
"...recent research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal has found that you are three times less likely to die from a head injury if you wear a helmet than if you don't."
I think that motorists should take more care around cyclists but if accidents are going to happen, I'd rather have less chance of dying.

Si

posted by sim1515 [137 posts]
8th December 2012 - 12:45

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Pjrob wrote:
Statistically we in Australia achieved nothing. In fact went backwards.

Also in the same issue on the same page was this:
"It's backed up by figures from Australia. Since mandatory helmet laws were introduced in New South Wales in 1991 the number of cyclists has increased (after an initial dip), but while hospital admissions for cycling arm injuries rose by 145% between 1991 and 2010, admissions for head injuries only rose by 20% according to the University of NSW."

Maybe you shouldn't believe everything you read but if both of those are true, I think the more cyclists with helmets the better.

Si

posted by sim1515 [137 posts]
8th December 2012 - 12:46

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sim1515 wrote:
I read this in Cycling Plus (issue 269 p40):
"...recent research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal has found that you are three times less likely to die from a head injury if you wear a helmet than if you don't."
I think that motorists should take more care around cyclists but if accidents are going to happen, I'd rather have less chance of dying.

Old chestnut that: cycle helmets are absolutely NOT tested to standards that will protect you in car-bike collisions, much less the disproportionately-common/deadly lorry-bike collisions. They protect you from you own stupidity, falling off the bike. Meanwhile, they make you look like an armoured road warrior to other people Sad

posted by a.jumper [696 posts]
8th December 2012 - 14:58

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@mike 262 " THANKS A BUNCH "! JUST F''CKED MY DAY WITH 25MB of unnecessary " publicity ! ALSO THERE ARE CHEAPER CAMERAS ELSEWHERE ! THE MUSIC on the ad IS NOT EVEN ENJOYABLE !! I do not need to know that someone last used this product in 1997 , to know that i would be ripped off !

I pay road Tax has been quiet in recent times , are they still active . Not all would ride to the office , considering they could be called on to do Media , look at LOndon Cyclist s appearance this week , sent the wrong message tp non cyclists IMHO .

Skippy(advocate for "Disabled / Para Sport")@skippydetour. blogging as skippi-cyclist.blogspot & Parrabuddy.blogspot currently on the road with ProTour Grand Tour Events .

skippy's picture

posted by skippy [383 posts]
8th December 2012 - 15:15

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a.jumper wrote:
sim1515 wrote:
I read this in Cycling Plus (issue 269 p40):
"...recent research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal has found that you are three times less likely to die from a head injury if you wear a helmet than if you don't."
I think that motorists should take more care around cyclists but if accidents are going to happen, I'd rather have less chance of dying.

Old chestnut that: cycle helmets are absolutely NOT tested to standards that will protect you in car-bike collisions, much less the disproportionately-common/deadly lorry-bike collisions. They protect you from you own stupidity, falling off the bike. Meanwhile, they make you look like an armoured road warrior to other people Sad

Sorry, should have mentioned the issue of the magazine was December 2012, so this was supposedly 'recent' research. Also, I'm not saying they're tested for anything in particular and neither is the research, it's simply saying you're 3 times less likely to die of a head injury than if you're not wearing one and if that's accurate I'll carry on wearing mine. I'm not sure I believe that drivers think less of you if you wear one, I certainly don't but maybe I'm in the minority.

Si

posted by sim1515 [137 posts]
8th December 2012 - 17:03

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Sorry sim1515, I think you are completely wrong, but now is not the time for my fiftieth repsonse on the helmets red herring. Take a look at cyclehelmets.org web site for the evdience. It will take a whiel to read through, but worth it - if you are interested in the evidence.

posted by ChairRDRF [119 posts]
8th December 2012 - 18:32

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sim1515: If that's discussing the paper I think it is, then:

1. 3 times a very very small risk still results in a very small risk.

For comparison, walking is something 3 times more dangerous than cycling if compared by distance, but cycling is circa 4-7 times more dangerous than walking if compared by exposure time (making some assumptions about average speeds). (Is my memory of the last time I calculated this - full details are somewhere in a comment of mine here on road.cc).

2. Their statistical analysis is quite simple (1st year undergrad level stuff) and shallow. Possibly cause all the people involved appear to be medical people (and 1 admin), or possibly cause they have an agenda. That doesn't make it invalid, but their analysis is lacking any consideration of other factors. E.g. I believe that in the Netherlands and in the USA cycling fatalities are somewhat correlated with alcohol intoxication. Further, I suspect alcohol intoxication also correlates negatively with helmet use.

Basically, from what I know of USA and NL, it is likely that some of the additional fatalities in the non-helmeted group over the helmeted group had alcohol intoxication. They should have done further analysis to examine this (BAC would surely have been in the data-set they drew from). For some reason they didn't (mathematical naivety, agenda, or something else).

3. The really interesting figure in that paper was the number of fatalities which involved motor vehicles. It was 77% for helmeted cases and 78% for non-helmeted (or perhaps other way around, doesn't really matter).

For me, the last point is much much more telling than the risk calculation...

posted by Paul J [596 posts]
8th December 2012 - 19:56

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I never did get a satisfactory answer re this:

Me and Blue-Van-Man Show AA Driving Instructor How to Pass a Cyclist... (GL12 PXR)

Perhaps Mr E. King can sort his staff out.

posted by kie7077 [452 posts]
9th December 2012 - 0:02

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I see Cav has just tweeted about a road rage incident! It seems no-one is immune.

posted by trisc [6 posts]
9th December 2012 - 9:37

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Just to clarify, I was simply posting something I read in a magazine that i thought was relevant and saying that if it's accurate, it reaffirms my position on wearing helmets, I don't know if it's the same paper your thinking of, I was just quoting what was written (I thought I'd made it fairly clear). The other stat it says, that arm injuries have gone up 145% in the same period that head injuries has only gone up 20% also seems to encourage helmet use.
I understand that some people don't want to wear helmets and it's not compulsory here so they're entitled to their opinion, for me though, I don't see a reason not to, just quite a few reasons to, such as the fact there is a layer between my head and whatever it'll hit, the pros where them and they go much faster than me, the stories you here of people attributing credit to their helmets after a crash, no one I've spoken to has said that they regretted wearing one in a crash. That's just my view on it though, I'm sure others have their own reasons which are just as compelling not to wear one.

Si

posted by sim1515 [137 posts]
9th December 2012 - 11:57

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I've just read on cyclehelmets.org that it has found numerous flaws with the NSW report although the site doesn't seem to be that balanced, going into great detail as to why reports promoting helmets shouldn't be believed but doesn't seem to have gone into the same detail on the reports against helmet use, it is an interesting read though.

Si

posted by sim1515 [137 posts]
9th December 2012 - 19:11

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About 3 months ago, someone at the RAC Foundation (the RAC's charitable research wing) had the good sense to consult CTC over a cycling policy paper the RAC was about to publish. It had been drafted by one of their trustees - I won't name names.

It was dreadful. It said virtually nothing about the economic, health, environmental, congestion-reducing and other benefits of cycling. Instead it focused primarily on the risks of cycling and the need to address cyclists' behaviour. It even contained the myth about cyclists not paying "road tax" (see www.ipayroadtax.com if you need the background on this).

We pointed out everything that was wrong with it, and that it would go down like a lead balloon among the many cyclists who also own cars if they were to publish it.

I suspect the person who sent it to us had realised this, and simply wanted us to back him up as a voice from outside the RAC itself. I do know however that, for whatever reason, the document so far hasn't been published...

Roger Geffen
CTC, the national cycling charity
www.ctc.org.uk/campaigns

posted by Roger Geffen [32 posts]
10th December 2012 - 13:40

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