Be safe, be seen, or be unprotected by the justice system

There are regular attempts to get cyclists (and other vulnerable road users) to “take responsibility for their own safety” by dressing in high visibility clothing. I’m not talking about using lights and reflective panels (either on the bike or the body) in gloomy or dark weather, but the frequent push for cyclists to wear fluorescent yellow or orange during the day in normal visibility.

On the face of it, it seems quite reasonable to suggest that cyclists should wear clothing that will make them seen more readily, but even ignoring the fact that the evidence that high-vis reduces cyclist injuries is equivocal at best, there are several problems with this.

Whilst well-meaning, campaigns such as this rather miss the point; that it is the driver’s responsibility to safely control their vehicle, and that means properly observing their environment.

People don’t demand cars are all painted in high-vis, and we expect drivers to not just drive into parked cars. Similarly kerbs, trees, and fences seem to avoid the calls to wear high-vis for their own safety.

New Forest ponies though, have also been caught up in the knee-jerk push to blame victims for their own injuries.

The bottom line is that a competent driver will see hazards in the road no matter what they are wearing, because as per highway code rule 126 they will be driving “at a speed that will allow you to stop well within the distance you can see to be clear”

The message campaigns like this promote is that if a driver hits someone who wasn’t wearing high-vis, it’s not the driver’s fault. The driver couldn’t possibly be expected to see and react to someone on the road unless they were decked out in fluorescent yellow.

Police are also sometimes stopping cyclists for not wearing high-vis clothing.

The consequences of this approach are that now police are sometimes not referring cases to the CPS if the cyclist was not wearing high-vis.

So well done everyone promoting high-visibility clothing. You’ve made it less safe for cyclists.

Are cyclists frequently recklessly endangering pedestrians?

With thanks to @Jono_Kenyon, I was brought to the attention of a rather perplexing article.

Jim Thomas, writing for taxileaks has written an article where the first paragraph claims that “Speeding cyclists are putting pedestrians and other road users at risk in Central London”

As evidence for this, he has looked at the leaderboards of certain Strava segments.

The example on the article, for the segment Millbank (up) does indeed have the top 20 male riders completing the segment at an average of over 30mph. The top 3, which Mr Thomas drew particular attention to, had an average of 34mph. Too fast for a cycle lane, you might think.

However, look at the names of the top 3 riders:
Kristian House
soupe geoffrey
Evan O.

I have linked to their wikipedia entries: they are professional cyclists. These three segment times were recorded on August 4th 2013, when the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic race was on, which was a professional event held entirely on closed roads.

I went on to look at the other top 20 times on that segment, and only one of them was not recorded in that race, and that was the slowest one in the top 20, at 31.6mph. That’s still pretty fast, but rather puts the claim that “Speeding cyclists are putting pedestrians and other road users at risk” in perspective. Mr Thomas might as well complain about Formula 1 drivers doing 100mph on the streets of Monaco: the logic is identical.

He goes on to claim that people recording Strava segments are engaging in “compeditive [sic] urban road racing” which is over-egging the pudding, to put it mildly. Whilst some cyclists might use Strava to see how they stack up against other cyclists on the same route, and push themselves to record a faster time, to portray that as racing, is completely ludicrous.

Mr Thomas goes on to discuss a specific video he links to where the cyclist is travelling at an average of 32mph in a 30 limit. Mr Thomas complains that “the cyclist is traveling too fast to be overtaken by any vehicle on the stretch between Vauxhall and Lambeth Bridges”. I must confess I do not understand what point he’s trying to make here. If the cyclist is going at or slightly above the speed limit, then no vehicle ought to be overtaking him anyway. And if he is travelling below the limit, and it is safe to overtake, then he cannot be travelling too fast to be overtaken. Perhaps he is suggesting that only drivers should be allowed to speed? (possible, as surveys consistently report that the majority of drivers are habitual speeders 1)

A further relevant point is that speed limits do not legally apply to bicycles, as they are not a “mechanically propelled vehicle”; the legislation specifically only applies to motor vehicles. That’s not to say that cyclists should feel free to simply ride as fast as they want to: they should cycle at a safe speed for the conditions. However, as a cyclist+rider will weigh only roughly a fifth of a normal car, and therefore the kinetic energy contained will be a fifth of a car travelling at the same speed, a cyclist travelling at 35mph poses much less of a risk to others as a driver travelling at 35mph.

So perhaps Mr Thomas, if he is genuinely concerned about the danger to pedestrians, ought to concentrate his criticism on motor vehicles, which pose by far the greatest danger to pedestrians.

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RAC Report on Motoring 2015, page 8: “Seven in ten drivers (70%) say they regularly or occasionally break the 70mph motorway limit … percentages admitting to exceeding the 30mph and 20mph limits both being 44%”