Thu 8 Mar 2018 18.51 GMT
People on bikes do stupid things. But 99% of pedestrian collision deaths in Britain involve a motorised vehicle. A dangerous cycling law won’t solve our problems
Last weekend, as rumours of a “death by dangerous cycling” law circulated, I went on TV to defend cyclists again. Above a banner that read “killer cyclists”, I tried to explain that although there’s nothing wrong with bridging a gap in the law by creating a new offence – if our goal is to improve road safety – in seeking to penalise cyclists we are going after the wrong villain.
The new law was mooted, along with a cycle safety review, following the Charlie Alliston case last year. Alliston was jailed for 18 months for “wanton and furious driving”, after he collided with pedestrian Kim Briggs while riding a bicycle with no front brakes. Briggs died of head injuries.
New offence or no, my point is about our attitude to road safety more broadly. While Alliston clearly was at fault, not all cyclist-pedestrian collisions are the fault of the cyclist. People do sometimes step out without looking, leaving a cyclist, or indeed a driver, too little time to brake. People on bikes do stupid, infuriating things. But they are not the vehicles of mass carnage that they are sometimes presented as.
Of around 400 pedestrians killed in collisions in the UK each year, about 2.5 involve a bicycle. Put it another way: more than 99% of pedestrian collision deaths in this country involve a motorised vehicle. In 2016, road traffic collisions reached a five-year high of 1,792 deaths, with the greatest increase (10%) among pedestrians. Vulnerable pedestrians – generally older people and children – fared particularly badly.
Simply put, a 1,000kg car moving at 22mph will exert a force of 50kJ; a 15kg bike with a 70kg rider at the same speed exerts less than one-tenth of that. Commuter cyclists tend to ride a lot slower, though, while most drivers travel faster. The likelihood of killing someone is far greater when driving a car than riding a bike.
Yet I would argue that, because cars dominate our streets, we are blind to just how dangerous they can be. Jumping red lights is just one of the cycling misdemeanours I am regularly called upon to defend, when a freedom of information request by Cycling UK showed that about 95% of light-jumping vehicles that hit pedestrians are motorised.