You may remember a news story by Laura Laker on road.cc from a couple of weeks ago that appeared under the heading, Obey! Transport Minister tells cyclists to follow Highway Code… well he asks leaders of cycling organisations to tell them for him.
Well, Laura followed that up with an opinion piece for the Guardian Bike Blog in which she accused transport minister Jesse Norman of “headline grabbing hypocrisy” in relation to his announcement of a review into cycling safety in the wake of the Charlie Alliston case.
Now the minister has responded, branding Laker’s Guardian piece “extreme” and saying in a piece published in the newspaper’s Bike Blog that far from “ignoring the problem” the government is “shining a light on it.”
To underline his sincerity, he added: “To be clear: I am a keen cyclist myself, and I am absolutely aware of the number of cyclists killed and injured every year.
“The purpose of the review is to make our roads safer for all users, and the safety of cyclists will be a key element of that.”
In her Guardian article, Laura expanded upon that earlier piece on road.cc, which she wrote after it emerged that after announcing the review, Norman had written to several organisations representing cyclists, including British Cycling and Cycling UK, urging them among other things to ensure their members adhere to the Highway Code.
Those organisations, and other cycling campaigners, had expressed grave concerns over the review, highlighting that while the vast majority of road traffic fatalities in Great Britain involve motorists, the outcome of a review into driving offences launched in 2014 was yet to materialise.
There was a strong feeling that the latest review had been ordered due to the widespread publicity that the Alliston case had attracted in the mainstream media, and that by focusing on collisions between cyclists and pedestrians, the government was ignoring the much more serious issue of deaths caused by motorists.
In his article for the Guardian Bike Blog, which appeared under the heading, We want to make our roads safer for everyone – especially cyclists, Norman did not mention the letter sent to cycling organisations.
Instead, he claimed that Laker’s earlier article was “quite an extreme reaction to my announcement of a review whose specific purpose is to improve the safety of all road users, especially in relation to cyclists.”
He wrote: “As I made clear, the review will address two key issues. The first is legal: whether the law is defective in the case of bodily harm or death from a cyclist, and specifically whether, as the rule of law demands, there is an adequate remedy here. Our aim is to complete this work early in the new year.”
“The second issue is broader: how to make the roads safer for all users. After the legal review there will be a public consultation, and road user groups and the general public will be invited to submit their views and evidence then.”
There is a case to be made for laws regarding careless or dangerous cycling to be brought up to date.
Alliston was convicted of causing bodily harm through wanton and furious driving under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 but acquitted on the more serious charge of manslaughter.
However, campaigners argue that it should be conducted in the context of a wider review of the law as it applies to all road users.
Following the announcement of the review, Paul Tuohy, Cycling UK’s chief executive, said: “The consultation on road safety issues is an opportunity to keep cyclists and pedestrians safer.
“Cycling UK looks forward to working with the Department for Transport on this consultation to ensure it focuses on evidenced ways that keep our most vulnerable road users safe, by addressing risks such as dangerous roads, drivers and vehicles.
“The proposed review of cycling offences needs to be carried out as part of the Government’s promised wider review of all road traffic offences and sentencing.
“This will ensure the justice system can deal with mistakes, carelessness, recklessness and deliberately dangerous behaviour by all road users.”
Similarly, a letter published in The Times earlier this week called on the government to expand the scope of the review beyond cyclists.
Among the 15 signatories to the letter were John Parkin, professor of transport engineering at the University of the West of England, Rachel Aldred, reader in transport at the University of Westminster, and UCL professor of public health, Jennifer Mindel. They wrote:
The government has announced an urgent review to consider whether a new offence equivalent to causing death or dangerous driving should be introduced for cyclists. Risk on our roads, particularly for the most vulnerable, remains high. As part of a strategy to address this, we agree that a review of road traffic offences is required, However, we question the focus only on deaths caused by cyclists. Of the 1,792 people killed on UK roads last year, only three were pedestrians killed in collisions with cyclists.
The review of all road traffic offences and sentencing announced in May 2014 is long overdue. This was reduced in scope to cover the distinction between careless and dangerous driving, drink and drug driving and use of mobile phones, and hit-and-run drivers. It has not yet appeared, despite such offences killing many more people each year than do cyclists.
We call on the government to ensure that any urgent review of road traffic offences is wide-ranging.
Laura received widespread praise for her piece in the Guardian, including from British Cycling policy advisor and Greater Manchester Cycling & Walking Commissioner Chris Boardman, who was quoted in the article.
— Chris Boardman (@Chris_Boardman) September 25, 2017
Following Norman's response yesterday, she has since confirmed that she is due to meet with minister to discuss the government’s review in more detail.
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.