Met Police denies operation issuing hi-vis to cyclists was ‘victim-blaming’

West Midlands Police officer behind renowned close pass operation among those to criticise the move

The Met Police has defended an operation carried out by its Cycle Safety Team in which hi-vis vests were issued to cyclists. Faced with huge numbers of critical responses on Twitter, Detective Superintendent Andy Cox said that there is ‘some evidence’ that hi-vis can reduce risk and that, ‘if it saves a life then that’s a very good day’s work’.

The initial tweet, showing officers handing out hi-vis vests, was posted by the Met’s Cycle Safety Team yesterday afternoon.

The responses were many and overwhelmingly critical. Most suggested that the wearing of hi-vis by a cyclist would achieve little or nothing. Others suggested that police resources could be more effectively deployed elsewhere.

Several people quoted Chris Boardman’s comment on how best to improve safety for cyclists: “If you think helmets and high-viz clothing are the answer, you're asking the wrong question.”

The co-founder of campaign group Stop Killing Cyclists, Donnachadh McCarthy, was also among those to respond, asking how many 20mph and mobile phone actions had been carried out in the area in the last six months.

Responding to the criticism, Cox tweeted: “I find the tit-for-tat tweets v frustrating. This is not ‘victim blaming’! If a dangerous driver escapes conviction on basis of #Cyclist not in high vis then thats ludicrous!! We do this to save life! If it saves a life then that’s a v good days work! #Cycling #RoadSafety #London.”

He went on to highlight the results of a Danish randomised trial involving 6,793 cyclists

“Wearing of Hi Vis clothing sparks strongly held views,” he wrote. “I believe dangerous drivers must never be excused because the #Cyclist was not wearing Hi Vis. Tho my aim is to maximise #RoadSafety & some evidence suggests Hi Vis helped (Danish trial 2017) #Cycling”

In 2013, a University of Bath and Brunel University study found that no matter what clothing a cyclist wears, around 1-2 per cent of drivers will pass dangerously close. The researchers concluded that there is little a rider can do, by altering their outfit or donning a high-visibility jacket, to prevent the most dangerous overtakes from happening.

Also in 2013, an Australian study drew an important distinction between reflective clothing and hi-vis, highlighting that the former is the best way to be seen in the hours of darkness.

Among the respondents to the second of Cox’s tweets was Mark Hodson, one of the two officers who devised West Midlands Police’s renowned close pass operation.

Hodson said that some of the worst driver behaviour he had encountered while cycling had been on occasions when he had been wearing hi-vis.

A couple of weeks ago, Cox tried to explain why there was more enforcement on motor vehicles than on cyclists, seemingly in response to suggestions the force was unfairly targeting motorists.

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