OPINION - Yes we cyclists can be annoying, but it's you drivers who are the real threat in London


I cycle around London everyday — it's the fastest and cheapest form of transport in London, and I use it to commute and run errands in normal clothes — and so while I agreed with Ped Millichamp’s recent article on these pages that there are lots of bad cyclists about, I think he’s looking at it the wrong way round.

I first started running a camera in 2006 when I realised that showing the world how badly some drivers behave would open many peoples' eyes.

How much does the bad behaviour of cyclists, as Ped mentioned, matter though? It annoys us all, including many of my cycling and driving friends. Is it unsafe? Perhaps a little, but if you were to make all cyclists instantly perfect with a wave of your magic wand, would you affect road deaths and injuries? The answer is not measurably. Any effect would be lost in the never-ending flood of motor vehicle collisions, deaths and injuries that society largely ignores.

As for killed and seriously injured collisions, one traffic officer in the Central Midlands said that the majority of those involving a driver and a cyclist were solely driver fault. When it comes to cyclist/pedestrian collisions, having a crash on a bike really hurts; you’re highly motivated to avoid them.

Bad cycling can of course be serious - that’s why I’m happy that the police do deal with and prosecute it

Bad cycling can of course be far more serious in the occasional and very rare instance, and that’s why I’m happy that the police do deal with and prosecute bad cycling.

There are two main reasons why I want to focus on bad driving:

Two separate studies, one in America and one in Denmark, have found that we humans as cyclists are more law-abiding than drivers. This is a surprising result, but that surprise is explained away by motor-normativity, in which our society excuses and ignores risks associated with driving far more than it excuses other similar bad behaviours that are roundly condemned.

Secondly, there’s physics. When you’re in a two-tonne steel cage, a car with 100+bhp, seatbelts, airbags and crumple zones, we all are vulnerable to risk compensation. We act to keep our own personal risk at a similar level. When you’re in a car, this means far greater danger to those outside the car, especially pedestrians and cyclists. It means driving faster and braking later than you would on a bicycle, on which we’d all be much more cautious.

Detective Chief Superintendent Andy Cox of the Metropolitan Police often talks about the problem group of high-risk traffic offenders. These include those with a recent history of dangerous driving, regular drink/drug drivers, those who continue to drive dangerously despite intervention or prosecution.

This is not a war on drivers, it’s a war on dangerous and selfish road behaviours that put us all at risk. Most bad driving is reported by other drivers with dashcams.

Were you to wave that same magic wand and make all drivers instantly perfect, you would eliminate almost all of the 1,800 deaths and 27,000 serious injuries every year in the UK. That is why we must focus on the real menace on our public highways – those drivers who are in the problem group, breaking laws without a thought of anyone else.

Mike van Erp is a cycling campaigner