Yorkshire cycling website


Cycling minister Jesse Norman

His response to the Charlie Alliston case - a review of cycling offences and letter to cycling organisations

2nd October 2017

Jesse Norman cycling minister

Jesse Norman, minister responsible for cycling in the DfT, by Policy Exchange, Licence CC BY 2.0

The new minister with responsibility for cycling in DfT, Jesse Norman, has responded to the Charlie Alliston case in a controversial way. Does his reaction represent conscientious government, or cynical populism?

As is well-known, Charlie Alliston was involved in a collision with Kim Briggs. Alliston was riding a track bike without a front brake in London; Mrs Briggs stepped off the pavement, and Alliston was unable to stop in time to avoid her. They clashed heads, and Mrs Briggs died as a result.

Charlie Alliston was acquitted of manslaughter, but convicted of 'wanton and furious driving'. He was jailed for 18 months.

Since the trial, Mrs Briggs' husband, Matt Briggs, has campaigned for a new law to deal with death or serious injury by dangerous cycling. He had a meeting with cycling minister Jesse Norman.

Mr Briggs isn't anti-cycling - he rides a bike in London himself sometimes. He and his family have suffered a terrible loss, and he is quite entitled to highlight inconsistencies and gaps in the law which have affected his case, and campaign for change.

Mr Norman, on the other hand, has a duty to act on the basis of evidence not popular sentiment. If he introduces new cycling offences as part of a balanced programme to make the roads safer for all users, nobody will object. If he is jumping on a populist bandwagon, and demonising and singling out bike riders for harsh treatment, after years when his department ignored calls for measures to make cycling safer, that will be unacceptable.

Cycling minister Jesse Norman: a review to consider new offences for cycling

On 21st September 2017, Mr Norman announced an urgent review 'following a series of high-profile incidents involving cyclists', to look into whether new offences of causing death or serious injury by careless or dangerous cycling should be introduced, 'as well as wider improvements for cycling road safety issues'.

Mr Norman is quoted as saying, 'It's great that cycling has become so popular in recent years but we need to make sure that our road safety rules keep pace with this change. We already have strict laws that ensure drivers who put people's lives at risk are punished but, given recent cases, it is only right for us to look at whether dangerous cyclists should face the same consequences.'

The announcement identifies that in 2015, two pedestrians were killed and 96 seriously injured after being hit by a bicycle; and every year on Britain's roads, more than 100 cyclists are killed, and more than 3,000 seriously injured.

The review is to be in two phases: phase one looking at introducing the new offences of careless and/or dangerous cycling, and phase two a wider consultation on road safety issues relating to cycling, to consider 'ways in which safety can be further improved between cyclists, pedestrians and motorists.'

Comment on the cycling minister's announcement

What's important, facts or high-profile media reports?

The announcement looks like a knee-jerk reaction designed to pander to right-wing tabloids. The words of the announcement acknowledge as much - it refers to 'high-profile incidents', suggesting that action should be based on how much publicity a case generates, rather than the facts of the case.

The BBC gave quite disproportionate prominence to the Alliston case, making his case the lead news article on its website, and referring to him in its headline as 'cyclist'. Meanwhile, there are many, many more cases where bad driving results in serious injury or death, but none of those is covered in the same way.

I have read about Mr Alliston's case, but I don't know which other cases are part of the 'series'.

As Laura Laker pointed out in the Guardian, in June this year Mr Norman wrote an opinion piece for the Financial Times in which he warned against 'a populist yearning to ignore inconvenient facts and rush to judgment'.

It looks populist and hypocritical to prioritise looking at new cycling offences when the problem of people on bikes being injured by vehicles is, on the figures cited in the announcement, between 31 and 50 times greater than the problem of people on bikes causing injury.

What happened to the 2014 review of road traffic offences and sentences?

In May 2014, a wide-ranging review of all road traffic offences and sentencing was announced by the government. It was due to look at the distinction between careless and dangerous driving, and how these offences are applied in practice. The cycling organisations were in favour of the review. By December 2016, it still hadn't happened, but it was downgraded to look only at increasing sentences for the most serious offenders. It still hasn't been published.

Contrast the government's approach: when it comes to protecting vulnerable road users, more than three years after announcing a review, nothing has happened; in response to one cycling incident, there is an urgent review which will report in three months.

Mr Norman is 'urgently' looking at offences which may be charged once a decade, while turning a blind eye to real problems on Britain's roads.

Popularity of cycling

Mr Norman says cycling has become much more popular in recent years, but unfortunately, he isn't correct. As Peter Walker points out, journeys by bike remain obstinately stuck at 1-2% of total journeys.

There are already strict laws which 'ensure' dangerous drivers are punished, says Mr Norman

Mr Norman asserts that strict laws already ensure that dangerous drivers are punished, but that just isn't true.

When Stan Coates was riding his bike, he was hit and injured by a driver blinded by the sun; then hit at the roadside and killed by another driver, also blinded by the sun, 15 minutes later. Both drivers were cleared of causing death by careless driving by a jury at Newcastle Crown Court. One of the drivers was found guilty of a lesser charge of careless driving and fined £400. Is that an example of strict laws working as they should to ensure drivers who injure or kill are punished?

When 73-year old Colin Crowther was killed while cycling by a driver who was blinded by the sun, what happened? The driver who killed him was cleared by a jury of causing death by careless driving. 'I am sorry about the outcome, but I honestly don't think there was anything I could have done to avoid it,' the driver said. Is this an example of strict laws punishing drivers who kill? Or is it really not even careless to drive around without being able to see where you're going?

When a driver caused serious injuries to Robert Anderson by driving into the back of him on a B-road, was there a severe punishment? No, because the driver didn't see him due to being blinded by a low sun, and pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of careless driving; the result was a fine of £1,000.

When 72-year old Rod Bartley was out cycling, a tractor turned right across his path and hit him, rendering him tetraplegic and in need of constant medical care. The tractor driver was fined £80 for driving without due care and attention. Is this an example of the strict laws which punish dangerous drivers?

What was the penalty for driving into a group of cyclists from behind and killing Rob Jefferies? A 12-month community order, for causing death by careless driving. Is this an example of the existing strict laws which punish people who kill by driving carelessly?

Was there justice for David Irving, 48, who was hit on the head by the wing mirror of a minibus and knocked off his bike, then run over and killed? No, the jury acquitted the minibus driver of causing death by driving without due care and attention. Is this an example of the strict laws which punish drivers?

I could go on, but I think that's enough. It's too soon to comment on the case of Declan Shea, killed while riding his bike in Essex, or the 36-year-old woman killed while riding her bike on Chelsea Bridge.

Cycling minister Jesse Norman: letter to cycling organisations

48h after the announcement of the review came a letter from Mr Norman to cycling organisations, asking them to remind their members to follow the Highway Code.

Comment on cycling minister's letter

Among the people Mr Norman sent the letter to is Chris Boardman, in his capacity as TfGM walking and cycling commissioner. Boardman has led campaigns for British Cycling which included suggestions for changes to the Highway Code to improve conditions for walking and cycling. (His ideas were not adopted, of course). He doesn't need Mr Norman to send him letters about the Highway Code. Further, Boardman's mum Carol was killed while cycling. It's particularly insensitive of Norman to write to Chris Boardman of all people about the Highway Code and road safety.

Like the review announcement, this letter seems to be peculiarly one-eyed. Mr Norman is firing off letters to cycling organisations at the drop of a hat, but does he think all other road users follow the Highway Code? And if not, why isn't he writing to them?

I wrote to my MP, and to Robert Goodwill when he was minister for cycling, pointing out that rule 163 is routinely disregarded when overtaking cyclists, and that this is putting people off cycling on the roads. I asked for measures to be taken to highlight this part of the Highway Code, but of course this was dismissed.

On 23rd September 2017, Mark Treasure tweeted this video of a car passenger pushing a man riding a bike into a bus shelter.

As a result, will Mr Norman be writing to the AA and the RAC asking their members not to do this? I would guess not, as it would be daft and pointless. The idiots who assaulted a man on a bike did so because they are idiots and criminals, not because they were in a car.

If Mr Norman stopped to think for one moment, he might realise that the same applies to British Cycling and Cycling UK. They don't represent Charlie Alliston any more than the AA represents the young thugs who made that video.

Cycling minister Jesse Norman: an awful start

We have had a succession of ministers given responsibility for cycling in the DfT.

Each one seems to kick off their tenure with some appallingly crass comments or actions, demonstrating ignorance of the issues facing people who ride bikes in Britain.

Perhaps Jesse Norman is committed to cycling; perhaps he only looks as though he is hostile to people on bikes; perhaps it just looks as though he is applying different standards to cyclists as compared to other road users; perhaps his review will be evidence-based and genuinely result in improvements to road safety, not a populist exercise in playing to the gallery. It's just that the signs so far are anything but encouraging.

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