The Truth about Reckless Cycling
Failing to stop at a red light is a common cycling offence, and a controversial and divisive issue. Some cyclists argue that they cross the initial stop line if they believe the traffic will fail to stop at a safe distance behind them, or if they are not visible to heavy goods vehicles. Crossing a junction however, leaves cyclists at risk of a collision with other traffic. Cyclists who do this are making themselves vulnerable, and also any pedestrians who may be crossing. The National Cycling Charity[i] reports however, that of all pedestrian injuries caused by red light jumping between 1998 and 2007 in London, only 4% of those involved bicycles, and 96% were attributed to motor vehicles. Additionally, actual instances of cyclists hit as a result of running a red light are rare, and account for only 3% of instances where a cyclist is seriously injured[ii]. The most common causes of a cyclist being seriously injured were motorists failing to look properly, or a cyclist being driven into from behind, reports cycling website Road.cc. Ultimately, if a cyclist behaves recklessly on the road, they are putting their own life in danger. Duncan Walker of the BBC[iii] points out that although there is bad behaviour on both sides, there is an unequal relationship. ‘The driver is protected by a metal shell while the cyclist is exposed’, he writes.
Fixed penalty notices can also be given to cyclists who are seen riding on a footpath. Cyclists often argue however, that this is done for safety reasons; a footpath may be the safer option on busy roads with no cycle lanes. Children cannot be issued fixed penalty notices and, for them in particular, the footpath offers safety from heavy traffic. The minister for cycling, Robert Goodwill, was quoted in January as approving of this action if cyclists were to ride with consideration for pedestrians. He encouraged police officers to use discretion where appropriate when issuing fixed penalty fines. The National Cycling Charity found that only 2% of serious or fatal injuries that took place on a pavement or verge were caused by a cyclist, and point out that although cyclists are perceived to be a major danger to pedestrians, road casualty figures reveal that they do little damage compared to motor vehicles.
The Metropolitan Police were criticised in November 2013 for an increase in the issuing of fixed penalty notices during a dramatic surge in cyclist deaths in central London. The officer’s targets of 40 tickets in four months was criticised as failing to improve the safety of London cyclists. ‘Issuing fines to people who have nudged in front of stop lines on junctions, or crossed a pavement briefly when trying to find a less dangerous route doesn’t make cyclists safer’, wrote Dawn Foster[iv] in the Guardian, ‘it just feeds a growing resentment between cyclists, and police and other authorities’.
The Times[v] reported in January this year that per miles travelled in 2012, cyclists were almost as likely to cause injury to pedestrians as motor vehicles were, when the number of injuries are considered relative to the overall distance travelled. Most of these injuries occur however, when a pedestrian does not notice a cyclist and steps out into the road, and the view that cyclists are dangerous to pedestrians is likely caused by intimidation and everyday inconveniences rather than collisions. Excess speed can cause intimidation and cyclists should make sure they ride considerately when sharing a path. Anti-social cycling in parks and public areas with shared paths or channels can be problematic, particularly with small children and dog walkers unaware of speeding cyclists. Priority must therefore be given to pedestrians as the most vulnerable, but mutual consideration must exist between commuting cyclists and pedestrians in public places.