Outside of the box is the only place to be at the Department for Transport it would seem, yesterday Roads Minister, Mike Penning announced a public consultation on changing the law to make it easier to stage motor races on the nation's roads, one of the reason presented as to why this might be a good idea is that it would improve road safety. The Government's move comes just days after Mr Penning announced a public consultation on introducing longer lorries to Britain's roads as a way of cutting carbon emissions.
The chance for young men to let of steam is part of the government's reasoning as to why racing on the roads might help road safety, as the minister explained:
“One of the reasons why the younger chaps in my constituency tell me that they are always out and about in their go-faster cars is that they do not feel that they have an outlet. I am not saying that they are bad guys-they are not. They are just frustrated.”
Outlandish as all this sounds there may be a benefit for cycling if any changes to the law on organising races on the road goes through – that is certainly the intention of Ben Wallace the Conservative MP for Wyre & Preston North who proposed making the changes in the first place.
Legislation devolving the power to local communities to decide whether to allow racing on their roads, with the appropriate road closures might also have a knock on benefit for cycle racing which has seen a marked decline in the number of races in recent years partly as a result of the difficulty in gaining road closures but mainly due to the costs of policing events on open roads and the difficulties of persuading some police forces to allow cycle racing to take place on the open road at all.
In announcing the consultation process, which will last for three months from yesterday Mr Penning more or less confined his comments to motor sport but he did appear to leave the door open for other sports too when he said "I hope that many different people from across the motor sport and other racing industries come forward with innovative ideas.”
The debate in which the consultation was announced was moved by Ben Wallace, the MP for Wyre & Preston North and founder of the all-party parliamentary group on motor sport did though make the case for cycle racing as part of his call for the government to change the rules about racing on the roads speaking in the Commons on Wednesday he said:
“A change would apply not only to motor sport, but to cycling. It is bizarre that some stages of the Tour de France could not happen here if the bikes averaged more than 30 miles an hour. One might deliberately create a race on a road and that in itself could break the current highways law. Therefore, a change is also about empowering local authorities to give cycling events a proper go and getting Britain to the forefront of that sport. We need only go out on a Sunday to realise how big cycling has become.”
British Cycling had been lobbying the last Government about the need to make it easier to stage races on public roads and a year to the day on which Mr Penning made his announcement British Cycling launched its Keep Racing on the Roads campaign.
Under the provisions of the Road Traffic Act (Cycle Racing on Highways Regulations 1960, amended 1980 & 1995) cycle racing is legal on Britain's roads but amongst other things notice has to be given to the police and they have to agree to it taking place, and they monitor events to ensure that safety is maintained for both the participants and other road users. Technically anyone taking part in a cycle race has to comply with the Highway Code and the road traffic laws, the same would apply to motor racing with the added complication that you also require a specific act of parliament too. The proposed change would bring the rest of the UK in to line with what currently happens in Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.
Mr Wallace wants the Government to devolve the decision on whether a race can go ahead to local communities, for that read councils, and to give them the powers to close roads and enforce those closures presumably using a new type of traffic regulation order, currently these can be used to close a road but any traffic using the road is still subject to the speed limit etc.
Aside from cycling racing the other branch of cycling that could well benefit from changes to make road closures easier would be sportives – these attract large fields with a potential benefit to local economies and would attract even more rider if all or part of them were to be staged on closed roads they are also the sorts of event in which members of the communities they pass through would find it easier to take part. They're quieter than a motor race too.
You can read more about the government's consultation on changing the rules regarding racing on the roads and the reasoning behind it at www.bikehub.co.uk
Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.