If We Talked About All Road Users The Way We Talk About Cyclists


After cycling deaths and serious accidents it’s common to see people talking about red light jumping, pavement cycling and so on – and yet this rarely happens when pedestrians get knocked over or there are multiple car pile-ups. So we wondered: what would it be like if we talked about everyone else the way we talk about cyclists?

“I know the woman crossing the road was in my blind spot, but if she’d been wearing a high-vis jacket I’d have seen her – in my blind spot.”

“I nearly got knocked over by a bus on a zebra crossing once. It was a dual carriageway, the van in the lane nearest to me had stopped but this bus went sailing through and missed me by inches*. I now hate all buses and think they shouldn’t be allowed on the road.”

“If the pushchair didn’t have lights on then I’m not surprised it got hit. What? Yes, even at 2pm.”

“I’ve got no sympathy for the little old man knocked down at the crossing. If he wasn’t wearing a helmet he should take what’s coming to him.”

“I see buses jump red lights all the time. Just look on YouTube, there’s loads of videos. Therefore all bus accidents are the fault of buses jumping red lights. I bet all the buses that hit people in London (one a day) jumped red lights. Bastards.”

“1.2m drivers don’t have insurance. I think police should wait at big junctions to check all drivers’ documents.”

“Did you hear about that horrific accident? Where the car ended up under a low loader and the driver was killed? Bet he was texting when it happened.”

“Bloody mobility scooter on the pavement! Get on the road where you’re not a danger to pedestrians!”

“Bloody mobility scooter on the road! Get on the pavement where you’re not a danger to motorists!”

It’s almost as if road users are individuals who sometimes do stupid things but can’t be held representative of that entire transport mode. Perhaps we should just concentrate on making infrastructure safer for all vulnerable road users.

* This actually happened

Photo by Homemade from the Londonist Flickr pool

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Article by Rachel Holdsworth | 2,689 Articles | View Profile | Twitter

  • Lucy

    In yesterday’s myriad blog posts about cycling in London, this interview with Ian Walker really made sense to me: http://www.thepsychologist.org.uk/archive/archive_home.cfm/volumeID_25-editionID_217-ArticleID_2136-getfile_getPDF/thepsychologist%5C0912walk.pdf

    • http://londonist.com/ Rachel Holdsworth

      That’s a fascinating read Lucy, thanks for sharing!

  • Loz

    Cyclists are much worse at abusing traffic rules than cars. And this is coming from a cyclist.

    • Hester

      Nope. Majority of drivers speed, large numbers use phones at the wheel. Both far more dangerous than anything the average cyclist is capable of doing. Even illegal parking is a danger to others through causing cyclists to pull into carriageway and obstructing sight-lines. Speeding up on sight of a yellow light, and consequent red-light running, is rampant. Driver misbehaviour has been entirely normalised. So normalised people don’t even see it, let alone think it’s a bad, and dangerous, thing.

    • Mark Walley

      They break different rules sure, but I’m not sure one’s worse than others. Some Cyclists certainly seem to jump lights more, but cars seem to run through lights that have already turned red. Cyclists fail to have lights much more than cars, but cars fail to indicate much more often than cyclists. Heck, minicabs seem to have their indicators removed by default. It turns out every road user can be selfish, stupid, and negligent as well as being conscientious and capable.

    • Katherine

      Where are your statistics?

    • Luigi

      What is the problem of jumping red lights?
      If by doing this the jumper risks their own lives or put themselves or someone else in danger, al right, I agree. The abuse is bad.

      However, if the criticism is just for the sake of the rules, then what is the point? How is this criticism contributing to improve safety? How is it contributing to save lives and prevent injuries?

      Actually, sometimes, jumping a traffic light puts a cyclist in safer position. Other times, or maybe the same ones, it alleviates the load on drivers that would otherwise have to stay behind the bike when lights get green.

      In any case, bikes have a flexibility that cars don’t. With a bike you can do things that you can’t with a car and consequently trying to apply exactly the same rules for both is not sensible. That’s why there is generally more tolerance towards bikes than than towards cars for breaking some of the traffic rules.

      • Nelson

        Lungi, you sound like the kind of asshole who deserves to get hit.

        • Nelson


        • harrison_peter

          I disagree with Luigi too, but you’ve just pretty much just confirmed the stereotype described in the article. How can you think anyone deserves to be hit by a car? Surely educating him is more useful than… you know… running him over.

          • B.Jay

            harrison, you’re right. However, rules change, you know. What is imposed today might be considered not proper in future. Right now we are trying to find a way to stop all these deaths. We do not know details of them, so it is pointless to mix the happenings with rules. We do not know if any of these deaths was due to rules breaking. However, Luigi’s got a point in that sometimes breaking a rule can be a life saver. Who knows, if these guys had jumped a red light maybe they would be alive now…..and no, I do not advocate a complete disregard for the rules. But sometimes we have to challenge them and change them, which actually is what is in cause now as a solution is sought for this terrible problem.

          • Stevie_D

            There are some cyclists who DO deserve to be hit by a car. Only a tiny, tiny proportion, but those who ride recklessly and dangerously, particularly through pedestrian areas or ignoring lights, crossings and other rules of the road. Where they wilfully and deliberately put other people at risk, then yes they deserve whatever’s coming to them, and when the almost inevitable happens and they completely misjudge it, the biggest victim will be the driver who carries it on his conscience.

        • Luigi

          lol, obviously, by the way you argue the asshole is you. You are unable to discuss a serious matter. In any case, what you are saying is that the people killed deserved it…. Maybe they were just the ones who used to follow all the rules … So, your business is rules, not safety. Cyclists who do not follow the rules have nothing to do with the killings. Well, who is the asshole, after all?

          • george

            I don’t cycle, I have no cars, I only walk and use public transports. Every day (EVERY DAY) I have some probability some cyclist crash onto me because it is just an idiot (why do you think red light exist? why do you think a sidewalk is called sidewalk?)
            try to go around central London during rush hours on the upper floor of a bus and at every traffic light you wonder how it’s possible that such few cyclists die. They simply do whatever they want not caring at all for anyone.
            In the end, as a pedestrian only, my life in London would be much much better with no cyclists on the road. There should be a driving licence for cyclists and every bike should have a license plate.

          • Lopekal

            Blah blah blah…. Spout every stereotype and back it with anecdotal evidence and confirmed prejudice.

          • Seriousman

            lol, evereday you have some probability of something bad happening to you, hahaha, man, that was great, hahaha
            Oh boy, I can’t stop laughing, hahahaha

          • Seriousman

            oops, everyday

          • Phil

            Whenever I go to London, I am on foot and suffer the same frustrations you do. But I know as a pedestrian I am still 280 times more likely to be killed by a vehicle than a bicycle. Licensing will not make any difference I’m afraid.

            I don’t oppose cycle licensing, but licensing of cars and their drivers don’t prevent drivers killing thousands each year in the UK. Nor does it prevent 62 hit and runs in London alone where the drivers often go uncaught.

            Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the concept of licensing, but I don’t think it is the quick fix people might think it is. I mean, if a cyclist chooses to flee the scene of a collision, how would they be tracked? They can hardly carry a 20″ x 4″ number plate like a car does or a 9″ x 7″ plate like a motorcycle does, and even then would only be any good if there were cameras everywhere capable of capturing the incident. As I say, it’s not because I oppose licensing because if such a crackdown should be viable and make transport safer, it would work in my favour as well as yours.

            The argument I will always use, is that “what works for the Dutch and the Danish, should work for us” (which has nothing to do with terrain but more to do with compulsory cycle proficiency in schools etc). I believe the question we should be asking, is “why doesn’t it work here?”

            I believe the reason it doesn’t work here is because some people in this country seem to adopt a self-focused, pompous and non-harmonious manner. And this attitude manifests itself in all transport types with the most vulnerable paying the price.

            The only way it is going to change, is if our government force it upon us like the Dutch did as a result of the Kindermoord campaign back in the early 70s. The trouble is, the UK has another 40 years of institutionalisation to battle with.

          • Lee Fisher

            The reason that it doesn’t work here can be viewed here –> http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2008/09/three-types-of-safety.html

          • Mark E

            george. i understand what you are saying. but as a cyclist i can tell you my life would be much much better if there werent pedestrians blindly walking out in front of me as i ride down the centre of the road

            oh and if you want to license cycling then im going to demand motorists are retested every 5 years. its normal for heavy machinery and construction sites, so why not cars too!!!

        • Lopekal

          You sound like the kind of asshole who deserves to be raped.

          See how fucking awful that sounds….

        • Redmond Jennings

          Luigi is misinformed. Nelson is an asshole.

        • Seb K

          I will be reporting you to the police soon with your ISP number if you make another comment like that you loser.

      • Stevie_D

        There are quite a few problems with cyclists jumping red lights.
        • It brings cyclists into disrepute, and drivers use it as an excuse for maltreating other cyclists. That isn’t fair on the majority of cyclists who DO obey the rules.
        • Cyclists who jump red lights often don’t consider pedestrians who might be crossing the road.
        • Some cyclists cause other traffic to take avoiding action when they jump red lights.

        No, I don’t think that cyclists jumping red lights is as bad as car drivers doing the same thing, and there are some occasions when it causes no-one any harm … but all too often that isn’t the case, and if we normalise cyclists jumping red lights then the irresponsible cyclists will think that means it’s OK to jump ALL red lights, without thinking more carefully about how appropriate it may be in each individual situation.

    • Phil

      I disagree. I appreciate you see a lot more cyclists jumping lights than cars, but that’s because they can get away with it and not because they are less sensible than car drivers. There are many more idiots in cars but they often go unnoticed because they are stuck in a queue of traffic.

      I wonder how many cars speed when there’s no speed cameras, the number 1 cause of child fatalities thought the country?

    • Mark E

      loz i think you are wrong, i’d guess that the MAJORITY of drivers have gone over the speed limit, and some of them do this every time they drive.
      also, squeezing through when the light has just turned red is VERY common, as is parking on double yellow lines and in the bike lane (very dangerous!).
      even doing u-turns on some roads is specifically banned (because it is dangerous!) and therefore illegal

      i’d agree with hester too – soooo many drivers use phone at the wheel while moving!

    • Dr C.

      Are you shitting me? Close to 100% of drivers break at least one traffic law on almost 100% of trips. Some manage to break the rules when they’re not even in the car by cheerfully abandoning them with little regard for the rules which apply to parking.

    • Redmond Jennings

      I don’t expect data but this guy is too lazy to even throw in an anecdote.

  • JonieUnderwood

    I think that Cyclist is very useful in the road and create a good environment in the road.


  • Adam

    I started cycling to work 8 months ago and, whilst I love
    the freedom of my new commute, I’ve been both shocked and frustrated by the
    actions of my fellow cyclists.

    There is a very visible minority of cyclist who simply do
    not follow the basic rules of the road. I don’t really care if they want to put
    themselves in potential danger, but what honestly frustrates me is that the
    rest of us (cyclists) lose the moral high ground when a driver or pedestrian does
    something wrong to us. You can admit it or not but we all see ourselves and each
    other as part of a ‘tribe’ – there’s no such thing as one cyclist or a single
    taxi driver. We are all seen as a collective and judged by the actions of our
    fellow ‘tribe members’. In my opinion, the bad reputation cyclists have earn
    (as highlighted by this article) is not unjustified and, as much as I don’t
    like it, I know that we are all painted with the same brush.

    Making infrastructure safer for all vulnerable road users is
    a good start but, alongside that, the Met must crack down on infractions by
    cyclists. Zero tolerance approach. Hand out 1000 tickets for jumping red lights
    and I’m guessing we will see a marked change in the way cyclists move through
    the city.

    • Adams

      You liar, you are not a cyclist!
      And read the article again, you did not get it!!! Once a taxi driver put me in danger, he was really a criminal, then what? Usually I do not have problems with taxi drivers. So, if one of them is a criminal, all the other ones are criminals?
      In any case, one thing is if a cyclist does something that put you or anyone else in danger and a different thing is it they are breaking any rule.
      I cycle everyday and I do not have complaints against the cyclists I meet on my way. Only once or twice I saw a cyclist doing something dangerous to other people (like cycling on the pavement at high speed) and they were kids, in need of education and not prosecution.

      • Adam

        Against my better judgement, I’m going to engage in an internet comments debate. However, there’s something about your overuse of exclamation points and the fact that your opening gambit was to call me a liar that tells me that this is a no win situation…!!!!!!

        First, I understood the article, however, I didn’t agree with it. Like it or not we all tend to group people together and it’s often the visible outliers from within a group which skews our opinions of the whole. You can’t tell me that you’ve never come back from a holiday and said “Wow, they drive like maniacs in [name of country]!!!” You don’t mean that every person in the country is a maniac but you did experience some driving that was surprising and more dangerous than you are used to. It’s the same with many people’s perceptions of cyclists. We’re clearly not all bad but there is a very visibly minority who are not following the rules and giving the rest of us a bad name. I could wait at a red light with nine other cyclists but the pedestrians are going to remember that one cyclist who cut through them against the red light. This is what shapes the debate after a cyclist is killed – just as we’re seeing now.

        Second, many cyclists don’t realise, or want to admit, that their actions can be dangerous to people other than themselves. You don’t have to be mowing someone down on the pavement to be doing something dangerous. Jumping red lights has consequences. It can make other road users second guess themselves (even if they’re doing the right thing) and this can cause unnecessary/unpredictable manoeuvres. It can also lead to distrust and neglect of cyclist’s actions in the future.

        Yes, education is important and so is improving infrastructure safety, but most of the cyclists I see breaking the rules are adults and should know better. A bad cyclist knows when he/she runs through a red light and better education is not going to change their attitude. I stand by my statement that we need real financial penalties for those who break the rules. I honestly think it will improve things by and, after all, it’s not like there’s even a good reason to run through a red light. It’s just selfish and lazy because you don’t want to lose the momentum you’ve built up.

        • Kevin

          Your comments didn’t come across as those of a cyclist, that’s why you were called a liar. Claiming to have understood the article but disagree with it either suggests that you didn’t actually understand the article (it’s suggesting that victim blaming is the wrong way to approach this debate), or you actually think that it’s ok to victim blame. In which case I’d hate to see you on a jury in a rape case.

          Your other points about there being knock-on effects of red light jumping etc contain some truth, however they are hugely exaggerated. Of all the cyclists I see jump red lights (and there really aren’t many), they proceed very slowly and carefully, looking both ways continuously, allowing pedestrians to pass first and usually only when they know there is no traffic coming anyway because there’s a filter light on for some of the other cars or something. The occasional truly reckless cyclist is something of an anomaly, and I fully support these people being dealt with by the police as I would a reckless driver.

          I’ve been reading a lot of these sorts of articles lately and thinking about my 5 mile each way commute on my bike each day more and it makes me want to cry reading some of these attitudes. Most of the drivers that cut me up/open their door on top of me/tailgate me literally several times a day aren’t doing so because they hate cyclists or because they want to kill me. They do it because they don’t understand that anything they do around a cyclist that they perceive as normal is in fact endangering the life of a vulnerable road user. Strict liability is the law in most other European countries, yet in Britain we still debate “cyclists running red lights”. Well guess what, treat cyclists with respect- don’t do something which could kill them and magically you’ll find they start behaving better. It’s not rocket science. I’m a better driver since I started cycling 8 years ago. Maybe all drivers should give cycling in the rush hour a bash and see how they like being the vulnerable road user.

      • Curious

        Doing something dangerous “like cycling on the pavement at hight speed”. errm what’s the speed got to do with it? It’s been illegal to cycle on the pavement (at ANY speed high or low) for the last 178 years since 1835 when the law was passed! (Details can be found in the current edition of the Highway Code on page 22, rule 64.)

    • EV

      I completely agree. There should be 0 tolerance for cyclists! Let me just hand myself in for jumping lights to get as far as I can from cars whose drivers just cut me off to reach it (a red light, you know, not like they were going anywhere) with one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding their mobiles. While I’m there I’ll also hand myself in for jumping on an empty pavement so I can keep going when overtaking queuing cars would mean getting into the wrong side of the road, because the right side is taken up by said queuing cars and those parked on red or double yellow lines. I’m sure if I really think hard about it I can hand myself in for a lot more.

  • Candy

    Hallelujah! At last an article that doesn’t say “all cyclists are wrong” or “all cyclists are right” Drivers, cyclists and pedestrians are all individuals with unique personalities. Some are going to be lovely, some are going to be nasty, some are clever and some are stupid, however they are getting around.

    • Adams

      Candy, you are really sweet 😉

  • GrrlOnaBike

    Yesterday, I was talking to a colelague of mine about the cyclists death this week in London. First reaction was “yeah, but I see cyclists doing stupid things”. I mentioned then that I have heard in BBC News that EVERY DAY in London a pedestrian gets hit by a bus. Reaction: “that’s just reckless”.
    You do the math….

  • Nick woodley

    pay tax and then you have a right to complain I pay my road tax and keep to the high way code they do not
    ps I am a biker and have been since 1976
    most cyclists are sensible it is just the few that need not to get in my way
    blessed be all

    • Pauly_j

      Car tax has nothing to do with road tax, you moron. Get a clue before spouting rubbish like that. Roads are funded by income and council tax. Car tax is to do with emissions, of which cyclists create none.

      • Curious

        Just to point out that when exercising (especially cycling) you respire more and spew out more Carbon Dioxide (than when resting) – the [local] emission of which is now used to decide how much excise duty is paid for the ownership of a vehicle. So it is technically incorrect to say that cyclists create none [of the emissions for which the tax is now paid].

    • Sally

      There is no such thing as road tax. There is emissions tax, which is paid by vehicles that produce emissions. Bikes don’t.

    • http://opusthepoet.wordpress.com/ Opus the Poet

      How can you pay a tax that hasn’t existed since 1937? I’m a Yank living in TX and even I know that, how come you don’t?

    • Mark E

      oh my god not this bloody debate again! road tax DOESNT EXIST , if you want cyclists to have a tax disc cyclists do not emit emissions so are exempt from paying anyway!

  • Guest

    Mass Cycle Die-In Friday Nov 29th 5pm-6.30pm


  • Donnachadh McCarthy

    Mass Cycle Die-In/Vigil/Rally Friday 29th Nov 5pm-6.30pm
    TfL HQ Blackfriars Road, London


  • Ross Maidment

    I’ve been in London as a cyclist for 3 months now, I also drive a van and catch the bus regularly. I can tell you that it is not a case of cyclists or bus drivers or motorists being dangerous, it is EVERYONE. I have seen absolutely reckless behaviour from every type here. The truth is that London is full of awful road users who simply don’t care about the safety of others. If you want to change this, then just pay more attention, obey the rules and take some responsibility I can assure you, It takes very little effort!

    • Will Won’t

      Totally! I have good and bad days riding a bike, driving a car or even catching the tube – it’s possible to be an angel or an asshole with any mode of transport: When I was younger, I got points and fines for speeding and for talking on my phone, used to jump red lights on my bike and if in a rush, push through the closing doors on the tube (difficult to be an ass on a bus…).
      Now though, I drive (a bit) slower, trackstand at the lights, and am rarely in a rush on the tube!

  • Penfold

    Everyone is missing the point here, it’s not about Drivers being wrong or Cyclists being wrong……..Its entirely about a lack of education. Basic road safety is no longer taught in schools, many parents are just as lacking in teaching the children. That then moves on, anyone can jump on a bicycle without any form of training or guidance other than the advice given at the bike shop! I know riding a bike is not hard, but doing so in the environment of a big city does require more than the basic skills in my honest opinion. An awareness of all other road users is essential, stop listening to earsplittingly loud music in the car or van, stop listening to the ipod on the bike……look around, be aware of what the road markings or signs mean….everyone on the road shares the responsibility, I’m not singling out one group.

    I’m sadened by the death toll on our roads, those people are someones son/daughter/father/mother……the life of the driver has also been ruined. But, banning vehicles or introducing draconian legislation is not the way forward, Education is!!!!

    • Paul Brocklehurst

      and how many drivers on the road have had education around how to be aware of cyclists I wonder….

  • guest

    not a brilliant article

  • malkovichmalkovich

    Some important context:

    UK roads have been/are built almost exclusively for motorists.

    • Phil

      To a degree yes, but most of the residential streets which are now clogged up with parked cars existed long before the current motoring boom. These roads are where children once played in safety. No one in their right mind could ever let a child play in the average street these days.
      To clarify my point; many roads actually existed long before the masses took to the motor car. But I do understand your point.

  • Phil

    I am all for clamping down on people cycling dangerously but the one-sided attitude and stereotyping in this country is horrifyingly worrying.
    I indeed advocate a ban on all irresponsible cyclists; on the condition we also ban all irresponsible drivers. Then according to DfT and RoSPA, for every life saved for removing dangerous cyclists from the road, we can save hundreds by removing dangerous drivers.

  • Nick Owen

    I think the fact that the press has drawn so much attention to what is obviously a worthy story does provoke such a response to cyclists behaviour. I am a cyclist and a driver. I see so many cyclists who don’t have lights or visibility jackets that jump red lights. They weave in traffic and don’t look at junctions. Many have headphones on and hoodies. I also see bad drivers but anyone who forgets to turn their lights on will get flashed by other drivers. Bus drivers tend to be my friends on my cycle ride of 15 miles home. Most of them are well aware of cyclists. The bus lanes through Lewisham are probably the safest place to be! I am more wary about Motorbikes as they tend to come up to you very quickly. Big trucks, well you just have to be very aware and not to take risks. It is easy to criticise bad drivers and cyclists alike but on balance I feel that a lot of cyclists take too many risks compared to other drivers and on a bike you are vulnerable to the mistakes of others. In a car if you make a mistake your chances of being killed or killing are less than being killed on a bike! I care immensely about the safety of others but all I can do is shake my head at some of the stupidity I see on the roads, On the converse what happens in the UK is nothing compared to what happens in China/India and other countries. We still have one of the best road safety records anywhere. Boris has done a lot for cyclists and if you do think you are safe on a blue line then you must be crazy!

  • Martin Cassini

    Special pleading on behalf of special interest groups makes no sense. We’re all in this together, or could be. In pursuing of traffic system reform, I have always referred to all road-users. This is my take on the recent spike in cycling deaths (if it lets me post a link): http://www.equalitystreets.com/?p=2309

  • Seb K

    All road users (incl pedestrians) are potential a**holes and in London there are plenty.
    Income tax pays for road maintenance. Road tax is vehicle excise duty and is not just for emissions, it is mainly for the destruction of the roads that cars/lorries etc contribute to due to the shear weight they are (also the torque from their wheels on the road surface) and I am not paying for THAT!!!
    As a cyclist I am starting to loathe London (and Boris) and have increased my weight training which I urge other cyclists to do so (there is no better feeling that throwing a driver over their car although the gasps from on lookers is a bit annoying but you get used to it).
    IF you get hit by a car you will not die so stop bloody exaggerating. Just be strong and proud you are using a more sensible vehicle.