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‘Nonsense’ Express article fuels ‘toxic road environment’ says Cycling UK

Newspaper’s headline said ‘Cyclists unaware of Highway Code in a major threat to road users who could face fines’

Cycling UK says that an article on the website based on research by National Accident Helpline into cyclists’ knowledge of the Highway Code and proposed changes to it “is the sort of nonsense which can create a toxic road environment.

The results of the survey are published on the claims management company’s website, although there is no hint of how many cyclists participated in it, or what the methodology was.

Having seen a number of similar surveys over the years, the level of ignorance this one purports to demonstrate regarding cyclist’s knowledge of the rules of the road struck us as strange – the vast majority of adult cyclists after all also hold a driving licence.

National Accident Helpline listed a number of questions asked about the Highway Code as it currently stands, together with the percentage of cyclists that it says got the answer wrong.

Some 80 per cent apparently believe, incorrectly, that use of cycle routes, advanced stop lines, bike boxes and toucan crossings is compulsory for cyclists, and 64 per cent appeared unaware that you must not cross the stop line when the traffic light is red – percentages that are way higher than previous similar polls would suggest.

The Express went to town on the survey, with its article headlined “Cyclists unaware of Highway Code in a major threat to road users who could face fines.”

Among other things, it said that National Accident Helpline’s report “found that over two-thirds of cyclists worryingly believe they are able to ride more than two abreast on the road,” and that “A total of 68 percent did not think they needed to leave room when cycling past parked vehicles or needed to watch out for doors opening.”

Both those Highway Code rules employ the word “should” rather than “MUST” – in other words, they are recommendations, and do not have the force of law, though neither the company carrying out the research nor the newspaper make that clear.

Jonathan White, legal director of National Accident Helpline, quoted in the Express article, said: “With just their bikes and protective clothing between them, the road and other vehicles, cyclists are some of the most vulnerable road users – so it’s right that rules should be in place to protect them from harm.

“Our study shows that not all cyclists are as up to speed with the rules as they could be.

“So we’d encourage both drivers and cyclists to brush up on the Highway Code and put that knowledge to use day-to-day to help prevent accidents from happening.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that – all of us could do with refreshing our memories now and again over what the current rules are, whichever mode of transport we use to get around on the road.

However, the Express seems to have made up some of its own rules as well as suggesting that cyclists somehow benefit from special treatment when they are the victim of a collision.

“Drivers could be deeply affected by the findings as motorists are often automatically blamed for hitting a cyclist in a collision,” the newspaper says.

“Bartletts Law warns that it would be down to the motorist rather than the cyclist to prove they are innocent during a collision,” it continued – a reference we think to the civil law doctrine of presumed liability common on the continent but not in force here.

“They [Bartletts Law] reveal cyclists can claim against car insurance policies for a range of injuries including mental trauma and damage to property” – as indeed can other motorists, pedestrians and property owners, et cetera, who have suffered injury or property damage for which the driver is legally liable.

“This can be hard in areas with few witnesses and where the driver has no dashcam footage to use,” says the Express, which says it “could deeply damage a driver’s car insurance policy with an incident likely to end a no claims discount.”

It adds that “Drivers could also be hit with a £1,000 fine for opening the door and accidentally hitting a cyclist in a violation of Rule 239 of the Highway Code” – a penalty that Cycling UK in fact has been campaigning to have increased following a number of cases of cyclists who have been killed in exactly such circumstances in recent years.

Aside from the reservations we expressed above about the survey itself, one could be forgiven for interpreting the Express’s coverage of it as suggesting that somehow cyclists injured or killed due to a driver’s negligence should somehow not be entitled to recourse to the law.

Keir Gallagher, Cycling UK’s campaigns manager, told “It’s difficult to know where to start with this report given the series of misleading statements, such as the idea that ‘motorists are automatically blamed for hitting cyclists’, an assertion made without any supportive evidence, and which does not reflect the law.

“But one thing is clear: this is the sort of nonsense which can create a toxic road environment, and make our roads less safe for everyone.

“Fortunately, the current review of the Highway Code will help make our roads safer for everyone, and it’s good to see this article highlighting widespread support for the concept of a hierarchy of responsibility, ensuring those vehicles which pose the greatest risk to others carry the greatest responsibility.

“Other positive changes include improved rules relating to close passing and car-dooring, and with two weeks left until the review closes, it’s vital that everyone has their say on these much needed changes, which they can do here.”

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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