Cyclists are dying and we need to act, and fast

A few years ago, I posted about the dangers of various forms of transport, cycling included. We’re in the midsts of a cycling meltdown, and in the interim, I’ve had an accident and broken my leg (though not as a result of another vehicle).

I’m about to get back on my bike, while everyone around me fears for my safety, and is trying to persuade me otherwise. Just as I’m about to do so, we have death after death, and I’ve decided I need to voice myself and my opinion. You’re not reading this because you thought I’d just say a few things and bugger off, did you?

Firstly, the deaths appear to have been (and I wasn’t there, so I can’t be certain) caused as a result of large vehicles and their blind spots. So lets dissect that a little, and see where we end up.

Should the lorries have seen the cyclists? Possibly, it’s hard to tell. That said, lorries should all (and I think most do now) have large additional blindspot mirrors. I certainly notice them riding around London on my scooter. I don’t see so many on busses, but I may be mistaken there too. That will dramatically reduce the likelihood, as long as the driver bothers to look, of there being a cyclist.

Of the cyclists; my friends are probably tired of me repeating ad infinitum that cyclists:

  1. shouldn’t jump red lights
  2. shouldn’t ride on the inside of vehicles, particularly large ones
  3. should pay more attention to the intentions of other road users

Some cyclists are great, whilst others are a menace, and that goes for all road users. I won’t turn a corner on my scooter without physically looking to the side I’m turning in case another vehicle has decided it’s safe to overtake me. I’m sure that not all road users are as diligent. On both sides of this particular argument, I might add.

How do we fix it? Once again, I think anyone taking a test in a motor vehicle should have to spend time on two wheels to physically demonstrate how vulnerable those people are. It makes a huge difference to the way you drive having been in the position of having vehicles turn in on you, cut you up and various other almost disastrous manoeuvres.

On the flip side, cyclists need better educating. I’m repeating again, but don’t jump red lights and don’t undertake large vehicles at junctions. I’m finding it really hard to find a single source of blame here, and I think the Mayor of London is right to expect that all road users abide by the rules of the road. It’s there for a reason, and if it wasn’t, imagine how many cars would have piled up at that very roundabout otherwise.

I’ve been cycling on the road now for 20 years, have a cycling proficiency under my belt since I started, and now have a UK car licence and motorcycle licence to add to that. I’m hopefully soon to have a UK private pilots licence too, so you might call me a licence whore, but I truly believe that they’re there for our own good and our own safety, and they should be repeated over time.

So to anyone thinking about blaming one side of this debate, don’t. It’s everyone’s fault. If you’re a cyclist reading this, and you jump red lights, then shame on you. Even if you’re one of my closest friends. I’d rather you didn’t, and I’d rather you stayed alive. If you’re a car, van, bus or lorry driver, I strongly suggest you spend a day on the roads on your bike. See how you feel afterwards about drivers that don’t indicate or look before turning or changing lanes. You’ll see exactly what I mean. If you’re too scared, good. You bloody well should be.

Most people can’t drive, so why let them?

All road users hate all other types of road users, for a whole variety of reasons, and all culminating in one vociferous one: X or Y type of road user doesn’t know how to drive/ride.

I’m a cyclist, a motorcyclist and a car driver, though I have so far refrained from doing all three simultaneously. I’ve been cycling on public roads since the age of 10, following a cycling proficiency test, and cars and motorbikes from the age of 17. I’m now 26. You might disagree, but I think that gives me a somewhat unique perspective, and therefore opinion, on the way the roads work. Not entirely unique, I admit, but the group of people who drive a car, ride a motorbike (both for pleasure and on the daily commute) and ride a push bike (road racing, mountain biking and commuting) is a small one.

So when our somewhat vocal TV chef James Martin decided to slate cyclists into the ground, I was pretty pleased that Olympic winner Brad Wiggins stepped in to spearhead his demise. However, and this is a big one, there are some cyclists who really annoy me. There are some motorcyclists and car drivers that do too. And as ever, I have a solution. Of course, it’s never going to actually happen because our cushy Government are far too up their own arses to notice anything is awry.

OK, I’m going to start with cyclists; DON’T JUMP RED LIGHTS. It’s as simple as that. Traffic lights are there for a reason, and you’ll be far more likely to be involved in an RTA, let alone be killed doing it. It annoys the hell out of me, especially given that on my pushbike I’ll catch up to you with minimal effort within 30 seconds of the lights going green. So I’ve lost nothing. I’ve obeyed the highway code, and the law, and I’ve still arrived before you. You lose. For you, I prescribe a compulsory eye test, followed by a requirement to have a cycling proficiency certificate – a licence of sorts – before you get on the road as a bare minimum. Riders who aren’t confident on the bike are also a bit of a nuisance, but you can ride round them and everyone will be OK. You’ll find that after a few sessions doing cycling proficiency, those riders will be much more confident and ride in a straight line anyway.

Now that the cyclists aren’t annoying anyone, what about the car and other more-than-two-wheel-vehicle drivers? Oh now I really have something to rant about. I’ve been in a couple of accidents involving people claiming they didn’t see me coming down the road, and one overtaking me and turning left with less than 10 feet to spare (I was doing 27mph on a pushbike at the time). Why are these people even on the road if they can’t see me? Are they blind? Or just stupid? Maybe a bit of both to be perfectly frank. My view on the matter is that they shouldn’t.

The way to kill the problem in one go is to force all drivers of all vehicles that use the public roads to retake their test and regain their licence every 10 years. That includes any theory and practical tests needed to get a licence for whatever vehicle you happen to be driving. Some vehicle licences require that anyway. Let’s bring it in for all of them. “No way” you say? Would that, per chance, be because you’d fail? I thought so. Get back in your box. Additionally to this are the drivers who have taken multiple attempts to pass, and fail until one day someone lets them off with a licence. Three strikes and you’re out. If you fail three times, that’s it. You are clearly not supposed to be on the road, so I’m not prepared to give you a licence. One final thing for this lot of people driving cars, vans and so on: you also need to do a minimum of a CBT, the minimum requirement to getting a scooter or a motorbike. No more of this 50cc on your car licence crap either. The CBT for car drivers is to make them painfully aware of everything around them. Those metal boxes on wheels hurt other people, you know. Don’t forget there is a world outside the windows of your box. I think that if we all had to do a CBT in order to pass a car test, we’d be more likely to indicate when turning and look for other road users before doing U-turns in the middle of the road, killing the oncoming motorcyclist who you didn’t see and had no inclination that you were about to do what you just did.

Motorcyclists and scooter riders: don’t think I’m letting you get off lightly either. Tests every 10 years, 3 strike system, it all applies to you too. Additionally, when you do your CBT and your instructor tells you about lane discipline, please for the sake of all things that are good in the world, LISTEN! Don’t ride where the car in front can’t see you, or weave all over the place so he never knows where you’re going to be next. Overtake on the outside, not down the cycle lane. And to the pizza delivery boy who rode down the inside of me whilst sitting in my blind spot for half a mile, you’ll get yourself killed and you’re an idiot.

The beauty of this whole plan is that it sorts out a whole bunch of issues all in one go. Britain has a requirement to reduce emissions over the coming years by an amount that isn’t in the slightest achievable. Without this, at least. We know that a ton of people won’t pass their tests under the 3 strike rule, so that immediately reduces the number of idiots on the road, as well as the emission count. Oh, and congestion. We also know that people will fail their 10-yearly tests in their droves (just because you have an old licence, that doesn’t mean you’re exempt). That removes people that can’t see because of old age, idiots, and people who just have no idea how big their cars are. Less congestion, less emissions, and less idiots. We all win! It also, as a side effect, gives public transport an opportunity to actually get where it’s going on time because there is no traffic on the roads.

So why won’t the government put into place a 3 strike system, let alone a retest every 10 years? Taxes. It’s that simple. The amount of money that the Government rakes in from sales of vehicles, road tax, insurance, road tax, speeding fines, MOTs, other fixed penalties… the list goes on… is incredulous. They’ll never put this into place, however sensible it might be, because they stand to lose billions. So instead they’ve decided along with the EU to implement a rule where every car will have to have a GPS and a phone built into every car that calls the emergency services with a location if the car has an accident. Apparently, this will cost €40bn and will save 2500 lives across Europe each year. If you consider that within 10 years GPS will no longer be active because too many of its satellites will have fallen into the atmosphere and burnt up, and that the US can’t afford to replace them, it will have cost the taxpayer £1,600,000 per person saved over 10 years. Because that makes sense, doesn’t it?! It’s OK though, because the governments of Europe aren’t paying for this. WE ARE! They have nothing to lose with this plan. I reckon it would cost next to nothing in comparison to the €40bn to implement my solution, and will save thousands more lives, if not even greater numbers, in this country alone. Roll that out across Europe and you can officially put in the record books that more people were saved through common sense than ever before…

There are some additional benefits to the casual member of the public to all this: cleaner air, less likelihood of being run over, greater levels of fitness (because those people too lazy to walk now have to, at least to the bus stop), and so on and so forth.

Good idea? I think so. Now your turn.

Update (09 Oct 2009): by sheer coincidence the BBC have just published an article in their magazine on nervous cyclists. Have a read. It goes into detail on some of the points I’ve highlighted in this article.