Get Off Your High Saddle

Those of you that follow me will know that I have been banging out the tweets this week for Road Safety Week and have been using the hashtag #RSW13

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Those of you that have followed me for some time will also know that me banging on about road safety is nothing new. There may even be some of you who have been bored enough to read my bio to see that I mention it in there too.

During my service I spent just over 7 years working on a busy roads policing unit (Traffic to those as long in the tooth as me). During my time on that team I was exposed to every sort of carnage the roads can throw at people. I’ve seen pedestrians knocked down, cars into cars, trees, houses and every other vehicle you can imagine. I’ve seen cyclists nudged from their bikes, smashed into and crushed beneath the wheels of a car. I’ve seen people thrown from their car because they weren’t wearing a seatbelt. I’ve seen a motorcyclist damn near decapitated by the front underside of a car. I’ve seen an old lady get her legs crushed by a reversing van in a car park on Christmas Eve. I’ve seen a young girl dragged underneath a car for a distance of over 100m before coming out the other side and the driver not stopping. I’ve seen pedestrians obliterated by HGV’s and had to be present whilst their remains are picked out of road tyres or front grilles. I’ve seen minor injuries, extensive injuries and  death. I could go on. I won’t but I’m sure even skimming the surface like this makes you realise why someone like me becomes indoctrinated with road safety.

I have tweeted about a variety of topics this week and have focussed mostly on the key topic of distraction. The RSW website says;

We’re all human: we daydream, get side-tracked, run late and make mistakes. But on roads, distractions can be fatal.

When using roads, we all need to tune in to road safety and give it our full attention – particularly if we’re at the wheel, but also when we’re walking, cycling, skating, running, you name it – to keep ourselves and each other safe.

I have tweeted about mobile phone use whilst driving, cycling and walking. I’ve covered seat belts, drink drive, excess speed, driving in the rain, the school run and multi-tasking whilst driving. I also tweeted this video about what HGV drivers can and can’t see down their nearside.

At the end of 2012 there were 34.5 million vehicles licensed for use on the roads in Great Britain, of which 28.7 million (83 per cent) were cars. I cannot find figures for the number of pedal cycles. I suspect an equally high number but not all will be used on the roads regularly as a method of commuting and daily use. Without wanting to get into a debate about numbers I think it is fair to assume that at any given time the roads are more densely populated with motorised traffic than cycles. As a consequence most of my tweeting has been directed at the motorist. I get the odd complaint now and again but generally I get wholehearted support for my road safety tweets. Only this week I created and posted this picture about texting and driving.

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At the time of writing this image has been retweeted 306 times on my account. It has also been hijacked by other accounts and retweeted many additional times. It’s reach will be in the 100’s of thousands. Why did I tweet this? I posted this content because I have seen drivers taking their life in their hands and performing some very dangerous manoeuvres. I have had many replies from followers and non-followers. Many have said what a powerful image it is. Others have said they agree with me and how dangerous texting and driving is. Some have suggested that those caught using their phone should have huge fines and have their car crushed. What I haven’t had is replies from people accusing me of tarring all drivers with the same brush. I haven’t been accused of being ignorant. I haven’t been accused of being a ‘driver basher’, or making ‘snide’ comments about motorists. I haven’t had anything other than support. It seems in my experience that motorists tend to recognise quite easily that there are stupid drivers on our roads. They recognise that I’m not accusing all drivers of being stupid but accept there is a section of motorists within the group who are.

So today I tweeted this;

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Why did I post this? I posted this content because I have seen cyclists taking their life in their hands and performing some very dangerous manoeuvres.

In response I got some support but by and large the most vocal were tweeters who criticised me. I was ignorant, a cyclist basher and tarring all cyclists with the same brush. I was accused of being unprofessional and asinine. I was also accused of focussing on ‘trivial’ risk factors whilst ignoring the major ones.

This got me thinking about my tweet and whether it was fair. Had I been harsh and singled out cyclists for something they don’t do. The answer came fast and was a resounding NO. One person posted a reply with a picture of a 30mph sign and applied similar wording to mine but in reference to drivers not adhering to it. A relevant point and one that I felt compelled to agree with.. after all I’m committed to road safety and excess speed is one of the #Fatal4 (Speed, Mobiles, Seatbelts, Drink Drive). So why wasn’t my response like that of those cyclists challenging my tweet? Because I recognise and accept that some drivers are stupid and some are responsible and law abiding.

I wondered about some other tweets that I or forces around the country put out about safety or crime prevention. If a force were to tweet about ensuring your house is locked and secure would some people complain that the police were accusing them of being daft? If someone left their iPad visible in their car and got it stolen would someone object saying that such a comment tarred all people with the same brush if the police tweeted about keeping valuables safe? The answer, in my experience is no. Not at all. So why do some cyclists jump down your throat the minute you raise an issue?

Do drivers exceed the speed limit? – Yes

Do drivers use phones when driving? – Yes

Do drivers get drunk and then drive? – Yes

Do drivers ignore the rules of the road? – Yes

Are they a risk to themselves and other road users? – Yes

Do drivers get upset and angry when those promoting road safety raise any of the above issues? In my experience no.

Do cyclists jump red lights? – Yes

Do cyclists ride listening to loud music on headphones? – Yes

Do cyclists ride on footpaths where they shouldn’t? – Yes

Do cyclists ignore the rules of the road? – Yes

Are they a risk to themselves and other road users? – Yes

Do cyclists get upset and angry when those promoting road safety raise any of the above issues? In my experience.. some of them do Yes.. very much so.

I understand and accept that cyclists are vulnerable. I understand and accept that when cyclists come into contact with stupid drivers they inevitably come off worse. In less than 2 weeks there have been 6 cyclist fatalities on the streets of London. I understand and accept that drivers account for the largest proportion of accidents, injuries and deaths on our roads. I understand and accept that within the motoring community there are people who don’t deserve a licence. I understand and accept that there is far much more that could be done to ensure cyclists are safer on the roads of our towns and cities. I also understand that whilst the vast majority, like drivers, are law abiding and generally safe, there are those who let the side down and those are the ones that are targeted with such road safety messages.

So do I regret the tweet? Not in the slightest. Was it directed at all cyclists or just those who run red lights? The latter.

Have cyclists died or been seriously injured by running red lights or other breaches of road law? Yes they have and I find it very hard to believe that the families of those people who lost their lives considered it a ‘trivial risk’.

Any death on the roads is a death too many. I don’t promote targets or low percentages. My aim would be to reduce it to zero.. completely. Whilst that may seem like a pipe dream I’m not about to accept that any low percentage is a ‘trivial risk’ and acceptable.

I make no excuses for the tweet. If you don’t like it.. then tough. I will continue to promote road safety to groups within drivers or cyclists no matter how large or small if there is even the tiniest risk of stupidity leading to serious injury or death.

Anyone who thinks that’s cyclist bashing needs to get off their high saddle and really look at what the message says and who it is directed at.

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19 thoughts on “Get Off Your High Saddle”

  1. I follow your tweets from my work twitter account (which is a police one) however feel the need to comment on this from a personal perspective.

    I TOTALLY agree with what you say in this and before I get accused of cyclist bashing, I cycle, in fact I CAN’T drive so I’m hardly a driver just having a go.

    There have been many times when I’ve seen cyclists run a red or not stop at a crossing and to be honest it does annoy me and I always make a point where I can of challenging it. No single road user (even the police I should probably add) is perfect. We all take a chance every now and then I suspect, I took one on March the 9th this year and ended up with a double fracture, whilst I did t break any road laws with my chance I merely mistimed my exit off an island, there are those that do and who end up in a lot more bother than I did.

    I personally think that any cyclist caught doing anything illegal should face the same punishment as a motorist does, we sometimes harp on at those who cut us up that “WE HAVE AS MUCH OF A RIGHT TO USE THIS ROAD AS YOU DO!” and I will agree with that, however we can not sit on a plinth unless we ourselves are perfect.

    Please carry on spreading your message as I think it’s extremely important and valid and those who criticise are probably just trying to justify their own actions.

  2. No holds barred! Excellent post! Have followed your tweets all week!

    Especially was shocked by the total lack of vision the HGV driver had but impressed by his caring attitude!
    We car drivers have all seen the cyclist who risks it through the red light especially in town & city driving. I’m a non judgemental driver don’t do road rage! Live in a rural area and have to be so careful when passing cyclists! Seen some near misses! Passed one the other day and questioned my distance had a conversation with myself about it!
    We have mostly double whites here due to many fatals! Makes drivers very frustrated! They risk it and cross the lines!

    I have no probs with cyclists! I have no probs with any of your comment or tweets! Fully support you! Great post!

  3. Interesting post and in reality all too accurate…but I think that indignation of the cyclists that responded is the Clarksonesque and Daily Mail bashing of cyclists in general tends to makes “us” all automatically defensive at any criticism regardless of how justified or generally accurate.

    The amount of times “we” cyclists get lambasted (by the ignorant) in not paying Road Tax…well we even get ignorant politicians such as Kate Hoey weighing in also (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/nov/12/kate-hoey-the-mp-who-thinks-cyclists-should-be-registered-and-pay-road-tax), which she as a parliamentarian should know better, it is called VED and is based on the emissions that a vehicle produces and it has nothing to do with roads in reality, that’s covered by general taxation (Income Tax, VAT and Council Tax etc).

    So with this in mind many cyclists automatically see this as being “victim bashing”, rather than an honest critique about some cyclists and not all of them.

    Personally, I welcome any serious discussion on road safety, especially those discussions that look at both the good and bad habits of cyclists and try to identify processes and procedures that could make cycling safer – considering I average over 12,000 miles a year by bike and do less than a third of that by car!

    I have always been critical (sometimes too critical) of some of the antics a small minority of my brethren get up to, jumping red lights, dashing across pedestrian crossings (though see Note #1 below), not having or using lights to mention just a few that aggravate me as well as those of the motorists that witness these things.

    So do keep posting but do realise that sometimes they may not be appreciated because when it “feels” to be open season on cyclists, so any criticism “feels” like blaming the victims and not getting to the route problems of – poor/non existent infrastructure, the lack of space, being treated like vermin by some motorists etc and a complete lack of empathy from many other road users.

    Note #1: the caveat that I do have to use, I will always stop at a red traffic light and/or pedestrian crossing as long as the idiot trying to eat my back wheel with his front grill behind me intends to stop…sorry but I have had a number of incidents where I was going to stop but the motorist(s) had no intention of stopping, so without any armour plate around me or an avenue of escape I have gone across junctions and/or crossings on those rare occasions with my heart in my mouth and a prayer on my lips!

  4. Can I add a note about the small number of cyclists who think dark clothing and no lights is appropriate in the dark – I have had incidents where I have had to do a late swerve to avoid them with passengers saying they did not see them until after I swerved – I am considered to have excellent eyesight. If a driver does not see a cyclist the cyclist comes off worse – yes this is unfair but life is unfair. As a driver I have to have lights and reflective surfaces (number plates) so people can see me (there is a false idea that car lights are for the driver to see where they are going – that is only part of the reason for them) and I am fed up of cyclists telling me they should not have to wear “special clothing” to be seen and that it is my responsibility to see them whatever they choose to wear.

    1. Oh please don’t get me started on these “cycling ninjas”…I ALWAYS advocate wearing clothing that clashes with whatever background that cyclists cycle against.

      Now it doesn’t necessarily mean wearing day glow yellow all the time because at certain times of the year in certain locations – such as in late spring/early summer down lanes with overhanging foliage even hi-viz yellow can disappear in the spots of sunlight that shine through this foliage.

      Often just even a white T-shirt over the top of a darker cycling jacket can be just as affective, NEVER THE LESS in low light or night time do wear items of clothing that are not only hi-viz but have reflective patches/panels/stripes on that will reflect the lights of passing motorists, street lights and/or the lights from shop fronts etc.

      It is one of the reasons that Section 60 of the Highway Code does require pedal reflectors to be fitted to bicycles made after 1985 (https://thecustodyrecord.wordpress.com/2013/11/20/get-off-your-high-saddle/?replytocom=1353#respond), the rotation of the pedals is extremely good at reflecting the lights from motorists and is very eye-catching – though there is a “gotcha” within this section that DESPERATELY need updating. The increasingly more common use of SPD (or clipless pedals, whereby the cyclist wears special cycling shoes that “clip” in to the pedal body) do not have reflectors built in to them and do not have any facilities to have reflectors retrofitted in to them so cyclists should wear reflective ankle bands (such as these – http://respro.com/store/product/ankle-bands). Now in case of issues with any members of the constabulary with wearing these instead, I do have correspondence from the DfT agreeing that these sort of ankle bands are a suitable replacement.

      Now to the issue of either not having lights or even working lights, sorry there is no excuse for that – if you do not have lights for you bicycle you should not ride it when lighting is legally required. I do acknowledge that there are many lights available that range between expensive and very expensive but there are numerous lights available that are more affordable and when used with NiMh rechargeable batteries make them very economical to use!

  5. Totally spot on. As someone whose own career has been remarkably similar in length and postings to yours, I do despair when the same mistakes continue to be made every day.
    ‘Education’ and ‘engineering’ tame the masses.
    Enforcement is there for the rest. Who survive.
    You do an excellent PR job. Keep it going.

  6. The thing is, every single article I’ve seen about the cycle deaths in London has people commenting underneath saying something like “cyclists getting what they deserve”. Not all of them, but a lot. And a lot of them are using the fact that some cyclists go through red lights as *justification* for not caring about cyclists being killed. Here are a few examples:

    Fifth comment down here (last thing I had open on my browser)
    http://ukcyclelaws.blogspot.co.uk/p/the-laws-according-to-highway-code.html

    Thirteenth comment on here (first google hit for “cyclist killed”)
    http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/fifth-cyclist-killed-in-london-road-carnage-died-in-bus-crash-48-hours-after-turning-21-8951958.html

    Thirteenth one down here (most recent cycling article linked on my facebook feed):
    http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/fifth-cyclist-killed-in-london-road-carnage-died-in-bus-crash-48-hours-after-turning-21-8951958.html

    That’s why you got the response you did. You’re in a society where as soon as anyone mentions bike safety and fault, someone goes SOME CYCLISTS JUMP RED LIGHTS, YOU KNOW, as if that was absolutely all there was to know about it. We can’t discuss any other aspect of my safety as a cyclist until (somehow!) I make every other cyclist behave perfectly.

    So yeah, I think it’s fair enough that if you contribute to that, you get criticised. We’ve all heard it before, and it just gets boring and infuriating, because you literally can’t even begin to talk about improving cycling safety without getting shouted down by drivers complaining that some cyclists go through red lights. It’s just not helpful!

  7. Reblogged this on siwhi's Blog and commented:
    As a cyclist (one who doesn’t jump red lights) I can’t agree more with the safety message and the sometimes defensive attitude of cyclists. Shame they don’t ride defensively too!

  8. “Are they a risk to themselves and other road users? – Yes”

    I appreciate the work you do sergeant, I can’t imagine the trauma of clearing up the results of an RTC, but please don’t pretend cyclists’ bad behaviour is a significant factor.

    For instance, an uninsured driver at almost double the speed limit who kills a child is considered by the legal system to be merely “Careless”
    http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/family-of-nineyearold-radwan-uddin-killed-by-speeding-car-say-their-world-has-been-torn-to-pieces-8953485.html
    Un frigging believable.

    The legal system is skewed against cyclists:

    For example, in late June in Spalding, police staged a crackdown on pavement cyclists in Spalding and just two working days after the start of the operation, two cyclists were injured in separate collisions. The police response stated that “Operation Oatmeal will continue so we can improve road safety in Spalding for all road users.” (Um… OK.)

    Perhaps more disturbing was the death of Alan Neve in Holborn in July, at a cycle-unfriendly junction which many riders avoided by illegally using a bus lane, as Andy Waterman carefully points out. Alan’s death occurred, again, just days after a police crackdown on cyclists using that lane.

    So whilst on one hand it’s pretty hard to complain about being nicked for riding illegally, when you look at the bigger picture it’s a complete fallacy that these crackdowns are beneficial to safety.

    Anyway. We’ll come back to that.

    The fine for cycling across Victoria Square in Bolton was £50. If you were a bit stupid and you got nicked both on the way to work and the way home you’d be £100 lighter.

    Which sort of seems a bit stiff when you compare it to the fine awarded to Ronald Finney, who – also in Bolton – drove his car with eyesight so impaired that he was medically unfit to drive and hit a cyclist, breaking his back in four places, fracturing his skull, breaking 30 other bones, causing a brain injury and placing him on a life support machine.

    Finney was fined £95.

    Now, you tell me if that equates – in terms of safety – to two trips across a pedestrianised square on a bicycle.

    http://beyondthekerb.wordpress.com/2013/08/19/the-bolton-price-comparison-site/

    The lorry driver who killed cyclist Catriona Patel was drunk and chatting on a mobile.

    The lorry driver who killed Eilidh Cairns had faulty eyesight (the police didn’t even bother to discover this until the same driver killed another woman.)

    The lorry driver who killed cyclist Brian Dorling turned across his path.

    The lorry driver who killed cyclist Svetlana Tereschenko was in an unsafe lorry, failing to indicate and chatting on a mobile. The police decided to charge him with..nothing.

    The lorry driver who killed cyclist Deep Lee failed to notice her and smashed into her from behind.

    The lorry driver that killed cyclist Andrew McNicoll failed to notice him and side swiped him.

    The lorry driver that killed cyclist Daniel Cox was in a truck which did not have the correct mirrors and whose driver had pulled into the ASL on a red light and was indicating in the opposite direction to which he turned.

    Cyclists jumping red lights has as much to do with road safety as my big toe.

    1. Bill

      Thank you for your comments. I’m concerned about road safety for all. I believe the post makes that quite clear.

      I also think there are often disparities in penalties where fines for minor matters seen excessive whilst the courts sometimes impose what seem paltry figures for more serious matters. The courts sentencing process however is not something we as the police can influence.

      Thanks also for the list of awful incidents. That said, there are awful incidents with cyclists too. Less I will accept but still there nevertheless. I have no desire on here to get into a top trumps game of driver v cyclist sentencing.

      I wouldn’t recommend it but if you think ignoring red signals and road signs for cyclists is insignificant then you, like many others are missing the entire point of my post.

      I’m not “pretending” anything at all.

  9. The majority of cyclists that run red lights do so to get a head start. They wait until the sequence has changed on the oppisite side, and then proceed. They do this because it is safer to get a head start on the vehicles behind them, particularly if that vehicle is an HGV as they will be in it’s blind spot.
    I think it would serve you well to consider this, that the majority of red light jumping cyclists are doing so because it is safer, not to try and save a few milliseconds by speeding through on amber/red as the majority of red light jumping motorists do.
    Its also worth considering that the consequences of an ill judged red light jump by a cyclist are far smaller than that by a motorist.
    Maybe you could concentrate some of your thought processes to a campaign to make red light jumping for cyclists legal in some circumstances given that their are positive safety implications.

    1. I find it hard to imagine how ANY red light jumping is acceptable by any road user. Minimizing as you have that the consequences for a cyclist doing so are smaller is folly. A cyclist is not wrapped up in a metal box and should said cyclist come into contact with such a vehicle whilst performing said move will face consequences that are more likely to be fatal… not small. Not small at all.

      Drivers jump red lights and I’m the first to accept that as I have detailed in the blog. Many cyclists though seem very quick to minimize the risk by pointing the finger at bad drivers instead of simply acknowledging that there are excellent cyclists and stupid ones too.

    2. The consequences of an ill judged red light jump are far smaller than that by a motorist are they? Tell that to the people who have been put in hospital seriously injured by red light jumping cyclists – as them how small they think the consequences.
      You are missing the whole point of the blog post – namely that there is a small but definite minority of cyclists that regularly and deliberately break the law and ride like *rude word* and that is impossible for this minority to be mentioned or described by caring safety minded people like the author of this blog without the mentioner being immediately attacked exactly as you have done and much worse.
      Instead of attacking the critics of the small minority of bad cyclists why dont you let that small number know that their antics will not be tolerated by the decent sensible riding majority yet alone defended as you and others seem to persist in doing at the moment.

      1. How do you suggest we “let that small number know that their antics will not be tolerated by the decent sensible riding majority” ?
        As a cyclist I am not responsible for the activities of any other cyclist, if a cyclist jumps a red light, that is a matter for the police to deal with not me!
        I tell you what, when you let hat small number of motorists who speed, use their mobile phones when driving, make illegal turns and all of the other examples of illegal/poor driving know that their antics will not be tolerated by the decent sensible driving majority then I will do as you suggest.

      2. Of course I’d love to be able to wave a wand and make all drivers and cyclists safe and responsible. That’s not likely to happen though. In the meantime shall we not talk about it at all?

    3. Sara, I would disagree that the “majority of red light jumping cyclists are doing so because it is safer”…sorry but the majority of cyclists that I see jumping red lights DO NOT seem to slow down in anticipation of the lights changing, in fact they often accelerate to “bomb across” the junction at the highest speed possible, so spending the shortest length of time in the junction!

      How do I know this…well while I am slowing down to match my speed to the potential change of the lights while I am cycling, some of these “cyclists” hurtle past me, not to anticipate the lights changing but to do exactly what I describe above.

      Don’t get me wrong, I will creep across the stop line (if there is no ASL present) possibly as much as a cycle length, as long as I can see the traffic lights opposite but I will NOT enter the junction while the light is on red…because RED does mean STOP!

      While what I am doing could give me an on the spot fine for breach of the RTA if the police decided to enforce the letter of the law but it is “bending the rules” and not flagrantly throwing them over your shoulder!

      When the Mayor of London suggested that cyclists should be able to go across a red light, as long as they were turning left, I vehemently fought against this “suggestion” because it wasn’t even a sticking plaster, because if a junction was suitable for this it should have a proper filter and lights for that, not some absurd idea drawn up on the back of a fag packet. Sorry but all traffic lights that are showing red should be obeyed – RED really does mean STOP, none of us really want this to get even more “confusing”!

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