Transport minister Baroness Vere has told the House of Lords that the government has no plans to introduce specific legislation banning cyclists and e-scooter riders from using mobile phones while riding.
Speaking in a debate tabled by fellow Conservative peer Baroness McIntosh of Pickering, who as Anne McIntosh was Member of Parliament for Vale of York from 1997 to 2010 and subsequently Vale of York until 2015, she also said that “It is really important that we do not demonise all cyclists.”
Baroness McIntosh had brought yesterday’s debate to express her regret that last month’s changes to Highway Code Rule 149, which now makes it an offence to use a hand-held mobile device for almost any purpose while driving, and not just to make and receive calls and texts, did not “go far enough” since it does not extend to people riding bikes, including e-bikes, or e-scooters.
“There must have been a very good reason why that was not the case,” she said, illustrating her point with an example taken from her journey by foot from her London flat to the Palace of Westminster ahead of the debate.
“I was midway across a pedestrian crossing and was approached by a cyclist on his mobile phone – one hand bicycling and one hand on the mobile phone – on the wrong side of the road, and it was not clear whether he was going to stop.
“Cyclists and those on e-scooters and e-bikes are using handheld phones inappropriately and I would like to understand why the Department [for Transport] has not addressed this issue,” she said. “That has to be a cause of concern.”
She also asked the government how it planned to respond to insurance trade body the ABI “about insuring e-scooters, e-bikes and bikes generally, and properly ensure the regulation of their use,” and when it would amend the law “to create criminal offences relating to dangerous, careless and inconsiderate cycling for users of pedal bikes, electronically assisted bikes and e-scooters, as for other motor vehicles.”
Baroness Pickering has twice previously tabled private member’s bills calling for an offence of dangerous cycling to be introduced – neither was successful, but she said yesterday she plans to introduce a third one – and has also tabled several questions in the House of Lords relating to people cycling on the pavement or riding their bikes through red traffic lights.
> Dangerous cycling bill introduced to House of Lords
In her response to the motion, Baroness Vere, who is Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, said that “Road safety is a key priority for the government,” and that revised wording of Highway Code Rule 149 reflects changes made to the law on 25 March this year.
> Tougher laws on mobile phone use while driving set to take effect
“This change will make it much easier for the police to enforce the offence,” she said. “No longer will the police have to prove what the driver was doing on their phone; they will simply have to be satisfied that a driver was indeed using their phone while driving to impose the appropriate sanction.
“This should act as a substantial deterrent to those who might be tempted to pick up their phone and risk not only their own life but the lives of other road users.
“Cyclists and e-bike riders tend to be covered by other laws,” the minister continued. “The laws that we have changed most recently are under the Road Traffic Act, which tends to cover [motor] vehicles.
“However, like all road users, cyclists and e-bike riders are required to comply with many road traffic laws in the interests both of their own safety and that of other road users, and we reflect that in the Highway Code.
“So, it is not a specific offence to cycle and use a mobile phone or headphones, but cyclists and e-bike riders can be prosecuted by the police for careless and dangerous cycling, with maximum fines of £1,000 and £2,500 respectively.
“It is really important that we do not demonise all cyclists,” she said, while acknowledging that “there are some bad apples out there, and we need to make sure that they are held to account,” and that the government “want to ensure that we crack down on reckless cyclists.
“We launched a review exploring the case for a specific dangerous cycling offence, and we are looking at what we will do next and will publish our response shortly.”
On the subject of e-scooter riders using mobile phones, the minister said: “It is the case that an e-scooter user falls under the regulations, and it is an offence to use a hand-held mobile phone on an e-scooter. They can be fined, and they could also get six penalty points.
“I reiterate that we do not feel that our approach to the Highway Code has been incorrect,” Baroness Vere said.
“In the circumstances we were presented with, it was important to choose specific topics and put them into the Highway Code when they were ready, or when either the law had changed or the consultation had reached its natural conclusion.
“We will continue to do so, but of course we will combine changes if it makes sense to do so,” she added. “The next big change probably will be automated vehicles.”
In response to the minister’s comments, in her closing remarks to the debate, Baroness McIntosh said: “I look forward to seeing how automated vehicles will respond to reckless and furious cyclists, e-bicyclists and e-scooters, but we live to fight another day.”
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