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"Ignorant and grotesque" - CTC blasts article on cyclists by Road Haulage Association director

Cyclists without insurance and riders using iPods under attack - as are those using helmet cams

In an article that national cyclists’ organisation the CTC has described as “unbelievably ignorant and grotesque,” the head of the Road Haulage Association (RHA) in Scotland says cyclists should carry insurance and maintains that those using iPods and similar devices when cycling should be charged with an offence of “cycling without due care, etc.”

Phil Flanders, the RHA’s Scottish Director, also warns lorry drivers that police are acting upon helmet camera footage provided by cyclists, should a driver be “unfortunate to upset them on the roads.” The fact that police will only do so when they suspect the driver has committed an offence is not acknowledged, however.

Writing in issue 65 of transport industry magazine FACTS, ” Mr Flanders unleashes a broadside against bike riders that, coming from such a senior figure within the haulage industry, makes for depressing reading.

In his article, Mr Flanders displays some of the entrenched attitudes against bike riders that cycling campaigners and politicians in London and elsewhere are up against in trying to improve the safety of cyclists around lorries following a string of recent fatalities.

It’s a sad but inescapable fact that lorries are responsible for a disproportionate number of cycling fatalities – the CTC says HGVs make up 5 per cent of traffic, but are responsible for 19 per cent of the deaths of cyclists on Britain’s roads.

Indeed, Mr Flanders begins his piece by acknowledging, “There have been a spate of accidents involving cyclists and lorries recently,” but adds, “as usual the lorry is the big bad bogeyman.

“It reminded me of an article I read last year in New Zealand where they have a similar problem,” he continues.

The RHA director goes on to cite large parts of that article, headed Cyclists and Cars are a Fatal Mix and emphatically anti-cyclist in tone, which originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald in November 2010 and was written by the newspaper’s motoring correspondent, Eric Thompson.

“A public road with motor vehicles is no place for a cyclist, no matter how they bleat about having every right to be in the same place as a car. A cyclist will always come off second best in an accident with a motor vehicle,” wrote Mr Thompson.

“No matter whose fault it is, in any type of motor versus pushbike altercation it’s not going to take a rocket scientist to work out who’s going to end up in the back of an ambulance,” he added.

His article went on to set out a number of legal requirements that he believed bicycles and their riders should be subject to, “as other vehicles are required by law.”

Those included the fitting of rear-view mirrors, indicators, riding in single file unless overtaking, having front light on at all times [as he says other two-wheeled vehicles in New Zealand have to do, riders to pass a “road-license test,” and bikes to be registered and subject to “road tax.”

Since all those points in the New Zealand Herald article are repeated, verbatim, by Mr Flanders, without comment or qualification, it’s reasonable to assume that he’s in agreement with them.

Mr Flanders, however, does have some suggestions of his own.

“I would go further and add that all must have adequate insurance for any accidents they cause and maybe even liability insurance for those who knock people down,” he writes, although he seems to present as two different types of insurance what is essentially one and the same thing – third party liability cover, which many cyclists, such as CTC members, already carry.

“Those cyclists, and there are many, who play their iPods or other types of mobile music should also be charged for committing an offence of cycling without due care etc etc as they have no chance of hearing any vehicle approaching and are totally unaware of what is going on around them,” he adds.

Now, many cyclists agree that you shouldn’t listen to music while you ride, not least world champion Mark Cavendish, who last month said, “Don’t cycle with an iPod in, it’s dangerous!”

At present, it’s entirely legal to ride a bicycle while listening to music, just as it is legal for a lorry driver to listen to it in their cab. Of course, many riders choose not to do so on the grounds that they want to be as aware as they can of everything going on around them.

Finally, Mr Flanders warns lorry drivers: “Some [cyclists] have started to fit small video cameras to their helmets. If you are unfortunate to upset them on the roads they will report you to the authorities and will have evidence of whatever it was that you did. There are cases of this already where the police have taken action!”

That comment, presumably, isn’t aimed at those among the RHA’s membership who drive within the law and therefore have nothing to fear from the police.

In response to Mr Flanders’ comments, a spokeman for the CTC told “This is an unbelievably ignorant and grotesque statement.

“The only accurate thing he says is that some cyclists are now recording illegal behaviour by lorry drivers using helmet cameras - implying that the incessant illegal behaviour by his members might, shock horror, actually lead to prosecution.

“We already warn cyclists to stay away from heavy vehicles - knowing that idiots like this could be behind the wheel is truly worrying."

Officially, the RHA highlights that cyclists need "to be careful around trucks," but it also states that cyclists need to be better educated about how lorries execute manoeuvres at junctions in particular. It expresses concerns about safety equipment such as sensors being the answer to improving the safety of bike riders where HGVs are concerned, and points out that "RHA Training includes cyclist awareness in its driver refresher courses."

In response to Mr Flanders' comments, the RHA said: "The article you refer to is part of a regular column and is a personal report of views from around the world on this important subject, including views from a senior safety engineer at the world's largest commercial
vehicle manufacturer. To call the article "ignorant and grotesque" does nothing to contribute to sensible debate on what is an important subject.

"The RHA is actively exploring ways to achieve greater safety of cyclists around HGVs and other freight vehicles, particularly with Transport for London and the Metropolitan Police. A longer RHA comment on this important subject, dated June 30 2011, is on our website."

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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