That ‘war’ on Britain’s roads – the statistics

For me, the most troubling aspect of the BBC’s much-discussed programme last week was its attempt to portray cyclists and drivers as two seemingly equal parties, ‘battling’ for supremacy on the roads. The voiceover intoned, right at the start – above aggressive music and swearing – that

The battle between two wheels and four has never been so intense.

Footage of outright dangerous driving (one clip shows a van with trailer passing within inches of a cyclist, at speed) was accompanied by the narrator informing us that

with the arrival of the helmet cam, cyclists have found a way of highlighting what they see as the bad behaviour of motorists. [my emphasis]

As if this was merely a problem of perception; cyclists only interpret motorists as dangerous. The ‘battle’, in other words, due mostly to lack of compromise, and misunderstanding.

This failure to take the perspective of people on bicycles seriously was exhibited later in the programme, when, as footage of trucks and buses passing within inches of cyclists in cycle lanes appears on the screen, we are told that ‘cyclists feel under threat, even when in the cycle lane’ – and that they were consequently ‘taking control of the road, even if it means annoying other roads users’. This is hardly the most helpful way to frame the issue, to put it mildly.

Worse than this, the programme went out of its way to present both parties as equally responsible and culpable for the hostility, injuries and deaths that occur. The programme makers evidently searched desperately for a balance that doesn’t exist in reality. While there was plenty of footage of bad driving, they evidently had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find examples of equivalent behaviour from cyclists.

Principally, of course, this involved the well-documented abuse of alley cat footage, and its presentation as something cyclists get up to regularly, rather than a handful of messengers having been egged on by an American offering them the incentive of a cash prize. The only possible motive for the inclusion of this footage – alongside the absence of footage of people behind the wheels of motor cars acting far more dangerously, of which there is plenty out there on the internet – can only possibly have been to ‘even up’ the culpability of cyclists and drivers.

The other attempts to even up the tally were quite laughable. A taxi driver unburdened a series of anecdotes, telling us that ‘many cyclists take diabolical liberties’, before inviting us to ‘look at this wally’ – a wally unfortunately  cycling quite legally on a marked shared use pavement.

Look at this maniac.

Look at this maniac.

Not content with this, the taxi driver is then shown pointing out a cyclist going down a street where, he alleges, cyclists aren’t allowed to cycle.

The angry pointing finger of a taxi driver spotting cyclist wrongdoing

The angry pointing finger of a taxi driver spotting cyclist wrongdoing

The only trouble is… this isn’t true at all.

Screen shot 2012-12-12 at 22.01.35

The distinctive Smith & Sons umbrella shop at the corner of New Oxford Street and Shaftesbury Avenue in Bloomsbury, visible behind the taxi driver’s wagging finger. It’s perfectly legal to cycle south onto Shaftesbury Avenue. The taxi driver is talking out his arse.

I would say that it is extraordinary that this guff made it into the finished programme, but the makers were plainly on the hunt for material that would ‘prove’ that cyclists are just as bad as drivers, and any old tat – even rubbish from taxi drivers – would do. Was the taxi driver encouraged just to point at people on bikes and say they were doing something wrong? It seems so. Lazy, contrived, and irresponsible.

We then have the driver of a cement truck, travelling into Parliament Square, identifying that a cyclist ahead of him is listening to music, stating that the attitude of the cyclist must be

‘I’m riding my bike, and everyone else better beware’

Screen shot 2012-12-12 at 22.35.49

Well, yes! As the driver of a cement truck in central London, an area full of tourists, other pedestrians, and cyclists, you certainly should be aware of cyclists. It might make your job more difficult, but you are the one posing the danger. Cycling with headphones might be unwise, but it is not illegal, and the responsibility must lie with the truck driver to exercise caution. Yet the way the footage was presented, the cyclist was framed as being unconscionably reckless.

This segued into a series of clips of cyclists jumping red lights; a practise which is, of course, illegal, and which can be dangerous. However, I didn’t see any particular danger being posed to anyone in this sequence. It’s selfish, dangerous and rude to cut close to pedestrians when they are crossing, but in these clips the people on bikes were trundling. The reaction to their behaviour struck me as slightly hysterical. (Interestingly, one of the red light jumpers was a young man attempting to escape from a lunatic taxi driver, who was subsequently let on his way without admonishment by the police officer, while the cyclist was advised to use… a whistle).

No sooner had this sequence finished than we were given one of the few statistics in the programme; the number of cyclists’ deaths this year. This was uncomfortable timing, because it created the clear impression that cyclists’ own law-breaking and irresponsibility was a prime factor in that tally, when – in reality – quite the opposite is true.

Indeed, the near-total absence of facts or statistics in the programme underlined all the other serious failings of editorial balance. What happens when a motor vehicle and a bicycle are involved in a collision, for instance?


2664 cyclists were killed or seriously injured in these kinds of collisions last year; just 32 vehicle occupants were killed or seriously injured. (For clarity, no vehicle occupants were killed. All those 32 were serious injuries.) I doubt these injuries suffered by vehicle occupants were as a direct result of being hit by a bicycle; most likely they have were suffered as a result of colliding with street furniture, or other vehicles, during or after the collision.

The relative degree of risk in these collisions is also worth illustrating.


At the right hand side, we can see that a staggering 32.3% of cyclist/HGV collisions result in death or serious injury for cyclists, and that 0% of these collisions result in death or serious injury for the HGV occupant. The picture is scarcely better for collisions with vans. 17.4% of these collisions involve death or serious injury for the cyclist; just 0.08% involve death or serious injury for the van occupant. The only slightly anomalous statistic here is the one for bus/coach-cyclist collisions. Four bus or coach occupants were seriously injured last year in collisions with a bicycle. Quite how this occurred, I don’t know; I suspect, again, one incident in which a bus or coach subsequently collided with something else.

What contributed to these collisions?


A slight ‘health warning’ should be attached to these statistics, because they are based on the interpretation of the attending police officer. There may also be other ‘contributing factors’ involved in these collisions; failing to look may or may not have been the prime or sole cause. Nevertheless we can see that a significant factor in collisions between motor vehicles and bicycles is a failure of observation on the part of the driver, particularly for vans and cars – in nearly half of all collisions between these vehicles and bicycles, the driver had failed to look properly. Of course, we can see that cyclists are also (to a lesser extent) failing to look properly. But I would argue that, given the much greater risk posed by motor vehicles (as shown in the graph just above), it is surely deeply worrying that the parties posing the greater risk are less observant.

Why was it not revealed in the BBC’s programme that in fatal collisions between bicycles and HGVs, the driver of the HGV is nearly twice as likely to have failed to have made proper observation? The clip itself, already mentioned, showed a virtuous HGV driver (of which I am sure there are many, of course) pontificating about the faults of cyclists, and a ‘reckless’ cyclist wearing headphones and not observing properly. While the death of Cynthia Barlow’s daughter at the hands of a left-turning HGV featured prominently, there was a complete absence of facts about causality in these kinds of collisions, which account for so many cycling deaths. Real balance doesn’t mean showing one side of a story and then another, or giving a ‘range of opinions’ – it means presenting a story fairly and objectively. The programme singularly failed to do this.

If there really is a ‘war’ on the roads, then only one side can be said to be winning. Indeed,  it might just be one of the most one-sided war in history, with one particular set of victims – people not in motor vehicles.



Children are also casualties of this ‘war’.


Particularly children trying to get to and from school.


With all the rhetoric about cyclists increasingly entering into ‘battle’ with motorists, you’d expect the statistics of this war to be turning in their favour. Wrong.


Being in a car in this ‘war’ is getting safer and safer; quite the opposite for being on a bicycle.


Adjusted for distance travelled –4

Perhaps a better comparison would be KSIs per unit of time spent travelling, rather than distance, as motor vehicles cover significantly more distance per unit time. Nevertheless this is a useful indicator both of the relative degree of risk for these two modes of transport, and (again) of trends over time.

Interestingly, the mere act of riding a bike appears to be getting safer. The number of single person incidents (with no other vehicle involved) which result in serious injury or death has steadily declined. The same is not true, however, for collisions with motor vehicles, which have been getting more numerous and/or lethal recently (that blue line has continued rising to the 3200 mark in 2011, as you can see in one of the earlier graphs).

From TRL's PPR445 report

Graph from TRL’s PPR445 report

And who is responsible? Well, in London at least, where a great proportion of the footage included in the War on Britain’s Roads was filmed, the picture is reasonably clear (although you may have to click to enlarge) –

Over to the left, we see that the primary causes of serious injuries to cyclists are motor vehicles turning right across the path of cyclists; cyclists being hit by vehicles passing too close; and the infamous ‘dooring’ – each accounting for 11% of cyclists’ serious injuries.

Next we have the ‘left hook’, accounting for 10% of cyclists’ serious injuries. Then ‘failure to give way at a junction, or to obey traffic signals’, on the part of motorists, which accounts for, in total, 11% of all cyclists’ serious injuries (6% in direct collisions, 5% from turning into path of cyclists). Drivers crashing into the back of cyclists – that’s 5% of all cyclists’ serious injuries.

We then come to the first examples of cyclists being responsible – single-person accidents (5%) and riding off the pavement into the path of a vehicle (4%). Note, finally, that cyclists failing to give way, or ‘obey junction controls’ (jumping red lights!) accounts for only 3% of cyclists’ serious injuries in Greater London. Three times more cyclists in Greater London, therefore, are injured by motor vehicles jumping lights or failing to give way.

Statistics like this did not make into the BBC’s programme, while comments from the narrator, like this –

Not all cyclists jump red lights. But for some it’s a way of life.


Perhaps the BBC should consider making another documentary. With some facts included next time.

This entry was posted in Dangerous driving, London, Road safety, Transport policy. Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to That ‘war’ on Britain’s roads – the statistics

  1. Stuart says:

    Very well researched and written piece. I particularly like the fact that you have avoided going off on a rant at the film makers and have chosen to take the facts and present them as they are and without prejudiced. Perhaps it is time the BBC gave you a chance to make a documentary so that cyclists can actually be represented by those of us that fell these stats every day

    Good Job!

  2. Tom says:

    Spot on. This documentary was a clear case of going after the story the producers wanted to tell whether the facts supported it or not.

    Totally dishonest journalism which bolsters motorists’ warped views of who is at fault . This programme has, no doubt, set back the cause of cycling in London. Such a shame.

  3. vfmarky says:

    Interesting that helmet use doesn’t appear to rate a mention, so we don’t know the extent of head injuries/deaths compared to limb and body. I recently read a piece (that I can’t reference, sorry) written by two London trauma surgeons that in summary, stated that most injuries were hip and leg due to vehicles turning across the paths of of cycle riders.
    I don’t believe in mandatory helmet laws, by the way.

  4. Mike Chalkley says:

    The program WASN’T about the dangers faced and how they can be dealt with. WHY HAS NO-ONE UNDERSTOOD THIS YET? It’s not about who was right or wrong or drove too close to who. It was about the clash of opinions generated by our confrontational road system. I didn’t understand at first why the taxi driver and camera geek were both being exaggeratedly presented as flawed personalities. I didn’t understand why the courier footage was shown. Until the reactions of ALL the commentators to that footage showed us they ALL reacted to it in exactly the same way. In one fell swoop the 2 ‘sides’ became as one. The last bit with the old taxi driver telling us about the loss of his grandson sealed it. It was about the underlying humanity of us all that is lost when road conflict intervenes.

    All of the criticism of this program comes from people expecting it to be about cycling safety and what can be done about it. I agree we desperately need more about this both in the printed and video media about this matter but it’s unfair to criticise the program for not being something it didn’t set out to be.

    • I think that’s being a bit generous. If the programme *really was* about the tragedy of conflict generated by our road system (I don’t think it was – it was just an excuse for some sensationalism), there was a near-total absence of analysis (serious analysis, that is) about how and why that conflict comes about, and what can be done to address it. It was just gawping.

      • L2B2 says:

        You have a lot of valid points in this article however you dont seem to understand many of them. For instance its a documentary so when a taxi driver points out a cyclist (incorrectly)as going down a road which he cannot, this is merely presented as his opinion (highlighting his ignorance) and not stated as fact, thus why the narrator did not say it. It is also perfectly correct to say “what they see as” bad driving as again this is there opinion…highlighted by the agressive nerd with the helmet cam slapping the taxi drivers car when IMO he was quite clearly the party in the wrong

        • I might buy the presentation of ignorance if there was an expectation that the viewer would know the taxi driver was incorrect. But without knowing the specific road in question, and given the generally poor knowledge of non-cyclists as to what cyclists can and cannot do on the roads and the highway code on passing vulnerable road users, I don’t believe it. Most viewers would have had no idea there was anything wrong with these statements, and therefore it is poor presentation to let them stand alone.

    • Tim says:

      Any half reasonable programme trying to make the point you describe could have taken one of a thousand other youtube clips, those of cyclists in the Netherlands, and shown exactly how these attitudes are a result of the forced conflict, because when the conflict is removed everybody calms down and goes about their business. Far fewer people get worked up, and much more importantly far fewer people get hurt.

      But this documentary had no interest in pointing out anything so useful. They just wanted to get viewers with sensationalist footage.

  5. Pingback: The War on Britain's Roads (BBC Documentary / tabloid tv) - Page 11 - London Fixed-gear and Single-speed

  6. Dave H says:

    Re your bus crash stats – the injuires to passngers on the bus are probably those caused when the vehicle braked sharply and passngers made an ‘excursion’ within the vehicle (ie thrown to the floor/into the seats etc) I recall a motorist being held liable for injuries caused to passengers when a bus had to brake sharply.

    Nice analysis of stats, and good to see you noted Buffalo Bill’s info on the London Alleycat – Prize of more than a weeks earnings, and route dictated by the film’s maker to enhance the spectacle. Apparently the clips were used without permission (or credit for the footage – which would have boosted viewings/sales of other manic riding videos from the same source).

    What was valuable, but again poorly presented, was Cynthia Barlow’s story. It failed completely to note that Alex was just one of a horrific roll of cyclists being crushed and killed by construction traffic in the City in this period, so bad that the City of London Police called a summit on the issue, it would be especially damning if the detail that the same truck that killed Alex had killed another young woman and put another one in a wheelchair – twice wiith the same driver, and was operated in livery for RMC by a small sub contractor. That wake-up call sorted more than just somke improved features on trucks and driver training. The piece also failed to highlight that whilst they are under 5% of vehicles moving in the city HGV’s kill and maim in over 50% of the cyclist-vehicle crashes, and worse than this construction site vehicles present the most common HGV type involved, and that goes further to highlighting the 4-axle 32T tipper trucks often under pressure to earn the £300/day required to keep in business, and keep a site supplied with empty trucks to fill with excavated or demolished waste. One site at St Pancrase was generating 150 round trips per day (roughly 5000T) using 40-50 trucks, of the most damaging type for the road surface, and delivering a huge (and avoidable) noise and emissions footprint, driving these loads through the City to Purfleet. The earlier site for St Pancras Station used the 2 rail lines for bulk materials haulage eliminating the risk, damage and pollution, and reducing the costs at a stroke.

    The piece also failed to highlight the scandal of Putz, with a string of convictions still holding a vocational licence and driving a 32T truck, and Lopes, whose defective eyesight was not checked for his first victim’s crash and who went on leaving a trail of damage and bad driving reports until he killed again, and no blame at all pinned on the operators whose lax standrads saw these drivers given charge of their killing machines.

  7. Paul M says:

    Putting aside the many excellent points about what the statistics do or do not support, or other comments about the total lack of analysis of the underlying reasons or the potential solutions for reducing conflict – emotional or physical – the short stretch of the programme which I watched before my irritation became too much was a total misrepresentation of the general situation on the roads.

    Not so much of the motorists portrayed. My reaction to that was “so what else is new?” Like all of us, I do see aggressive side-swiping or close passing – very occasionally. I also see quite a lot of inattention or hastiness which is perhaps not malicious even if it can have a serious impact. And I see many, many instances of cars pulling out of side streets into the path of traffic on the major road, which seemed to be one of the key themes in this presentation. However I think it is entirely false and mischievous to suggest that this is somehow a form of military engagement in the war between cyclists and motorists. Fact is that on crowded city streets, impatient and entitled drivers will elbow their way in front of any form of traffic – apart from obviously a little more apprehension about being struck by a truck than ditto a bicycle in terms of your paint job, I don’t think they see any difference between the two, and they probably (see below) don’t realise that bicycles have nothing like the braking effectiveness of cars at “vehicular” speeds.

    The representation of cyclists however was 99.99% false. Others have commented on the total lack of female cyclists in the film, but also the picture was of entirely young(ish) males riding fast and aggressively. Sure, there are quite a few of them, but in absolute numbers terms they are a minority, and 25% or so of cyclists are women, and other groups such as older middle-aged men, in less of a hurry, are not entirely insignificant.

    I know that Gareth, “cyclegaz” is a celebrated Youtube poster of his helmet cam footage, with a fairly angry soundtrack on much of it, so he makes good TV, but he is part of a vanishingly small section of cycling humanity. I listened to him on the programme talking about how he likes to ride at 30mph, and gets a buzz from it. He typically rides at 25-30mph. My first observation on that is that, with a slight downhill and a following wind, I could probably maintain John Franklin’s “sprint speed” of 20mph for a minute or two. I know I am not a fast cyclists, and getting slower, and I am regularly overtaken crossing Blackfriars bridge, but the speed differential is quite modest. 30mph maintained is what you expect from a Cav or a Wiggo.

    But, Cav or Wiggo would normally be doing this on closed roads, with no other traffic, and with marshals alongside. They would not be doing this on rush-hour London streets. If they were, they would likely be travelling as much above the typical car speed, most of the time, as most cyclists are travelling below it, so creating a comparable speed differential risk.

    And, while it may not be obvious to most cyclists, and certainly won’t be obvious to most non-cycling drivers, bicycle brakes are considerably less effective than a car’s brakes at that sort of speed. Even if they were, perhaps with hydraulic disc brakes on a road bike, attempting to use them to their full power on a city street would almost certainly lead to total loss of control.

    I am entirely comfortable with people wanting to ride faster than I do, but absolutely not if that means that they are not in full control, and not able to react correctly to situations in front of them like a pedestrian crossing suddenly going red against them. I don’t condone that in drivers, why should I condone it in cyclists?

    • Simon says:

      1. Cyclists will come off just as badly as the pedestrian in a crash, and so will modify their behaviour accordingly. Untrue for someone in a car.
      2. The relative forces involved in a crash with a car and a bike.

    • A recent study of modal risks by form of transport and looked at on a per unit of time spent travelling basis rather than distance, and then broken down further by gender and age, highlights some of the points you make above. In particular young males (under 21 years of age) are most at risk whatever form of transport they use, and are 5x more at risk driving a car than riding a bicycle! The risks for men of other age groups and for women of all ages, are much lower until aged 70+ when they start to rise again.

      Also see my longer post below.

  8. bob44 says:

    It’s clear the programme made several false claims and deliberately demonised vulnerable road users. They might as well have shown a thick cabbie driving around pointing at black people and saying

    “Walking on the cracks in the pavement. Criminal.”

  9. Andy Mc says:

    Great article. Watched part of this and got annoyed. I ride 20 miles a day through London and increasingly get abuse for exactly the sort of ‘offence’ the cabbie was complaining about. Yesterday, this included getting shouted at for waiting ‘too near’ but not on a pedestrian crossing as I waited at a red light.

  10. Note that KSI per mile gives a false impression, as the use of motorways greatly skews the figures, reducing the apparent injury rate for motorists and artificially boosting it for cyclists in comparison. Effectively, it’s a meaningless statistic. A much better view of injuries is given when you compare KSI per hour. Ken Kifer makes a good argument for this here:

    Also, a minor nitpick, but you list ‘car occupants’ vs ‘bicycles’ in your injury charts. ‘Bicycles’ don’t get injured.

    • Charlie says:

      Interesting point, but I disagree. Most decisions between forms of transport involve a fixed route, and variable times, not the other way around.

      So I don’t think “well, on my commute I want to spend an hour travelling – so which gives me the lowest risk for that hour”. Instead, I think “my commute is 8 miles, which route is the lowest risk for that journey”.

      • I think you’re missing my point. I’m not talking about how people determine their commute. I’m interested in what is a viable way to compare driving casualties vs. cycling casualties, and because of motorways, it can’t be fairly done in terms of distance.

        But to your point, how does your assertion gel with the fact that most commutes tend to be around half an hour or less, whether the people drive a car or ride a bike?

        People choose where they live in terms of their chosen vehicle and the commute time, not the distance. They choose jobs based on that criterion too. The actual route taken is decided after they have made the main decision of where to live and where to work.

        • I agree. People only have a certain amount of time available for an activity such as commuting so the distance they commute is in fact a function of the mode of transport, whereas the time spent commuting is more similar between different modes. A recent study published in PLOS one has shown that when risks are compared on a per time, rather than on a per distance basis, there is much less difference seen between the relative risks when walking, cycling and driving (see my longer post below).

    • 3rdWorldCyclinginGB says:

      The skew you refer to means that UK cyclists don’t have enough infrastructure similar to motorways i.e. relatively safe long distance dedicated cycle paths.

      • You’re right, but let’s not kid ourselves – such infrastructure is never going to be built. Heck, even the Dutch don’t have a network of fully separated cycling freeways with underpasses or overpasses where they meet roads. Dutch cycling infrastructure is overwhelmingly the same old bike lanes and paths that are designed to make cycling subservient to motoring, and that were developed more than half a century ago. Sure, they have made some improvements, but it’s still the same third-class system.

        • The country in which cycling has been made so subservient to motoring has the highest cycling mode share of any country in the world. How do you account for this extraordinary overcoming on the part of Dutch people wishing to ride bikes?

          • The Dutch have made it ‘as easy’ to ride bikes than to drive. But they have not made cycling infrastructure better than, or even as good as, motoring infrastructure. Instead, they have created benefits for cycling in other ways, such as car-free downtown areas, reduced speed limits, laws that favour cyclists and pedestrians when it comes to collisions. None of those are in place in the UK on anything like the same scale.

            But in terms of infrastructure, Dutch cyclists are worse off than motorists, because motorists still get the prime facilities with the least conflicts with other transportation modes. In Holland, you never see a bike lane with a motorist sidepath, and I doubt such will ever be the case. Instead, where multiple facilities exist, motorists get the wide traffic lane in the middle and cyclists are on narrow paths at the side, just as it is in the UK. That way, cars have the least conflicts when going straight or turning either way. If Dutch facilities truly favoured cycling, the cyclists would be on the main part of the road with that same conflict-reducing advantage, and motor transport would be sidelined.

            The idea that Dutch facilities favour cyclists is propaganda, because you only have to look at the average Dutch road to see who comes first.

            • “In Holland, you never see a bike lane with a motorist sidepath, and I doubt such will ever be the case. Instead, where multiple facilities exist, motorists get the wide traffic lane in the middle and cyclists are on narrow paths at the side, just as it is in the UK.”

              Simply wrong. Here’s an immediate example.


              • LOL. Yeah right, I’m sure that’s the most common sight in Holland. While I’m sure that exists, I have never seen a road like that there.

              • You’re sure it exists? That’s good to know. Here’s another example.


                Note the cycle path is of approximately the same width as a carriageway. Plenty more photographs like this, if you insist on them.

            • Peter says:

              Just last month a road not far from where I live was resurfaced. The main – middle – part of the road is in red asphalt, 4 or 5 meters wide, with an additional meter or so of normal grey asphalt on each side. As always here, the red asphalt is for cyclists, the grey asphalt for motorists (obviously they’ll have to use some of the red asphalt too, but the message here is clear: this road favours cyclists).

              [I’d take a picture if I’d think it would make you change your mind, but no doubt you’ll just find an excuse why this example doesn’t count so I’ll spare myself the effort.]

            • Bikeman says:

              The crucial difference is the law. In the UK you can kill a cyclist in a motor vehicle and walk away without punishment. In the Netherlands you will be prosecuted. Having cycled a lot in the Netherlands I can say that it’s a lot safer than cycling in Cardiff.

        • Funny, I’ve ridden on long-distance cycle paths in the Netherlands, across bridges and through tunnels – this year. But as it seems you last went there nearly 30 years ago, they probably weren’t yet built and therefore you didn’t see them.

          Although you’ll probably ignore this question yet again, can you confirm the year in which you “cycled extensively in the Netherlands“? Was it, as I suspect, almost 30 years ago, when the vast majority of current cycle infrastructure in the Netherlands didn’t yet exist?

          (And I was going to write a nice comment agreeing with you on trip distance vs trip time statistics, too…)

          • I last cycled in Holland in 2010. But thanks for trying to bring up yet another straw man.

            • Finally, you’ve answered that question, after mysteriously avoiding it for so long! How long did you spend there, and where? I ask this because your description of riding a bike in the Netherlands – and insistence that it’s an inferior experience to anywhere else in the world – beggars belief.

              Are you one of those who believes that the Earth is only 6000 years old, even after visiting the Natural History Museum?

              • I’m sorry my life does not revolve around your responses. I’m sure I will go on ignoring your answers in the most part, because really, I find your responses to be irrelevant in most cases. Part of the problem seems to be that you are not as interested in discussing the issues as you are in assassinating the characters of those who don’t see Dutch cycling facilities as the be-all and end-all of cycling. I’m really not interested in presenting myself, on demand, as a target for your petty personal vendettas.

                I reserve the right to respond to whatever comments I see fit, and that may not include yours, or it may involve some of yours, but not the ones you want. That’s life in the blogosphere. It’s a tough world.

                As for bicycle facilities vs. the road, I prefer the road. It was designed to maximize vehicle efficiency in terms of getting where I want to go quickly. It’s nice and wide so that I can choose the best, most visible, position to avoid conflicts and to signal my intentions to other road users. The road surface is usually well maintained and very smooth and nice for cycling, with intersections that allow wide turns. The fact that bigger scarier vehicles are on the road does not worry me as much as it clearly does you, because I know that most of the big scary vehicles are operated by folks just like me who just want to get to and from work, and who are scared enough of killing me that I know they will try desperately to avoid it. On the road, unlike on a bike facility, I have clear laws and rules of priority and right of way that are not open to interpretation, because road rules have a century or more of history behind them. Bike facilities, on the other hand, are in their infancy – they are usually narrow, poorly maintained, no one knows how to use them because they are often incompetent in terms of their construction or their design, probably because they are regarded even by the people who install them as something of a joke. I’m never going to prefer cycling on facilities that aren’t as good as the road. I realize that you can’t appreciate that point of view, but that really shouldn’t be my problem.

                My problem is that the people I consider bike facility zealots – yes, that’s folks like you – are trying to get what I see as poorly researched and potentially dangerous infrastructure installed worldwide. When such infrastructure has been studied, research tends to show that it is less safe than the road. But that doesn’t bother the zealots, because it seems safety is not nearly as important to them as getting people to bike, by hook or by crook. I will never share that attitude. I believe that it is a self-defeating attitude, and that when cyclists find out the truth, there will be a backlash. I prefer to tell the truth about cycling infrastructure. If that means fewer people cycle, so be it. I’d rather they not cycle at all than cycle in ways that are more likely to get them injured or killed.

            • Presumably you have recent pictures to illustrate your claims of cycling subservience to motor vehicles in the Netherlands then? Would you care to share them?

              • I don’t travel with the express purpose of taking pictures of roads or bikes. Heck, the last photo of any kind I have of my bicycle was taken over two years ago. I’m a commuter, not a tourist. I went to Europe to visit a friend at a workplace reunion. I have videos of people getting drunk, but I don’t think they would be much use here.

              • You’ve ‘cycled extensively’ in the Netherlands, but you haven’t taken any pictures, at all?

                For someone who evidently feels so strongly about how bad Dutch infrastructure is, would you at least admit that is rather odd?

        • jakeonhisplanet says:

          New Zealand Transport Authority has been putting in shared use paths alongside new motorways in Auckland for a while now. They’re progressively improving and extending the network in parallel with a part of the road network that is normally off limits to bikes.
          This gives me a 10km stretch on my 13km commute with only 2 crossings and no motor traffic (alongside Highway 16, Google it.). I would merrily ride that 10 times before doing the same journey once on the arterial road network. I think the increasing number of riders sharing the facility would agree. My route follows a causeway across a bay that would NEVER have been constructed for cycle traffic alone, thus I benefit from the direct route of the motorway as much as any driver. As a former VC trainer, I demand respect on the road but I see the value of real infrastructure specific to bike riders. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be good enough! Check out the situation via

  11. Adam says:

    This idea that it is a ‘war’ is totally, irresponsibly damaging to the cause of improving the situation – it just legitimises the dangerous irateness of some drivers who see cyclists as ‘the enemy’. The key point here (as clearly depicted in graph RAS40004) is that bad riding winds-up drivers, whilst bad driving KILLS RIDERS!!

    Like a lot of people, I drive and I ride and I am also a pedestrian. Whilst this stupid documentary would have me at war with myself, the reality is that there are idiotic and reckless people in all walks of life and all modes of transport. The difference is that when behind a wheel I have a duty to understand that I am in a killing machine, and accordingly have a responsibility to act with appropriate caution. There are no excuses for the driver – I suspect that bleating about reckless riding does not help the motorist who has killed a cyclist to sleep any better at night (not even a cabbie!).

  12. John says:

    It wasn’t a documentary.

  13. MrDrem says:

    I hope that you’ve put this article into the BBC governance board as a formal complaint about the program. It needs to be done.

  14. Antony says:

    I haven’t seen the documentary, but it’s interesting that behaviour like wearing headphones was singled out as an example of “irresponsible” cycling. There’s very little evidence that listening to music while riding is dangerous; you can certainly hear more than you can in a car, and quite often (in my own experience) you can hear the music other people are playing in their cars above yours!

    Along with helmets, hi-viz, and road positioning, it’s just another stick to beat cyclists with.

    • alpincesare says:

      It’s perfectly possible that the cyclist *wasn’t* listening to music but simply had headphones so he could hear his cellphone ringing and not miss calls?

      • Mark Williams says:

        Quite. Or noise-cancelling earphones, so that you can make out the individual sound sources instead of them all summing together into one overwhelming cacophony. Just as aeroplane pilots (and some gun nuts) do.

  15. elliot says:

    Great post – thanks. Re using headphones, research for this article proved that vehicles with windows closed and stereo on are significantly less likely to be able to hear those around it than a cyclist with headphones on.

  16. Some very interesting points which are well made. However what comes across from the way you present your statistics above is a concept that driving is very much safer than walking or cycling. This is largely down to the fact that the statistics are given per distance travelled and obviously drivers travel much further in a given time than you could walk or cycle. However if you think about it, the time spent on an activity is the more relevant risk denominator. We all only have one lifetime to live and what matters is the chance of meeting an early death or injury during that lifetime. There has been a very recently published analysis of the modal risks of travelling, which breaks the risks down by age, gender and according to amount of time at risk. see Mindell JS, Leslie D, Wardlaw M (2012) Exposure-Based, ‘Like-for-Like’ Assessment of Road Safety by Travel Mode Using Routine Health Data. PLoS ONE 7(12): e50606. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050606

    What that study highlights is that driving isn’t a lot safer than cycling or walking, particularly if you are male, or even worse, young and male (under 21 where the risk of death whilst driving is in fact 5 x that of death whilst cycling). A lot of mileage in cars is covered on motorways which are relatively safe per mile, but a lot of time spent driving is on urban and suburban roads, which have a poorer safety record. Looking beyond the risks for young males, the risks associated with walking and cycling for adults seem to increase in later life aged 70+. Risk factors at this time of life will include poor balance, failing eyesight, loss of hearing, onset of dementia, slower reflexes which are likely to make many activities of greater risk, not just walking and cycling.

    • ‘This is largely down to the fact that the statistics are given per distance travelled’

      Only one of the graphs presented here is distance-related, and already has an explanatory caveat below it.

  17. After taking issue with you in a couple of recent posts, I’m pleased to be back saluting you on thsi piece. You sum it all up in the first sentence: “For me, the most troubling aspect of the BBC’s much-discussed programme last week was its attempt to portray cyclists and drivers as two seemingly equal parties, “. EXACTLY

    Of course, that’s it – the f unwillingness/inability of the dominant culture – and particulalrly “road safety” ideology – to recognise the fundamental difference in actual or potential lethality to others between the motorised on the one hand, and those outside motor vehicles on the other.

    I might take a trawl through your statistics later, but the basic point is what I have just said – and what you say in your first sentence. Plus the fact that ANY negative portrayal of cyclists has a potentially incendiary effect.

  18. Clicked through the link to the BBC site about this programme and I see it says at the bottom “You Might Also Like… Top Gear”. Sounds about right.

  19. Pingback: Cycle safety should balance restrictions between drivers AND cyclists | Speaker's Chair

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