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Reports that Oxford cyclists sought bike light refunds to avoid fines "blown out of proportion"

Bike shop puts story straight on local newspaper story, while we break down accident stats

Press reports that students in Oxford have been “undermining” a police initiative to get more cyclists to use lights have been “blown out of proportion” according to a bike shop at the centre of the row.

Earlier this month cyclists riding at night without lights who were stopped by the police were given the opportunity to avoid being fined if they could prove they subsequently bought a set of lights.

But an article in published last week in the Oxford Mail, suggested that once they had shown the receipt to police, cyclists were going back to the shop to return the lights and claim a refund.

As reported on earlier this month, police targeted cyclists riding their bikes without lights on the university city’s High Street under a ‘Lights on Bikes’ campaign timed to coincide with the clocks going back.

In what is now an established autumn campaign in Oxford, also taking place soon after the arrival of a fresh influx of students at the city’s two universities, officers issued 106 bike riders with £30 fixed penalty notices.

The bike riders were given the option of not having to pay the fine if they presented a receipt at the city’s central police station within seven days to prove they had bought a set of lights.

According to the newspaper, staff at several of the city’s bike shops had said that students were returning to the shop with the lights and receipts, after cutting off the police stamp placed on the latter, to demand refunds.

One, Jim Tanner, of Bike Zone, in Market Street, was reported to have said: “The police have tried to stop it by stamping the receipt. We’ve had people who try to cut the police stamp off.

“The police have said, if they ask for a refund, we should ask for their name and the police will reissue the fine and double it. But this time of year we are now refusing all bike light refunds.”

However, one of Mr Tanner’s colleagues told today that his comments had been taken out of context and at most only one or two people had attempted to obtain a refund in this way.

He added that he believed that the situation had “been blown way out of proportion” by the newspaper, and that it had been mistaken in trying to put the blame on students.

As for the effectiveness of the police campaign in encouraging cyclists other than those who were actually caught to buy lights, the Bike Zone employee told us that people were doing so, although more out of fear of being stopped and fined than because they wanted to ensure their bikes were correctly equipped in the first place.

The article also quoted cyclist casualty figures that give the impression that cycling in the university city is much more dangerous than it is in reality by not distinguishing between fatalities and serious and slight injuries, saying “159 people were killed or injured while riding bikes in Oxford.”

In fact, according to the Department for Transport’s Road Casualties Online database, there were 155 reported cyclist casualties in Oxford City during 2009. Of those, one cyclist lost their life, 26 were seriously injured, and the remaining 128 were categorised as having “slight” injuries.

Quoted in the Oxford Mail article, road safety officer PCc Mark Pilling, speaking about the Lights on Bikes initiative, said: “The initiative is now running 365 days-a-year and legally the force is unable to stop shops from offering refunds, but if the receipt has been stamped it will have been used to prove purchase of a set of cycle lights and avoid paying a fine.

He added: “If anyone would rather ride without lights after dark they should expect to either get injured or repeatedly stopped and fined.”

While obviously here at we’d hope that all our users have front and rear lights fitted on their bikes during the hours of darkness, the first part of that sentence, lights or no lights, does seem to be a fairly clear case of blaming the victim.

Simon has been news editor at since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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