Andrea Leadsom is the Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire, who earlier this year proposed a Dangerous and Reckless Cycling Bill. You can read a more lengthy justification for this bill she has written here, along with some excellent legal background here, which I strongly recommend reading.
She appeared today on BBC Radio 4’s Law In Action, making much the same points she has made earlier about the apparent discrepancy in law, and about the lack of number plates for cyclists. I won’t comment on the legal aspects of her argument – the piece from Cycle Rules I link to above rather demolishes the foundation of her case – but my ears pricked up towards the end of her interview, when she made this curious statement –
I do think there is a cultural acceptance that cyclists just do what they do, whereas people are far more aggressive towards motorists who commit offences, and I think there’s a bit of a cultural tolerance, actually, towards cyclists jumping across zebra crossings as you’re walking across it as a pedestrian, and there isn’t any accountability – they don’t have a number plate and there isn’t any comeback.
This is laughable stuff.
The notion that cyclists get a ‘free pass’ from the general public when it comes to committing offences – that there is ‘cultural acceptance’ of cyclists’ poor behaviour, or ‘tolerance’ of cyclists cutting through pedestrian crossings while people are attempting to cross – while motorists are regarded with much greater hostility, or indeed aggressiveness, is utterly absurd. Be it in Oxford, Cambridge, Shrewsbury, London, Reading, Bath, Chester, towns and cities up and down the UK are awash with ‘zero tolerance’ policies towards pavement cycling – a direct reflection of the antipathy towards this kind of activity amongst the general public. Indeed, a search for ‘pavement cycling’ on Google merits 680,000 results, while ‘speeding motorists’ somehow yields only 571,000 results.
This is not immediately suggestive of cyclists ‘getting a free pass’ – quite the opposite.
Even the most minor infractions by cyclists are treated with an almost visceral hostility by some members of the general public, and not just the usual mouth-breathing suspects. As I trundled away from the supermarket yesterday at less than walking speed, I was angrily accosted by a man who pointed out that there’s ‘supposed to be no cycling here!’ Which was indeed true – I was breaking the rules – but for only a matter of few yards as I returned to the road across a wide pedestrian concourse, and at a speed which posed no danger to absolutely anyone. Meanwhile, the stupid and far more dangerous driving of a type I encountered barely a minute later – a driver pulled out of a parking bay without bothering to check whether a person on a bicycle might be alongside him – goes utterly unchallenged.
The attitude of the man who confronted me is symptomatic of a reflexive tendency amongst the British public to leap irrationally upon ‘misdeeds’ by cyclists, while the wider, and far more serious and prevalent, problem of speeding and reckless driving gets ignored – it’s just background. As I wrote recently, a piece in my local paper entitled ‘Road Peril’ focused entirely on the danger posed by ‘reckless cyclists’, and addressed none of the safety issues posed by reckless driving – an extraordinary oversight, given that I know of no injuries caused to anyone by cyclists in the Horsham district, and in the few weeks subsequent to publication, five cyclists were struck by motorists, three quite deliberately.
As Freewheeler memorably put it,
cyclists still seem to be among the folk devils of modern Britain.
Typically pithy, but I don’t think he is far wrong. I can’t think of many subjects more guaranteed to bring out a stream of ill-informed invective on discussion boards than cyclists. Below stories reporting the deaths or injuries of entirely innocent people who happened to be riding bikes, we find comments like
Cyclists will not learn! Nothing has changed since I lived in London! Going through red lights, squeezing through narrowing gaps! Worst of all squeezing down the LEFT side of large lorries!
It is now norm that every time I cross the road when lights are red I have a cyclist going through lights and narrowly avoiding those crossing the road. And when one narrowly missed a woman with a pram yesterday morning the cyclist had the audacity to then threaten a passer by who had dared question his actions.
Is it only I who see cyclists jumping red lights every day and expecting motorists to avoid them, not to mention pedestrians trying to cross the road whilst cars wait for them. None of these failings are ever mentioned after an accident. And the filthy language if anyone says anything !!
And so on, beneath any story mentioning a cyclist you care to mention. Comments which bear no relation to the story at all, but are merely an unloading of personal grievance against a despised out-group. No-one sees fit to leave comments about the poor behaviour of drivers below news stories about the death of a motorist, or an assault on a motorist, yet the word ‘cyclist’ in an article about an assault or death appears to trigger an idiotic Pavlovian reflex, a need to unburden a seemingly endless repository of stored-up memories of cyclists nearly killing babies or punching grannies.
Indeed, the notion that cyclists are getting a ‘free pass’ is rather contradicted by evidence Mrs Leadsom herself presents on the very same Radio 4 programme, only minutes before making her suggestion that offences by cyclists are subject to ‘cultural acceptance’. She says
Since my ten minute rule bill, I’ve received literally hundreds of emails letters from people across the country – and outside this country – complaining about accidents caused by cyclists on pavements to children, to elderly people, and so on. So it clearly is an issue.
This is a remarkable figure, given that only around 200-300 pedestrians are injured in collisions with cyclists per year, both on and off the pavement, and at a best guess (I do not have the breakdown for the number of these collisions that occurred on the pavement, except for 2001, when only 64 pedestrians were injured in collisions with cyclists on the pavement) at the very most a hundred of these injuries to pedestrians, per year – slight or severe – occurred on the pavement.
The amount of correspondence Mrs Leadsom has received, in other words, is suggestive of offences carried out by cyclists being taken very seriously indeed by the general public – quite the opposite of the ‘cultural acceptance’ she claims earlier in the interview.
Mrs Leadsom apparently believes that offences by motorists are treated most aggressively and severely by the general public, while infractions by cyclists are broadly tolerated.
What planet is she living on?