An Essex police officer has claimed that cyclists need to be more safety-conscious to spare families the heartbreak of a visit from an officer bearing bad news.
Speaking to the Essex Chronicle’s Joe Sturdy, PC Deborah Gray said: “If families have to see a white-hatted officer at their door, then it’s horrible because they just know why they are there.
“If cyclists were more safety-conscious then families would not have to see that.”
Police in Chelmsford are currently engaged in an exercise to improve safety and reduce casualties among cyclists. Operation Bluenose is claimed to be targeting both cyclists and motorists, but the force’s statements and press reports make scant mention of drivers.
“Operation Bluenose aims to identify at risk riders and urge them to use more safety equipment such as lights, helmets and high visibility clothing,” the police said when the exercise was announced.
PC Gray said she had spoken to a rider who was dressed entirely in black.
She said: “He said ‘If a car cannot see me he should not be driving’.
“He only wears his helmet when he is going on long cycle rides because he is stop-start, stop-start [in the town].”
As well as telling riders not to wear perfectly normal clothes, police are also encouraging them to wear helmets.
Sergeant Graham Freeman, who is running the operation, said: “The most common response we get is that it’s a man thing [not to wear a helmet]. We think helmets reduce the number of injuries.
“Men do generally not like to wear helmets. I have been to many accidents where cyclists have got head injuries. They can be pretty serious injuries.”
Around 90 cyclists were stopped in Chelmsford on Friday and police had previously stopped around 120 in Basildon.
Sgt Freeman said: “About 50 per cent had no lights and were given verbal warnings. About 50 per cent had no reflective clothing and 75 per cent had no cycle helmet.”
Commenters on the Essex Chronicle’s story are not impressed. PaulM132 said: “Someone should tell Essex Police that there is no legal requirement to wear a helmet, or any particular type of clothing, while cycling. There is no requirement to carry lights - only where cycling in hours of legal darkness.
"And there is certainly no basis for telling cyclist that they are responsible for their own safety. That is like saying that they should wear a bullet proof vest in case a gunman is on the loose.”
One commenter, 04smallmj doubts the crackdown is even necessary: “I used to cycle in Chelmsford a lot and it was probably the best place that I've cycled and lived in, so it's a shame and a bit embarrasing to see this.
"I actually ditched my helmet and hi viz while living there so I would definitely be one of the ‘naughty cyclists’ who have been given victim blaming advice. I also think that the quote ‘we *think* helmets reduce the number of injuries’ says a lot too.”
Izzy_G added: “The health benefits of cycling far outweigh the dangers, whether one wears a helmet or not, so we should be doing as much as we can to get more people on their bikes.
"Campaigns like this, which stress the dangers of cycling do just the opposite by discouraging the very people we want to get on their bikes.”
John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.