Safe Cycling and the Road Safety Bill

Watch out for that treeeeeeeeeeeeeeeThese are dark days, my friends, and it would be quite wrong for any of us to cycle around London without lights. Which is why it is all the more depressing that in Blair’s Britain they steal your bike lights within five minutes, and you are lucky if they don’t steal the saddle and the wheels as well.

So for the last two years I have used something called a Danlite, a magical device that fits in the side of your handlebars, winking white to the front and red to the rear.

And when you park your bike, you simply unscrew the Danlite (it is about the size of a large walnut) and put it in your pocket.

Be bright.
All night.

On the subject of cycling risks, I am asked everywhere to comment on my friend and colleague Tim Yeo’s proposal that cyclists should face fines and penalty points for using mobile phones while cycling. Since this is a Tory proposal, and since I am a Tory, I am honour bound to try to see the advantages of this suggestion.

As I understand it, the train of thinking is that it is somehow unfair on motorists that they should suffer these fines and penalty points for talking while driving, while cyclists do not. Motorists already have very strong feelings about cyclists, not all of them favourable, and it apparently gets their goat to see cyclists jabbering away whilst pedalling, and enjoying a freedom that is now forbidden to the driver.

The Tory intention, therefore, is to impose equality of misery on both groups.

Of course no one should be actively encouraged to use a mobile while cycling. It is risky, and I once almost went over the handlebars in the palio of Trafalgar Square while conducting a particularly tricky negotiation – I think it was about Israel – with Conrad Black. If you must do it, you should IDEALLY get a hands free set or a blue tooth attachment, and fix the mobile in a bracket to the handlebars.

In those circumstances, or when you are hugging the kerb and going slowly up a deserted street, I believe it can be perfectly safe to cycle and talk at the same time, just as it can be safe to cycle and listen to an Ipod. Indeed, it is notable that those who object to mobiles, on the ground that they interfere with a cyclist’s hearing, make no such complaint about Walkmans: which leads me to think that their position is incoherent, if not nonsensical.

But the main reason for dissenting from this proposal is that it is simply unnecessary. There is already plenty of stuff on the statute book to prevent you cycling dangerously. If the police think you are cycling without due care and attention, they can already stop you and book you.

Why, for heaven’s sake, do we need a new ban, which the police will be obliged to enforce uniformly across the country, when the decision to take the trivial risk of making a phone call on the move should be left to the cyclist?

Why is the Tory party – the TORY party – proposing an infringement of liberty, when of the 19,000 accidents involving cyclists per year, not a single one involved the use of mobile phones?

It may be that it will gratify the resentment and jealousy that burns in the breasts of British motorists, to see the pedallists punished. But that is no way to make law.

We should be resisting new and vexatious regulations, of which this government produces so many thousands every year, not adding to them.

Not even Labour – bullying, bossy, hysterical, nannying Labour – sees the need for this change to the law.

The Tories should stick up for safe cycling, not new bans. We are the party of freedom, or we are nothing.

(Image via Nanny Knows Best.)

41 thoughts on “Safe Cycling and the Road Safety Bill”

  1. I agree it flies in the face of Tory thinking of freedom – perhaps Mr Yeo had a close call (no pun intended) with a phone-handling bicyclist, and has decided to jerk his knee and ban them?
    On another note – a unique website post! Great, need more of those!

  2. I think they’d be better off enforcing the rules that we have got – like ensuring all cyclists have lights (that work). I’m also undecided about whether or not I’d agree with compulsory helmet wearing. While I think it should be encouraged and I make sure my kids wear one (as I do) I’m not sure that it is worthy of legislation and fines if not wearing one.After all, the only person who’s head you’ll smash up is your own.
    As for mobiles and cycling, well I’ve tried it, and always manage to fall off whne doing it, so now I stop to have my conversatons.. Grazed knees are a much better deterent than rules that will never be enforced anyway.

    (although I did once get told off by a policman for being drunk in charge of my bike, but he couldn’t fine me as I wasn’t on a public road. A friend of mine wa caught in a similar situation and was fined the princely sum of

  3. Oh good lord, you’re blaming Blair for bike light theft? Come on, I remember my lights being stolen when I was at school when your beloved St Margaret of the Iron Lady was in power.

    If we’re going to fine cyclists for anything lets fine them for riding on the pavement, jumping red lights and cycling the wrong way up a one way street. Of course we’ll see many London bike courier companies go under, but it would be survival of the fittiest, or rather the most legal.

  4. I’m with Boris on this. Why make new laws when nobody bothers enforcing the ones we’ve already got? For example, I’m sure there’s a law against cyclists going through red traffic lights….

  5. Hi Boris! Keep up the good work, really enjoying your blog. However, with regards to your statement that “We are the party of freedom, or we are nothing”, that would be the Liberal Democrats (for whom I normally vote). I was of the impression that the Conservative Party was the party of conservatism. 🙂 Perhaps you should cross the floor!

  6. Another vote of thanks for the Danlight.

    I’d also like to mention as a cyclist, the continuing persecution of the bike user by the railways, who seem to be going out of their way to prevent us from taking our bikes on trains.

    So much for joined-up transport policy.

  7. Boris Johnson should be at the forfront of these reforms he should set the example. On the London Streets with his 1920’s style bike with lights back and front and a helmet on his head while wearing cricket whites with a slab of willow tucked beneath his arm and with his college scarf hanging from his neck. Very Brideshead Revisted or more Porterhouse Blue. I leave this up to all of you.

  8. Ben, what do you think conservatism is? The Tory party’s central policy on the economy has always been that people should have more of their own money and make their own choices about what to spend it on. They are pro-choice on most issues – pro-parental choice in education, pro allowing people to choose between hospitals, pro freedom of expression, etc. The only major difference on issues of freedom between the Tories and the Liberals is probably tax – the Liberals would prefer to tax more, the Tories less.

    These days, with terrorism being such a perceived threat, the Liberals aren’t even suggesting cutbacks on defense spending anymore, and they’re getting closer to the Tories on that sort of thing, where they used to be the party of banning the bomb.

  9. The Tories should stick up for safe cycling, not new bans.

    Absolutely. So why aren’t the Tories attacking Labour for policies which have resulted in the real cost of motoring falling since 1997, so encouraging more cars onto the roads and making them less safe for cyclists?

  10. How about cycling on the pavement? Will the Tories get tough on that – or will Mr Blunkett beat ’em to the punch again? If he doesn’t, they can say it’s evidence of the decline of modern Britian. If he does, they’ll have to say that cracking down on cycling on the pavement is typical of a police state. 🙂

    Keep on cycling, Boris. I suggest you enter for the next London-Brighton event. Why not? Ditchling Beacon is nothing to a fit and active man.

  11. Right, right as far as the slogan goes. However, Boris has intentionally misled the blogosphere … Mark my words, we have obtained the necessary evidence to prove that he was on the mobile to Steyn not Black discussing cycle-helmets (grin):

    Chris Gilham, who runs the website, has analyzed the impact of similar laws in Australia. One consequence is that fewer people bicycle and thus what was meant to be a public health benefit is, in fact, a public health disaster–“mass discouragement of society’s most popular exercise at a time of soaring obesity.”

    via Blair Witch (Different T. Blair)

  12. ‘I think it’s time we ploughed some money into developing a matter transporter. ;)’

    How about boris as the new captin of the enterprise in a new seris of Star Trek: The Tory generation. – To bodly go where no blond tory has gone before!!

    I think this post has just brought the geek in me out.

  13. Melissa – Nicey will be in the Slough area on Tues and I believe he is planing on a visit to Henley’s local book shops to sign stock. Maybe he’ll bump into some of Boris’ constituents…
    Have you got yours yet? Should’ve come yesterday?

  14. Really? That is the Slough of Betjamen fame “come friendly bomb and fall on Slough” etc? Never been there myself.. I think he’ll stick with Cambridge, and prob nothing to do with me ‘appreciating’ him 😉

  15. While endorsing everything that Mr Johnson so wisely advocates, I would hesitate to allow complete freedom to the cyclist, as there are some very dodgy characters around. Someone has kindly inserted a photograph of one such predatory male at the head of this article. Are our womenfolk safe when such people are at large? This man is obviously unaware of the effect he is having on passing females, who are in danger of becoming highly aroused at the sight of him, leading to anything from swooning to throwing themselves in a sexual frenzy in front of traffic. I suggest that legislation is introduced to force sex gods to cover themselves with large brown paper bags (with eye holes, obviously) when cycling in public. Being heterosexual by nature (although I must confess to experiencing a strange sensation in my stomach when viewing this picture), I can not help with deciding the criteria that determines which cyclists are subject to this ruling. Perhaps it would only be fair if it were applied to all.
    I hope this helps.

  16. I should note that in the two Reading Waterstones, both Seventy Two Virgins *and* A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down are selling like things that sell very well indeed.

  17. Great to know Lori!

    After reading 72 virgins in one sitting I must admit I was knocked out and in a real “Nice Cup of Tea and Sit Down” mood. They obviously go hand in hand.

  18. Thankyou for not supporting everything your party comes up with for the sake of it. Does seem a bit OTT.
    For the record my mum’s bicycle lamp got stolen around 1987. She went into the local shop for a paper, came out, and it had been snatched. Then there was the house next door to us which got burgled twice, and my brother’s car stereo that got nicked outside the house by smashing the car window during the night. These were all in a small semi-rural village under the “glory years” of Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Major.
    The impression I get of the tories at the is that they hear people bitching about cyclists, burglars etc. and develop “string them up” policies to appeal to these elements, without any genuine belief in their proposals. Its like they will say anything to get into power.
    I watched an episode of “The Simpsons” recently where Mr. Burns goes into politics with the secret intention of boycotting laws that prevented his powerplant being shut down…

  19. I don’t see how you can possibly defend the use of a mobile phone whilst on a bicycle, Boris. I’ve even seen cyclists riding along busy London thoroughfares during rush-hour, wearing personal stereos and therefore oblivious to both the sirens of the emergency services and my ritual cursing and aggressive horn-tooting. The havoc they cause is undeniable and they must be held accountable somehow.
    The law should require all bikes to have a bell as well. And a basket on the front.

  20. Wifey + Nicey – we got your nicecupofteaandasitdown Book! Yay! and what a cool mug too

    I really liked reading about the history of words associated with biscuits/cookies etc -…and you are up-to-the-minute: there’s even a Kimberley biscuit! (not sure if David Blunkett would approve)

  21. You know I’ve always had the craving to ride a push bike in a large suit of plate armour! Would this be legal under these new laws?

  22. Thanks Melissa – To be honest, the Kimberley is not to everyones taste – they can taste a bit ‘stale’. The chocolate covered ones are best.
    Perhaps I can send you some (you have to get them in Ireland). You can get Boris to offer them around the house! Even to Mr Blunkett – although I’m sure he must’ve tasted Kimberley’s many times…

  23. I too have completed 72 virgins which, Melissa will know, is a very happy achievement for me and the time it took is no reflection on the author. I must say it’s put me off cocktail sausages for life – we won’t be having those with the turkey this year!

    Question: if the Tories are the party of freedom Boris, then why are the members being whipped into following Howards misplaced logic in supporting I.D. cards?

    Answer that one without getting your wrist slapped by Howard again if you can Boris. I have faith in you, you’re a good fiction writer!

  24. Good-oh Jacqueline, Boris would be proud of you – no mean feat – well done!

    Go! have the greatest of Christmases

  25. Yay – I’ve just got a copy of Boris’ book. It’s a lot bigger than it looked on amazon, and I really want to get down and read it, but I have far too mauch to do!! Aarghh. WIll have to wait ’til later!

  26. You Brits who cycle while talking on a cell phone must be even loonier than our Yank motorists who yack away on their phones. In this case, government has to intercede when common sense has failed. Here in the States, several state governments have legislated against the use of hand-held cell phones by drivers. Not that the law is universally observed or enforced, but it provides the cops with something with which to charge a driver who looks otherwise suspicious.

  27. I think it’s funny they Danlite people fussing about the spelling of Danlite here when they’ve misspelled Johnson twice on the Danlite website 😀 You should ask for a little quid pro quo.

    I’ve started reading the Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down RSS feed and it makes me (yea, verily, forces me) eat a great many more biscuits than I would have otherwise, alas. In revenge I plan to post them some Nilla Wafers and Pecan Sandies next time I go to visit my parents.

  28. The Danlite website doesn’t say whether or not it’s actually legal – a lot of LED lights, while much brighter than ordinary ones, are, perversly, illegal to use.
    Can Boris get the government to sort out the legality of LED lights on bikes, as the law, in this case, is a bit of an arse!

  29. Wifey,

    saw your book on a shelf in Waitrose today! and snapped it up for a friend who could really do with a nice cup of tea and sit down – it must be doing well…

  30. Huzzah!
    I’ve finished the first bit of 72 virgins. I can see it as a brilliantly funny christmas type film. Must try and finish it later!

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