Green Party Assembly Member explores what problems exist on London's roads and what can be done about them

Cycling and the law: what is your experience?

The things that annoy us about London’s road users can range from the uncivil to the unlawful. My first report on Lawless Roads was published six years ago and showed how a culture of ignoring the rules of the road had grown out of the failures of the judicial system and a decline of Met police enforcement. Since then, London’s population has increased, whilst car use and ownership has shrunk. London has become a city of buses, pedestrians and bikes, but the way we design and police our streets is still based upon a car dominated past. Getting rid of the dangerous roundabouts and one way systems is slowly happening, but the attempt to tame the car and civilise our roads has hardly begun.

Everyone will have their anecdote to tell and those personal experiences of the road network are important because they confirm the story told by the bigger facts and statistics. Here are some of the ones I find startling.


In October 2011, I discovered that about half of the London drivers with more than 12 penalty points were still legally on the road. One person still driving legally was on 30 points.


Safety cameras come in for a lot of flack for penalising the motorist, but the reality is that of the 788,000 activations in London during 2011 only 100,000 led to a notices of intended prosecution. Even more dramatic is the non-payment of fines, as only 31,000 paid up and only 18,000 of the worst offenders were taken to court.

Police numbers

The number of traffic police halved in London in the decades before the Mayoralty was created and many of the problems associated with illegal drivers and red light jumping cyclists stem from then. Having established road safety as a Met Police priority in 2002, we stopped the decline in the number of traffic police. Sadly, the new Police and Crime plan has dropped road safety as a priority and the number of traffic police has gone down for the last three years. 

The pattern of casualties has changed significantly since I was the previous Mayor’s Road Safety Ambassador (2002-2008). It is clear that cars are getting safer at a faster rate than our roads are. The number of car occupants killed and seriously injured has dropped rapidly, with improved car design, but we haven’t had the same success with improving the safety of pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists.

I want to use my forthcoming seminar as a chance to collect some good ideas, discuss them a bit and get them adopted by individuals or organisations who can change things for the better. I will also be updating my report on Lawless Roads, based upon Wednesday’s discussion.

This seminar on cycling and the law is also intended to help the Met Police and the Mayor to explore what the problems are and what can be done. It takes place on Wednesday 22nd May, 6.30-8.30pm at City Hall. The head of the Met Police Traffic Command will be there, along with Andrew Gilligan, the Mayor’s adviser on cycling. Places are still available, so please contact Rachel.Carlill [at] london.gov.uk if you are interested.


hampstead_bandit [614 posts] 5 years ago

my comment would be that huge numbers of cyclists in London are regular law breakers - they ignore the highway code

I only commute 3 miles each way to work in my current job (at a bike shop), and follow the high way code to the letter: never jump red lights, give way to pedestrians on crossings, don't ride up one-way streets, signal when I turn, do not ride on the pavement, always use lights at night, maintain a visible position on the road, etc.

I follow these procedures to keep myself safer on the road, and with the logic that if anything happens during a road traffic collision, I cannot be held accountable in that I have not ignored the Highway code.

I am also a performance cyclist riding road bikes and mountain bikes, and find that adhering to the Highway Code makes no real difference to my commuting time as I can make a good (but sensible) pace between traffic lights.

however, something that really winds me up is the sheer stupidty of the majority of cyclists I encounter during this short commute (which covers NW to WC2)

for every red light I stop at, 8/10 other cyclists will jump the lights or ride onto the pavement to get around the red light. They are not going any faster because I am overtaking them between each set of lights.

The number of times I have seen other cyclists nearly become the victim of a RTC with a heavy goods vehicle, car or ride into a pedestrian is too many to mention. On Sunday in Regents Park saw a father and son on road bikes have a very near collision with a car because the cyclists ignored the red light which other serious, road cyclists were waiting for

I myself have been, as a pedestrian, have had cyclists ride into me on the pavement, or when crossing on a green pedestrian light in Camden where the cyclist has jumped the lights and crashed into me bruising my arm and jaw.

something really needs to be done to educate cyclists, because the majority do not give a sh*t about the Highway code, and this gives the motorists and pedestrians a genuine perception that cyclists are law-breaking scum who deserve no special treatment!

jimbocrimbo [52 posts] 5 years ago

I have recently done John O'Groats to Lands End and whilst doing so had what I regard as a rather worrying disagreement with a member of the constabulary which I hope is not representative of the norm. Four of us were doing the route in total and on this occasion 2 of us were riding side by side along a quiet road when a police car pulled alongside then pulled us over to the side of the road and told us we were breaking the law and should be riding single file. When I pointed out to him that he was in fact wrong as the highway code states "no more than 2 abreast" (in a polite and friendly manner) I was advised impolitely and with some threat to keep my gob shut. This is the second incident I have had recently with a member of the police force who had an erroneous grasp of the highway code in general & I really do hope this is not representative of the police forces interpretation of it and the law in reference to cycling and cyclists.

davidtcycle [77 posts] 5 years ago

I take my hat off to anyone who rides a bike in London or on any road other than a quiet country lane, they all deserve a medal for bravery.

Beardandsandals [4 posts] 5 years ago

In some circumstances in town, especially places like London, it makes sense to cross before the red light becomes green, to get clear of other traffic. It might be different if all junctions had cycle lanes and cycle zones at the head of the queue of traffic, and all motorists respected such lanes and zones, and lights were placed so as to be easily visible to cyclists.