I’ve just had an email from the chair of the Bournemouth Cycling Forum with an interesting complaint. Local police are targeting “criminal” cyclists who cycle without lights and cycle on the pavement.
He questions whether, in these straitened times, these should be police priorities. Does anyone have any evidence that cycling without lights is dangerous? The last time I was in Amsterdam, a city with a vastly superior cycling safety record to anywhere in the UK, I conducted a scientific survey, for half an hour after dark, of passing cyclists – 50% had no lights.
On the subject of pavement cycling he has done his research. He has found guidelines from the Home Office on the 1999 fixed-penalty fines for pavement cycling. They explicitly state: “the issue is about inconsiderate cycling on the pavements. The new provisions are not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of the traffic, and who show consideration to other road users when doing so. Chief officers recognise that the fixed penalty needs to be used with a considerable degree of discretion and it cannot be issued to anyone under the age of 16. (Letter to Mr H. Peel from John Crozier of The Home Office, reference T5080/4, 23 February 2004)”
He (his name is name is Mike Chalkley – cycling@mikeandche.co.uk -) makes a further compelling point. “I personally believe cyclists should on the whole be treated as pedestrians are and allowed to do as they please (unless clearly endangering others through inconsiderate or dangerous behaviour). The traffic laws that apply to them are anachronistic and archaic and do nothing but fuel fear from both the Police and society as a whole.”
I agree with Mike. Comments welcomed.

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  1. Anthony Cartmell says:

    The Police are probably merely responding to complaints from the public. Pavement cyclists make pedestrians feel unsafe in a similar (but lesser) way that motorists make cyclists feel unsafe on the roads.

    Since motorists are mostly allowed to get away with breaking traffic laws (speed limits, jumping red lights) and even to get away with killing, daily, it does seem odd that there isn’t the same clamour to clamp down on motorist behaviour. I think the poor cyclist is disadvantaged by two things: people using bicycles as transport are currently a minority, and cycling is sandwiched between motorists and pedestrians, neither of whom want cyclists “on their patch”.

    As for lights on bicycles, apart from the two World Wars, lights have only been a legal requirement since 7 March 1945. That was some sixty years after mass cycling took off in the UK. Before then, the law considered it the responsibility of the faster vehicle to be able to see where they were going and to avoid driving into things. Cycles were merely required to have a white patch on their rear mudguard (commonly seen to this day on traditional bicycles). The legal requirement for a white patch was repealed on 1 October 1954, when red rear reflectors became a legal requirement for bicycles for the first time.

    Rear lights, and cycling on the pavement, have only been forced on people using bicycles by the presence of the motor vehicle. It is the motor vehicle, not the poor cyclist, who is the villain in this story.

  2. Mike Chalkley says:

    Anthony, my comment on lights was not whether a cyclist SHOULD have lights. The point was about the crackdown by Police. Part of the justification given for the crackdown was that a cyclist without lights was ‘dangerous to other road users’. When I queried this with the Police Rep on the Forum, he replied that a car driver might not see a cyclist until it was too late and then swerve into other traffic or pedestrians. Other than the cyclist’s own safety (which J.S.Mill proposes is not in the laws’ remit), this was given as the reason to effectively prosecute the victims of careless driving by motorists. I disagree with this hypothetical situation being a significant thing to fear. I doubt this was taught explicitly to the PC, or that he has witnessed the results of it. I feel it’s merely the result of his reverse extrapolation of the law – “it’s against the law so there MUST be a reason for it”.

  3. Martin Cassini says:

    Thanks for the Home Office reference, John and Mike, which echoes my views and should be widely known. Anthony Cartnell talks some sense, but not when he says, “the motor vehicle is the villain of the piece”. The villain of the piece is regulation based on priority (an engineering model) when life on the roads should be based on equality (a social model). In case of interest, I’ve added a couple of comments at Equality Streets (a relaunch of FiT Roads).

  4. Dr. Robert Davis says:

    The issue of cyclists knocking down pedestrians is examined in a letter from Roger Geffen of the CTC in the current Local Transport today letter’s page (LTT 570 6 -19th May 2011). Evidence is very well rpesented.

  5. Mike Chalkley says:

    This over-zealous policing is not confined to Bournemouth…

  6. GrahamH says:

    I was once following a Police car at night, we passed one person riding a bike on the pavement, with lights, and one person on the road with no lights. Who did they stop? Neither…
    But a few days earlier they stopped and charged a man for excessive speed on a bicycle. He was doing 20mph in a 40mph zone.

  7. brendan says:

    I suggest putting cycling lights on deer in a controlled study to see if fewer deer are hit at night due to having cycling lights.

  8. jorge says:

    Excelente, “los ciclistas deben ser considerados como peatones”, en todo el mundo.

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