The country has gone mad on taking a side in the cycling vs drivers war. Since the death of Kim Briggs, the pedestrian who was tragically killed by the cyclist Charlie Alliston last year.
In 2016, there were 400 pedestrians killed in traffic related accidents – one of which was due to a cyclist.
Alliston has been cleared of charges of manslaughter, and charged with “wanton or furious driving”. An offence which many people have never heard of. The archaic conviction was common in the nineteenth century with causing bodily harm by wanton and furious driving of non-motorised vehicles such as carriages, and bicycles.
Vehicles of course, follow different rules. Bikes aren’t vehicles, and as cases of cyclists killing pedestrians are extremely rare, the law has never been updated to include cycling in the Road Traffic Act. That is a point to remember, that these cases are extremely rare, unfortunate and could have been prevented.
The tragic accident began with a collision which happens daily in London. Foolhardy cyclists senseless enough to weave in and out of moving traffic in a busy city, and pedestrians crossing the road while looking at their phones. Yet, on this occasion the unsuccessful efforts of both parties to avert a collision, led to Mrs Briggs dying of a brain injury in hospital.
Both parties are at fault in this situation. However Alliston is undoubtedly more so, as even without the intention of causing an accident, he was knowingly: riding a fixed gear bike without a front brake on the roads in a busy city, endangering himself and others, and not obeying the highway code.
To do that on any road is a recipe for disaster, let alone in the busiest city in the country.
Fixed-gear bikes are becoming more popular on the road. However, they belong on the track and not in busy city centres where as long as the wheels are moving, so are the pedals and the legs attached to them. Which makes it extremely difficult to brake, without considering braking to prevent a collision.
In his campaign to introduce new legislation into the Road Traffic Act, the husband of Mrs Briggs’ says: “With the fixed-wheel bike without the front brake the only means of braking is reverse pedalling… That’s totally inadequate and we’ve seen that with my wife’s death.”
The problem with this story is how much media attention it has drawn and how many opinions it has attracted. The cyclist vs driver war has been fuelled by hateful comments towards cyclists as a result of this story. But why?
Mrs Briggs’ husband is campaigning for a change in the law so it is fair for everybody. Allowing for: cycling to be incorporated into the Road Traffic Act, death by dangerous cycling, and death by careless cycling to be included. The simple fact the crown prosecution service have charged Alliston with an archaic offence shows there is a gap in what can be charged for these rare situations; and as Briggs’ says: “It’s not so much a new law as just bringing the current law up to date”.
I can confidently say that many cyclists would agree to this legislation to be introduced. As most of cyclists climb aboard their bikes with the intention of keeping themselves and others safe.
Briggs, a London cyclist himself said his campaign for a change in the law was not “witch-hunt against cyclists”, but dealing with the specific issue of “reckless cyclists and those people who choose to ride fixed-wheel bikes without the additional front brake” he added.
When I saw this video of a cycling courier in London, I was horrified that anybody could ride that dangerously. Not only endangering themselves but everybody else on the road with no second thought.
On the one hand, videos like this can be found all over the internet. With reckless cyclists happily riding dangerously, cutting up other road users, riding through red lights and on the wrong side of the road, simply without following any of the highway code.
On the other hand, so can videos with footage shaming drivers by passing too close, cutting up cyclists, overtaking on corners and double white lines. Yet, as I have written before, cyclists will never win the collision war because the only people defending cyclists, are cyclists.
The only media outlets I have seen offering a balanced argument is the cycling publications. The Sunday Times, mocked the government for investing money in cycling. Journalist Adam Boulton, led his column last Sunday with the headline: “At last the wheels are coming off our senseless worship of bicycles” and accused Cycling UK of “cherry picking their facts” in relation to statistics of cycling related injuries; despite claiming on Twitter he is a cyclist himself.
The London Standard used the insensitive phrase of “Dangerous cyclist mowed down pedestrian”. The Guardian, accused of double standards, went with the unbalanced view that cyclists can get away with such an offence but a motorist would not. In other stories, the newspaper led with ‘cyclist accused of killing woman shouted at her after collision’.
While Cycling Weekly attempted to neutralise the debate and explain to the anti-cyclist media, that no cyclist is applauding or condoning what happened. There are bicycle riders who are just as horrified at the videos like the one above; and who immediately said Alliston was in the wrong for riding a fixie without brakes – the facts remain the same.
Lets go back to basics here. Statistics by the Department for Transport show that over 3,000 cyclists were killed or seriously injured in the year up to June 2016.
How many were reported on the same level as the Alliston case by the national media?
In regards to these reported cases involving drivers at fault: how many drivers have sided with the dead or injured cyclist?
In situations more locally, how many drivers have apologised to a cyclist for passing too close, overtaking in unsafe places, or pulling out of/ pulling into junctions without consideration for anyone on the road?
The irritation throughout this case comes from the anti-cycling supporters firing up the flame balls ready to toss at the cyclists, after one accident. It says a lot about the attitudes of road users in the UK and the reforms which need to be made.