How Sam Boulton’s family helped change the highway code
I wish I could be in Leicester tonight, where hundreds of people will be cycling around Leicester to remember Sam Boulton. I’ve been to three of these before over the last five years, and know there’ll be music, laughter, pictures of Sam, and banners reminding people to use the Dutch Reach when they open their car door. And there’ll be some tears.
Avoidable collisions – not accidents
Sam was a young man with so much to look forward to and so much to give. An inspirational school teacher and talented artist, his life was tragically cut short on his 26th birthday as he cycled along London Road in Leicester. A taxi driver stopped on double yellow lines outside the train station to save time and avoid going into the station drop off area. His rear seat passenger then disembarked into the road rather than onto the pavement, opening her door without looking, knocking Sam off his bicycle and into the path of a passing van.
It’s an awful truth, but in my seven years working for Cycling UK, I’ve spoken to (and worked with) too many families who’s lives have been ripped apart following avoidable collisions on our roads .However raw and difficult those conversations have been, I’ve never ceased to be amazed by the courage and determination so many show to try to ensure that others don’t experience the same devastation. They often become the champions for change, and the most passionate campaigners in the mission to reduce danger on our roads.
Passionate and determined campaigners
If I started a list of people who come to mind it would be a long one, but I couldn’t write this article without mentioning Cynthia Barlow OBE, former Chair of RoadPeace, the national charity for road crash victims, who’s campaigned tirelessly for over 20 years to improve road safety and reduce road danger following the tragic death of her daughter Alex who was cycling to work in London. Or Kate Cairns, who founded the See me Save me campaign following the death of her sister Eilidh in another collision with a lorry as she was cycling to work.
I thought about Cynthia and Kate on Monday when I saw the facebook advert for tonight’s Ride for Sam B, and I thought about Sam’s family, who did so much to highlight why the changes introduced to the highway code earlier this year were needed.
When I first spoke to Sam’s dad Jeff, he’d just found out that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) weren’t intending to prosecute either the taxi driver or the passenger, despite it being an offence to 'open or cause or permit to be opened, any door of a vehicle on a road so as to injure or endanger any person’.
After Cycling UK assisted the family with representations they made to the CPS, both the passenger and driver were prosecuted, but Sam’s family had to go through multiple court hearings, as the driver denied the offence, was found guilty at trial, and then unsuccessfully appealed the verdict. Add to that the stress of an inquest hearing, and it’s simply incredible that the family found the time and resolve to support Cycling UK’s campaigning both for changes to the Highway Code and for a review of road traffic offences and penalties, but they did.
Why wouldn’t you
Back in 2018, Cycling UK ran our Cycle Safety Make it Simple campaign in response to the Department for Transport’s consultation on what would make cycling and walking safer. The strapline for that campaign was ‘why wouldn’t you’ – so why wouldn’t you introduce these simple changes.
I’d forgotten until recently that the first person who asked me that question, which led to us using that strapline, was Jeff Boulton. I was talking with him about the Dutch Reach, a simple change of habit to help you open your car door safely. Instead of using the hand closest to the door, it means reaching across to open the door with the hand furthest from the door - your left hand if you're the driver. This naturally turns your body towards the window, helping you spot approaching cyclists.
Jeff’s response was ‘why wouldn’t you do that’, and from then on, this quiet man who claimed to be no good at speaking in public (and who I’m sure never imagined he’d find himself speaking to media), became a passionate advocate for introducing the Dutch Reach into the Highway Code, and for wider changes to the code.
Supporting us repeatedly with media interviews, explaining how the tragedy that his family experienced could've been avoided, and wearing his heart on his sleeve throughout, Jeff’s contribution to securing the changes to the code was huge. Before he supported our campaign we had Ministers saying they weren’t going to tell people how to open a car door, and a few years later, they’ve done just that in the revised Highway Code, along with other changes including clearer guidance on overtaking cyclists.
Bikes, boombox, Bojangles and the best in people
When I’ve previously been to Leicester for the memorial ride for Sam, it’s been a privilege to ride around Leicester, chatting to Sam’s family to the sound of Mr Bojangles from the cargo bike boombox. If you wanted to see the best in people from people riding bikes, a good place to start would be at the Curve Theatre in Leicester tonight.
I’m tempted to say that some in the media, who in recent weeks have been leading with stories about killer cyclists, calling cyclists rats, and trying to provoke conflict on our roads, could learn something from the celebration of riding a bike and the support for Sam’s family that will shine through tonight. But that’s not the narrative they’re after.
So, best wishes to everyone riding around Leicester tonight, the Boulton family, and all the other families who’ve worked so hard to turn disaster into something positive for someone else, by campaigning to make our roads safer. It’s a shame that more in the media aren’t telling that story, but rest assured that there’s many of us who value and hugely appreciate the work you’ve done, and the difference you make.