Daily Mail journalist Petronella Wyatt has used her column in the newspaper to launch a wide-ranging attack at cyclists that seems largely based on personal prejudice and ignores or misquotes official statistics after her elderly mother was knocked down by a bike rider who allegedly had no lights and failed to stop.
In the article, Ms Wyatt claims that bicycles are “a favoured tool of muggers,” takes a swipe at the soon-to-be-launched London bike hire scheme, and calls for cyclists to be made to take a test and adhere to a specific Highway Code.
Ms Wyatt, understandably upset after her mother was left with a broken arm after being hit by the cyclist, adding that she was taken to hospital where she was told that “she was lucky to have escaped concussion or a broken back,” and claims that had her mother been hit by a car, “the reaction would have been horror and outrage.”
Attacking what she sees as the demonisation of motorists by “the anti-car lobby, in alliance with the Green movement,” which she contrasts with the portrayal of cyclists as “heroes of the highways,” Ms Wyatt argues that “cyclists might have been amusing once upon a time, or at least relatively harmless, but no longer,” citing two other cases of friends of hers who have been injured after collisions with cyclists in recent months.
“Some [cyclists] ride on the pavement and on the wrong side of the street,” she claims. “Others fail to signal, overtake on the inside and ignore red traffic lights. They either don't have lights or omit to turn them on after dark. They ride in the gutter and weave in and out between cars. In fact, they act as if they were deaf and dumb. Worse, some ride when tired or drunk - and many haven't learned to control their bicycles,” she adds.
The fact is, Ms Wyatt’s concerns are shared by most cyclists, if our latest readers’ poll is anything to go by, which showed that three in four bike riders’ biggest bugbear when it comes to fellow cyclists surrounds those who run red lights, ride on pavements or without lights, or go brakeless.
Ms Wyatt also takes a swipe at the “usually sensible” Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s plans for a “cycling revolution” in the city, including the London Cycle Hire Scheme that is being introduced this year, claiming “urban England is not suited to bicycles. There are no wide boulevards to separate cars and cyclists as there are in Paris, Rome and Madrid. In Vienna, every street has a cycle lane,” she says, apparently missing the point that if similar facilities existed here, there might be less tension between cyclists and other road users.
She adds that “the bicycle has also become a favoured tool of muggers,” claiming that it is “the perfect instrument from which to surprise the unsuspecting victim and make a successful getaway,” although her evidence for this appears solely to be based on personal experience of having a handbag stolen by a mugger on a bicycle two years ago.
Ms Wyatt acknowledges that “many motorists drive irresponsibly and that every year cyclists lose their lives tragically and needlessly as a result,” but claims that “the police have found that half the collisions between bicycles and cars are the fault of the cyclist, according to analysis by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL).”
However, that conflicts with findings of a report commissioned by the Department for Transport from the TRL that we reported on last December, which established through analysis of police reports in which police attributed blame to the driver in up to three quarters of collisions between a bicycle and other vehicle in accidents involving adult bike riders.
Ms Wyatt says “there are training courses for cyclists, but only one in 100 has participated” – although no source is cited for this – “and most don't even know that they exist. Thus an inebriated 15-year-old youth who has never been in the saddle, can jump on a bike and wreak havoc on our streets,” she continues, stating “this is in sharp contrast to the position of the motorist who, since 1935, has had to be over 17 and pass a stringent driving test.”
Leaving aside the issue of whether cycling can be blamed for an underage youth having access to alcohol in the first place, Ms Wyatt makes no mention of initiatives such as Bikeability which are designed to introduce schoolchildren to riding bicycles safely and responsibly, nor of cycling’s beneficial effects on health and the environment.
Nevertheless, she questions why there are no demands for a compulsory test for cyclists, “despite the steady rise in cycling fatalities” – an assertion disproved by official statistics which show that the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured has fallen by a third between the mid-1980s and 2008, the last year for which annual data are available.
Ms Wyatt has herself tried cycling, saying that last year she bought herself a Pashley “with a dinky wicker basket.” It doesn’t sound as though her experience of riding a bike was a happy one, however.
“As I wobbled along London's roads, nearly hitting every pedestrian and car, riding the wrong way up one-way streets, I was petrified and hysterical, screaming every curse I knew, including one particularly nasty one learned from my Hungarian grandmother,” she says.
“After three days, disgusted with myself and unwilling to commit manslaughter, I rode on to the kerb - deliberately, of course - and fell down. I hailed a taxi and put my bike in it, to the annoyance of the driver. 'Take me home,' I bleated to the driver. I have never cycled since,” she adds.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.