Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham has claimed there is a “growing debate” around making it compulsory for cyclists to wear high-visibility clothing – and has also implied that part of the cost of having more road space set aside for cycle lanes is that people on bikes need to take on more responsibility.
The Labour politician’s remarks, made during a phone-in on BBC Radio Manchester earlier today, have been criticised on social media not only by cycling campaigners, but also by roads police officers.
Highway Code Rule 59 does not require cyclists to wear hi-viz clothing, nor does it say they “should” do, simply stating that “Light-coloured or fluorescent clothing can help other road users to see you in daylight and poor light, while reflective clothing and/or accessories (belt, arm or ankle bands) can increase your visibility in the dark.”
But one caller to today’s radio phone-in, a taxi driver named Dave from Harpurhey who also said he cycles, told Burnham: “I can’t understand why it’s not compulsory to wear hi-viz when cycling.”
In response, the Mayor said: “There is a growing debate. If more road space is to be given it follows that more obligation is given on users too.”
Dave in Harpurhey, who is a taxi driver and cyclist, says: “I can’t understand why it’s not compulsory to wear a hi-vis” when cycling.
Andy responds: “There is a growing debate. If more road space is to be given it follows that more obligation is given on users too.”
— Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham (@MayorofGM) November 3, 2022
While there may occasionally be calls for cyclists to have to wear hi-vis clothing – and to be registered or licenced, take out compulsory third party insurance cover, and wear helmets – many would consider that calling it a “growing debate” as Burnham did, is stretching things a bit.
Indeed, Chris Boardman, previously walking and cycling commissioner for Greater Manchester under Burnham before leaving earlier this year to head up the new body Active Travel England has consistently said that making it compulsory for cyclists to wear helmets and hi-vis clothing distract from initiatives proven to make the roads safer for people on bikes, such as building segregated cycle lanes.
In 2020, he told Telegraph.co.uk: “Messaging is something the car industry has known for decades. You don't see a car advert with a car sitting in a traffic jam. You see it on big open roads.
“So we shouldn't be showing cyclists in body armour and high-vis. We should show it how it can be. And cycling can be nice.
“The beauty of cycling is that it is simple. You can wear your work clothes and just ride to work. You don't have to be sweating. You don't need special clothes. That's the bit we forget.”
Responding to Burnham’s comments today, one Twitter user retweeted a post by Surrey Police’s Road Policing Team from last November which included a picture of a patrol car that had been hit from behind by a driver, with the tweet saying that hi-viz is “Part of our uniform and part of H&S requirements. But those of us that have worked on the roads for years know how ineffective high viz is, especially in daytime. If drivers can’t see high viz WITH flashy lights as well, then just high viz is even less effective.”
— Andi (@ArmitageAndi) November 3, 2022
Another Twitter user retweeted a picture of a lorry that had struck a railway bridge, despite the latter carrying yellow and black hatching and warning that it had a very low clearance.
News just in: hi-vis 👏 is 👏a 👏load 👏of 👏bunkum 👏& 👏nothing 👏more 👏than 👏pointless 👏safety 👏theatre 👏demanded 👏by 👏shit 👏drivers 👏who 👏wouldn't 👏notice 👏it 👏anway. pic.twitter.com/I7KCCKnWzq
— EricEatsPickles (@EricEatsPickles) November 3, 2022
Several Twitter users took issue with Burnham’s reference to a “growing debate,” while others pointed out that cyclists are allowed to use road space already, and allocating more of it to them in the form of segregated cycle lanes did not carry with it any additional responsibilities being placed on those who choose to get around by bike.
Utter nonsense. There's no debate. Even if there were strong evidence that high viz works (there isn't), why would cyclists have to buy it with the clothing they wear? If anything, once a cycle lane is created, there is less need for cyclists to make up for drivers failings.
— Jon (@Jontafkasi) November 3, 2022
I don't get this "growing debate" angle? It's projection. It's not a debate about where people are permitted to ride, where best practice says they should ride, and what responsibility are placed on road users subject to licence. 🤷🏻
— J.G. Bollard (@JamesNonchalant) November 3, 2022
Road space isn't being 'given' to cyclists: they are entitled to use it as of right already. What is beginning to happen is that they are being enabled (in some places) to use it safely; which is what should be the case.
Nobody wears hi-viz in Amsterdam.
— GMBasix (@BasixGM) November 3, 2022
It's not the first time this year that Burnham has been pulled up by cyclists on social media after making inaccurate claims in a Q&A session on the local radio station.
In January we reported how, ahead of revisions to the Highway Code coming into effect, he had urged for the planned changes to be postponed, and also repeated the misconception that one of revisions permitted cyclists to ride “in the middle of the road,” rather than the middle of the lane – something that they were already allowed to do, with the new wording simply clarifying the issue.
Simon joined road.cc 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.