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Fears that new Halfords survey will prompt negative headlines for cyclists

Retailer "pleasantly surprised" at findings of its Sharing The Road survey - but mainstream media may take selective focus...

There are fears that a survey published today by Halfords, the car parts, cycling and outdoor retailer, that purports to focus on sharing the road, may instead be seized upon by the mainstream media to cast cyclists once more in a negative light.

While the survey,  based on a sample of 2,042 adults and conducted by YouGov, canvasses the views of both cyclists and drivers (many people, of course, are one and the same), understands that at least one media outlet seems likely to focus just on the elements regarding those who ride bikes, and not in a positive way.

In the preface to the report, Halfords chief customer officer, Karen Bellairs, says: “Other than wanting to inform, we wanted to use this report as a means to celebrate the fun, freedom and togetherness that journeys bring to us all.

“But perhaps most importantly, we wanted to examine whether there was a genuine willingness among cyclists and motorists to share the road, and we were pleasantly surprised with what we discovered.”

But there are concerns among cycling campaigners that following on from recent media coverage, a number of outlets will focus on specific findings related just to cyclists.

Those include that half of respondents believe that cyclists should have to take a proficiency test before being allowed to ride on the road, and 26 per cent say bike riders should be checked on their knowledge of the Highway Code.

Harsher penalties for cyclists who do not follow the Highway Code was backed by 86 per cent of respondents, while 59 per cent agreed that bicycles should carry licence plates.

There are positives from a cycling point of view in the survey – four in five people, for example, agreed there should be tougher penalties on motorists who drive aggressively near cyclists, and 45 per cent that all roads should have dedicated cycle lanes.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns and advocacy, said: “While Cycling UK was not consulted about this survey, we know following discussion yesterday with Halfords that their intention was to highlight common concerns of all road users.

“However, given the uneven tone of the current debate on cycling, it was perhaps optimistic to expect this survey would be a constructive addition to the discussion.

 "’Sharing the Road’ is a snapshot of public opinion, not a report based on any analysis of the costs and benefits of the measures which people said they supported.

“We already knew some people instinctively think regulation and testing of cyclists is the answer.

“Those people frequently fail to appreciate the practicalities of imposing and enforcing regulations on children, the costs involved, or the public health and other implications of putting up further barriers to cycling.

“Fortunately, government has consistently reached the conclusion that such proposals are disproportionate and unnecessary.

“Ultimately, there are opinions expressed in this survey which we agree with, and others we don't, but the truth is this is merely a summary of what people said in response to a series of questions.

“It's far better, when suggesting a need for change, to assess the arguments for and against, and this is precisely the point we will make to government as it considers its forthcoming cycle safety review.”

The conviction in August of Charlie Alliston for wanton and furious driving in connection with the death in February 2016 of pedestrian Kim Briggs was followed by a slew of headlines and columns highlighting the danger people on bikes were perceived to pose to those on foot.

Just one example came last Friday, when the Daily Mail published an article under the heading, Victims of killers on two wheels: These six people all died after being hit by cyclists and 100 more are badly hurt every year - so when WILL the law crack down?

The six cases highlighted by the newspaper span a decade, with the Daily Mail highlighting that over the past seven years, 25 pedestrians have been killed in collisions involving cyclists.

However, since the focus on such collisions intensified following the Alliston case, cycling campaigners have pointed out that they form a tiny percentage of road traffic fatalities; in 2016 alone, 448 pedestrians, and 102 cyclists, lost their lives on Great Britain’s roads.

A campaign launched by Mrs Brigg’s husband Matt, supported by the family’s Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander, has gained huge media exposure and resulted in transport minister Jesse Norman ordering an “urgent review” of cycle safety that may result in an offence of careless or dangerous cycling being introduced – something many campaigners would agree is overdue.

However, they also argue that such response should be proportionate, and that the government should place more attention on drivers of motor vehicles, who are involved in the vast majority of fatal incidents on Britain’s roads.

Simon joined 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.

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