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James May rubbishes "nonsense" ideas to regulate cyclists in response to fatal collision

Former Top Gear presenter said regulation was "completely against the spirit" of riding a bike and "trying to cure the world's problems by adding more admin is pointless and expensive and makes life miserable"...

James May has spoken out against some of the measures to more strictly regulate cyclists that have been touted across print and broadcast media debates in the week since it was reported that a coroner's inquest had been told that no charges would be brought against a cyclist riding laps of London's Regent's Park when he crashed into a pensioner, causing her fatal injuries.

Last week, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said tougher laws for dangerous cyclists are "under review" and will be considered "with an open mind", the comments coming after Conservative Party colleague Sir Iain Duncan Smith tabled a series of amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill that would see cyclists subject to stricter laws if they ride dangerously and kill or injure.

However, much of the discussion in the press has also centred around other forms of regulation for cyclists — talk of number plates, mandatory insurance and other measures re-emerging despite the government's repeated insistence that it has no plans to introduce such requirements.

> James May: "I can't stand road sectarianism – it's all b*llocks"

The frenzied coverage across many of the national newspapers, talk radio shows and television coverage followed the news first reported over the last bank holiday weekend that Brian Fitzgerald, a cyclist riding laps of Regent's Park at a speed of between 25 and 29mph when involved in a collision which saw a pensioner die two months later from her injuries, would not face charges.

Addressing the case, and the subsequent debates, former Top Gear presenter May told Times Radio: "I don't think people should try to achieve personal bests through places like London. And I don't think people should race around the park. I think that is disrespectful and irresponsible and can lead to accidents.

"The vast majority of people can't achieve even 20 miles an hour on a bicycle. I ride a lot in London, and I'm not particularly fit and I'm getting quite old. But even so, my average speed is usually ten to 12 miles an hour and I'm putting my back into it.

"Trying to cure the world's problems by adding more admin is pointless and expensive and makes life miserable. I've been listening to various debates, including one yesterday on another radio station. There were some terrible things being said on that about regulating bicycles, and bicycles were being blamed for drivers speeding and people were saying insurance would make bicycles safer and all sorts of things that were, to my mind, nonsense."

The comments come as it has this morning been reported that the Royal Parks, the charity which manages eight royal parks in London, has written to Strava asking for the Regent's Park Outer Circle segment to be removed.

"We were extremely sorry to hear of the incident which resulted in the death of Hilda Griffiths. We will continue to work with local stakeholders, including cycling groups, to inform our approach. We have made contact and will follow up with cycling apps such as Strava to request removal of the Outer Circle in the Regent's Park as a segment on the app," a spokesperson said.

The attention of the Telegraph and Daily Mail has been captured by the story, the former reporting this weekend that a dog walker had been injured in another collision involving a cyclist in the park. Paolo Dos Santos suffered facial injuries and was knocked unconscious, reportedly when she was hit by a cyclist overtaking a driver "said to be observing the 20mph speed limit".

Meanwhile, the Mail sent a reporter with a speed gun to the park, publishing a story headlined: "The speed limit in Regent's Park is 20. Cars obey it. But we clocked cyclists at 32 — and after an elderly woman died having been hit by a speeding bike, it's just more proof it's one rule for lycra louts" 

Hilda Griffiths, aged 81, died two months after a collision which happened shortly after 7am on a Saturday morning in June 2022, the pensioner suffering injuries including broken bones and bleeding on the brain. Mr Fitzgerald told the inquest that he had "zero reaction time" to avoid Ms Griffiths, who had been walking her dog and was crossing the road to a pedestrian island, when she stepped out in front of the group of cyclists riding laps of the park.

Outer Circle near Hanover Terrace (via Google Street View)

While the speed limit in the park is 20mph, the Metropolitan Police confirmed that it does not apply to people riding bicycles, and that the case was closed because there was "insufficient evidence for a real prospect of conviction".

Ms Griffiths' son, Gerald, has appeared on TV in the past week urging for the law to be reformed.

"With 35 or more cycling clubs with hundreds of members in the park, it was only a matter of time before tragic outcomes occurred," he said. "The laws are inadequate and need to change. If any other type of vehicles were travelling over the speed limit in that same formation – essentially tailgating – they would be committing an offence."

A conclusion of "accidental cycling collision death" was recorded by the assistant coroner. Cyclists can face charges for being involved in a collision in which a pedestrian is killed, Charlie Alliston in 2017 sentenced to 18 months in a youth offenders facility after being convicted by a jury at the Old Bailey of "causing bodily harm by wanton and furious driving" in connection with the death of Kim Briggs, a woman he struck as she crossed London's Old Street.

Alliston was riding a fixed-wheel bicycle that had no front brake and was cleared of a separate charge of manslaughter.

Dan is the road.cc news editor and has spent the past four years writing stories and features, as well as (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. Having previously written about nearly every other sport under the sun for the Express, and the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for the Non-League Paper, Dan joined road.cc in 2020. Come the weekend you'll find him labouring up a hill, probably with a mouth full of jelly babies, or making a bonk-induced trip to a south of England petrol station... in search of more jelly babies.

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77 comments

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festina | 1 week ago
3 likes

I'm sorry about the fatality but from what I read (in the Telegraph no less) the story is about a pensioner who stepped out into the road without looking. Excessive speed? Perhaps but that is only half the story.

The rest of the mainstream news is about how 20mph is too slow in Wales and a petition to increase motorway speeds to 100mph and dual carriageway to 80mph.

All this hypocrisy makes me think that there must be an election coming.

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Robert Hardy | 1 week ago
0 likes

If the Island is the one in the photo, the large SLOW painted on the road should allow a prosecution and if not then there is a clear need for the law on reckless cycling to be tightened up. There is a need to make cyclists subject to speed rules on the highway and the excuse that they are not fitted with speedometers is unacceptable in an age when cycle computers and other gps devices are legion, particularly amongst the small subset of cyclists who are capable of sustaining 20mph plus pace.

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chrisonabike replied to Robert Hardy | 1 week ago
3 likes

Robert Hardy wrote:

If the Island is the one in the photo, the large SLOW painted on the road should allow a prosecution and if not then there is a clear need for the law on reckless cycling to be tightened up. There is a need to make cyclists subject to speed rules on the highway and the excuse that they are not fitted with speedometers is unacceptable in an age when cycle computers and other gps devices are legion, particularly amongst the small subset of cyclists who are capable of sustaining 20mph plus pace.

Not picking a fight, but ... whose need, and what exactly are the "requirements" for this?

Not saying this is necessarily wrong on the face of it, but I imagine there are some practical reasons that this has not come to pass - mostly to do with "we don't think it's worth the (considerable) money to fix what actually contributes (how much?) to a tiny number of deaths / injuries".  I'm certainly not saying those are not important but I'd imagine this is not "low hanging fruit" in any way e.g. money spent lots of other places would bring more benefit.

As you mention, it's a small subset of cyclists (road cyclists themselves being a tiny group) who are even commonly going over what is a lower UK speed limit (20mph).  It's apparently not terribly easy for the police to actually identify who to act against even when there are registered vehicles with numberplates and licenced drivers.  To make it equivalent do we need both those for cyclists? (Already dismissed several times as not a good use of money).  Presumably for whatever speed limits unless we do it completely differently from drivers there would be a requirement for calibrated speed checks.  So we then need either MOTs for bikes and/or schemes to calibrate and verify e.g. GPS / website data (and to put the legal system through this).

Again - there's nothing to stop some changes simply saying "cyclists have to stick to speed limits, and it's on them how they do" and letting the courts thrash out things I guess?

But ... is that actually what people want / expect when they're demanding "cyclists should obey the same laws as everybody else"?  Or is that coming from a different place (us, and them)?

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hawkinspeter replied to Robert Hardy | 1 week ago
2 likes

Robert Hardy wrote:

If the Island is the one in the photo, the large SLOW painted on the road should allow a prosecution and if not then there is a clear need for the law on reckless cycling to be tightened up. There is a need to make cyclists subject to speed rules on the highway and the excuse that they are not fitted with speedometers is unacceptable in an age when cycle computers and other gps devices are legion, particularly amongst the small subset of cyclists who are capable of sustaining 20mph plus pace.

I think your priorities are mixed up if you think that dealing with fast cyclists is more important than all the other issues we have with policing traffic - it's such a rare occurrence for a cyclist to cause a fatal collision and most people will even remember the details of the last time that happened *cough*Alliston*cough*.

I'll say it again - the speed of the cyclist is most likely irrelevant to the collision as anything over 3.5mph would make such a collision unavoidable and I suspect that the injuries were largely caused by the pedestrian hitting the pavement rather than directly from the collision with the cyclist (cyclists tend to be a little bit more squidgy than pavements).

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Robert Hardy replied to hawkinspeter | 1 week ago
1 like

The report said she she had broken bones, hit at between 10 and 13 meters per second by a cyclist and hard bike weighing in the order of 80 plus kg is an impact generating a lot more energy than her own fall to earth. Though indeed that alone is quite often sufficient to cause serious injury to an elderly person. Just because bikes unsurprisingly are less dangerous to pedestrians in impacts than cars, that should not excuse profoundly selfish and unfortunately in this case fatal injury causing riding in the public realm.

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john_smith replied to Robert Hardy | 1 week ago
1 like

Unless you can prove othewise, I would suggest that riding a bike in the manner in question is no more "profoundly selfish" than any other legitimate use of the road.

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Secret_squirrel replied to Robert Hardy | 1 week ago
3 likes

Robert Hardy wrote:

Troll, troll, troll, troll.

Sing along to the Skol song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gK7n1Q-fDeA

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chrisonabike replied to Robert Hardy | 1 week ago
3 likes

What's an appropriate response to:

  • behaviour which is neither illegal nor uncommon amongst road users in general (and where technically illegal AND more dangerous - e.g. by those in motor vehicles - generally attracts no sanction whatsoever)
  • ...and which possibly made no difference in this particular incident
  • ... BUT which stands out because of the rarity factor / "not like normal road users"
  • ... and which society in general clearly sees as not appropriate in this particular space (here I'd agree) or even as seriously antisocial?

I'm not certain.  But I do think "rush in more regulation for all cyclists" - which is clearly what some folks want to do, regardless of further examination of the issue - isn't going to do much for anyone.  Except cost us all money, set off another round of cycling bingo in the media and provide maybe 30 seconds of "serve them all right!" from some people.

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brooksby replied to Robert Hardy | 1 week ago
2 likes

I had thought that SLOW written on the road was advisory, not prescriptive?

 

On your point about speedometers: neither of my bikes has a cycle computer or GPS device, and TBH neither do either of my household's cars.

The cars don't have radios or DVD players or any other electronic/computery entertainment device either yes

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hawkinspeter replied to brooksby | 1 week ago
4 likes

brooksby wrote:

I had thought that SLOW written on the road was advisory, not prescriptive?

 

On your point about speedometers: neither of my bikes has a cycle computer or GPS device, and TBH neither do either of my household's cars.

The cars don't have radios or DVD players or any other electronic/computery entertainment device either yes

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brooksby replied to hawkinspeter | 1 week ago
1 like

hawkinspeter wrote:

brooksby wrote:

I had thought that SLOW written on the road was advisory, not prescriptive?

 

On your point about speedometers: neither of my bikes has a cycle computer or GPS device, and TBH neither do either of my household's cars.

The cars don't have radios or DVD players or any other electronic/computery entertainment device either yes

Picture: "Meet the Flintstones…"

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seven | 1 week ago
5 likes

Quote:

Meanwhile, the Mail sent a reporter with a speed gun to the park, publishing a story headlined: "The speed limit in Regent's Park is 20. Cars obey it...."

Aye right, of course they do.

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kingleo | 1 week ago
4 likes

The best way to substantially reduce road accident pedestrian deaths is to wage war on drugged / drunk/ using handheld mobile phones whilst driving/ and speeding killer drivers.

 

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TimPedaller | 1 week ago
0 likes

How many people who talk or write about speed limits, whether 20mph or 30mph, trouble to THINK about the fact that the thousands of bicycles in use on roads do not have and are not required to have speedometers?

I don't think I have ever ridden at 20mph, on roads or cycle paths.

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Cugel replied to TimPedaller | 1 week ago
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If you've never ridden at or above 20 mph on a bike you can't be trying; or going down any hills   .... ?  Or maybe you pay a great deal of attention, take a lot of care and have a vivid imagination?   1

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chrisonabike replied to Cugel | 1 week ago
0 likes

Well, "hills" - Maybe they live in Holland?

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Holland_District

Or perhaps they have an adapted cycle / very chunky cargo carrier - or a unicycle?

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hawkinspeter replied to chrisonabike | 1 week ago
1 like

chrisonabike wrote:

Well, "hills" - Maybe they live in Holland? https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Holland_District Or perhaps they have an adapted cycle / very chunky cargo carrier - or a unicycle?

Unicycle riders are capable of going more than 20mph, but you'd be wanting a big wheel for that (a 24inch wheel isn't likely to cut it).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERypwPS98PE

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john_smith replied to chrisonabike | 1 week ago
1 like

In South Holland there might not be many hills but there is plenty of wind to make up for it.

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Robert Hardy replied to TimPedaller | 1 week ago
0 likes

Exactly, but if you do want to cycle faster it is not unreasonable to expect you to do so, after all the usual prosecution threshold by most police forces is 24mph in a 20 mph zone. Head down cyclists pushing their pace have both restricted their vision and compromised their braking. If we expect cars to give us 1.5 m overtaking space then do have a damned duty to treat more vulnerable road users with similar respect.

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hawkinspeter replied to Robert Hardy | 1 week ago
2 likes

Robert Hardy wrote:

Exactly, but if you do want to cycle faster it is not unreasonable to expect you to do so, after all the usual prosecution threshold by most police forces is 24mph in a 20 mph zone. Head down cyclists pushing their pace have both restricted their vision and compromised their braking. If we expect cars to give us 1.5 m overtaking space then do have a damned duty to treat more vulnerable road users with similar respect.

Even a head down cyclist would have much better visibility of the road and pavement than almost any driver would. Experienced cyclists are not going to be compromising their own safety whilst riding in a pace-line as any collision is likely to lead to them injuring themselves.

You seem to be fixating on the narrative of "speeding cyclist" when the root cause of the unfortunate fatality was "pedestrian stepping into traffic".

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Robert Hardy replied to hawkinspeter | 1 week ago
0 likes

Hierarchy of vulnerability! The attitudes expressed here are just as bad as Clarkson. Completely blinded by their own sense of selfish entitlement. We will end up getting the whole panoply of regulation because a small segment of cyclists cant admit that an elderly pedestrian crossing to an island should not have to contend with the unwillingness of a bunch of cyclists to properly slow down at an obvious and well marked potential pedestrian crossing point. A woman died because a group of cyclist considered it ok not to slow right down. Thanks to awareness, campaigning and even the occasional intervention by the police, the situation I survived as an eleven year old cycling to school of road vehicles giving me no space or consideration at all is generally improving, as cyclists we should not be excusing the frankly indefensible.

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hawkinspeter replied to Robert Hardy | 1 week ago
2 likes

Robert Hardy wrote:

Hierarchy of vulnerability! The attitudes expressed here are just as bad as Clarkson. Completely blinded by their own sense of selfish entitlement. We will end up getting the whole panoply of regulation because a small segment of cyclists cant admit that an elderly pedestrian crossing to an island should not have to contend with the unwillingness of a bunch of cyclists to properly slow down at an obvious and well marked potential pedestrian crossing point. A woman died because a group of cyclist considered it ok not to slow right down. Thanks to awareness, campaigning and even the occasional intervention by the police, the situation I survived as an eleven year old cycling to school of road vehicles giving me no space or consideration at all is generally improving, as cyclists we should not be excusing the frankly indefensible.

You are being an idiot.

In order to sufficiently slow down to avoid a pedestrian 2m away would involve (according to my calculations) slowing to 3.5mph. It's nothing to do with selfishness, despite your obvious preconceived notions of what happened. 29mph, 20mph or even 5mph would have made no difference to the outcome, unless there is evidence to suggest that it was the impact with the cyclist that caused all the damage as opposed to the impact with the pavement. It's far more likely that the loss of balance caused by the collision led to the fatal injuries.

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chrisonabike replied to Robert Hardy | 1 week ago
0 likes

Robert Hardy wrote:

A woman died because a group of cyclist considered it ok not to slow right down. Thanks to awareness, campaigning and even the occasional intervention by the police, the situation I survived as an eleven year old cycling to school of road vehicles giving me no space or consideration at all is generally improving, as cyclists we should not be excusing the frankly indefensible.

Again hope I'm not coming across as picking a fight!  I think two "citation needed" there though.

The view you're presenting is certainly common to many (per comments / media chat).  And I don't think a dense urban area is really an appropriate place for training (even if not "racing") which is going to be "making an effort to go fast" - and in this case above 20mph (the speed seems not to be in dispute).  And in general slowing where you see people looking like they may cross is sensible - but then (whether in car on on bike) you also have to allow for them interpreting that as you might suddenly come to a stop!

However inquiries established that the victim appears simply to have stepped out unexpectedly.  AFAIK there's nothing to say she wouldn't have fallen and died had they been going 12mph.  Or slower.

(FWIW my preferred option is to have more cycle-specific infra which minimises interactions between different modes.  And to hope that over time people will learn to look out for crossing pedestrians, or people cycling who are much quieter than cars and may be present in numbers.)

The second one, I do believe things have become safer overall on the roads over the long term.  That is for a whole bunch of reasons and "better drivers"* is likely not the main reason (or even a significant one).  Whether motorists are more considerate?  That seems to be a very open question!

* Driving test has become more rigorous - but we only take it once... There may be less drink-driving, but that may be made up for by those who are high?  Cars have better braking systems etc. - but people may compensate by later braking / less careful driving...

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festina replied to hawkinspeter | 1 week ago
2 likes

Most of the media have this fixation too whilst avoiding the key fact that led to the accident. It's like we are all riding at 30mph without looking.
Meanwhile, on average, a pedestrian a day is killed by motorised vehicles in the UK so focusing on 'speeding cyclists' is kinda missing the big picture.

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SecretSam | 1 week ago
4 likes

Would there have been the same fuss if the old person had been hit by a car? Although I do agree that we need to be more sensitive in parks, etc. But it's effectively a road.

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open_roads replied to SecretSam | 1 week ago
3 likes

I think I read in the news that the pedestrian stepped out when the cyclists were only 2 metres away - she didn't see the group of cyclists because she either didn't look or had some kind of cognitive impairment.

Without wishing to denigrate the loss of life and the impact on the bereaved, the likely outcome would have been the same had the cyclist been going 20mph or if she'd been hit by a car at 10mph. There was insufficient stopping time due to her failure to look.

I also suspect that if the cyclist had managed to swerve and avoid her and suffered head injuries / broken bones in the ensuing crash we wouldn't have heard about it.

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Robert Hardy replied to open_roads | 1 week ago
1 like

Surely the pedestrian was visible to the cyclist before that point, the possibility that she could step out should have informed their assessment of safe road use. To continue at full speed was reckless, but perhaps they had their eyes glued to the road 2 meters infront of their front tyre and were not aware of her presence! Using the road as a race track on a bike may be an order of magnitude safer than doing so in a car but it should be just as indefensible.

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hawkinspeter replied to Robert Hardy | 1 week ago
1 like

Robert Hardy wrote:

Surely the pedestrian was visible to the cyclist before that point, the possibility that she could step out should have informed their assessment of safe road use. To continue at full speed was reckless, but perhaps they had their eyes glued to the road 2 meters infront of their front tyre and were not aware of her presence! Using the road as a race track on a bike may be an order of magnitude safer than doing so in a car but it should be just as indefensible.

It's common and not at all reckless to assume that pedestrians won't step out straight into traffic, but instead they'll try to cross when there's a gap. Stepping out just 2m in front of traffic is extremely unusual and almost no-one would expect that kind of behaviour.

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Secret_squirrel replied to Robert Hardy | 1 week ago
3 likes

Robert Hardy wrote:

Surely the pedestrian was visible to the cyclist before that point, the possibility that she could step out should have informed their assessment of safe road use. To continue at full speed was reckless, but perhaps they had their eyes glued to the road 2 meters infront of their front tyre and were not aware of her presence! Using the road as a race track on a bike may be an order of magnitude safer than doing so in a car but it should be just as indefensible.

Is that you Nigel?

 

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stonojnr replied to open_roads | 1 week ago
0 likes

The reports in the papers stated it was the third rider in the group who collided with her.

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