A timely reminder from Thames Valley Police

The tired stereotype that ‘cyclists’ are especially prone to lawbreaking really isn’t going to go away if public bodies like police forces persist in employing it.

Take this today from Thames Valley Police’s Roads Policing Twitter account –

Would the same Twitter account post this (equivalent) piece of ‘public information’?

Remember motorists must obey all traffic signs and traffic lights just as other road users must #itsnotworththerisk P4031

No, because that would be nonsense. Someone driving doesn’t stand out from ‘other road users’  in failing to realise they must obey traffic signs and lights. They already know they have to obey them, and when they break speed limits, or jump red lights, or ignore parking restrictions, or talk on their mobile phone, they do so knowing that they are breaking rules, while hoping that they can get away with it. They are not breaking rules because they think they have some kind of special exemption as a ‘motorist’, a misconception upon which they need correcting by Thames Valley Police.

‘Ha! Those other road users are saps! They have to obey laws while I, as a motorist, have liberty to pick and choose which rules I obey!’ 

That, however, is the implication of  the tweet that @tvprp actually posted. That ‘cyclists’ think they have some kind of special exemption to break rules – that they believe themselves to be above the law, and that consequently they needed to be ‘reminded’ of their obligation to obey rules.

It’s total bollocks, of course, but nevertheless a revealing insight into the mindset of a copper who has obviously just seen someone trundling on the pavement, or through a red light, or up a one-way street, and then instead of thinking to themselves –

Oh look, there’s someone breaking the law, who happens to be on a bike. I’ll take a considered, rational assessment of the danger they were posing to themselves and other road users, and have a quiet word.

… instead thought –

Oh look, there’s another typical cyclist who thinks they are above the law, and doesn’t need to obey the rules, because they’re on two wheels. I’m going to post a sermon on Twitter about the behaviour of this entire group of road users.

As I’ve argued before, it’s preposterous to attribute characteristics to ‘cyclists’, because a ‘cyclist’ is an ordinary human being who happens to be using a particular mode of transport, at a given moment. At another moment, that same person could be a pedestrian, a motorist, a ‘train-ist’ or a ‘bus-ist’. Any propensity to lawbreaking, or a belief to be above road rules, cannot be an innate characteristic of ‘cyclists’, because such a group simply doesn’t exist, any more than ‘plane passengers’ can be described as having particular characteristics that distinguish themselves from other human beings.

The individual behind the Thames Valley Police Twitter account evidently thinks differently – that ‘cyclists’, unlike ‘other road users’, need to be reminded that laws must be obeyed.

Not only is this drivel, I think it’s actually very dangerous drivel, because it reinforces in the public mind the (stereotyped) notion that ‘cyclists’ are somehow less worthy of consideration because they are lawbreakers, because they are ‘self-righteous’ and consider themselves to be above rules. On a number of occasions I have had poor, inconsiderate and even dangerous driving around me justified (or ‘justified’) on the basis that ‘you’ (or ‘you lot’) jump red lights, or terrorise grannies on pavements (see the opening paragraphs here for just one of these instances).

I think it’s pretty shameful that a public body which should be aiming to keep all road users safe is actually serving to endorse these harmful attitudes.

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6 Responses to A timely reminder from Thames Valley Police

  1. I hope you’re copying this excellent article to the Thames Valley Police and that you’ll post any reply they give you?

  2. Mike says:

    You are being very unkind here, the admonishment for cyclists was merely one element of a series of similar posts aimed at improving society. Others included, “Police Officers – Try not to tell outrageous lies about cycling cabinet ministers” and “On crowd control duty? See a confused newspaper seller on his way home? Why not beat him to death?”
    You see, they are all heart.

  3. Har Davids says:

    Thames Valley Police doesn’t seem to understand that cyclists who don’t pay attention to lights and laws are prone to get involved in accidents. Unlike people driving cars, their chances of getting hurt or even killed are big enough to deter most of us from reckless behaviour.

    Why not concentrate on people who insists on using at least one ton of metal, driven at a high speed, to transport themselves from A to B, often for ludicrously short distances?

    • Dan B says:

      “Thames Valley Police doesn’t seem to understand that cyclists who don’t pay attention to lights and laws are prone to get involved in accidents”

      Is that actually true though? Is the data available, or even recorded? It seems unlikely that there’d be a correlation between ‘obeying the law’ and ‘not being involved in collisions’. How many people cycling (illegally) on pavements are hit by cars, for instance? It is ridiculous that we’ve built an environment where people often have to choose between safety and legality.

  4. Black people must refrain from selling drugs just like other people must.

  5. rdrf says:

    You missed a point here: Pedestrians are road users (although maybe the Police don’t know this?). But , while the Highway Code does apply to walkers, road traffic laws do not.

    So either the Police do not know the basics about road traffic/highway laws, or else they don’t think pedestrians are road users.

    Or both.

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