Early on the 18th October Carlton Reid of Bike Biz tweeted something worrying. Something that would be of national interest to the bike business and cycling advocates would be released at midnight. Whether that meant it was actually or impliedly embargoed was unclear, but, clearly, it was under wraps. Carlton was schtum on the content of it but assured us that he was ‘spitting blood’ in relation to this ‘UK wide’ issue. These were potentially worrying times. Another escalation of the ‘war’ that followed the Briggs campaign, stirring the pot of cycling hatred. The mainstream media were already bigging up proposals (from the Government) of stiffer sentences for cyclists. But, if you read more closely, or at least read more widely, the proposals were in relation to all road users. The arrival of an offence of causing injury by careless driving was to be welcomed. So, with midnight drawing near, with the cycling internet now abuzz with what might come, could you dare go to bed? Could you dare miss the opportunity to be up when the bad news came and then howl at the moon?
Much of how you view the world is dependent on your strength of thought, character, and how much you trust our media (answer, not even slightly). My preference is to read widely, think carefully, consider and reach a conclusion. This might sound obvious but, perhaps, it’s also rare. There are commentators I agree with 99% of the time but, occasionally, do not. So when one twitter user, who is quite excellent, made a claim that all serious cases of dangerous driving are already charged as manslaughter or murder, I disagreed. There are many many examples where a manslaughter charge, such as in this case patently have not been. The sentence, clearly, is not enough. When Alexander Walters, high on drugs, being chased by police, with a massive list of previous convicitons, killed 2 cyclists he was charged only with causing death by dangerous. But, I digress. The point is that it’s possible to disagree and have a different view regardless of which side of the lobby you sit on.
Independent thought is important. It’s also important not to feed the monster. Because, as our social media engorges that monster every single minute, it seems every less likely that ignorance and fear can be defeated by education. That’s a sobering thought. It doesn’t mean that we should give up, but entering the battle is sometimes an unwise choice. And so it was with this case. It sounded very bad. It sounded as if the Government had embargoed something. It sounded, apocalyptic. It was built up, there would be trouble, people would have to fend off the MSM for days. Much would be written, our position would be worse as a result. Our very existence was under threat.
And then, having not set an alarm, having decided that the news would still be there at 7.00 am, I woke up to find that ‘Halfords’ had suggested we cyclists get a number plate. and, my first thought was, is that it?
Howls of derision followed from our tribe and we awaited the inevitable roars of appreciation from the red top media. Armed with our knowledge, our education, the rifles of fact, the armoury of truth, we were ready to go over the top. The whistle sounded, we climbed the ladders of righteous indignation. But the battlefield was empty, the enemy nowhere to be seen. But hordes of ‘us’ in the echo chamber demanded that the nuclear weapon of boycott be deployed. “We won’t shop there again!” cried those who did not in the first place. “We will never shop with you, except for screenwash in the winter,” cried others. There was no pause for thought, no examination of what had just occurred. Just outrage, raw, shouty, group outrage. The very fog of war.
Let’s be clear. Number plates are ridiculous. There is nowhere to put them. They would discourage cycling. You’d have to put your light somewhere if the plate went on your seatpost. There may be a fee, but, ultimately, registration would be about ID and not about road use. The system of registration would fall to Marge from Ebbw Vale to pay for as a taxpayer, and she would not be happy, not one bit. But, all of those disappearing cyclists would be able to be found. So, that’s a win? Well, no. Motor vehicles are already registered, drivers are licensed and yet they still injure and kill with gay abandon.
I’m not here to defend Halfords, so screw you Halfords for asking that question. It was ridiculous. That applies to whichever of you signed it off? Was it Z-PR? Maybe, but Halfords signed this off and the buck stops with them. How on earth could they commission a survey based on this idiocy.
But, hang on, what was the question again? Turns out, there were a few, take a look at the survey, if you can be arsed. It’s here. I’ve had a look, and quick count shows 17 questions on cycling, 9 on staycations, 4 on EV’s, 22 on fixing stuff (including you cyclists), 23 questions on the future of our roads (including self driving vehicles).
If we discount glamping as having any interest to anyone at all, and concentrate on the outrageous stuff, then the worst stats are in relation to tougher action/penalties on rule breaking cyclists. That’s been ignored completely, it’s worrying because it shows a lack of appreciation of the detail and a complete lack of education of road users. A better survey would have sought to identify WHAT is an offence and why it is believed to be so. If your starting belief system is that cyclists who ‘weave in and out’ are criminals who aren’t caught they you’re bound to think that they should be punished more harshly. If you think a ‘should’ in the Highway Code is a legal instruction and that there is a penalty for its breach, then you need to be educated. So, actually, we don’t know very much at all. We can surmise that the Alliston’s of this world need to be penalised, but, it seems, they are. We also know that most cases of cycling collisions result in a person staying at the scene. There does not seem to be a culture of cycling away.
It also seems that very few people actually want licensing of cyclists, which, given the 59 percent who want number plates does show that there’s a disconnect and a fundamental issue in relation to how the question is asked or what is understood by the question. And that, perhaps, IS the problem here. Not that the question is stupid, but that the answer was always going to be obvious. If you can’t identify the harm that you’re dealing with, if you can’t educate about how the road system works, how can you hope to get a reasoned, rational answer.
A significant majority of people indicated that they wanted harsher action/penalties on those who drive close to cyclists. Indeed, if this were an advisory referendum, one would imagine a close pass initiative would be making its way to the statute book imminently. Above all 93 per cent of people believe that it would be beneficial for all road users to be educated about sharing the road. That’s a pretty damn interesting statistic. Doesn’t matter if you think that the opposition needs that education, education is the only way we’re ever going to sort that. So why not pick on that one, above all else? Isn’t that what comes out here? Dodgy questions, flawed anecdote, but, when you get to the nub of the issue we all want to get along. You never know a man until you cycle a mile in his lycra, after all.
There are a number of other points to note. The first is that, frankly, none of these figures should come as anything of a surprise. Indeed, I am surprised that there was not more support for something as idiotic as number plates. Another point is what is NOT there, the great helmet debate, so whoever decided to omit that one, well done. High vis and reflectives are there, yay, but at least whoever wrote those questions can actually tell the difference between them. And then there is this, if you ask a question, specifically framed, you get a response to that. That’s how this works. You ask about number plates, you get an answer on it. You ask, instead, how could we better regulate cyclists on the roads, and your answers will, of course, have a range of idiotic answers, but they will be watered down. While 59 per cent of people think number plates would be a good idea I’d wager that a large proportion of them hadn’t even thought of that as a possibility before you planted that in their head. Such is the nature of a survey.
So, what we have is this. A survey, commissioned by Halfords PR firm Z-PR through You Gov. 75 questions on the state of our roads, 2000 (very?) odd people. Who did it target? How were they identified? I’ve no idea. Halfords customers, perhaps. Or the wider world, who knows. I don’t think the stats, anecdotally, are out of line with the lack of basic education that surrounds what our roads are for, who they were built for and the relationship between licensing, registration and road fund/emissions. Halfords, sponsors of British Cycling, were unwise to release it, it has been said. And that may be true. But, that one question aside, was there any more to this ‘survey’ than we’ve seen before? Or is it simply that Halfords, in their position, abused that position? Do Halfords owe ‘us’ some sort of better duty of care not to deal in such idiocy? Is this a Ratner moment as has been claimed?
But it’s the mainstream cycling media that I’m more irritated with and our obsession with not looking, in the cold light of day, at what this was all about. Don’t spin the spin. There has been, to date, very little actual interest. The Press Association piece made its way into a few red tops. A few played with the words. Comments appeared under pieces, but not all that many. But, in the cycling press? Well, the echo chamber is full of outrage. And the echo chamber it is because, as far as I can see, we’re outraged at the potential for being outraged. Two days on and the outrage has not ceased. Calm (though lacking in actual condemnation) words from British Cycling have had little effect. And now even an infographic map of twitter users has been created to show the scale of the outrage. If you’re at all familiar with Anchorman then I really don’t know what we’re all yelling about.
People. Let’s get some perspective. Sometimes we are as bad as the ‘other side.’ I’ve no doubt that this was ill thought out. I suspect that the relationship with Z-PR is being carefully considered, that the boardroom may well be a slightly tenser affair than before. There may be some impact on sales but, frankly, I’d still have picked up my Thule wingbars with their 10% BC discount if I’d not already done so on Tuesday. Ditto my two new child seats. It was a pretty dumb thing to do. But being dumb isn’t exclusively about asking stupid questions. It’s about reacting in such a manifestly OTT way to that dumb thing. Should we forget about it? No. But, given that the world did not end when it was reported, a story and moving on would have been enough. Enough already, quit with the whingeing.
Or, perhaps, we adopt the best bits from the report. And, in today’s world, let’s do in an X-Factor type way and award the the suggestion with the highest score some Government funding and perhaps some legislative or, at least, policy change. Drum roll, that appears to go to the 93% who believe that better education is needed to foster a climate of road sharing for the benefit of all road users. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner. Happy Cyclemas, the war is over.