CTC says initiative sends wrong message and efforts would be better spent focusing on law-breaking motorists

Police in Gosport, Hampshire, have warned cyclists to make themselves more visible to other road users after an increase in the number of cyclists injured on the Hampshire town’s roads.

According to a report in Portsmouth local paper The News, officers have targeted bike riders wearing dark clothing on some of the town’s busiest roads, including the approach road to the ferry that links Gosport to Portsmouth, issuing safety advice to cyclists handing out high-visibility vests, wristbands and rucksack covers.

The paper added that within the last three years, there have been 161 reported accidents involving injury to cyclists in Gosport during the last three years, 35 of them serious.

During last week’s operation police stopped 182 cyclists, including those riding with lights as required by law, which does not lay down any requirements to wear high-visibility clothing.

Neil Miller, corporate communications officer for Hampshire Constabulary told road.cc: "This operation was conducted to help cyclists stay safe while riding in the community. Free hi-visibility equipment and cycle safety advice was given out to those wearing dark clothing to make them more visible to traffic and to decrease the chances of being involved in an accident. 

He added: "Hampshire Constabulary is committed to keeping cyclists safe and this kind of pro-active campaign is a good example of this commitment."

While it’s reassuring that the police have the interests of bike riders at heart, the move could be interpreted as trying to impose high-visibility equipment on cyclists – although Mr Miller acknowledges that the police have no powers to do that – while taking some of the burden of vigilance away from motorists.

Cyclists’ organisation CTC believes that to ensure that roads are a safe environment for cyclists, police forces must give priority to enforcing existing road traffic legislation against motorists who break the law.

Earlier this year, it launched its Stop SMIDSY campaign, which urges cyclists to report instances of bad driving, taking its name from the acronym for the common excuse from motorists after a near-miss – or worse – with a cyclist, “Sorry mate, I didn’t see you.”

Speaking to road.cc, Debra Rolfe, Campaigns Co-ordinator at CTC, said: “It’s curious the police are stopping cyclists for not breaking the law when there are so many motorists who break the law every day, and I think a much better use of police resources could focus on drivers breaking the law.

“There’s quite a bit of evidence that when motorists break the law, it tends to have much greater consequences than when cyclists do. Stop SMIDSY is about addressing the need for motorists to drive better, to look where they are going and to look out for cyclists.”

Ms Rolfe added: “I think one problem about the police taking this tack is that it makes it look like cycling is not an everyday activity, that it’s an activity that requires a great deal of specialised equpment, and that discourages people from cycling.

“CTC’s Safety In Numbers research has demonstrated that the more cyclists there are, the safer it is for each individual cyclist,” she continued, “and one of the reasons that we think that happens is that motorists look out for cyclists more.

“So maybe instead of focusing on cyclists wearing high-visibility clothing, the police could focus on encouraging people to cycle and encouraging motorists to look out for cyclists.”

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.