The war of the roads: Cyclists and drivers are at loggerheads like never before


There’s a battle being waged on the nation’s roads. I’m sure you are aware of it and it might seem low stakes, but the tension between motorists and cyclists often leads to dangerous and sometimes deadly situations.

It shouldn’t be so. Many motorists are also cyclists. Department for Transport casualty figures published yesterday show that out of 1,558 road fatalities last year, 682 were car occupants; 361 were pedestrians; 111 were cyclists; and 310 were motorcyclists. The rest of the fatalities involved other vehicles.

The Government is trying to calm things down with new Highway Code rules and moves to create a ‘death by dangerous cycling’ law. Here’s how the arguments — or battle lines — are drawn…

Safety drive: The Government is trying to calm tensions between drivers and cyclists with new Highway Code rules and moves to create a ¿death by dangerous cycling¿ law

Safety drive: The Government is trying to calm tensions between drivers and cyclists with new Highway Code rules and moves to create a ‘death by dangerous cycling’ law

Making a case

Cyclists say cycling promotes a pollution-free, healthy lifestyle and helps reduce traffic. They call for more cycle lanes and car-free zones.

But many complain that their lives are being put at risk daily by motorists who drive too close or across their path — particularly those in large SUVs. Plenty of cyclists wear head-cams, with some reporting transgressors and using the footage as evidence in prosecutions.

Motorists, on the other hand, feel the authorities appear to turn a blind eye to cyclists’ transgressions.

Drivers are infuriated by a minority of aggressive, entitled ‘Lycra louts’ who blatantly ignore the law and rules of the road — confident that police will rarely, if ever, prosecute them. 

They run through red lights; drive through zebra crossings at speed, putting pedestrians at risk; and shout at drivers they believe have cut them up or kick the sides of their cars.

Increasingly, motorists deploy their dashcams to record evidence. Car-free zones perversely create jams and gridlock while cycle lanes are often empty, say critics. 

And there was outrage from members of the cycling community when former Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggested that bicycles should carry number plates so that offenders could be easily spotted, traced and potentially prosecuted in the same way as offending motorists.

More fury followed when ministers announced plans to crack down on reckless cyclists with tougher jail sentences — by closing an ‘archaic’ legal loophole which means riders who kill pedestrians can currently be jailed for a maximum of two years.

At risk: Department for Transport figures show that out of 1,558 road fatalities last year, 682 were car occupants; 361 were pedestrians and 111 were cyclists

At risk: Department for Transport figures show that out of 1,558 road fatalities last year, 682 were car occupants; 361 were pedestrians and 111 were cyclists

The Government is looking to treat reckless cyclists the same as reckless motorists with a new offence of causing death or serious injury by dangerous cycling.

It has consulted on the measure, as well as on changes to existing offences of dangerous and careless cycling. The ministerial response is due soon.

It comes after a number of controversial deaths, including that of mother-of-two Kim Briggs, 44, who was killed as she crossed a road by 18-year-old cyclist Charlie Alliston in East London in February 2016. 

But he was jailed for only 18 months because a legal equivalent of death by dangerous driving does not exist yet.

Prosecutors had to rely on the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, designed to cover offences involving horse-drawn carriages, to secure a conviction for causing harm by ‘wanton or furious driving’. 

By contrast, a motorist can be sentenced to life imprisonment for causing death by dangerous driving.

Seven new highway code rules 

Drivers in vehicles that can cause greatest harm in a collision bear greatest responsibility to take care and reduce the danger they pose to others.

Cyclists going straight ahead at a junction have priority over traffic waiting to turn into or out of a side road. 

At speeds of up to 30mph motorists must leave a gap of at least 1.5 metres (5ft) when overtaking cyclists — and more when driving at higher speeds. 

High charges: Motorists recharging their vehicles at public rapid charging points have seen prices soar by a whopping 42% in just four months

High charges: Motorists recharging their vehicles at public rapid charging points have seen prices soar by a whopping 42% in just four months

Cyclists may pass slower-moving or stationary traffic on their right or left — so are allowed to ‘undertake’ cars on the inside. 

Do not turn at a junction if to do so would cause cyclists going straight ahead to stop or swerve. 

Cyclists should ride in the centre of their lane on quiet roads, in slower traffic and at the approach to junctions. On busy roads they should keep at least 0.5 metres (1.6ft) from the kerb edge. 

On roundabouts, motorists should not overtake people cycling (in the driver’s lane) and must allow those on bicycles to move across their path while navigating the roundabout.

Time for change

Another important change is the recently revised Highway Code which introduces a new ‘hierarchy of road users’. Those capable of doing the greatest harm are deemed as having greater responsibility to reduce the danger they pose to more vulnerable road users.

Police forces have cited this ‘harm’ argument — and its impact on reducing road casualties — when deciding who gets prioritised for prosecution.

The argument runs that a car hitting a cyclist will cause more harm than a cyclist running a red light. This overlooks the fact that an errant cyclist may cause a law-abiding motorist to swerve and hit another vehicle or pedestrians.

The new Highway Code rules say motorists must look out for cyclists who, in turn, are required to also be more mindful of pedestrians — particularly when they are crossing the road.

Evidence: Plenty of cyclists wear head-cams, with some reporting transgressors and using the footage as evidence in prosecutions

Evidence: Plenty of cyclists wear head-cams, with some reporting transgressors and using the footage as evidence in prosecutions

However, any pedestrian who has been hit, or narrowly missed, by a speeding cyclist will know that this is probably more a hope than an expectation.

The updated Code also means that motorists turning left (as well as right) must give way to cyclists who are continuing straight ahead, even if they are ‘undertaking’ on the inside (and potentially in a blind spot) as they do so.

The amended Highway Code says: ‘You should not cut across cyclists going ahead when you are turning into or out of a junction or changing direction or lane, just as you would not turn across the path of another motor vehicle.’

It adds: ‘Do not turn at a junction if to do so would cause the cyclist going straight ahead to stop or swerve, just as you would do with a motor vehicle.

‘You should stop and wait for a safe gap in the flow of cyclists if necessary.’

Cost shock for electric car drivers

High charges: Motorists recharging their vehicles at public rapid charging points have seen prices soar by a whopping 42% in just four months

Motorists recharging their electric vehicles (EV) at public rapid charging points have seen prices soar by a whopping 42 per cent in just four months, a new RAC study reveals.

This hits hardest the one in three drivers with no access to off-street home charging — and makes the cost of running an EV almost as expensive as filling up a car with petrol.

The RAC’s Charge Watch report says the average pay-as-you-go rates reached 63.29p per kWh last week — an increase of 18.75p since May. This means the cost of rapid-charging a typical family-sized electric car with a 64kWh battery to 80 per cent has risen by £9.60 in just four months.

Such drivers pay around 18p per mile for electricity — up from an average of 13p in May. This compares with 19p for petrol and 21p for diesel (based on an average of 40 miles to the gallon).

The energy price guarantee means that, from October, the average electric car owner will pay no more than 34p per kWh. The RAC says it is unfair that those using public chargers pay 20 per cent VAT for electricity, compared to home chargers who pay 5 per cent.

A celebration of buses in Brum

All aboard! It’s ‘Brum Brum’ to Birmingham this Sunday, where a family friendly celebration of the city’s historic bus fleet is taking place at the Transport Museum Wythall in nearby North Worcestershire.

The museum’s Birmingham City Transport exhibition is part of the Birmingham 2022 Festival associated with the city’s Commonwealth Games, and is but a fraction of its 90-plus bus exhibits.

Take a ride: The fleet of city buses at the Transport museum¿s Birmingham City Transport exhibition

Take a ride: The fleet of city buses at the Transport museum’s Birmingham City Transport exhibition

There’s even the chance to enjoy free rides on a range of buses dating from the early 1930s to the 1990s, including a recently restored 1931 AEC Regent.

There’s also a part-restored 1913 Tilling petrol-electric double decker; a variety of Birmingham Standards which served the city across three decades; and a single decker procured for low-bridge routes.

A special afternoon ‘Happy Hour’ service running from 2pm recalls the line-up of Football Specials that ran from Birmingham City and Aston Villa football grounds at the end of every match.

The event runs from 10.30am until 4.30pm on October 2. Admission prices are £10 adult, £5 child (ages five to 16) and £25 family (two adults and two children). The entry cost includes free bus rides and a ride on the miniature steam railway.

Parking is off-site with a bus shuttle service, and the cafe and shop will be open all day for food.

The museum is just to the south of Birmingham, close to M42 Junction 3. Find full details of the exhibition and wider events at wythall.org.uk.

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