Cycling too dangerous? Our justice system shares the blame

So 70% of parents think cycling in London is too dangerous. With this week’s acquittal of Aslan Khayardi, you can see why. Apparently it is acceptable for a driver to

  • break the 30 mph speed limit by over 20mph on a road “shared” with vulnerable road users, while
  • overtaking a cyclist at less than half the recommended safe passing distance.

Who wants to cycle on roads with such drivers? Not the MPS Police Commissioner who thinks it is too dangerous to cycle in London. Not Sadiq Khan who has said he does not allow his daughters to cycle.

And our justice system is to blame for its tolerance of speeding and road danger. Martin Porter, the cycling silk, was forced to make a private prosecution, after the police refused to act even though they had video evidence from a cycle-mounted camera. The footage was analysed by an independent expert collision investigator. The expert’s conclusion, unchallenged in court, was that the driver was doing at least 51-57mph and the overtaking distance 60-80 cm.

Police guidelines recommend court prosecution for drivers going 20mph over a 30mph speed limit. For drivers breaking the 30 mph speed limit by less than 20mph, drivers can be given a Fixed Penalty Notice. But when a driver is going 20mph or more above the 30mph limit, this warrants a court prosecution.

Not just too fast but also too close

It was not just the speed in the vicinity of vulnerable road users that was dangerous—but that should have been enough, given the CPS charging standards for Dangerous Driving that refers to

  • speed, which is particularly inappropriate for the prevailing road or traffic conditions;
  • failing to have a proper and safe regard for vulnerable road users such as cyclists ….

DfT guidelines advocate 1.5 m safe overtaking distance for drivers in 30mph roads. Passing at around half this distance while approaching twice this speed could in no circumstances be considered a display of “proper and safe regard”.

 One driver a day is convicted of Dangerous Driving in London

Dangerous driving prosecutions are very rare, as we highlighted in our testimony to the London Police and Crime committee in their recent session on road crime in London.

The failure of the Police to take action not only meant that Martin was forced to take up a private prosecution but that this was used against the case in court. The driver’s defence counsel made out that the private prosecution represented a private vendetta and that the failure of the Police to bring a case was proof that there was no real case to answer. The jury concluded that the driver was guilty of neither dangerous driving, nor the lesser offence of careless driving, which was an option available to them.

This needs to change. Sadiq Khan’s manifesto, just launched, supports making the roads safer for cycling and walking. As his manifesto acknowledges, active travel is not just a transport issue but also an environmental and public health matter, and understandably so. What isn’t understandable is the lack of appreciation that it is also a justice issue. Greater traffic law enforcement and justice is needed, if cycling is really to become the norm.

RoadPeace called for this in our submission to his consultation on his manifesto and also in our own London Mayoral Manifesto.

We will continue to call for it, as we do not believe our cycling revolution will happen until we have justice on our roads.