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Mail’s cycling number plates poll story “misleading and unreliable”, says Cycling UK

The charity has raised a complaint with press watchdog IPSO after the Mail claimed that there is wide public support for tougher cycling rules – by citing the results of a Fair Fuel UK survey

Cycling UK has raised a complaint with press watchdog IPSO over what the charity believes was a “misleading and unreliable” MailOnline article which suggested that there is wide public support for tougher cycling regulations such as mandatory registration plates for bikes.

On 17 August – the same day the Daily Mail splashed ‘Cyclists may need number plates’ on its front page following an interview with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (a claim that was contradicted in Shapps’ almost simultaneously-published interview with the Times and refuted by the Transport Secretary himself later that week) – the Mail’s online variant published the headline: “We’ve got your number! 91% of motorists back plan to force cyclists to sport registration plates, poll suggests”.

> “No plans to introduce registration plates” for cyclists, insists Grant Shapps

In the article, the Mail claimed that “a poll of 1,500 drivers by motoring group Fair Fuel UK found 91% supported cyclists being forced to have ‘road registration IDs’. Another 70 percent backed them having insurance and 80 percent supported speeding penalties.”

The survey, as the Mail article notes, was conducted online by Fair Fuel UK, a controversial pro-motoring lobby group which calls for a lower fuel duty for motorists. The group, led by Howard Cox, was one of the fiercest critics of the recent Highway Code changes, describing them as a “cyclists’ charter”, while Cox responded to Shapps’ recent call for tougher cycling rules by tweeting, “Sanity at last on our roads”.

> "Lunatic Highway Code" encourages road rage and gives cyclists carte blanche, Fair Fuel UK boss claims

Charity Cycling UK has pointed out that the Mail’s article was “disingenuous to suggest that the poll represents the views of drivers in general as the article does not clearly inform readers who took the survey, or what they were asked.”

While an edited version of the article, however, now refers to Fair Fuel UK as a “motoring campaign group”, Cycling UK maintains that as the poll was shared across Cox and his supporter’s social media accounts, “it is more than likely that poll respondents also support the views of Fair Fuel UK meaning results may be affected by self-selection bias” and can’t be said to represent all drivers.

The charity has now written to the Independent Press Standards Office (IPSO), the regulatory body for many of the UK’s newspapers, to complain about the Mail’s “misleading” and “factually incorrect" article.

> Conservative leadership candidate backed by controversial FairFuelUK — pledges 50% fuel VAT cut

“It is unfair and irresponsible for a national news outlet with millions of monthly visitors to share misleading information,” says Cycling UK’s chief executive Sarah Mitchell.

“In this case, the article is factually incorrect and leads readers to believe that there is wide support for impractical and unworkable cycling regulations, when in fact, this is not true.

“As the cost-of-living crisis takes hold, more people are choosing to cycle as an alternative method of transport. Instead of creating expensive barriers for cyclists, we should be removing them and encouraging people to cycle so that they can reap the benefits.

“This case shows how important Cycling UK’s Cyclists’ Defence Fund is as it allows us to fight important cases such as this one.”

> "Grant Shapps should be congratulated": Frothing talk shows and Mr Loophole discuss number plates for cyclists

There is no guarantee, of course, that Cycling UK’s complaint will prove successful. In March this year, we reported that IPSO rejected a complaint from cyclist and reader Michael Naish regarding, among other things, the accuracy of comments made by Howard Cox in an inflammatory column for The Sun on the Highway Code revisions.

In his complaint, Michael said that the article contained several potential breaches of the Editors’ Code of Practice – but the watchdog rejected each of them, insisting that there were insufficient grounds to find a possible breach of the Code’s provisions.

In terms of a complaint raised under Clause 1 (Accuracy), relating to Cox’s description of the new Highway Code “as a cyclists’ charter to ride any way they wish” with a “biased state-controlled consultation process”, IPSO said that it had “looked carefully” at “these and other examples of the characterisations” provided by Naish.

> Press watchdog rejects complaint over The Sun’s “Lunatic Highway Code” article

However, the regulator said that “the article under complaint was an opinion piece, as made clear by title,” and that it “was an expression of the author’s personal opinions [and] represented the writer’s critical view of the revised Highway Code…  In this instance, the opinions reported were clearly presented as comment, and attributed to the individuals responsible for them as they represented the writer’s personal views.”

Other complaints raised by Michael, including that the article misrepresented some of the new Highway Code rules, were similarly rejected by IPSO.

> Daily Mail survey on cyclists carried out by fuel price campaign group finds all the things you'd expect it to find

Remarkably, this is not the first time that Cycling UK have criticised the Daily Mail’s reporting on a Fair Fuel UK survey.

In December 2017, the Mail ran a story – headlined, “Dangerous cycling should be a crime, say two thirds of drivers amid claims they are treated too harshly” – based on a Fair Fuel UK poll which questioned over 10,000 drivers on laws regarding cyclists, cycle lanes, bike “MOTs”, helmets, road proficiency tests for people riding bikes and, inevitably, “road tax”.

According to the survey’s findings, seven out of ten respondents thought that traffic has got worse due to an increase in cars on the road (a facet of the poll that the Mail was careful to leave until the bottom of the article in question).

“Cyclists can already be prosecuted for dangerous or careless cycling,” said Cycling UK’s Policy Director, Roger Geffen, at the time. “However, the other proposals in the Fair Fuel UK survey would be very costly to implement, would provide few if any benefits and would seriously undermine efforts to attract new people to take up cycling, including children and their parents.”

Ryan joined as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.

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