Beyond The Kerb)
BUGS IN THE CODE
13 JUNE 2016
If you juxtapose the phrases “Highway Code” and “cyclists” and then drop them into the media, the initial reaction from the more vocal parts of the general public is going to be somewhat predictable. I could write you out a bingo card and you’ll have called “house” by the time you’ve reached the end of the comments underneath the first article.
Equally, when the phrases are juxtaposed by a motoring organisation, the reaction from some people who cycle or who campaign to enable others to do so will be somewhat predictable, not least because they’re acutely aware of the previous point._ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
All in all, the added content isn’t bad, but it’s arguably not really remarkably insightful or valuable either, and the Bikeability section is frankly just strange.What of the Highway Code part, then?
THE HIGHWAY CODE
On reaching the Highway Code section, because rules 1-58 (for pedestrians, mobility aids and animals) are omitted, the first thing you’re hit with is rule 59: advice about hi-viz and helmets. On one hand that’s sort of inevitable if you’re going to list the rules in numerical order, but there’s no escaping the fact that it helps to hammer home the “make yourself seen” message: I’ve not mentioned a number of the book’s earlier references to it, but we’ll see some more yet. Note also that hi-viz clothing appears in all of the on-road photographs and—as far as I can tell—every rider in every photograph is wearing a helmet (which makes Carlton Reid’s “look at the cover and count the helmets” rebuttal seem a little disingenuous).
The AA have added some material to certain parts of the Code, and it will be of little surprise that rule 59 receives a full page of additional advice, as does rule 60 (lights). Readers are invited not only to wear vests, but also to consider “reflective accessories such as chest straps, ankle bands, stickers, badges, scarves and the like”. They are even advised that “reflective straps or LEDs on gloves or forearm can help make signalling more obvious”. (Ah, techno-trinkets.)
The editorial unsurprisingly carries the mantra “be seen and be safe” and also points out that “although there may be enough light to see by, there may not be enough to BE SEEN” (no, that’s not my emphasis: the book really does go shouty-caps). A vexatious reviewer might be tempted to point out a logical inconsistency in this statement; fortunately I’m nothing of the sort. Ahem.
However, even for fans of fluorescent-fabric-and-flashing-lights-for-everyone policies, there are some concerning issues with the way in which the rules of the Highway Code are presented.
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These claims seem a little unconvincing. “Encourage a new generation”? Do people really think a book of rules, written tests and puncture repair guides is going to get kids on bikes? When I asked Reid if he bought into the sentiment of King and Boardman’s statements, his reply was that “every little helps”. As someone pithily pointed out, this is so little as to be positively homeopathic. Actually, Reid goes somewhat further, explicitly claiming that the book “aims to encourage young ones to start cycling”. Really? I mean, really? Hey, kids: I know you’ve been reluctant to ride a bike, but here’s a book with 70 pages of rules, some sort of exam, and a list of weekly chores. Thanks, dad.
Cycling is awash with concepts that are heralded as being some sort of gateway to broader uptake of cycling. Such claims have been made of a law that would make compensation claims easier once you’ve been knocked off, of a law that dreams of making riding amongst HGVs and 60mph traffic slightly less terrifying, and now of The Little Book of Rules. I’ve no doubt that the same claim was made of many things that have come about over the last few decades and which are all focused on servicing the status quo and thus have entirely failed—no matter what anyone claims—to precipitate a cycling boom.