Times editorial – which in 2012 urged ‘Save Our Cyclists’ – calls for dangerous cycling law and for riders to be licensed and insured

Almost 10 years to the day after launching an award-winning campaign to make Britain’s roads safer for cyclists, and on the eve of the introduction of changes to the Highway Code aimed at protecting vulnerable road users, the Times today called for cyclists to be licensed and insured and for a new offense of causing death by unsafe cycling to be introduced.

Launched on February 2, 2012 with a front-page headline of ‘Save Our Cyclists’ accompanied by a picture of Mary Bowers, the Times reporter left with life-changing injuries when a lorry driver hit her toppled outside the newspaper’s headquarters in Wapping, the towns Fit For Cycling campaign presented an eight-point manifesto calling among other things for improvements in lorry safety and at junctions, the construction of ‘world-class’ infrastructure and the appointment by the cities of a cycling commissioner.

‘Save Our Cyclists’ – The Times launches major bicycle safety campaign

The campaign sparked a debate in the House of Commons later that month, with the then all-party parliamentary cycling group holding a six-week inquiry the following year which resulted in the publication of the Get Britain Cycling report .


> Get Britain Cycling report calls for 10% of journeys to be cycled by 2025

The Times journalist Kaya Burgess, who is very involved in the campaign, also spoke at a conference in Milan entitled Cycling and road safety in the city organized by the Italian sports newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport, one of whose journalists had been killed on his way to work in Milan. the Lombard capital in 2011.

> The Times’ Kaya Burgess talks to road.cc about the Cities Fit for Cycling campaign

Then as now, the newspaper today made its current stance on cycling clear through a strong-spoken lead story – although the content of the two editorials published a decade apart could hardly be more different, the latest being entitled The Times take on dangerous cycling: safety standards.

Echoing comments by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who earlier this week called for an offense to be introduced for causing death by unsafe cycling, the newspaper described it as “a sensible proposal to deal with a real problem.

> Grant Shapps calls for new ‘death by unsafe bike’ law

In response to Shapps’ comments, Duncan Dollimore, Campaigns Manager at Cycling UK, told road.cc: “Introducing new cycling offenses in isolation, however, would just be a band-aid to a faulty system, because our current offenses of reckless and dangerous riding are not fit for purpose – replicating them for cycling makes no sense.

The Times acknowledged that of 146 reported deaths in crashes involving cyclists on Britain’s roads in 2020, almost all of the victims – 141 – were cyclists, the editorial insisted that ‘this is not not a plausible objection to the new legislation that many more pedestrians are killed by motorists than by cyclists each year.

Few legal observers would say that it is unsatisfactory that the only options open to prosecutors in a case involving the death of a pedestrian are to charge a cyclist with causing bodily harm by wanton or furious driving – an offense under the Offenses Against the Person Act 1861. – or manslaughter.

However, such cases are rare – in England there have been two successful prosecutions in the last five years, with the two cyclists given custodial sentences after being found guilty of the first offense but cleared of the second – and, as Dollimore points out, reforming the laws regarding motorists who kill, many of whom even if convicted receive suspended sentences, should be prioritized given the number of cases involved.

However, in its editorial, The Times insisted: “The legislation would not penalize cyclists but merely correct an anomaly whereby those who recklessly cause death on two wheels are treated differently than those who do so on four wheels.

The newspaper continued: ‘It would further improve safety and fairness if cyclists were required to hold a license and carry liability insurance, just as motorists are.’

He said: “The overwhelming majority of cyclists are scrupulous in their use of the road and sensitive to pedestrians. The problem lies with a small minority who are aggressive and see traffic signs, safety features and a strict separation between road and carriageway as optional.

“No one seriously disputes that motorists are required to hold a driving license and take out compulsory third-party liability insurance, and to have compulsory identification documents, namely license plates. Require the same of cyclists is fair and would discourage anti-social and dangerous behavior from the few people tempted to engage in it,” the Times said – not to mention the estimated one million uninsured drivers on UK roads, not to mention how the laws against speeding or using a mobile phone while driving have failed to curb this behavior among a large proportion of drivers.

Moreover, the government has consistently rejected calls for cyclists to be registered and insured, including in its response last month to a petition from auto lawyer Nick Freeman.

> Government confirms it has ‘no intention’ of making cyclists wear ID numbers as it rejects ‘Mr Loophole’ petition

Laughably, the Times went on to say that requiring cyclists to have insurance, be licensed and have license plates on their bikes “would also combat bike theft”.

He saved the best for last, however, suggesting that cyclists should pay to use the road, even if funded by general taxation.

“The objection that it would deter legitimate cycling is unconvincing,” he said. “The road network is a service accessible to all and it is reasonable to expect those who benefit from it to respect its regulations and contribute to its maintenance. The delicate network of relationships between pedestrians, cyclists and motorists requires tougher legislation in favor of pedestrians,” he added.

We can’t argue with that last sentence. But with drivers, not cyclists, involved in more than 99% of pedestrian fatalities in Britain each year, it is clear where efforts would be best focused.

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