Cycle safety: the bigger picture

Matt Briggs, widower of Kim Briggs and instigator of the Kim Briggs Campaign, recently commented “Not entirely sure why I am expected to fight other people’s causes? My own causes are exhausting enough”.

Mrs Briggs died in February 2016, as a result of injuries sustained in a collision with Charlie Alliston, as he cycled along Old Street, London. Alliston was riding a fixed wheel bike with no front brake and travelling at 18mph. Traffic lights were green in his favour when Mrs Briggs went to cross in front of him. When he swerved to avoid her, she apparently stepped back into his path.

The case has caused controversy and stirred up strong feelings. Alliston was a tabloid editors’ dream. Given the amount of hatred that gets directed at people on bikes, here was someone the press could really get their teeth into. Riding a bike designed for speed, rendered illegal on UK roads by the lack of a front brake, Alliston sounded off on social media, blaming Mrs Briggs for stepping out in front of him and showing little or no apparent remorse for his actions. He was a stereotypically reckless, arrogant young man who seemed to prove every criticism ever thrown at people who cycle. For anyone who does happen to get around on a bicycle, Alliston is a nightmare.

Alliston was found guilty of causing bodily harm by wanton and furious driving and sentenced to 18 months in a young offenders institution. He was cleared of manslaughter. Mr Briggs is now campaigning for a change in the law so that death and serious injury cycling offences are included in the Road Traffic Act.

Mr Briggs has also been tweeting to bicycle manufacturers and sellers, asking them to remove photos of any bikes without front brakes. Such bikes are legal for use on the track, but not on public highways. In addition, bikes are often sold without certain components in the expectation that the buyer will fit appropriate components of their choosing. Bikes are routinely sold without lights, yet these are a legal requirement at night. Many are also sold without pedals as users will want to choose their own and whilst this isn’t a legal requirement, it is obvious that the bikes are not useable without them (and they should have reflectors on the pedals).  Many retailers seem to have been receptive to Mr Briggs’ requests and have removed the photographs to which he has objected.

So what are these other causes which Briggs is expected to fight? I can only speak for myself and it is entirely possible that many other people are contacting him with several requests. For me, I don’t expect him to fight causes other than his own. I would however hope that he places his own cause within a greater context – that of road safety in general.

If we consider what happened to Kim Briggs, how could it have been prevented? Well she might have waited until traffic had stopped before she crossed. Alliston might have been travelling slower. He might have had a front brake and stopped more quickly. But these are immediate circumstances which might have been different. They are not an examination of deeper issues.

Old Street is not friendly towards vulnerable road users, either cyclists or pedestrians. It consists of up to four lanes of traffic, including a bus lane. It prioritises motor vehicles. If you’re on foot and in a hurry – tough, you have to wait for motorised traffic to stop. There is a cycle lane in parts and also a shared bus and bike lane, all of which means cyclists are squeezed out. There have been many occasions on busy roads when pedestrians have stepped out in front of me leaving me with no time to brake. Your choices on a bike are limited. You don’t want to hit anybody, you don’t want to go over the handlebars and you don’t want to land in front of a bus or swerve into the path of a lorry. Vulnerable road users do not have space on Old Street, or in the vast majority of the UK’s urban environments.

To survive on the roads, cyclists adopt, and it is recommended that they adopt, a kind of vehicular cycling in which you move at around the same speed as motorised traffic and prominently out into the lane. If the speed limit is 20mph this isn’t too difficult provided you’re fairly fit (although you’ll still get drivers speeding past you). On 30mph roads you need to be very fit.

As a method, vehicular cycling favours young men. You need to be bold, bordering on reckless; assertive bordering on aggressive; and have a confidence that borders on arrogance. All these are things that Wendy Joseph QC criticised Alliston for in her sentencing remarks. Whilst the environment does not excuse his behaviour, we do have to ask why we are creating and maintaining environments which encourage it. As a young man, Alliston belongs to the demographic most likely to be involved in road traffic collisions. We have designed an environment in which what should be faults actually become basic survival tools and in which only those most at risk of causing or being involved in collisions are likely even to try to survive.

So do I expect Matt Briggs to fight his campaign on a wider front? No, not really. His campaign looks to me like a very public expression of grief and although it is public, it is not something I would want to try to influence. What I would hope though is that in time he might come to realise the far greater problem on our roads. Because at the moment, Mr Briggs’ campaign is seized upon as a stick with which to beat anyone travelling by bike when what we should be working out is why our transport system brings us all into conflict.

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11 thoughts on “Cycle safety: the bigger picture

  1. I don’t imagine Mr Briggs will ever fight any other campaign than his current quest for …whatever it is he is seeking. I think it’s revenge, other people seem to prefer to say an outworking of his grief. I wish that someone he respects could advise him to grow a sense of perspective, but to me the real villains are the politicians, lawyers and journalists who support and publicise him.

    OK, maybe I should expect no better from journalists, although their total innumeracy does surprise me. But I really would have expected better from the other two camps. I suppose the best hope is that eventually hell either have revenge (have outworked enough grief if you prefer) and will shut up. Or even better be brave enough to admit he went to o far.

    1. “I don’t imagine Mr Briggs will ever fight any other campaign than his current quest for …whatever it is he is seeking.”

      If you listen to the interview he gave to Carlton Reid, he doesnt know what he wants. He wants laws governing cyclists despite that Alliston was convicted (I think he wants a very low burden of proof for any future ‘manslaughter’ cases). He wants retailers to sell bikes with front brakes yet, as Helen points out, completely ignores lights which are legally mandatory as well as pedals with reflectors on them.

      Whats very telling is that on Twitter he has blocked anyone that doesnt agree his very narrow view.

      He is just another in a long line of grieving relatives rolled out to obtain a reactionary change to legislation, or at the very least, isolate an outgroup even more.

  2. The real problem is one I have spent a lot of time arguing in my two latest posts on http://www.rdrf.org.uk . The issue is not that he should fight other peoples causes” – it is that he shouldn’t make the lot of pedestrians and cyclists even worse than it is at the moment.

    I think there is some doubt about the causation (as discussed by many such as Martin Porter) which I won’t go into . But what we should all (including Mr Briggs) be concerned about is how this untypical (0.6% of pedestrian deaths involve a bicyclist) case has got publicity and a custodial sentence when the vast majority of cases of pedestrian deaths do not. That is the issue – which he has not engaged with, despite well reasoned concerns being raised by ourselves and others like RoadPeace.

    On top of this he has claimed that he does not want to pick on cyclists. Yet that is exactly what has happened: myself and others from, for example CyclingUK, have ben subjected to loads of drivel about cyclists having to have number plates etc. in media interviews.

    I personally wouldn’t go into the road design issue. The main point – I think the only point – is that it is still socially accepted that pedestrians can be killed, as long as it is by “normal” errant drivers.

  3. Until cyclists abandon their view that they own the moral high ground the rest of road users and pedestrians will continue to despise them, their views entirely shaped by a stupid minority of cyclists. I speak as a cyclist, driver and walker. Rural tractor drivers are a far bigger problem where I live but cyclists and their attitude that they can do no wrong means that you are whistling in the wind. Own up, a stupid young man killed a woman, if he had been driving a car no one would have raised an eyebrow that he had been sent to prison, the fact that he had to drive wrecklessly to keep up with the traffic is the most stupid comment I have read, and that is saying something.

    1. “Own up, a stupid young man killed a woman, if he had been driving a car no one would have raised an eyebrow that he had been sent to prison”

      Actually, if he had been driving a car, you would not even know of this case becauyse he wouldnt have been prosecuted. And the facts substantiate that.

      “the fact that he had to drive wrecklessly to keep up with the traffic is the most stupid comment I have read, and that is saying something.”

      In London, it is not very hard to keep up with traffic. Without making much effort, I can not only keep up with traffic but pass it. The average speed of traffi in Lonson is 12mph.

      What he was convicted on was not having a front brake on a fixie bike. If he had a fornt brake, (just as if he had been a vehicular driver), you would not have heard of this case.

      Charles, quite frankly, you’re talking a load of effluence.

    2. “Until cyclists abandon their view that they own the moral high ground the rest of road users and pedestrians will continue to despise them, their views entirely shaped by a stupid minority of cyclists”

      So, it’s a minority of cyclists holding these views but they’re shaping the views of all people on bikes? Or people despise all cyclists based on what a minority do? The former doesn’t make sense. The latter would indicate a hatred for an entire group based on the actions of a few, which may be true but reflects badly on those who hate, rather than those who are hated.

      “I speak as a cyclist, driver and walker.”

      So the part of you that drives and walks despises the part of you that cycles? Does that not give you a headache?

      “Rural tractor drivers are a far bigger problem where I live”

      Quite probably, although I’d like to see your statistical analysis of that.

      “but cyclists and their attitude that they can do no wrong means that you are whistling in the wind.”

      Well you’ve said you cycle. Are you speaking as a cyclist at this point? So does one part of you think you can do no wrong whilst another part despises you? Would you like some paracetamol ?

      “Own up, a stupid young man killed a woman”

      Yes. We’ve done that bit.

      “if he had been driving a car no one would have raised an eyebrow that he had been sent to prison”

      I haven’t said he should have walked free. I haven’t objected to his prison sentence. If you are aware of people who have (and I know they’re out there) go and argue with them. People would raise an eyebrow if a driver were sent to prison but not for the reason you think – they’d be surprised it had happened, given the number of drivers who kill people and walk free. E.g. this lorry driver who killed two people https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/familys-shock-as-halfblind-lorry-driver-who-killed-couple-walks-free-a3176861.html?amp

      “the fact that he had to drive”

      He was cycling

      “wrecklessly to keep up with the traffic”

      No. Vehicular cycling, recommended by the DfT, requires cyclists to keep up with motor traffic. Old Street is a 20 zone, Alliston was doing 18mph. He didn’t have to cycle the way he did, but the environment encourages risk takers.

      “is the most stupid comment I have read, and that is saying something”

      You may have read things. The evidence points to you not really understanding them.

      1. …Is anyone going to point out that driving “wrecklessly” is kind of the point?

    3. 1) If he had been driving a car and hit Mrs Briggs who stepped out in front without looking and ignored 2 audible warnings of the risk of a crash ‘everyone’ would have blamed Mrs Briggs for walking into the carriageway and sympathised with the driver.

      2) The Police ‘brake’ tests were risible and others have commented on the lack of objective measurement, and level of confidence of the limited range of test results. There are many who can highlight the theoretical mechanics that can also be used to show the limiting factors for the braking forces that can be applied before the bike overturns around the axis of the front axle.

      3) It does not take much researching to bring up several cases of drivers killing pedestrians with vehicle defects (or driver incapacity) easily equivalent to the lack of a front brake, and getting away with no causing death by charges at all. Where would you like me to start?

      The triple killer who on 3 separate occasions crashed whilst ‘racing’ another driver and killed

      The driver who killed twice because he failed to wear the prescription glasses he needed in order to drive

      The driver who set off with 3 bald tyres on an icy road and killed 4 cyclists

      Drivers of trucks with missing or defective mirrors who drove over their victims becuase they did not have the required view of what was in front or beside them when setting off…

  4. What Briggs seems to want is more legal accountability, not for cyclists’ actions, but for the consequences of those actions; maybe some sort of “causing death by dangerous cycling” offence.

    He is, of course, entitled to his campaign, and the principle of punishing offenders for the consequences of their actions is not entirely novel. However, he is conducting the campaign in a environment where road law is selectively enforced and killer motorists routinely escape custodial sentences. Since he insists that his campaign is narrowly focused on a change in the law, we have to assume that Briggs accepts the consequences of his campaign in the justice system that actually exists. Those consequences seem fairly obvious: reckless idiots are being given strong legal incentives to use cars instead of bicycles, and the more erratic they are on a bike, the stronger the incentives to switch. This will not necessarily lead to an improvement in the safety of other road users, particularly the most vulnerable.

    But the campaign is under way: the Telegraph is already peddling its dodgy statistics, the minister has already taken an interest, the beer cans are already being flung from car windows. Briggs will have his hecatomb of randomly-chosen pedestrians, and nobody will know their names.

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