Intimidation: why our roads need to change

Some police forces, like West Midlands Police, are attempting to tackle intimidatory behaviour on the UK's roads
In this blog, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG) and MP Brentford and Isleworth, Ruth Cadbury, shares her concerns about intimidatory behaviour on our roads, and what the APPCG plans to do about it.

Although it’s healthy and largely a safe activity, the general perception of cycling in the UK is that it is unsafe, and could be much safer. While risks per mile are several times higher than in The Netherlands, per billion miles travelled in the UK, it's no more dangerous than walking.

But still, many British people feel that cycling is far too dangerous. Like others, I’ve been told I’m ‘brave’ to cycle. While in the past decision-makers may have dismissed this fear, or tried to talk people out of it, increasingly we recognise scary experiences are real and are the number one reason why more people aren’t cycling more often.

The Near Miss Project helped show the scale of the problem. While injuries are rare, regular cyclists can experience incidents that they describe as ‘very scary’ every week.

The project’s Year Two findings, shared at a Parliamentary event this year, confirm such experiences are regular. Near misses with larger motor vehicles like HGVs and buses are particularly scary, as are ‘deliberate’ near misses. For example, ‘punishment passes’ where a driver swerves towards a cyclist, or verbal and even physical aggression like the incident recently captured on camera by BBC news presenter Jeremy Vine. While Vine’s celebrity helped publicise the incident, the Near Miss Project suggests such experiences are far from rare. But they’re rarely recorded or acted upon.

Do such events put people off cycling? I was worried to see new cyclists report twice as many ‘very scary’ incidents as the more experienced. Maybe they’ll ‘harden up’ and get used to harassment. But our general failure to increase cycling suggests many new cyclists just stop cycling altogether.

I don’t find it acceptable that people just trying to get to work or to the shops are so regularly intimidated. And people cycling are doing something that according to policy and research is the right thing. Cycling is a safe transport mode, not just for the cyclist but also other road users: you’re much less likely to kill someone else than if you’re driving a motor vehicle. You’re not causing air or noise pollution. And you’re keeping yourself healthy.

But not enough is being done to protect cyclists – from injury (which is rising), and from intimidation.

Our vision is a Britain where jumping on a bike is as normal as putting your shoes on to go out of the door.

Ruth Cadbury, MP 

What can we do? People in the Near Miss Project often said protected infrastructure would help, by separating them from motor vehicles. The APPCG has called for substantial increases in spending on cycling, including more and better cycle infrastructure. There’s a long way to go on this. Only 3% of Transport for London’s roads have protected tracks, and most of the country lags far behind London.

We also need to improve driver behaviour and the way the criminal justice system deals with motoring offences. It wasn’t that long ago that drink-driving was common and socially accepted in the UK. I think we need a similar attitude change when it comes to the treatment of vulnerable road users like cyclists.

There’s some promising initiatives taken by some police services already, including allowing road users to report near misses, and using cycling officers to target drivers who pass cyclists too closely. I’d like to see police services across the country implementing such initiatives; currently it’s a postcode lottery. Planners should see near misses as a prompt to improve infrastructure – we should be intervening before people get killed or injured.

We in the APPCG are planning an inquiry into road justice for cyclists in early 2017. We’ll be producing recommendations for action and will be covering all aspects of the criminal justice system. Our vision is a Britain where jumping on a bike is as normal as putting your shoes on to go out of the door. Reducing injury and intimidation are a crucial part of getting there.

Ruth Cadbury is MP for Brentford and Isleworth, the Labour Party Shadow Housing Minister and was the Co-Chair of the APPCG.