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Hedge-blog: 5 Live Daily cycling debate with Carlton Reid & Mr Loophole

10th August 2015

I listened to this morning's 5 Live Daily debate on cycling with some foreboding. Recent radio debates on cycling haven't exactly showcased enlightened, logical thinking, and discussion hosts have too often betrayed their ignorance. Adrian Chiles' performance today was therefore a pleasant surprise.

The debate was inspired by the 'Clown takes a pratfall' video that many people (4.6 million at the time of writing) have seen on Youtube:

5 Live had invited Carlton Reid (in the studio) and Nick Freeman (on the phone) to the debate. Reid is a cycling journalist and executive editor of BikeBiz.com. Freeman, whose nickname is Mr Loophole, is a solicitor known for getting celebrities off driving charges. In response to the 'pratfall' video, Loophole made comments in an article on motoring.co.uk calling on motorists to 'fight back and film cyclists breaking the law' and suggesting that the government introduce a 'raft of legislation' to punish cyclists including compulsory helmet use.

Adrian Chiles

As moderator of the debate, Chiles got off to an awful start. 'Cyclists and motorists don't like each other very much,' was his idiotic introduction. Did he write that bit of the script? Was it a researcher or a producer? It doesn't make any sense, because as we were about to find out, Carlton Reid and Adrian Chiles are both cyclists and motorists. It's just calculated to generate ill-feeling and controversy. Chiles did improve from there, however.

Chiles played the audio from the pratfall video, with a lot of beeping over the swearing by the driver in the video. He described the action as 'quite Shakespearean in its intensity.'

Loophole's contribution

Loophole spoke first, and (with some justification) accused the cyclist in the video of winding up the driver. He then went on to say that we now have 'a massive number of cyclists on our roads' and that 'the legislation doesn't begin to deal with them.' He said he wanted a 'sensible debate in order to ensure that the road becomes safe for all people who use it.' He claimed that a law was required to identify cyclists, because at the moment they are anonymous. 'We need to know who they are in the same way that we know who car drivers are.' He also wanted a points system and disqualification of cyclists, and cyclists being 'forced to wear helmets in the same way that drivers are forced to put on their seatbelts.'

Loophole's suggestion that suddenly there are masses of cyclists on the roads, where there weren't before, is just wrong. As it is based on wrong facts, his opinion that our legislation is outdated, and was never intended to deal with so many cyclists, is also wrong. The bicycle usage graph below is from Matthew Keep's 'Road cycling: statistics' note for the House of Commons Library:

Bicycle usage graph

Regarding identification of road users, my experience of run-ins with cars when I'm on my bike is that after they've done a poor overtake, they're off and gone, and I never see them again. If they have a problem with me on my bike, it's not difficult for them to stop and engage me in conversation. The other aspect of this is that driving a car is a priviledge and a responsibility, because of the weight of the machine, its power and speed, and the damage it can therefore do. A bicycle is not in the same category and should not be treated the same way.

On helmets, people can decide to wear them for their own personal safety if they wish. Forcing people to wear helmets does not contribute to the safety of other road users. Compulsory helmets are typically suggested by people who wish to punish cyclists, and I suggest that is true here. It is doubtful that helmets for cyclists are directly equivalent to seatbelts for drivers - helmets for drivers would be directly equivalent, but funnily enough, Loophole is not arguing for compulsory helmets for drivers.

Although Loophole claims to want a reasonable and sensible debate, he didn't contribute any reasonable or sensible arguments this morning.

Loophole's final point in his initial contribution was that the cyclist in the video should have gone to the driver's assistance when he fell over. Given that the driver fell over because he was running after the cyclist with the intention of stealing his camera, and he had previously been swearing and threatening violence, it seems a far-fetched suggestion. Carlton Reid pointed this out.

Carlton Reid's contribution

Reid was asked why such videos should be posted online. He said the result of the huge numbers of such videos was that the police were now believing cyclists. In the past, police had tended to believe motorists over cyclists. He pointed out that motorists could fit dashcams, 'and I would love motorists to fit dashcams, because then when they unfortunately do do something daft on the road, we can ask the police to pull their dashcam and then use it against them.'

Chiles asked Reid about number plates for bicycles. Reid said the reason bikes don't have number plates is that they are not one tonne pieces of metal, which can potentially hurt people. Cycling is a benign form of transport. He said he was surprised people get so hot under the collar about such a benign form of transport.

Reid also pointed out that the video incident began because the driver passed very close to the cyclist, against the Highway Code (rule 163). Motorists should get right the way across into the other carriageway and give cyclists plenty of space. Chiles also mentioned that you shouldn't ride right next to car doors, because you could get 'doored.'

Further debate

Invited to respond, Loophole pretended that Reid had been avoiding the question about identification of cyclists and posting such videos to Youtube. He said we must have a system that allows us to identify who is on a bike, whether it's registration plates or something else.

Putting the question about identification to Reid, Chiles said that obviously bikes are not as dangerous as cars, but that doesn't mean they're not dangerous at all - which seemed remarkably fair. Reid's answer was that if identification were such a panacea, motorists wouldn't speed, text at the wheel, or do other things which we know they do very commonly. Identification is a non-issue. 'Where do you then draw the line? Do we also have to identify pedestrians, because pedestrians also use the road - when they cross the road, they are a road user.' There are no registration plates for cyclists around the world, for very obvious, commonsense reasons that the DfT recognises.

Loophole's response to Reid's point about cycling being a benign form of transport was to complain about cyclists riding two abreast - 'there is nothing benign about that at all,' he grumbled. He reiterated that he wanted to be able to identify cyclists at all times to make them 'accountable for their transgressions.' Reid pointed out that it is legal to ride two abreast.

Was there a winner?

Yes, Carlton Reid. It helped that he had all the logical arguments on his side, but he did particularly well to avoid getting bogged down in details. There were a huge number of holes in Loophole's arguments, but it would have been a tactical error to try to deal with all of them (a mistake that I've probably made here!) There's that aphorism attributed to Mark Twain: never argue with stupid people; they'll drag you down to their level, then beat you with experience. Reid avoided that danger, and remained cool and calm at all times.

Was there a loser?

Of course, Loophole. If you're motivated by a dislike of people who ride bikes, and your main gripe is occasionally being slightly delayed by a cyclist, but you try to turn your prejudices into road safety arguments, it's obvious that they will have a logic deficit. Arguing that cyclists riding two abreast are a major safety issue is silly. Armed with patently flawed arguments, he was bound to look foolish.

Perhaps a motivation for Loophole was publicity, in which case he succeeded in getting some.

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