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AA President calls for end to 'Two Tribes' mentality that divides cyclists and motorists

Edmund King pens column for AA Magazine ahead of speech today at Road Safety GB conference

AA President Edmund King has called for an end to the “two tribes” mentality and the effect it has of polarising opinion between ‘drivers’ and ‘cyclists’ in the road safety debate. As he points out, often they are one and the same person.

In a column published in the Autumn 2012 edition of The AA Magazine as well as on its website ahead of his giving a speech at the Road Safety GB Annual Conference in London’s Docklands today, King said: “We really must get past the dangerous ‘them and us’ mentality that sours interactions between different groups (and even sub-groups) of road users – be they pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists or drivers of vehicles large and small.

“Cycle campaigners often do themselves no favours in this respect, and motorists can be just as bad. Motorists see cyclists running red lights. Cyclists see motorists cutting them up.”

King wrote that far from driving everywhere, as many assume someone in his position would do, he chooses the appropriate mode of transport for the journey he’s undertaking – sometimes that means a car, while on other occasions it could be a train, on foot or by bicycle.

He’s certainly not alone in taking that approach. Research consistently shows that regular adult cyclists are more likely than the national average to hold a driving licence – and they’re also more likely to live in a household with access to more than one car.

He also underlined AA policy relating to cycling and some broader issues as follows:

All road users to follow the Highway Code
More cycle routes/lanes where quieter alternative routes do not exist
More widespread cycle proficiency and truck/cycle awareness training
More cycle-safety elements in the driving test

The licensing of bicycles
Compulsory cycle helmet use

The AA’s website also has a section on drivers and cyclists including advice on how to share the road safely written with the help of Carlton Reid, executive editor of trade journal BikeBiz and founder of the I Pay Road Tax website.

“We need better behaviour all round,” King added. “We’re not yet like the Netherlands, owning lots of cars, but moving around town by bike. Yet the majority of motorists have bicycles at home and the majority of cyclists have cars. When we release our grip on the steering wheel or handlebars, the differences disappear.

“We need to change things culturally, and I think this is happening – slowly. It’s all about modifying attitudes, particularly at a young age. It would help to get more youngsters cycling, and that means improving facilities for everyone. Existing cycle routes could be better designed. Cycling needs to be incorporated into the planning stage of developments, not added as an afterthought in the form of ridiculous 10- yard cycle lanes painted in the gutters of busy roads.

“Many people are put off by perceived or actual danger, and some parents won’t allow even their teenage children to cycle. But if they haven’t done so by the time they obtain a provisional driving licence, they probably never will – instead becoming drivers who have no empathy or understanding of the issues that cyclists face.

“We also need more cycle training across the UK because figures from the AA Populus opinion panel [an opinion panel that canvasses the views of 150,000 of its members, the largest such panel in Europe] show that less than a quarter of the 1.5 million AA Members who cycle have ever received any. Two of my children recently completed Bikeability cycle proficiency courses via their school. These courses should be offered more widely.

“Notwithstanding these problems, cycling is enjoying a renaissance even in busy cities such as London, and cycle shops are doing well in spite of the recession. This is to be welcomed because the more cyclists there are, the safer and better accommodated they will be.”

After outlining some of the specific initiatives that the AA has undertaken in terms of cycle and wider road safety such as its helmet giveaway last year – an initiative many saw as incompatible with its stated opposition to helmet compulsion – King concluded by issuing an appeal to those AA members not currently riding bikes.

“Come and join us,” he said. “Get out your bike, dust it down and enjoy the freedom of two wheels. It will be fun, it will get you fit and it will save you money. Win, win, win.”

The AA President’ comments come on the same day as yet another national newspaper published a depressingly familiar by-the-numbers anti-cyclist rant, this one penned by Camilla Tominey in the Daily Express. In a novel twist, however, she acknowledges that her dislike of cyclists stems from her mother having had an affair with one – more Lycra Lothario than Lycra Lout, perhaps?


Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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WolfieSmith | 11 years ago

It's me again: banging on yet again about '20 is plenty'. Not only does a 20mph residential limit get motorists down from 35mph+ to -25mph but once it becomes wide spread it will calm all but the most impatient drivers down and make cycling safer and more attractive for short journeys for all road users

The AA make some great points and I welcome their support but speed reduction also has a major part to play in sharing the roads and they make no mention of it. Where I live the whole county will have 20mph residential roads by 2014 and there is talk of making rural roads and lanes 40mph - which will save a fair few lives as well

Hopefully coming to the roads near you - if you ask for it.

notfastenough replied to WolfieSmith | 11 years ago
MercuryOne wrote:

It's me again: banging on yet again about '20 is plenty'...Hopefully coming to the roads near you - if you ask for it.

I can't decide on this one. I can see where you're coming from, certainly. I think my concern is in comparing two scenarios:

1. 30 limit. I'm on the bike, and can reasonably expect that all motor traffic (except tractors etc) will travel faster than me, whether they are adhering to the speed limit or not. Therefore, I'm on the left, and looking for left-hook turns etc by the traffic around me.

2. 20 limit. I can reasonably expect to travel at a similar pace to the traffic. Being on the left is no longer very safe, because that car that has been sat on my shoulder for the last few hundred metres may turn at any time, and I don't know that he's paying enough attention to have seen me. Therefore, I take primary (you may diasagree with this approach, but this is my current thinking) and just make sure to maintain a good pace. Suddenly, one of the minority speeding idiots comes along and where am I? Right in his path, doing half of his speed.

Also, it's a 20 limit on my (too quiet to use as a predictor of the wider consequences) street and I think there is a risk of false sense of security - the (minority number of) cars which exceed that do so substantially. I think the only benefit of the speed bumps is that the bang as the suspension crashes down on the bump warns the footballing kids and my cats to get out of the way.

Happy to be persuaded otherwise, I just wonder if we're flirting with the law of unintended consequences.

notfastenough | 11 years ago

Sedgepeat will be along to troll this thread with the usual bigotry in 5-4-3-2-1...

sihall34 | 11 years ago

While I agree that idiot cyclists will make idiot drivers and vice versa, I think there are also a couple of other attitude problems which are cropping up on both sides.

On the motorist side, there seems to be a feeling of unfairness, that cyclists can get away with filtering through traffic, jumping red lights, not following sped limits, not having to properly maintain their bikes and equipment or follow strict safety guidelines. Most of this is irrational and fairly easily explained such as, obviously one of the perks of being on a bike is that you can get through traffic easier, there's no MOT available or enforced etc. cyclists who do jump red lights and ride on the pavement do give fuel to this line of argument though and in my opinion should be following the rules and not doing it, you can try and excuse it all you want but it's breaking the law.

Motorists seem to have developed the idea that they should be allowed to drive on the road with no one to get in their way, this attitude is also very wrong, we all had a right to be on the road ad no one group should get preference meaning that if a cyclist or group of cyclists is on a road and a car pulls up to them, the car should wait until safe to overtake and then they can carry on with their journey, just like if it were a slow moving motor vehicle. Obviously cyclists should try and be considerate an help facilitate the overtake but not at the expense of their own safety.

I've noticed a lot of cyclists point out that if everyone followed the rules, the road would be a much safer place and we could all get along, I do agree with this, but I think a lot of people need to be taught those rules first.

sparrow_h | 11 years ago

In my experience, people tend to cycle as they drive (or for some, as they would drive if they could get away with it).

Edmund King is right on this, the whole two tribes mentality doesn't help at all as the person cutting you up on their bike, behaving unpredicatably or getting too close, would probably do the same thing in their car, and possibly on foot.

The big thing for me is inconsistent attitudes towards law-breaking on the road. I see a number of cyclists jumping reds on the way to work (and the outrage it provokes!), but I also see a lot of motorists speed up for orange, running reds at full speed when pedestrians or other lanes have green, and usually without slowing down or looking. There is no outcry about this, despite it being so much more dangerous for the people around them. I stop at pedestrian crossings but it is not an easy decision when you have a black cab thundering along behind you, giving you as little following distance as they think they can get away with.

You still hear people boasting about how fast they drove from A to B, about how they dodged getting demerit points and parking tickets, and speed cameras that catch too many people speeding are derided as being money-spinners, with sympathy being the general attitude towards those who are caught breaking the law in their cars. If I boasted about lawless/careless cycling noone would laugh politely and offer their own RLJ-on-a-bike story, they would look on it more like I was cheerfully admitting to burglary or assault.

I would love for the road rules to be enforced more rigorously but for all users, and in proportion to the risk they pose to other people. At the end of the day someone who is impatient and inconsiderate of other road users on a bike will be much the same in a car, and they will continue to behave that way until they get the message that it is unacceptable, either from the police or from society in general.

The vehicle is not the issue, it is the operator.

Zermattjohn replied to sparrow_h | 11 years ago

Sparrow H - great post. 100% agree with everything you say.

OldRidgeback replied to Zermattjohn | 11 years ago
Zermattjohn wrote:

Sparrow H - great post. 100% agree with everything you say.

Yep, me too - or should that be three?

sihall34 | 11 years ago

I think it is a lot to do with attitudes and education, hopefully they can go some way to tackle both. Their website with advice to cyclists and drivers is good, hopefully their name will ad some clout and clarity to the 'debate' that both tribes seem intent on having.

The article written on the Express website is laughable and until people like her are stopped and their attitude changed I don't know how effective any safe cycling campaign will be.

Garrigou replied to sihall34 | 11 years ago

How does that Express 'journalist' stay in a job? Generalisations; factual inaccuracy; petty sensationalism; personal prejudices - all dressed up as an 'opinion piece'.
Sometimes I despair about how much lower media standards in the UK can fall.

chris75018 replied to Garrigou | 11 years ago
Garrigou wrote:

How does that Express 'journalist' stay in a job? Generalisations; factual inaccuracy; petty sensationalism; personal prejudices - all dressed up as an 'opinion piece'.

I think you answered your own question there - that's why he's at the Express  23

OldRidgeback | 11 years ago

"When two tribes go to war..."

Yep, he's right in that motorists and cyclists are often one and the same. By far the majority of adult cyclists are motorists too, though the reverse is not always true.

There's a lot of sense in what he says.

phy2sll | 11 years ago

Cause for some (guarded) optimism there I think.

When's the conference?

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