Conflict on the road is exaggerated in BBC1's film
Conflict on the road is exaggerated in BBC1's film

BBC1 programme manufactures conflict between road users

Does the programme - War on Britain's Roads - present an unbalanced and sensationalist view of conditions on the road network? If you think so, complain to the BBC setting out the ways in which you feel it has misrepresented the situation.

Last year Leopard Films - an independent film company - made contact with CTC asking for advice for a programme they were pitching to the BBC on the road safety of cyclists.

Roger Geffen has explained in detail how CTC provided them with information to support the film and sets out its worst aspects.

Unfortunately, what started as an earnest attempt to explore road safety issues became dominated by an 'exciting' narrative of danger and increasing conflict between road users, illustrated by helmet camera  footage of crashes, near misses and abuse encountered by cyclists. Some of this is very unpleasant to watch and presents cycling as being an extremely hazardous activity - a myth that CTC has long sought to puncture.

Nowhere is it explained that cyclists are usually the same people as motorists - for instance, 94% of CTC members have a drivers' licence (far higher than the average population). Ian Austin MP has written to the Director-General of the BBC to complain about the programme. CTC is also concerned that the film fails to point out that crashes are more likely to be blamed on drivers than cyclists.

Nine out of ten cyclists also drive cars, so it is not just dangerous and irresponsible to promote a culture of confrontation on the roads which will make cycling and driving both more dangerous, but also stupid and inaccurate."

Ian Austin MP, co-chair of the All Party Cycling Group

In some respects, however, the film is not without merit. There are several sections encouraging road users to watch and respond to helmet cam in retrospect, some of which show how different perspectives emerge and, perhaps, how greater understanding can be achieved.

One long, particularly powerful part deals with the story of Cynthia Barlow, whose daughter Alex McVitty was killed when a lorry driver overtook and turned in front of her while she was cycling to work. The programme shows how Cynthia courageously sought to hold the lorry company to account, and documents her astonishing legacy which has greatly increased the attention and effort made by some construction companies to improve the safety of their vehicles.

However the film's lasting impression is one of increasing conflict between cyclists and drivers. Almost the last sequence shows what appears to be helmet camera footage of couriers in London. In reality, this was taken directly from a commercial film maker, Lucas Brunelle, who filmed an illegal 'alleycat' race, specially organised for the purpose in London 6 years ago.

This shows very risky behaviour - putting both participants and other road users in danger - but hardly reflects normal, everyday cycling. By contrast, the BBC and other television stations broadcast endless footage taken from police cars chasing criminal motorists who are attempting to escape - however, in these cases it is never portrayed to be ordinary behaviour. 

CTC is urging viewers who have seen it and feel that the film has presented the situation in an unbalanced way to submit a complaint to the BBC. We suggest that complaints point out the ways in which their own guidelines have been breached such as "Section 3, Accuracy: Gathering Material" and "Section 3, Accuracy: Reporting Statistics and Risks".



Chris Peck