Well, the road.cc postbag … okay, inbox … has been busier than usual these past few days after we published an article on Thursday saying that the Department for Transport (DfT) had laid forthcoming changes to the Highway Code before Parliament, and that they are due to come into effect by the end of next month. But the disconnect between the contents of some of those replies, and what the Highway Code currently says even before the amended rules come in hardly fills us with confidence about the extent to which they will be observed.
Most of those emails were written from people who clearly aren’t cyclists, but seem to have very strong views about where people riding bikes should– or rather, shouldn’t – be, and what they should – or shouldn’t be doing.
If they’re not having a pop about cyclists being on the road and holding up traffic, they’re having a pop at those riding on the pavement and apparently putting pedestrians in danger, and as for dedicated space for cyclists, well, they can forget about segregated bike lanes until they start paying (non-existent) road tax.
Many ask questions of what cyclists can and can’t do that wouldn’t have to be asked if the person asking were familiar with the Highway Code as it currently stands.
The most common of those include “Are cyclists supposed to go in single file?” or “Is it law that cyclists should not ride two abreast?”
Those points, as well as issues such as people riding their bikes in primary position – often, the safest place to be due to road conditions at the place in question – are often raised as criticisms of cyclists on social media, where Twitter accounts such as that of the Surrey Police Roads Policing Unit do try correct misconceptions and educate people about what the law actually is.
Other whatabouttery-tinged gripes in response to our article last week about the changes, as highlighted in the updated version of our Monday moaning: ‘Cyclists are always breaking the law and are a menace on the roads’ article published this morning, included “Cyclist’s are all now taking to using the pavements to cycle,” “cyclists don't give a crap,” and “Cyclist must be insured to use the roads!”
Most of the comments to the Express’s coverage of the Highway Code changes – headlined Drivers set to face 'significant changes' to the Highway Code in weeks – were equally predictable and slanted against those who cycle.
“Wrong, wrong, wrong – the minority trying to manipulate the majority,” wrote one, adding, “Accidents will happen.”
Another said: “What looney came up with this as more cyclists will be killed by [their] own arrogance.”
“Cyclists ride with a sense of entitlement that will now get a lot worse,” opined another.
Of course, there was the inevitable, “As soon as cyclists start paying road tax and actually ride in single file instead of all across the road then I will take notice.”
Not all were anti-cyclist. One commenter said that “Most [cyclists – like myself – probably have petrol vehicles as well.
“Selfish motorists tend to forget that they only get to drive at the sufferance of those who don’t.
“If everyone who rides a bicycle, motor-scooter, motorcycle, uses public transport or walks were to get their cars out instead, the roads would simply clog.”
That last commenter, of course, alluded to a point that is regularly overlooked in the mainstream media, as well as by those who want cyclists off the road – research shows that adults who ride bikes are more likely than non-cyclists to hold a driving licence, and are more likely to be from a household with access to multiple motor vehicles.
Far from it being a case of “Work harder – buy a car,” as Jeremy Clarkson has regularly said, more often than not the cyclist sharing the road with motorists could have chosen to drive that journey instead – and in doing so, add to congestion.
Meanwhile, motoring lawyer Nick ‘Mr Loophole’ Freeman, who has helped a string of celebrities get acquitted of driving offences, often on technicalities, continues to use the media to plug his petition calling on cyclists to be forced to ride in cycle lanes where available and be subject to penalty points – a petition that only today passed the 10,000-signature threshold that requires the government to reply, and we’ve known what its answer will be for the best part of six months now.
It does sometimes feel like a losing battle, and it’s clear that many drivers’ familiarity with the Highway Code begins to diminish the moment they pass their driving test and they may never pick it up again.
But without a major campaign from the government outlining what changes are due to come into force next month, and why they are being made, there are going to be a lot of motorists out there who are simply unaware of them – or will be getting their information from outlets that have a history of being anti-cycling, or even worse, from uninformed members of their peer groups on social media.
And heaven help us with hoping that your average car driver will be able to get their head around the forthcoming Hierarchy of Road Users, which has been welcomed by road safety groups as a positive step towards protecting the most vulnerable.
“Looking at the new rules the biggest proportion is put onto the motorists for safety,” one correspondent wrote to us. “Are not all road users supposed to use common sense?”
Well, yes they are. But the potential consequences of someone driving a large vehicle such as a lorry or bus, or someone behind the wheel of a car or van failing to do so are of course far worse than when a person on a bike does not demonstrate it – and that is precisely why the government is making the changes to the Highway Code.
If only the government had held a consultation into the changes prior to making its recommendations and making a final decision on the changes that will come into effect next month.
Oh wait. It did. A consultation ran from 30 July 2020 to 11:45pm on 30 October 2020 on proposed amendments to “The Highway Code to introduce a hierarchy of road users, clarify pedestrian and cyclist priority, and establish safer overtaking.”
The outcome was published on 30 June this year, and the proposal documents were laid before Parliament last Wednesday 1 December.
Well, no-one can say they weren’t warned …
Simon has been news editor at road.cc 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.