Wednesday, April 27, 2011

New Wandle Trail Barrier

The Wandle Trail is the best piece of cycling infrastructure in the Merton area. So you can rely on councils (Wandsworth I believe in this case) to spend money to make it that little bit worse. After all, we don't want to encourage cycling, do we?

On my ride home today I spotted this, at the Trewint Street end:

The wooden posts originally had steel scaffolding poles between them, forming a chicane which was fairly easy to negotiate. They've left the wooden posts in place and added two galvanized steel barriers, in keeping with the rural, countrified  feel of the area, which are quite difficult to get through on an unladen bike. If you have panniers, or a utility bike, or a tandem, or one of those attachments for towing a child's bike, well that's your look-out and it serves you right for not going by car like normal people.

Why have they made this "improvement"? I have no idea. I've seen pizza delivery mopeds taking a shortcut along this piece of trail, but it really isn't that big a problem for anyone. There was a period where you would occasionally see a burned-out scooter on the trail, but this barrier won't stop scooter theft and the trail is still freely accessible from the Plough Lane end.

It's irritating to note how the rare occurrence of a small motorcycle using a cycle path attracts the zealous attention of the councils, and the result is more and more barriers getting put up, and real inconvenience to innocent cyclists. Yet motoring offences that pose a far greater danger to life and limb are completely ignored. Report a problem with speeding or dangerous overtakes to your council and you'll be met with amused indifference. After all, what do you expect them to do? They can't be expected to jeapordize traffic flow - if a few children get run down, well that's just collateral damage.

Cycling to School in the Future?

According to a report from BUPA, future parents (that is, people aged 18-30 who are planning to have a family but haven't got around to it yet because they're up to their eyes in debt) are keen for their as-yet-unborn offspring to watch less telly and take more exercise than today's kids, and to walk or cycle to school.

It's a shame the study hasn't measured the aspirations of today's parents. I think most parents would like their kids to walk or cycle to school, but what with one thing and another it doesn't quite work out. Partly it's time pressures, but equally it's safety concerns.

Unless I miss my guess, when tomorrow's parents' children actually reach the age where they can cycle to school on their own, the UK's cycle infrastructure will be much as it is today. In other words, not safe enough to give most parents confidence that their progeny will arrive at the school rather than the hospital. And those parents will simply accept that the world is the way it is, it's simply not safe for children to cycle, and that's an end to it. We all like the idea of children cycling to school, up to the point where it's our children cycling on infrastructure that is some combination of intermittent, unsafe, badly designed or simply non-existent.
Let's think for a moment though about what else will have changed in fifteen or twenty years time, when the next generation of children are going through school. For one thing, the UK should have significantly reduced its carbon emissions, and oil may be significantly more expensive. Therefore it's not unreasonable to think that children won't be travelling to school in cars in the same numbers as they do today: they'll likely be using active modes of travel instead. And that would be a good thing: it would free up parents' time, reduce costs and make children fitter and healthier.

So it would seem that current and future parents aspire to have more kids cycling to school, and this would bring many benefits to the UK in terms of better public health, reduced carbon emissions, and so on. It would also appear, based on entirely mainstream projections, that children will need to cycle to school. Yet there's no plan to make it possible by building cycle infrastructure that parents will be happy with. Most cycle infrastructure projects are hamstrung by lack of money. For example, London's Biking Boroughs project is £4M, divided between 13 boroughs. There ares also no coherent national or even local plans for cycling. There's no national body in charge of cycling, and in London there is no capital-wide responsibility - TfL is in charge of the TfL road network, and individual boroughs oversee their own roads.  For infrastructure projects that get beyond the drawing board, there's a labyrinthine planning process to contend with , which allows public enquiries to be ordered in response to even a single objection to a proposed cycle path, and allows trivial parochial concerns such as convenient car parking to veto a proposal. Contrast this with the High Speed 2 development. Truly eye-watering sums of money (£17bn) are being invested, there's a (reasonably) grand vision to back it up, and objections are being ridiculed as 'nimbyism'.

Don't get me wrong. Rail does matter. But there are a lot more journeys to school each day than there will be journeys on HS2. Why is it that journeys to school don't matter?

Garden Waste

Merton has apparently abandoned its programme of collecting garden waste, as part of the general downsizing of services caused by the Coalition cuts. Let's see if we can figure what's happening to all that waste. Some of it will end up in somebody else's skip or flytipped in a park or back alley. Some of it will end up sneakily mixed in with the ordinary refuse. Most of it will be going into the back of often quite large cars, often in quite small quantities, and those quite large cars will be driven half way across the borough to the local dump (sorry, Reuse and Recycling Centre) and then back again. So that's going to cost residents both time and money, it'll lead to increased carbon emissions and more wear and tear on the roads.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Government Backs HGV Cyclist Safety Improvements

Wow. I wasn't expecting to write that headline. It seems Philip Hammond has given his support to the campaign to fit large vehicles with cameras and sensors to eliminate 'blind spots'. He also waxed lyrical about the Bikeability and Exchanging Places schemes.

It's worth noting, however, that the European Parliament “Written Declaration on heavy goods vehicle collisions” already has the support of 369 out of 732 MEPs, and actual amendments to legislation are down to the European Commission, so it's likely that British government support won't make much difference. It's also worth noting that Bikeability is one of the few programmes that benefit cycling that hasn't been cut. Hammond has done nothing at all of any substance to promote cycling, and plenty (cutting Cycling England, cuts to road safety budgets and speed cameras) that is deleterious. His words on this subject don't do much to alter that record.
Warwickshire is scaling back its speed camera programme - thanks to a £1.2M Coalition cut to the speed camera budget. The council appreciate the road safety benefits of the cameras, but at a time of austerity, they can't easily make up the funding shortfall from elsewhere. Philip Hammond and Mike Penning may protest that they're not forcing cuts to safety cameras, but in practice they're making life very difficult for councils that refuse to do so.

The council are going to make the best of a bad job by keeping all the existing cameras going at least some of the time, retaining at least some of the deterrent effect. Unlike Oxfordshire, which simply announced it was going to switch off all its cameras and watch people die.

The safety effect of the Warwickshire cameras will be diluted, because if people who speed past a camera don't receive a ticket, they're unlikely to change their behaviour. And people who would have received a driving ban due to serial reoffending will retain their licences - exactly the people you don't want on the road.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Richmond Park

A quick circuit of Richmond Park yesterday. Drivers very well-behaved; most cruising around the posted 20 MPH limit and just two cars went past me with well-judged, safe overtakes. In fact I think I overtook more cars than cars overtook me. One very 'hairy' near miss though: a cocker spaniel tore across my path missing my front tyre by inches. Owner nowhere to be seen. Time for one circuit was 21:12, not too bad for a windy day. I think I can probably get it below the 20-minute barrier on a still day if I take the 'guards off, get up early enough to miss the traffic (and the dogs) and give it some more gas down the hills.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Crap Driving

A bad day on the roads yesterday. Morning run in through the back-end of Colliers Wood, an idiot-in-a-hurry overtook me on Eastbourne Road. This road is far to narrow for a safe overtake but it wasn't going to stop him. He started by revving impatiently, then edging closer, then finally forcing his way past by intimidating me out of his way. Too late to gain any advantage though, I caught him back up at the T-junction and got a good look at him. He looked like an angry Eric Clapton, but without Clapton's financial resources - his clapped-out old Peugeot didn't sound like it would be intimidating people for too much longer. Sadly I'd not got the video camera on. About a 5 on the Barber scale of close shaves: "distinctly disconcerting".

Next, in Battersea, a minicab driver forced his way past. Just as I was about to avoid a speed cushion, at a tad over 20MPH (it's downhill you see) I heard a honk behind me and the approaching minicab was on a collision course, so I swerved sharply to the left to avoid a coming-together. I had the video camera on this time. Looking at the vid again, it was a dog's breakfast of an overtake. The H-C advises against any overtakes where there's traffic calming. There was a blind junction on the right, and no reason to think an emerging vehicle would look left for an overtaking car. On top of all that, it big letters on both lanes, was the word 'S L O W'. A good 7 on the Barber scale: "downright dangerous".

Lunchtime, I figured I'd go to the police station and report the latter incident. Not with any great hope, but perhaps faced with video evidence the driver might 'fess up' without the need for a court appearance. I waited in line for 15 minutes. The young man in front of me was chavved up with the kind of labelled attire that the designers (Louis Vuitton, Henri Lloyd) wish people like him wouldn't wear as it devalues their brand. However, I thought, put that prejudice aside, he's probably just another victim. The first thing the desk seargeant said to him was: "So when were you arrested?" Oh well, Liberals 0, Stereotypes 1. Me next. "You'll need a form". 19 pages, but it looks like I'll only have to fill in one section. "What do I do with the video?" "They'll be in contact."

We'll see. is Kensington and Chelsea's attempt to get road users to love each other a little bit more, by encouraging people to treat fellow travellers as they would a friend or family member. In a good way, of course.

To me, a roadhug from someone in a car sounds a bit like a hug from a bear, but that unfortunate image apart,
I don't particularly want other road users to love me and have my babies, I just want them to see me.

The other big problem this campaign doesn't address is the general ignorance amongst motorised road users about cycling. There's a significant number of people who think that cyclists weave around and ride in the middle of the road to deliberately obstruct. They don't understand the complex decisions you have to take in order to pick the best road position, to avoid hazards such as side roads, parked cars, pinch-points, and so on. They also don't understand how intimidating it is to be overtaken with inches to spare, or why it's not possible to steer a straight course on a road littered with potholes and speed cushions. In short, they don't understand that most cyclists have no interest in getting in other people's way - they just want to stay safe, and staying safe on a bike requires you to do things you wouldn't do in a car.

In the view of some drivers, judging by the obstructive way cyclists position themselves, it's cyclists who don't love them enough, not the other way round. So this campaign, because it doesn't correct that perception,could simply reinforce their idea that it's cyclists' attitudes that need changing. If you raise the expectations of genteel behaviour, but drivers don't understand the difference between safe behaviour and inconsiderate or impolite behaviour, then those drivers are likely to be less considerate to cyclists.

The Cycle of Obesity

The cycle of obesity is as follows:

 1. The media focuses on obesity because of a new report that usually adds nothing new to the existing canon of evidence;
2. Politicians note that cycling would be the easiest way of integrating exercise into daily life;
3. They do nothing decisive to increase cycling because that might upset a few drivers;
4. Britain continues to get fatter, the obesity bill continues to grow;
5. Go to step 1 and repeat.

Well, guess what, we're at Step 1 again. Obesity is back in the headlines. Kids clothes no longer fit them because today's youngsters are considerably, and worryingly, bigger and fatter than they were a generation ago. Yesterday on BBC Breakfast, resident doctor Rosemary Leonard was bemoaning the fact that she is seeing more teenagers with Type 2 diabetes, but cannot talk to youngsters about their weight because if she does they don't come back to the surgery. She also commented about the importance of exercise, and the fact that children aren't cycling to school because of safety fears.

The Standard reports the financial cost of obesity to London is approaching £1bn/year, according to the London Assembly. James Cleverly, chair of the Health and Public Services committee, said "something must be done to stop today's young people becoming obese adults." The report claims "although the Mayor says childhood obesity is his number one health priority – and has introduced initiatives that encourage walking, cycling, food growing and sports participation - few of his initiatives are focused exclusively on obesity-reduction and they are not coordinated."

The wife called me up almost in tears on Tuesday. She'd cycled with the kids to Wimbledon Park, along the official cycle route, and been buzzed repeatedly by aggressive van and car drivers. I've experienced this myself. Although most drivers are considerate, and even more so when you're with a child, it only takes a very few clumsy, inattentive or aggressive drivers to make the experience very stressful.

I doubt if the roads have got more dangerous over the few decades since today's parents were growing up, when we were always out and about on our bikes and as long as we were back in time for tea, no-one worried overmuch. What has changed is our expectations of child safety. As a nation, we no longer tolerate our children being put in harm's way...but  road danger reduction has not kept pace with our child safety expectations. Result: many people don't let their children cycle on roads.

There are those in the cycling community who claim that roads are safe for children to cycle on, that we shouldn't cotton-wool our kids, that the consequences of chaperoning our wee'uns everywhere means they grow into fat adults with poor judgement of risk and little road-sense. I think there's merit in a lot of that, but changing public perceptions seems like an impossible task to me.

To get children cycling, we need a few routes that give parents the confidence that their little treasures will get to school without being endangered by speeding, distracted drivers. It really is that simple. These routes need to be segregated, or very low traffic. CCTV monitoring of driver behaviour could give extra confidence. Yet this government seems intent on making the roads more dangerous, and eroding the confidence of vulnerable road users, by its cavalier attitude to speed enforcement and reduced spending on road safety.

So we're nearly at Step 3 again.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Road Traffic Law Update

Reports are reaching us here at Cycalogical about the government's forthcoming Road Traffic Offences Bill. Sources indicate that the bill will be in line with the "war on the motorist" agenda, and will contain the following provisions:

Strict liability. Cyclists and pedestrians will be automatically assumed to be at fault in any collision.

Causing Death by Dangerous Cycling. A new offence of 'Causing Death by Dangerous Cycling' will be created to recognize the large number of deaths caused by cyclists, and ensure that serious cycling offences are properly punished. The offence of 'Causing Death by Dangerous Driving’ will be re-drafted to respect the right to drive, to protect drivers from spurious and vexatious accusations from pedestrians, and to ensure that unavoidable accidents are treated as leniently as possible.

Causing Death by Dangerous Driving. Instead of a lengthy prison sentence, first-time offenders will be given the chance to go on a Speed Awareness course.

Speed Limits and Speed Cameras. The government does not believe it should be telling local authorities how best to make their roads safer. So speed limits will become advisory only. Local authorities may still deploy speed cameras, but to increase respect for the law no fines will be issued, to avoid the accusation that cameras are simply 'cash cows'. The law will now recognize the serious danger posed by cycling, and a 5MPH speed limit will become mandatory for cyclists. However, to recognize the significant costs to the economy of delays caused by congestion, a 10MPH minimum speed limit will be applied to all roads.

Overtaking. The law will now require that cyclists give overtaking cars plenty of room. This will be augmented by a new offence of 'Obstructing a Motor Car', which will also apply to pedestrians who loiter on pedestrian crossings. Many accidents happen at pedestrian crossings due to red light jumping. Therefore the red light will become advisory only for motorists. Pedestrians should only cross on the 'green man' where it is safe to do so and where it would not cause delay to motorists.

Shared Space. Research shows that the 'shared space' concept reduces accidents. Therefore, all pavements, pedestrian crossings, town centres and cycle paths will be re-designated 'shared spaces'. Pedestrians and cyclists will be expected to show consideration in these areas, 'share the road' and not get in the way of drivers.

Causing Scratched Paintwork by Dangerous Cycling. A new offence will be created, punishable by up to 10 years' imprisonment.

Cycling. A new offence of 'Cycling' will be created, punishable by up to 15 years' imprisonment.

Yet More on the Dangerous and Reckless Cycling (Offences) Bill reports that 'road safety' minister Mike Penning has unofficially given a nod towards the ill-conceived Dangerous and Reckless Cycling (Offences) Bill, but then the Dept of Transport has publicly backtracked from this endorsement, reportedly saying "his remarks were made in the context of a private conversation". The lawyer acting for the Bennett family, whose daugher was killed by a cyclist, apparently said that Mike Penning "met us afterwards in the lobby and said to the effect of: we agree with your arguments, and we're in the process of updating a lot of road traffic laws to bring them up to date. We would look at trying to tag this on to another bill if possible." To be honest, I wouldn't read too much into this report. It sounds like a politician being sympathetic but non-committal to me.

An update of road traffic law is not before time, but with the backdrop of the Government's "war on the motorist" agenda, I don't have much confidence that the intention will be to make motorists more responsible for their actions. In 2009, no pedestrians were killed by cyclists whereas 426 died in collisions with motor vehicles. Likely only 25% of those deaths are likely to be prosecuted with 'causing death' charges, and many of those prosecutions will fail due to the law being stacked in the motorists' favour.

Blackfriars Bridge - Don't Forget

Consultation period ends this Friday, so get your comments in quick. LCC has a template letter and all the details.

Shared Spaces and Disability

Shared spaces seem to be very divisive.

The CTC has a bone to pick with Guide Dogs for the Blind, which has been blocking shared-use schemes and has successfully lobbied with other disability groups to remove cycle access in Woking town centre. However, some disabled people like the 'shared space' concept because they find kerbs and raised surfaces a barrier.

As Woking Cycle Users' Group points out, the anti-cycle campaign is based on somewhat irrational fears than actual collisions, and goes against the established research, which indicates that shared use does work and doesn't present particular dangers to pedestrians.

There's also a public health issue here. More cycling and better conditions for cycling will result in fewer road injuries and fewer 'sedentary' diseases. Making life more difficult and dangerous for cyclists (who in the Woking case case will have to take the busy ring-road instead to avoid the town centre) is, I would submit, detrimental to the nation's health and in the long run likely to increase the number of disabled and blind people. How can I justify that assertion? See if you can guess at a couple of leading causes of disability. Try 1) injuries due to car crashes, and 2) diseases whose root causes include lack of exercise, including a) heart disease;  b) arthritis. c) stroke; d) diabetes.

Would it be better to go back to traditional road layouts? Car-centric streets are not in the interests of most disabled people. Pavement parking, narrow, uneven pavements, clutter, kerbs and traffic in general makes life difficult for anyone who's not able-bodied. The abuse of blue badges by able-bodied drivers makes it more difficult for disabled people to park their cars. Councils replacing proper crossings with 'pedestrian refuges' causes further problems for people unable to sprint across a road, and inconsiderate road use always disproportionately affects the most vulnerable.

It seems clear that the town planners can't please all of the people all of the time. Blind and partially-sighted people, it seems, need tactile features in the streetscape, while these can be problematic for some in wheelchairs. Having a distinct and separate roadway appears to increase collisions, yet it also seems to reduce the fear of collisions at least for partially-sighted people.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Level Crossing Abuse

A local Merton story this one - Mitcham Eastfields level crossing has been targeted by police after "three similar operations have discovered more than 100 people misusing the crossing".

Level crossings have to be about the safest place on the road network. They are normally equipped with barriers and flashing lights that activate well before the approach of a train. It's impossible to accidentally go through a level crossing when there's a train coming. Additionally, most are equipped with CCTV judging by the number of YouTube videos. It's pretty obvious that level crossing abuse would inevitably attract a dangerous driving charge and a stiff sentence, right? Not according to Network Rail, who in 2009 called for "tougher action on level crossing offences".

Why are the police targeting level crossings? This is the one place where drivers are (in the main) putting their own lives at risk, rather than other people's. While there's the possibility of collateral damage, the driver is pitting their vehicle against a 100-tonne train so it's the driver who will come off worse. If the police are suddenly concerned about safety, why don't they prioritize offences that endanger vulnerable groups or other drivers? The answer to that question is perhaps: why should the police target offences that are difficult and expensive to prosecute yet attract derisory penalties? That said, level-crossing abusers don't turn into courteous, careful civilized drivers when they've cleared a level crossing, so it would be good to get them off the road - only the legal system doesn't do that. In this near miss, so close that the train and the car are separated by the thickness of a cigarette paper, in which the driver - get this - had his wife and young son in the car at the time - the driver was given 12 month suspended sentence and ordered to do180 hours of community service. He was also disqualified from driving for 12 months and fined £722.So the residents of Carmarthenshire may already be enjoying the renewed presence of this nutter on their roads.

The evidence rather points in one direction: road traffic law needs a shake-up. Drivers and the police need to know that society takes dangerous driving seriously. Society needs to know that dangerous drivers are held responsible for their actions, that the costs of enforcement will be recovered from them, and perhaps most important, that dangerous drivers should not be permitted to carry on driving. The current law does none of these things.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

More on the Dangerous and Reckless Cycling (Offences) Bill

CTC have devoted a bit more time and resources into this one than I have, and have pointed out that

"During the last decade, judges issued prison sentences to each of the cyclists who killed pedestrians"

which is a little ambiguous, but I'll assume this means pedestrian deaths where a cyclist was at fault.

In any case, this record of custodial sentencing compares well with the leniency often shown to drivers of motor vehicles, and rather reinforces my assertion that there's one law for drivers and another for cyclists, even with the law apparently drafted in the favour of the reckless cyclist. It's clearly time for Andrea Leadsom to be as good as her word and "bring equal protection and the potential for equal punishment to all road users".


Spring is here. The daffodils are blooming, the evenings are light again, and the cyclists are coming out of hibernation. Scientists have noticed a considerable increase over the past week, probably encouraged by the dry warm weather.

The 'feral cyclist' (urbanus ciclisto) is a now an increasingly common sight on city streets, with its colourful yellow plumage, and it is increasingly over-wintering. This species is adapted to the urban environment. It is surpisingly swift and agile and shows little fear, often coming within inches of motor vehicles and humans, and it is unafraid to grab whatever roadspace it can. So prevalent has the creature become that some are calling for its control or even eradication, fearful that it may pose a threat to the larger inhabitants of the city. Others point out that although it is difficult to tame, it causes very little actual damage compared to larger road-mammals such as the vanus blanco and taxis niger, and unlike them does not cause erosion or over-grazing.

The 'lesser cyclist' (redactum ciclisto) is a much rarer species. Threatened by habitat loss and predators, and much less bold than its urban counterpart, the 'lesser cyclist' is much more retiring and shows considerable fear. Observers note that the species will make occasional forays out into the open particularly in warmer weather, but generally it takes up residence in sheds and garages and is rarely seen. Raids on its nesting places also pose a threat the the survival of the species. Because of its duller plumage and tendancy to hide in gutters, it is also vulnerable to being hit by motor vehicles. Unfortunately, conservation efforts have generally concentrated on the more colourful urban cyclist, so numbers of the lesser cyclist have been declining year-on-year. Some efforts have attempted to make the species adapt to urban conditions, by creating narrow reservations at roadsides, but generally these have proved unattractive and tend to be quickly taken over by the creature's larger predators. However, some predict that over-population, increasingly scarce food supplies and climate change may threaten the lesser cyclists' predators, so it is possible that numbers may  recover in coming years.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Terrorist Traffic Calming

In Central London, various unsightly steel fortifications have been springing up outside important buildings like Horse Guards. (See below).

Rather than spoiling the view, they could have closed Horse Guards Road to general through traffic. This would have improved the environment for tourists, and saved a huge amount of money. It's worth noting that it's still possible to park a large van very close to the Ministry of Defence despite the new steel bollards - in fact, I've seen it done. The authorities seem to be prepared to spend large sums of money on 'security measures' that don't actually work very well because they don't prevent vehicles that could be transporting bombs from passing or even parking close to strategically important buildings. It seems that interfering with traffic flow in any way is a step too far when it comes to safeguarding national security.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Dangerous and Reckless Cycling (Offences) Bill

There's a 10-minute rule bill attempting to make progress through the Commons which seeks to create new offences of 'causing death by dangerous cycling'. The Bill is being submitted by Andrea Leadsom, Tory MP for South Northamptonshire, who is, apparently, a cyclist.

She gives an account of the tragic death of Rhiannon Bennet, who was killed by a cyclist riding dangerously. Because there are limited options to the CPS, he was charged with 'dangerous cycling', for which the only punishment is a fine. This is a scenario that will be depressingly familiar to many family and friends of pedestrians and indeed cyclists who have been killed by motorists, where the charges brought don't reflect the gravity of the offence and even with such watered-down charges the killers often walk free from court. Leadsom acknowledges as much, but points out "in the case of a motorist killing a cyclist there is, at the very least, the possibility of a motorist being severely punished. Causing death by dangerous driving carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison".In fact there was a successful prosecution in 2009 under the Offences against the Person act, in which a cyclist was jailed for killing a pedestrian. Other cases are difficult to find for the simple reason that they are very rare.

It can't be argued that cyclists who kill by cycling dangerously do not deserve to be punished as severely as a motorist who kills in similar circumstances. However, it could be argued that there two significant problems in the law as it currently stands:
1) the 'dangerous driving' law at the moment is too specific (it refers to 'driving' dangerously), which excludes cycling and many other actions;
2) the 'dangerous driving' law is too vague (it is very difficult to prove a case of dangerous driving because of the subjective way the law is worded).

The bill fails to address the first problem because it simply creates another specific (and very rare) offence. Why not create a general offence of 'acting dangerously'? In effect, this seems to be the aim of the Offences against the Person Act 1861. Maybe it just needs updating. It seems to me that anyone who is skateboarding dangerously, hitting golf balls dangerously, owning a dangerous dog, or indeed any activity that could endanger the public should also have the possibility of severe punishment available to the courts. Why pick out cycling? It's not as if the probability of being killed by any cyclist, let alone one that is cycling dangerously, scores very high on the list of everyday risks. Unlike being killed in a motor vehicle crash, which is the leading cause of death for young people. What is the point of a Bill which in Leadsoms' words attempts to bring "equal protection and the potential for equal punishment" yet so obviously fails to do so, by continuing to exclude all manner of dangerous behaviour and singling out one very unusual cause of death?

The bill fails to tackle the second problem because it fails to address the reason the families and friends of many victims of dangerous driving do not feel that justice has been done: it is just too easy for the perpetrators to wriggle out of the charge of causing death by dangerous or careless driving. There is simply insufficient duty of care required when operating a motor vehicle. How is it possible for a driver whose van "ploughed into the cyclists before plunging down an embankment", who "failed to maintain proper control of the vehicle" and whose "actions have been careless" (according to a police report), to walk free from court? Or how about a £110 fine for the killer of a cyclist who was "hit from behind and killed by a black Audi A4 estate car"? For more examples you can browse through Freewheeler's list of fatalities. I fail to see why Leadsom's bill is not simply going to create a new difficult-to-prosecute offence, and lead to more cases where dangerous behaviour goes unpunished courtesy of good lawyers, occasionally sloppy police work and under-ambitious CPS people. Leadsom protests, "I sincerely hope that all road users are held accountable to the full extent of the law". But the problem is the law and the fact that it gives too many rights to drivers and requires not enough responsibilities, the fact that it is not enforced and the fact that when it is the penalties are often laughable.

There is one further danger of the Bill. There is a feeling that motorists when hauled before the courts benefit from the sympathetic ears of the judge and jury, who are usually fellow drivers, and many of whom drive excessively fast, use handheld mobiles whilst driving, and worse. The judge and jury in dangerous driving cases may feel that "there but for the grace of God go I". Because relatively few people in Britain cycle, a cyclist on a similar 'dangerous' charge would be unlikely to feel the love. So Leadsom's bill, far from equalizing the justice system, may actually make it less equal, because it fails to address the fundamental problem I've alluded to above, of leaving a massive grey area to be exploited by wily lawyers. So while dangerous cyclists who can't afford a good lawyer may find themselves in jail, well-heeled cyclists and drivers will likely continue to escape justice.

In summary, I totally support the idea of cyclists who kill facing justice, but don't believe this bill will make it much more likely, and I certainly don't believe it will make the roads a safer place. The Bill, instead of addressing the fundamental problems in road traffic law, goes out to solve a totally different and very obscure problem, by bringing it within the scope of the same existing, totally inadequate law. Andrea Leadsom is best advised to look at Roadpeace's manifesto for some better ideas.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Oxford Speed Cameras Back On - Shame about the Deaths

Another partial success for the bungling Coalition.

The results are back from the 'human experiment' in which Oxfordshire's speed cameras were switched off. And guess what - more people died and were injured, just as  the police, road safety partnerships, even the AA, pretty much anyone involved in road safety and indeed anyone with any vestige of sanity predicted.

In the six months after the cameras were switched off, 83 people were injured in 62 accidents camera sites.
The figure for the same period the year before there were 68 injuries in 60 accidents.
Across Oxford, 18 people were killed in road traffic accidents in the period, compared with 12 people the year before. The number of people seriously injured rose by 19 to 179.
(source: The Guardian)

So that's 6 extra deaths, total cost somewhere between £9M and £18M, ignoring the cost of serious and slight injuries, and all because the Road Safety Partnership's grant was cut by £600,000. That's a pretty expensive way of buying petrolhead votes, especially as it won't have made residents whose streets are now blighted by speeding motorists too happy.

I wonder how Road Safety Minister Mike Penning and Transport Secretary Philip Hammond are going to spin it? Penning said last year "Local authorities have relied too heavily on safety cameras for far too long so I am pleased that some councils are now focusing on other measures to reduce road casualties. This is another example of this government delivering on its pledge to end the war on the motorist."