The Cinder Path

For those who don’t know, the Cinder Path is a footpath running between Chalkwell beach and Old Leigh. It hugs the coastline, and at high tide the sea laps up to it in many places, and on the other side you will find the Fenchurch Street railway line.

It is about a mile long and is a convenient walking route avoiding the hilly clifftop. About halfway is a connection that joins it up with the cliff top via the “Gypsy Bridge” that actually goes out into the sea to create a inclined curve.

There are two main snags with it:

  1. It is not lit so not great in the dark, but people do use it.
  2. At either end are big letters painted onto the path: “No Cycling”. (1)

My proposal would be to redesignate this path as “shared space” and add some lighting.

Let me take this opportunity to state that I am not a fan of shared space. I would much rather have a segregated route. Shared space can create conflicts between cycling and walking but can be a quick solution to creating a traffic free route. In some cases, it may be the most sensible approach.

Does the Cinder Path count as one of these instances?

The roads along the clifftop are steep in some places, notably Leigh Hill, and can be hard work for less experienced cyclists. Some of the route is wide enough for something but not in others. In any event someone who is riding along these roads is likely to be travelling between Old Leigh and Chalkwell anyway. If heading to “new” Leigh, one is likely to use different routes.

Either end of the path is NCN16 – a cycle “route” from Shoeburyness, that runs along the coast on a mostly-segregated lane. At Chalkwell it joins the carriageway of a quiet dead-end road from where you access Chalkwell beach and the Cinder Path. At the other end, the cobbled road through Old Leigh is also considered NCN16 which runs along a quiet single-track road towards Leigh-on-Sea railway station.

The point is, either side of the Cinder Path has been designated as part of the NCN but one has to climb up the hill and follow the clifftop rather than be able to use the Cinder Path.

I chatted to a Councillor about this many years ago and they said it would be hard politically to push through a change in designation, despite being a sensible suggestion. “MAMILs zooming through at 40mph” opponents would cry, he said. He, himself, was supportive (and I believed that) but he did feel it would require investment such as widening the path in places, perhaps via some sort of platform with supports into the seabed, or convincing National Rail to give up some land to allow widening in that direction. That was many years ago – perhaps now government grants for such things may be more forthcoming. However, I maintain the widening that this Councillor talked about isn’t really necessary; furthermore it isn’t possible along the entire route so you would have nice wide path narrowing down in places creating a subtly different problem to a narrow path throughout.

So, yes, the Cinder Path is narrow in places and has a vast amount of water on one side of it at certain times of the day but let’s compare this path with a piece of shared space elsewhere in the borough (or city, not sure yet!): the Prittlewell Path.

This is a shared space path running alongside the Prittlewell Brook – a stream that now runs at the bottom of a human-made channel that is a few feet deep. If one fell in to this, you might get some nasty injuries.

It has no lighting and is quite narrow in places but is deemed safe for cyclists and walkers to interact. I am not aware of any instances of pedestrians and cyclists colliding along this path or of anyone falling into the brook.

We can also make comparisons with canal towpaths. Cyclists may cycle along these and, in London and other places, they form part of a make-shift cycle network, although they’re not ideal. The point is, the towpaths can be quite narrow and they have a big channel of water on one side, yet cyclists and pedestrians are able to interact without collisions and falling in.

As such, why would it happen on the Cinder Path?

Let’s add some lighting, and join up two bits of NCN16 creating a traffic free and easy-to-cycle route between two parts of the borough. There may be opponents concerned with walkers’ safety but similar routes do not have any issues and even so, it is nothing like killing five people per day.

(1) funnily enough, boat owners seem to be able to drive cars along some bits of it…

Deaths on Essex Roads 2021

This post tallies up the deaths, other casualties, drink/drug offences and others for 2021 in Essex alone. Below are the monthly stats with 2020 figures in brackets.

DeathsCasualtiesPhoneDrinkDrugSeatbelt
Jan2 (1)47 (60)25 (49)85 (116)131 (144)254 (606)
Feb1 (6)34 (62)37 (41)63 (131)114 (145)257 (781)
March2 (4)47 (50)41 (11)67 (99)124 (160)162 (260)
April5 (2)50 (25)39 (18)125 (86)102 (266)139 (43)
May2 (5)61 (51)31 (37)139 (127)72 (331)190 (102)
June2 (7)60 (52)44 (49)118 (88)77 (277)216 (837)
July5 (6)80 (55)34 (58)128 (142)71 (257)316 (798)
August6 (7)68 (80)38 (46)131 (140)71 (156)220 (512)
Sept5 (4)65 (61)42 (50)114 (110)72 (146)236 (450)
Oct6 (4)68 (52)44 (45)136 (121)70 (130)235 (429)
Nov3 (2)95 (50)30 (33)133 (81)77 (199)225 (405)
Dec5 (5)55 (51)25 (28)130 (113)103 (135)148 (319)
TOTAL44 (53)730 (649)427 (465)1369 (1354)1084 (2346)2598 (5542)

In 2021, 44 people lost their lives on Essex’s roads – about 3.5 people a month. This at least fewer than 2020 but we’re still hovering around one person a week dying on the county’s roads. That’s one family devastated every week.

Whilst deaths were down, casualties were up from 649 to 730, around 61 people per month. Phone offences were about the same and so was drink driving; although drug driving is much lower than 2020 – not sure as to why. Seatbelt offences are also way down – if I were cynical I would say perhaps the police are not doing as many enforcement exercises in that area.

In any event, we still have around one person dying every week in one county. Is this an acceptable number of deaths?

Deaths on Essex Roads: mid point 2021.

As we pass the mid point of 2021, it’s time to tally and review the figures published by Safer Essex Roads.

To 30/06/21To 30/06/20
Deaths1425
Casualties299300
Phone213305
Drink597647
Drug6201323
Seat belt12182629

Note, the period in question in 2020 was the first lockdown so we would expect incidences to be lower than in 2021.

It’s good to see that deaths are down by 44% from the same point last year, but we still have 14 people killed: that’s 2.33 per month. 14 families devastated. In just one county alone.

Casualties remain the same compared with last year and it’s averaging 50 per month. That’s potentially 50 lives changed permanently. In one county alone.

Phone offences are also down, but we’re still looking at 35 people a month (or roughly one a day!) being caught driving and phoning. In one county alone.

Drink offences remain constant – still a staggering 100 people a month being caught over the limit; a similar number being caught per month with drugs in their system, albeit about half the numbers of last year. You’ve guessed it, in one county alone.

Seat belt offences also down (by about 54%) but still over 200 people per month caught not wearing a seat belt.

Those caught often are just the tip of the iceberg. How many more are there using their phone and not being caught? How many more drunks in charge of a car and not being caught? We share the road with these people.

Remember kids: wear a hi viz to ensure you’re seen….

Exceptional Hardship

You may well know that motoring offences lead to penalty points on a driving licence. Speeding is at least three points; jumping a red light, three points; no insurance, six points. Points remain on the licence for four years, but remain relevant for three years.

If a driver clocks up 12 relevant points on their licence1 they become, what is known as, a totter. At this point they are disqualified from driving for a minimum of six months2, unless they can convince the court that losing their licence amounts to ‘exceptional hardship’. This only applies to a totter disqualification – other disqualifications (eg drink driving) cannot be mitigated away in this fashion.

There have been a number of high profile cases (eg Steve Coogan) around this issue, where they have argued losing their licence would be exceptional hardship.

This blog aims to outline what exceptional hardship is, how it works and some of the rationales behind decisions made in court. It is a result of observations in court and research. It is not necessarily my view, I am simply putting forward facts and opinions of others. This is in the hope of fostering informed debate over this issue.

Let’s consider some aspects first.

Firstly, if the totter convinces the court that losing their licence creates exceptional hardship the court has two options:

  1. To not disqualify; or
  2. To disqualify for a period shorter than six months3.

Scenario 2 would occur if the court felt loss of a licence would not cause immediate exceptional hardship but would, over time, start to create it. For example, the driver takes their disabled child to school in the car. The school is some miles away, is a specialist school and it is not possible to get there via public transport. If the hearing was at the start of the summer school holiday, the court could say the disqualification will last six weeks. They have the disqualification but they have their licence back once school starts up again.

From my court observations, scenario 2 is rare. Courts either dismiss the exceptional hardship argument or do not disqualify at all.

Secondly, a totting disqualification wipes out all the points that lead to it. When the driver gets their licence back in six months’ time it has zero points on it. A clean slate, if you like. They have another three years to accumulate 12 points.

If exceptional hardship is accepted, the points remain. Therefore, if scenario 1 or 2 occur, the driver still has 12 points on their licence and will be back in court as soon as one motoring offence is committed. The rules over exceptional hardship mean that they cannot use the same reasons for three years. In this way, exceptional hardship becomes a final warning to the driver.

From my observations in court, the bench go to great lengths to probe drivers on why they need their licence and challenging certain aspects. It is not just accepted at face value. A multitude of reasons have to be put forward and it would seem they do this deliberately to make sure the driver has nothing else to throw at them later down the line.

A point of discussion is this: would you prefer a totter to be disqualified for six months and get a clean slate or not be disqualified but have the points on their licence and the sword of Damocles hanging over them for three years?

What counts as exceptional hardship?

There is no statutory definition of ‘exceptional hardship’. Whilst Parliament has legislated to create a totting disqualification under S35 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, it simply then says ‘unless the court is satisfied, having regard to all the circumstances, that there are grounds for mitigating the normal consequences of the conviction and thinks fit to order him to be disqualified for a shorter period or not to order him to be disqualified’.

This is the exceptional hardship bit. Case Law (ie the general accumulation of judicial decisions) has created a wealth of what could be considered mitigating circumstances to avoid a disqualification. Solicitors make use of this to help their clients not be disqualified.

Firstly losing your job is not exceptional hardship. The disqualification is meant to be an inconvenience to the driver, it is meant to penalise a driver that, given up to four chances (eg four separate minor speeding offences), has not changed their behaviour. If losing your job is a natural consequence, than so be it.

What a court would consider exceptional hardship is if it goes beyond what could be considered normal hardship or inconvenience or if it has unpleasant consequences on innocent parties. Take the example above with the disabled child – it’s not the disabled child’s fault their parent has lost their licence, should they suffer the consequences?

There is no definitive list but here are some things that have been accepted in the past.

  1. A restriction on mobility for a driver with severe health problems – the driver may well have a condition that prevents them from using public transport.
  2. A threat to job security of employees if the driver loses their licence – the driver could be the business owner (or a key staff member) who drives around the country drumming up sales. With no licence, they cannot do this and so the business could fold. This means that innocent parties would suffer.
  3. If the driver works in a career with a high level of importance to the health or safety of the public. They could be a carer, they may have to drive to various locations to provide care; the nature of the people they care for may not react well to change. Again, innocent parties suffer.
  4. Loss of career – note career rather than job. If losing your licence means you lose not only your job but also the potential to work completely this could be considered exceptional. One case observed was a man that had spent three years building up a window cleaning business that he would not be able to do without a licence. If he lost it for six months he argued he would be starting from scratch again.
  5. Impact on dependent children or adults – note the disabled child example above. It could be elderly parents, school age children, a partner that doesn’t work. If the driver is the main breadwinner, and losing their licence means losing their job, and that creates dire financial circumstances (eg loss of home), innocent parties (eg the driver’s family) will suffer.

Exceptional hardship arguments have to be delivered under Oath and evidenced (eg a letter from employer indicating a contractual obligation to have a driving licence), and are more likely to be accepted if it can be shown that innocent parties will suffer and a combination of the above are occurring. The bench will consider them on a balance of probabilities basis, ie they do not have to certain beyond reasonable doubt that you will suffer exceptional hardship but consider it is more likely than not.

Exceptional hardship is a symptom of a car-centric culture. So much of our infrastructure is built for cars – industrial estates that can only be got to by car, for example. People stand up in court and argue they cannot get from A to B any other way4. They genuinely believe they cannot do it and the lose of a licence is seen by some as Draconian.

There is much debate around this – has the driver had enough warnings? They’ve got to 12 points, if their licence is so vital, why haven’t they changed their behaviour? However, is it simply that some do not grasp the reality until they are standing in court with the real threat of disqualification and its consequences? Will the day in court, successfully pleading exceptional hardship, have the desired effect that accumulating 12 points didn’t?

Is it easier to get to 12 points these days with all these speed cameras around? Does it discriminate against the unemployed who can’t argue the loss of a licence means the loss of a job and all the potential consequences of that?

Another thing to consider: two sets of 12 points are never really the same. One driver may have totted over a few months, another may have been ‘unlucky’, with the magic 12th point occurring just before some old points stopped being relevant. One could be a totter after two mobile phone offences or two incidences of breaking 100mph on the motorway. One could be someone caught 32 in a 30 on four occasions over three years. They are all treated the same in court: 12 points, disqualify. The nature of the offending is not considered in the exceptional hardship argument. Should it be?

I made a FOIA request to the Ministry of Justice asking how many drivers are disqualified after having an exceptional hardship argument accepted. The request was refused on the basis of the cost of producing it was prohibitive. They could advise on the numbers disqualified but could not identify why they would have been disqualified without running through every single case.


  1. That is to say they have accumulated 12 points in a three year period, at the time of the offence.
  2. It is a minimum because if it is your second totting in three years it becomes 12 months; your third in three years – two years.
  3. Just to (hopefully) clarify this. If a totter the minimum is six months disqualification – so how can the court disqualify for a shorter period? Well, it is because, once ‘exceptional hardship’ has been accepted the court have more flexibility.
  4. To the courts’ credit I have seen drivers challenged over this – the bench has pointed out there is a direct train between A and B and so the driver has to justify why they cannot use public transport.

Roads Were Built for Cars

This is often thrown at people advocating active travel. You shouldn’t be cycling here – the road was built for cars.

In some sense this is a nonsense – the only roads that could be said to have been built for cars are motorways and other dual carriageways, bypassing town centres and so on. Motorways are for the sole use of motorised vehicles (with some exceptions). All other roads are available for use by all legal carriages and pedestrians and most of those have been around for centuries.

The Romans are famed for building roads. There were no cars then. Roads developed from tracks formed by people walking (we still see this today with “desire lines”) which then got more sophisticated over time.

Example of a desire line – pedestrians and others have created this over time. It’s a gentler incline and avoids the busy road.

Some of these tracks exist today as only footpaths, bridleways and other public rights of way.

Some became urban streets (it’s not that long ago that residential streets were mud tracks in some places. I have heard stories of a collection of wellies at the end of the street from people walking to work and changing their shoes once on tarmacked streets).

Canals and railways used them as guides. In the 20th century, motorways were built along these lines too. Why do you think the Grand Union Canal, the West Coast Main Line and the M1 often run side by side?

So, roads weren’t built for cars. They were built for transporting people.

But, on the other hand…it could be argued roads were built for cars. Let’s look at some evidence.

Think about what you see on our (non-motorway) roads.

Double/single yellow lines – required because drivers felt they could park their vehicle anywhere. So, some sort of regulation was needed to say where/when one could or could not park.

Bollards – required to prevent drivers driving or placing their vehicles places they’re not meant to, despite it being illegal. Then there’s the double whammy of bollards on DYLs because people ignored them!

A bollard required despite the DYL. People parked on the corners, obstructing the view even though there were road markings telling you not to.

Road signs – not street names but things like speed signs, give way signs, stop signs. All this “street furniture” was needed to inform drivers of what was required of them.

Traffic lights – required to control traffic flow at busy junctions to keep traffic flowing in all directions. Again, only needed since the advent of the car.

Road markings – central lines, give way markings, no overtaking etc. All required to indicate which road is the main road at a junction, where over taking is considered so dangerous it is banned. Again, all this was needed as a result of motorised traffic.

Zebra, pelican, toucan, tiger and other crossings – these started to pop up after the advent of the car. Required to give pedestrians and other road users safe havens for crossing the road. In some countries it is illegal to cross the road anywhere else.

Speed limits – maybe not a fabric of the road but once motorised vehicles came along speed limits were introduced. This is because these vehicles travel faster than “human speed”. Walking, cycling etc are within the limits of an everyday human being and happen at slower speeds – meaning collisions can be easily avoided and if they not they tend to have minimal impact.

Traffic islands – partly to keep bi-directional traffic separate; partly to provide a refuge for pedestrians crossing the road. Again, only since the advent of cars have these appeared.

Perhaps it’s true most roads weren’t originally built for cars, but they have certainly been changed beyond all recognition for cars.

Since WW2 there has been an steady increase in retrofitting urban areas for the benefit of cars – to allow speedy and uninterrupted car journeys. This has led to urban motorways, urban dual carriageways – all of which have involved the demolition of people’s homes. Even before WW2, there were some roads built specifically with cars in mind (eg the A127) to try and get people motoring (to be fair some of this was also to provide work for veteran soldiers but even then why not build some railways?).

This is the thing – these roads were built (or retrofitted) under instruction of those that had an agenda to push motoring. By making these journeys easier it encouraged more and more people to drive. As more people drove, demand for parking etc grew. And for years, “one more lane will fix it” was the mentality.

Billions of pounds are spent on road improvement plans, which only really alleviate the problem briefly. Is it not time to consider reducing the number of cars and car journeys?

S172 Road Traffic Act 1988 – failure to notify

This is one of those offences you probably don’t know anything about, until you’re convicted of it. And it is very easy to be convicted of it.

The prosecution simply has to prove they wrote to you. Your main defence is that you did reply but it was lost in the post or that you never received their letter – but both require you to put forward arguments and evidence to support it, such as proof of posting or showing evidence of post issues in your area.

What it is?

Let’s say a car is caught by a camera breaking the speed limit. How do the police know who was driving? They don’t. What they do is write to the registered keeper (RK) with a notice of intention to prosecute (NIP). The RK can just ignore that, right? If you don’t respond the police can’t do anything, right?

Well, no. Once a RK gets a NIP they are legally bound to reply, declaring that it was either them driving or someone else. If someone else, they must provide as much information as possible to allow the police to contact that person. They can’t just say “it was my mate”: it has to be name, address, phone number etc. They must assist the police as far as they can to allow them to identify the driver.

If they do not, they are liable to conviction under S172 of the Road Traffic Act.

And the penalty? This is a band C fine (100% of weekly income, if pleading guilty) and six points on your licence. Note, minor speeding is 3 points and a band A fine (50% of weekly); more serious speeding is 6 points and band B. Therefore, the penalty for S172 is usually worse than the original offence.

And once prosecution under S172 starts you can’t go to the court and say “yep it was me speeding” to get out of it. Once S172 action starts, the original offence (known as the trigger offence) falls away. My observations in court have seen many cases where the RK says they can advise who the driver was – but alas they didn’t when they had a legal obligation to – and so remain guilty under S172.

So, it really doesn’t pay to ignore a NIP.

And it isn’t just a RK that can be contacted. If the police get nothing from the RK they do further searches and write to anyone linked to the vehicle (eg a named person on the insurance). They then have a legal duty to respond. It is theoretically possible for several people to be prosecuted under S172 for the same trigger offence.

A FOIA request to the CPS showed that in the period January to September 2020, 5,445 people were taken to court for a S172 breach. That’s 605 people per month; 19 people a day.

What does this mean?

It means a couple of things.

Firstly, there are people ignoring NIPs for their offending and ending up paying a more severe penalty as a result. No real complaint there.

Secondly, there are people speeding and getting away it. If it wasn’t the RK driving then it must be someone else. But if the RK ignores the NIP and ends up prosecuted under S172 the person speeding doesn’t get penalised.1 This could be anything up to 19 people a day getting away with speeding and letting someone else take the rap.

This means all that grand standing about licence plates allowing the offending driver to get caught is not 100% accurate.


  1. I imagine some get penalised by whoever the RK is…. just not a legal route….!

Deaths on Essex Roads – 2021 Q1

What better way to spend a Friday evening than to collate Safer Essex Roads figures for the first quarter of 2021?

Here’s the stats:

2021DeathsCasualtiesPhoneDrunkDrugSeat Belt
J2472585131254
F1343063114257
M2474467124162
Total512899215369673

This works out to be roughly, one person a fortnight killed; 10 per week injured.

On a weekly basis, 8 people caught using their phones whilst driving.

On a weekly basis 49 people caught driving whilst over the legal limit for drink/drugs. That’s seven a day!

These are shocking figures and shows how much law breaking occurs on our roads.

Five Offences

I often see/hear comments about all these cyclists breaking the law, not knowing the Highway Code etc etc, as arguments for banning them from the roads or justifying why infrastructure shouldn’t be provided.

It may be that some cyclists break the law. You could say that of any group. But we’re hardly going to ban everyone called Karen, simply because a Karen once broke the law, are we?1 So, why apply the same logic to a group of people with a certain choice of transport?

I looked into it a little, partly because it’s good to revise one’s knowledge of the Highway Code and also to see if this “law breaking” was as endemic as people think.

What became interesting is that a lot of cycling behaviour that people see as law breaking is, actually, perfectly legal. It may be inconvenient; it may be inconsiderate3 but it isn’t illegal. Research has also shown that law breaking amongst cyclists is lower than people think and can be for safety reasons.

Here are five activities that people believe are illegal.

Not Wearing a Helmet/Hi Viz

It’s in the Highway Code, mate. It says to wear a helmet and bright/reflective clothing. Therefore, it’s illegal if you’re not.” True, rule 59 does talk about helmets and clothing but the key thing is that it says “should”. If the Highway Code says “should” it is not backed up by law and is only guidance. It is thus perfectly legal to not wear a helmet or high-viz.

Riding Two or More Abreast

All these cyclists, cycling side by side. In gangs, not in single file. Don’t they know the Highway Code?

They probably do…Rule 66 says “you should never ride more than two abreast”. There’s that “should” again. What this means is two abreast (ie two cyclists side by side) is fine and anything more is advised against, but isn’t illegal. This rule gives guidance when single file should be adopted but is subjective – what is narrow4? What is busy5?

You should also consider that a line of cyclists in single file takes longer to overtake than a the same number grouped together. They are more likely to be seen. It is safer all round! This video outlines it well.

You’re Not Allowed to Cycle on Footpath

You mean pavements and rule 64 of the Highway Code is clear – you MUST NOT ride on pavements. However, pavements are a specific part of the highway, set aside for pedestrians. For it to be pavement it must be alongside road. Otherwise it is just footpath or footway or something else. It isn’t a criminal offence to cycle here. Something else to consider is official government guidance is to not prosecute pavement cycling if it isn’t anti-social.

You’re Meant to Keep to the Left

What are you doing cycling in the middle of the road? Keep left! Keep out of the way!

Rule 160 of the Highway Code says you should keep to the left. This rule applies to all vehicles and really is about keeping to the left hand side of the road – not the lane. A cyclist, like any road user, may use any part of the lane required, eg to position themselves appropriately for turning right. A cyclist has the best view of the road surface – pot holes tend to be at the edges; the edges tend to have debris swept into them. Parked cars get in the way, meaning a better line to ride is to stay in the middle of the lane.6 Riding away from a line of parked cars also avoids car dooring. This is a good article. And of course, the car in front is just as much “in your way” as someone on a bike.

Rule 169 is sometimes quoted at cyclists – but note this is worded about “driving a large or slow-moving vehicle” and has the qualifier of “long queue of traffic” (one car does not equal a queue!) and that to pull over “where it is safe”.

Speeding

All these cyclists zooming around, breaking the speed limit!

I have only managed 20mph+ when going down hill. Some can manage it routinely but anything 30 or above is unlikely, unless you are a professional cyclist. The only speed limit, therefore, likely to be broken by a everyday cyclist is a 20mph limit; and anyway they don’t apply to bikes (note this page does not include bicycles7), unless there is local bye-laws in place (eg Royal Parks). However, a speeding (ie going faster than the conditions allow for it to be safe) cyclist could be considered a careless cyclist and subject to prosecution under Section 29 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Using a Phone Whilst Cycling

If I were using my phone whilst driving I’d get 6 points… you get away with it. It’s not fair!

Firstly, use of a mobile when driving (or in charge of a motorised vehicle) is a specific separate offence in UK Law. There is no equivalent offence for a cyclist. This is because a bicycle is not a 1-tonne-plus vehicle, potentially driven at speed in urban areas. However, if using a phone meant a cyclists was cycling carelessly, they could be subject to a S29 RTA prosecution.

Undertaking

Bloody cyclists – undertaking. Motorists aren’t allowed to do it…

Firstly, we’re talking about filtering – moving through a queue of traffic to get to the front of it. This can be safer for a cyclist (and even a MOTORcyclist) since they can position themselves where they can be seen and get in front of traffic to avoid a left or right hook. The Highway Code, eg in Rules 160 and 88, refers to filtering – if it was illegal would the Highway Code refer to it in this fashion? And undertaking (that is overtaking on the left hand side of a vehicle) by a car is permissible in certain situations, eg if the car in front is turning right.

No Bell

Why don’t you have a bell to let me know you’re coming?

A bell is not legally required. The only things required by law are brakes, reflectors and, for night time, lights. A bell is recommended as a way indicating your presence but – in my experience – a ring of the bell is taken by others as rude and so I tend to ask politely if I can cycle pass. Poor hearing is more common than people realise and often a bell is not heard.

Pushing Your Bike Through a Red Light

You can’t just jump off your bike and push….you’re still a cyclist!

Actually, you can! Traffic signals apply to traffic but not pedestrians. A cyclist, cycling on the road must obey them (Rule 69 of the Highway Code); however, once a cyclists dismounts their bike they are a pedestrian (Crank v Brooks is the case that defined this) and can walk through a red light. It may be more considerate to walk on the pavement rather than the carriageway but not illegal.

In some instances, this may be considerate to the motorist: think about those temporary lights at road works. They may be narrow – the cyclist that dismounts and then walks through the red light may mean they’re not “holding you up” when you drive through…

Ok, you got me that’s more than five. But it demonstrates a complete lack of understanding/knowledge of the Highway Code! These are the most common activities that people believe are illegal but they aren’t. I couldn’t pick five from this.

Having spent time reading the Highway Code as part of research for this, what really interested me were the things that motorists do routinely that are illegal. So here are five things that I’ve noted happening on an everyday occurrence that ARE illegal.

  1. Rule 239 states “you must switch off your engine” when parked.
  2. Rule 239 also states “you must ensure you do not hit anyone when you open your door”. This means you must look before opening your door!
  3. Rule 171 states you must stop at a “STOP” sign. Not just slow down and cruise over it like you can do if a normal give way sign. You must stop and then look.
  4. Rule 174 prohibits entering a box junction until your exit road or lane is clear, unless you are turning right.
  5. Rule 178 prohibits entering an ASL. These are there for the safety of cyclists – and can be why they filter through the traffic.

There’s more – but I’ll leave that for an exercise for the reader.

How many of these can you say, hand on heart, you have never done whilst in charge of a motorised vehicle? How many can you say, hand on heart, that you didn’t know were illegal? If you didn’t know these, what else don’t you know about the Highway Code?

It’s very easy to accuse others of perceived (even if wrongly perceived) law breaking of other groups but very hypocritical if the accuser is mindlessly breaking law themselves. If you criticise a person for “not knowing the Highway Code” make damn sure you know it inside out. John 8:7 or Matthew 7:3 anyone?


  1. This is a perfectly logical argument regarding anyone called Wayne.2
  2. This is a joke. Don’t shout at me.
  3. All subjective terms and in the eye of the beholder, perhaps.
  4. I would say the below is narrow, not a carriageway that allows two way traffic (ie a normal urban street). But again it is subjective. I think a good yardstick is – if a car takes up the whole carriageway (like in this photo), it is narrow.
  5. What is busy? Is one vehicle “caught behind a cyclist” a queue of traffic? Is a busy road one with lots of traffic in either direction, perhaps going slowly due to sheer weight of traffic (which of course a cyclists could filter through at times?). Is a busy road one that has not much traffic but has a high speed limit?
  6. When you next drive down a road with parked cars consider what you do – do you weave in and out of the parked cars, keeping as far as left as possible or do you keep a straight line down the middle of the lane (or even straddling the centre white lines)? Why shouldn’t other road users do it if you do?
  7. Just as an aside: often told that cyclists should have to adhere to the same rules as motorists – we’re all using the same road, we should have to follow the same rules. This page shows that different types of motor vehicles have different rules! Following this logic everyone should have an HGV licence? I feel another blog….

Fatal Five: Sentencing

In a recent blog, I outlined the Fatal Five.

I promised a follow up looking at sentencing. As before, this blog is based on research and observing cases from the public gallery in court. I’ll start with a general overview of how Magistrates consider their sentence and then look at specific examples of the fatal five.

Magistrates use guidelines passed down from the Government. They are ultimately working within parameters set by Parliament and said guidance from the Government. If you feel a sentence is too light (or even too heavy) it is more likely due to the guidelines being out of date, rather than the Magistrates being ‘soft’. I would argue that any vitriol around sentences should be aimed at HM Government, rather than the Magistrates themselves. There may be instances where Magistrates impose an odd sentence, diverting from the guidelines (which they can do with reasons), but generally they are working within those guidelines.

General Approach

When a defendant pleads guilty, or is found guilty, they are convicted and a sentence must be imposed. In the Magistrates Court this ranges from an absolute discharge to six months at HM’s Pleasure1. Different offences have different minimum and maximum sentences and these are outlined by Law and in guidelines. Magistrates do not get to arbitrarily pick a sentence. This allows some consistency across England and Wales in terms of sentencing.

Magistrates have to consider the nature of the offence, any aggravating features and any mitigating features.

The nature of the offence is considered in terms of harm and culpability. Harm will look at any injuries or the value of any criminal damage, for example. Culpability will look at what the defendant did – was it premeditated, were they a ringleader or a lesser role within a group?

Once harm and culpability are defined, this creates the starting point of the sentence. Then, Magistrates look at aggravation and mitigation.

Aggravating features may be previous convictions, offence committed on bail, offence committed under influence of drink or offence committed against a vulnerable person, to name a few. These cause the sentence to increase.

Mitigating features may be previous good character or genuine remorse. These cause the sentence to decrease.

Each offence guideline outlines what should be taken into account in the above but are not exhaustive.

Once a sentence is calculated, Magistrates can allow for a guilty plea: those that pleaded guilty are entitled to up to a third off their sentence. This should be viewed as a mechanism to penalise more harshly those who do not accept responsibility straight away and cause a trial and stress for witnesses etc. rather than a carrot to get people to plead guilty.

Note: this reduction for guilty plea only applies to the fine, community order or prison sentence. It does not shorten any disqualification or reduce points.

We then have our sentence.

More complex offences will take longer; simpler offences may be very easy and straightforward and with little movement within the guidelines.

Let’s look at the fatal five.

No seatbelt – this is straightforward. A band A fine, no penalty points. A band A fine is 50% of weekly income.

Speeding – the starting point takes into account the level of speed and the speed limit. 72 in a 70 is not as bad as 72 in a 30, for example.

Speeding will fall into one of three categories. The table below shows how Magistrates would categorise the speeding and the sentence imposed. Where there is a choice of points or a immediate disqualification the Magistrates would have to consider aggravating factors, such as driving an HGV, carrying passengers for reward, poor weather conditions or location of speeding, and any mitigation, such as a genuine emergency. If speed was grossly in excess of the limit a disqualification beyond 56 days is permissible. Current guidance also pushes Magistrates to give points rather than immediate disqualification if that would make the driver a totter.2

LimitRecorded speed
2041 and above31 – 4021 – 30
3051and above41 – 5031 – 40
4066 and above56 – 6541 – 55
5076 and above66 – 7551 – 65
6091 and above81 – 9061 – 80
70101 and above91 – 10071 – 90
SentenceBand C (150% weekly income)Band B (100% weekly income)Band A (50% weekly income)
Points/disqualification7 – 56 days disqual OR 6 points7- 28 days disqual OR 4 – 6 points3 points

As an example, a driver caught at 85 in a 60 would be fined 100% of their weekly income and attract 4 – 6 penalty points. 85 is roughly in the middle of the range of speed so would probably get 5 points. If speeding was when carrying passengers for reward it may be considered so bad that an immediate disqualification of up to 28 days would be imposed.

Use of Phone – another easy one. This is 6 penalty points and band C fine (150% of weekly income). You may be asking about aggravation? Well, all fines have a range. A band C fine can go up to 175% of weekly income so there is scope for additional penalty if needed.

Drink/Drug Driving – there’s three different offences to consider. Being drunk in charge of a vehicle is different to driving whilst drunk. In charge can simply mean you are sitting in the driver’s seat. As such, there are different guidelines. Drug driving, a relatively new offence, as yet has no guidelines but has guidance. Guidance sets a minimum but is not the same as guidelines that outline harm, culpability etc.

Drunk in charge – sentence is based on the level of alcohol in your system. The table below outlines this. As you can see, it ranges from a band B fine to a community order, usually unpaid work, but does have the potential for prison for 6 weeks. In terms of the licence, the minimum is 10 penalty points up to a disqualification of 12 months.

ug in breathStarting PointRangeLicence
120 and aboveMedium Community Order3Low CO to 6 weeks prison6 – 12 months4 disqual
90 – 119Band CBand C to medium CODisqual up to 6 months OR 10 points
60 – 89Band BBand B to band CDisqual OR 10 points
36 – 59Band BBand A to Band B10 points

For example, someone caught in charge of a vehicle with 65ug in breath would face a band B or band C fine and could receive 10 points or a disqualification, depending on the nature of the offence. Previous convictions or it being an HGV would aggravate. It must be stressed this is not driving whilst drunk. This offence does not require evidence of driving, simply that you were in charge and possibly intending to drive. It tends to be situations where the driver is so obviously inebriated that the police stop them before they drive.

Drunk driving – again the sentence is based on how much alcohol in your system. Any previous drunk driving disqualification within the last 10 years will be taken into consideration as well. As you can imagine, driving whilst drunk carries heavier penalties. It is at least 12 month disqualification – no ifs, no buts. The length of disqualification will be governed by where the driver falls in the range of the breath reading plus any aggravating factors.

ug in breathStarting PointRangeLicence
120 and above12 weeks prisonHigh CO to 26 weeks prison29 – 36 months4 (if 2nd offence in 10 years, 36 – 60 months)
90 – 119Medium COLow CO to high CO23 – 28 months (36 – 52 months)
60 – 89Band C Band C to low CO17 – 22 months (36 – 46 months)
36 – 59Band CBand B to band C12 – 16 months (36 – 40 months)

For example, if our driver above who blew 65ug in breath was actually driving they would face perhaps 18 months disqualification and at least a band C fine. If they had been involved in an accident then this could push them into community order territory.

Drug driving – bit more straight forward since there is no guidelines at the moment. It attracts a minimum of 12 months disqualification and a band C fine. If aggravated it can become a community order with a 23 – 28 month ban or prison with a 29 – 36 month4 ban. The important point here is that drugs do not appear to impair driving in the same way as alcohol5 and so sentences can’t be based on the amount of drug in your system. Most people have been banned for 12 months and fined accordingly – it is often due to some other reason they get stopped (eg not wearing a seatbelt) and during the stop the police become suspicious of drug use.

Careless Driving – of the fatal five, this is the only one where a “proper” sentencing exercise happens. What I mean by that is the whole harm and culpability considerations are worked through. Those above, the starting point is fairly dictated by the guidelines. With careless driving, the Magistrates have to form an opinion. Both the prosecution and defence will try to guide them (and you can guess which party tries to increase/decrease the sentence) but it is ultimately the Magistrates’ decision.

Careless driving will fall into one of three categories:

  • Category 1 – higher culpability AND greater harm
  • Category 2 – higher culpability and lesser harm OR lower culpability and greater harm
  • Category 3 – lower culpability AND lesser harm

High culpability would be excessive speed6, aggressive driving, carrying out other tasks whilst driving, carrying passengers for reward or tiredness, to name a few. If there are none of these factors it is lower culpability. As such, it is assumed lower culpability unless there is something to indicate it isn’t.

Greater harm would be injury, damage to property or high levels of traffic.

So, let’s say a driver drove their car too close to the car in front. That in itself is careless driving, but it would be category 3.

If they did so beeping their horn the whole time, this could be considered aggressive. This could make it higher culpability. This then puts it at least category 2.

If they were just driving too close, but then crashed into the back of the car causing damage, then this creates greater harm. This makes it at least category 2.

If the driver had been driving aggressively (higher culpability) and then crashed into the back of the car (greater harm) we have a category 1 offence.

The Magistrates would have their starting point according to the following table:

CategoryStarting PointRangeDisqualification/Points
1Band CBand CConsider disqual OR 7 – 9 points
2Band BBand B5 – 6 points
3Band ABand A3 – 4 points

So our driver just tailgating would be looking at a Band A fine and 3 – 4 points. Our driver that tailgated aggressively and crashed would be looking at a band C fine with 7 – 9 points or disqualification.

Aggravation and mitigation would be considered. The guidelines give only a few aggravating features beyond the usual previous convictions etc. The main mitigating factor would be remorse and previous good character.

Our tailgating driver may get an aggravated sentence, say 4 instead of 3 points, if they had a previous careless driving conviction. Our aggressive tailgating driver could had a clean slate and so may only get 7 points. Note the range of fine is the same as starting point – however within even fine band there is discretion. For example, a band A fine is 50% weekly income but could drop to 25% or go up to 75%.


  1. Here’s the full range –
    • absolute discharge – no punishment today, off you go. Rare and only in cases where no previous and the day in court is deemed punishment enough.
    • conditional discharge – no punishment today but if you commit another offence within a set period you will be punished for that and this one. Again rare and usually for first time offenders with very minor offending.
    • fine – financial penalty based on weekly income7. There are three levels of fine and Statutory maximum levels. Compensation and court costs can be ordered on top of a fine.
    • community order – this involves the defendant in unpaid work, drug/drink rehab programmes and other activities, that are designed to prevent re-offending
    • prison – reserved for the most serious offending/offenders. Magistrates can imprison someone for up to six months per offence.
  2. Many driving offences, that don’t lead to an immediate disqualification, collect penalty points. If you get 12 in a three-year period you are a “totter” and liable to disqualification for six months, or more. I explore this in another blog.
  3. Community orders come in three levels – low, medium and high. The levels dictate how many hours unpaid work permissible etc. Low would be 40 – 80; medium 80 – 150; high 150 – 300.
  4. If sentenced to prison and disqualified, the disqualification is extended by the length of the prison sentence.
  5. There’s no body of research around since these are illegal drugs we’re dealing with…
  6. This could be speeds within the speed limit. Careless driving could be going 30 in a 30 but the weather conditions meant the speed was excessive. There is a whole debate around whether speeding is careless driving.
  7. This is why sometimes it seems the fine is really low. Someone on benefits with a band A fine pleading guilty would be fined £40; someone on £500 a week would be fined £167 or so; £100 a week and it would be £335. The fines are meant to be significant for the defendant and £40 for someone on benefits may well be significant.

Deaths on Essex Roads – 2020

What better way to spend a Friday afternoon than to collate Safer Essex Roads figures for 2020?

Here’s the stats:

2020DeathsCasualtiesPhoneDrunkDrugSeat Belt
J160149116144606
F66241131145781
M4501199160260
A225188626643
M55137127331102
J7524988277837
J65558142257798
A78046140156512
S46150110146450
O45245121130429
N2503381199405
D55128113135319
Total53649565135423465542
Av45447113196462

This works out to be roughly, on a weekly basis, one person dying and 12 being injured.

On a weekly basis, 11 people caught using their phones whilst driving.

On a weekly basis 71 people caught driving whilst over the legal limit for drink/drugs. That’s 10 a day!

These are shocking figures and shows how much law breaking occurs on our roads.

Hi-Vis

My dictionary tells me hi-vis is short for high-visibility, and means ‘easy to see in all conditions because of being a very bright colour’. There is something telling in that definition – simply brightness, not reflectiveness. We probably say hi-vis when we mean reflective clothing. For ease, I’ll say hi-vis.

Hi-vis is encouraged for a cyclist’s safety, to help them be seen by other road users. Rule 59 of the Highway Code says one should wear it. However, this is not a legal requirement, it is just guidance. Hi-vis is mandatory under a lot of health and safety rules in places where large machinery is on the move, for workers on the railway etc, all to make people more visible. The logic seems to work – be visible, you won’t get hit. I have often been ‘complimented’ on being ‘kitted out right’(1) if I happened to have hi-vis on during the day(2). Indeed, it does seem that many believe the simple act of wearing hi-vis will prevent you from being hit by a motor vehicle.

I only intentionally wear hi-vis at night. Driver’s headlights will reflect off your clothing and help you be visible. In daytime, there’s no headlights to reflect off your hi-vis and so it really just becomes no different to bright clothing. However, at night, I also make use of nice bright lights, both static and flashing, which should be enough to be make me visible. To draw a parallel, most cars don’t have hi-vis elements on them, just lights, but we don’t seem to have a worry about how visible cars are.

So, in some ways I am conflicted about hi-vis. And, when I get conflicted I go to Twitter for help.

I ran a poll. It was probably the most viral of Tweets I had ever done. I should note that most followers of my Twitter account ride bicycles. I don’t consider this a bias or skewed sample since I wanted to know what people who cycle felt. The result in the end was 45% of voters never wore hi-vis; 12% at night; 26% at night and during the day only if gloomy; and 17% always. I must admit at first I was surprised, but I read through all the replies to get a feel as to why almost 1 in 2 voters didn’t wear hi-vis.

Of those that said they always wore hi-vis there was a common thread: it wasn’t so much as wanting to be seen but as a defence against ‘sorry, mate, I didn’t see you’. Many replied along the lines that it made no difference – they’ve been knocked off their bike in head to toe hi-vis and still the driver claimed they didn’t see them – or they’ve had CLOSER passes when wearing hi-vis. A lot of people only wear it unintentionally, ie it’s a good rain coat, it just happens to be hi-vis and many commented that good bright lights will make you just as visible as other road users.

The thing that was clear from all this though was that you can be lit up like a Christmas tree and still not been seen. Why could that be? If you’re visible, surely you’d be seen? Well, to be seen one must be looking for you. And this is the crux. If drivers are not paying proper attention to the road they won’t see you. I have been in near misses, and one actual crash, in my car when other drivers have pulled out in front of me – ‘sorry, mate, I didn’t see you’ was the reply. I have been in near misses when walking because the driver ‘didn’t see the red light’. How often do we hear about motor vehicles hitting low bridges? There’s a theme, isn’t there?

And it’s not just something I’m saying, there’s research.

Ultimately, in terms of being seen, it matters not what you’re wearing if other road users are not paying attention(3). To my mind, that means hi-vis is a personal choice: if you feel more comfortable (for whatever reason) wearing it and more likely to cycle if wearing it, then do so. If you’re happy to cycle without it, then do so. Anyone campaigning for mandatory hi-vis probably doesn’t understand the problem and is, perhaps, just trying to tick a box of ‘encouraging cycling’ or at worst, making people more afraid to cycle! And, indeed, if there was proper cycling infrastructure, the hi-vis argument would disappear.


(1) indeed, once having stopped and watched me struggle to get my 8yo son across a road whilst on our bikes, a driver wound down his window to ‘thank me’ for wearing hi-vis, it meant he saw me. I actually found this annoying since a) I got ready to have a telling off for something, b) he was blocking the road c) it was patronising and d) during this feedback session, a person cycled through between us without hi-vis, but still highly visible, yet the driver claimed he didn’t see him. I had, but then I was paying attention to the road…

(2) a rare occasion, it was simply because my rain coat is hi-vis. It wasn’t a conscious decision to wear hi-vis. The only other reason I wear hi-vis in the day is if I know it’ll get dark whilst I am cycling.

(3) note how little I have used ‘seen’. Why? The use of ‘seen’ suggests someone is looking. The use of ‘visible’ does not.

The Fatal Five

More and more police forces and road safety campaigners are referring the Fatal Five. This is not some twisted Enid Blyton story but a list of the five main contributory factors to deaths/injuries from crashes on UK roads. This blog will briefly explore these five – in a follow up blog I will cover how magistrates (for they deal with most of these offences) would come to their sentencing decision. These blogs are a combination of research and observing court cases from the public gallery. (1)

It is worth noting that while each of these offences are defined in Statute law, there can be subjectivity in what the Statute meant, eg what did Parliamentarians mean by “driving” when the law was passed? As such, there can be a lot of case law around these offences which governs how courts interpret the Statute.

Careless driving – S3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 states that if a person drives a mechanically propelled vehicle(2) on a road or other public place without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place, [they are] guilty of an offence.

The legal test applied in court is that the driver did not exercise the degree of care of skill that would be reasonably expected of a driver. In other words, the driving was below(3) the required standard of a competent and careful motorist.

Examples of careless driving include splashing pedestrians with a puddle; driving too close to the car in front; risky overtaking (which would include close passing); being distracted by radio, passengers, eating; assuming right of way; pulling out of a side road into path of a vehicle; not signalling; excessive speed (eg driving too fast for wet conditions even if within the speed limit).

Defences against a conviction in court would include proving your driving was not below the required competency and care; proving the incident was a result of an unknown mechanical fault and it was reasonable for that fault to be unknown; an emergency; a medical reason (eg heart attack at the wheel).

There is some subjectivity here. What is considered competent and careful? However, the examples provided above help give an indication of things and the only real objective defence is medical or mechanical failure. The shame is I witness careless driving every single day. However, it is unlikely to get reported if it doesn’t result in an collision.

Drink/drug driving – S5 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 states a person is guilty of an offence if they drive, attempt to drive or are in charge of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place after consuming alcohol above the legal limit. S5A of the same covers drug driving.

There is no precise definition of “in charge” but you could be considered “in charge” if you are sat in the driver’s seat with the keys in the ignition – even if the engine is not on.

The offence is also objective: over the limit and you are guilty. It is not about the standard of driving (although usually poor as a result) – there is no argument over whether you were fit to drive or not. An alcoholic drinking a bottle of vodka a day may feel fine…

There’s not much more to say really. The stats around drink driving deaths are scary and most people understand not to drink and drive. The issue can be around what constitutes too much – it is sensible to not drink if you will be driving.

Drug driving is a relatively new offence. Unlike drink driving there is not necessarily an impairment in driving and drugs can remain in your system for a long time. I believe this offence has been brought in more to disrupt the lives of drug users.

Not wearing a seatbelt – the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts) Regulations 1993 require everyone in a motor vehicle to wear a seat belt. There are some exceptions (eg when reversing). The driver is held responsible for anyone under the age of 14. This offence is fairly objective. You are either wearing it or not although the court would have to be shown that one of the exceptions did not apply.

Speeding – Part VI of the Road Traffic Regulations 1984 covers speeding. Under S89, a person who drives a motor vehicle on a road at a speed exceeding a limit imposed … shall be guilty of an offence.

Speeding itself is not necessarily considered careless driving(4) (they are separate offences) and one could be driving carelessly at speed within the speed limit. Speeding is objective – there is a limit. If you are over that limit you are guilty of the offence. The main defences would be around technicalities – there was no legal speed limit sign, the police equipment was faulty and so recorded the wrong speed or that it wasn’t you!(5)

Using a mobile phone – the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2003 and S41D of the Road Traffic Act 1998 cover the use of mobile phones whilst driving. A person is prohibited from driving a motor vehicle if they are using a hand held mobile phone. Courts interpret “hand-held” as a device that is, or must be, held in the hand in order to be used. Therefore, if you pick up the phone to answer a call, put it on loud speaker and put it down again, you are liable to conviction.

Courts also interpret driving to include when the vehicle is stationary (eg in a queue of traffic at lights). In effect, the only way to not be considered driving is to be parked, hand brake on and engine off. And to be doubly safe, remove the keys from the ignition and throw them on the back seat.

This is another fairly clear cut case (outside of the driving question above). If it is in your hand at any point, when being used, you are guilty. The only real defence is calling 999 and it is impracticable or unsafe to stop in order to do so.

That, in five nutshells, is the fatal five. When you next drive why not take extra care to ensure you are not committing any of these – for your safety and the safety of others.


(1) anyone can attend court to observe. It is public domain. If you have a day spare I would recommend it.

(2) whilst not defined in Statute, mechanically propelled is interpreted as a vehicle that is pushed along by a mechanism, ie an engine (using petrol, oil, coal or electricity) not a person.

(3) dangerous driving is when it is well below the required standard.

(4) this is probably a highly debatable point – surely if you are speeding you are not taking care? I can only assume that since there are separate offences speeding is not necessarily considered careless. It could be simply that speeding in law is very objective. Perhaps too many people in the past argued successfully that they were speeding (ie above the limit) but still being careful? Or perhaps speeding is an older offence?

(5) if it wasn’t you then you are legally obliged to advise who was driving, otherwise you’re liable to conviction under S172 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Three assaults in one hour? Call the police!

This blog came to mind when I went for a bike ride this morning. I was gone an hour.

I still have to review footage from the cycle cameras but three close passes stick in my mind. On top of the criteria outlined previously, I find a reaction of me turning to look at the vehicle as it passes is a good indicator (*) and these three did just that. All three though made me feel the threat of unlawful personal violence (ie being hit with a car).

One, a driver that overtook me with oncoming traffic. Not a million miles an hour, but it was forcing through a narrow gap. Using my criteria it may go unreported but I’ll review the footage, but at the time unnerving.

Two, a taxi driver that overtook me with no oncoming traffic whilst I was alongside parked cars. The gap between the taxi and parked cars was not much more than me. I should have taken primary position but not always possible. The danger here? I could have been car doored with nowhere to go or what if the taxi driver suddenly swerved to the left? In this case it felt the taxi driver had not really acknowledged my existence.

Third, a van. I was cycling up hill, a bit slow as you’d expect. I heard the van approaching me from behind. It stayed behind me as we went through a traffic island but sped round me as soon as I had gone through and abruptly moved in front of me to sneak through the next traffic island. Considering the length of the van I was almost broadsided by this. I made a vocal exclamation.

The point of this? Well. This was a bike ride of one hour. In that time three drivers intentionally or recklessly (more likely) caused me to apprehend immediate unlawful personal violence.

That sounds a bit legalese, doesn’t? Well, it is.

It is the definition of assault. In English Law you do not need to be touched to be assaulted. The threat of violence itself constitutes an offence. “Personal violence” includes simply touching someone. No injury is required. So, if the actions of someone makes you fear immediate personal violence then you’ve been assaulted. It doesn’t have to be intentional. It can be reckless, ie an unintended outcome of someone’s action.

Whilst riding a bike, if a driver’s standard of driving is so poor that they make you fear personal violence (ie being touched in an unlawful way) then that could constitute an assault.

Now, compare these two statements. Let’s say two friends said one each. What would your reaction be? To which one would you say “Call the police!”?

  1. I went for a hour’s walk today. In that time, I was assaulted three times.
  2. I went for an hour’s bike ride today. In that time, I was close passed by three drivers.

(*) So much so I am considering investing in a third camera to go on the helmet to allow footage showing how close they are.

Why do cyclists carry cameras?

I have cameras on my bike now.

I never wanted to be this person.

I had often adhered to the “don’t grass” mentality, the “I don’t want to get anyone into trouble” mentality, the “I don’t want to ruin someone’s life” mentality. But, having cycled more regularly over the last few years, I have been struck (metaphorically, not literally) by the number of times a driver has acted with little consideration for others, be it speeding, using their phone or just driving in an inconsiderate or careless manner. I started thinking: if the driver does not consider the impact (another interesting choice of words) of their actions on me and my life, why should I hold back from reporting something that endangered me and/or other road users.

By not reporting things, we are tacitly condoning it. When you’re out and about, observe drivers. I bet you will see them using their phones, jumping red lights, driving too close to the car in front, cutting corners at junctions or speeding. If they are not reprimanded for such behaviour it will be regarded as normal or acceptable. I decided if I saw something I would report it.

However, the thing that really sent me down this road was the number of times I, directly, have been put in danger by drivers not driving safely.

  1. Close passes.
  2. Drivers overtaking and then immediately turning left in front of me or immediately having to stop (traffic lights or queue of traffic).
  3. Drivers not giving way at junctions requiring me to emergency stop.
  4. Driving through gaps when the obstruction is on their side – I’ve had a white van accelerate towards me, for which the only safe response was for me jump off my bike on to the pavement, in a quiet back street in Ashingdon.

Note – all of the above are covered by the Highway Code in some way.

None of these were caught on film. I was not able to take a note of a registration plate (since trying to save my life takes priority) and if I had, it’s my word against theirs. So the only solution was to install cameras.

But I did decide on criteria for reporting. There’s a process. First off – I need to witness it or be subject to it. Reviewing the video after the ride looking for something feels a bit over the top. If we meet this criteria then:

  1. I review any video that evening and decide then whether to report.
  2. If offence 1 above, I will consider:
    • the speed and position – if they have slowed and made some room (eg crossing the white line) then it is less likely to be reported
    • oncoming traffic – if none it is more likely to be reported
    • was it a pinch point – if yes, more likely to reported.
  3. Offences 2 and 3 above are usually always reported.
  4. If offence 4, I will consider:
    • the speed
    • how close they were when going through the gap.
  5. Any other illegal act caught on film (eg mobile phone) is a direct report.
  6. In any of these I consider if a professional driver (eg taxi, delivery van, HGV). They should know the law and set an example.
  7. There are, however, two potential trumps. Two potential rules that overrule any of the considerations in points 2 and 4:
    • Firstly, my reaction at the time. If it’s something along the lines of “F@@k me!”, it will be reported.
    • Secondly, if any of these were against my children, it’s an automatic report.

And the thing that vindicated my decision? Today was the first time I went out with cameras. I had my 11yo with me. She joined the road when it was safe to do so and the next three cars (in a row and immediately after each other) overtook me and then her, as we approached a pinch point. The gap between her and the cars was in no way safe. I am yet to review the video but I imagine HM Constabulary will be receiving three reports.

Addendum, 12th November: I had someone criticise me for having a camera. Says I’m anti-car, why am I going out looking for offenders?

I’m not… it just happens while I’m out and about. Ultimately, my camera footage may include drivers offending against other drivers, pedestrians offending against other pedestrians; it may have footage of a robbery. I’ll report anything I see (note my first criterion above) I feel should be reported. It is there to improve the safety of everyone, not just me, and not just against drivers.

Addendum January 2021: I find I have reduced what I report a lot. Based on feedback from Essex police much what I believe to be close will not merit action, if you look at this page you’ll see videos of things that have gone no further. Obviously, there is subjectivity in all this – and there does seem to be inconsistency within the police regarding what gets actioned and what doesn’t. It may not lead to any physical harm but the standard of driving is still poor…

My main criteria these days is how I reacted at the time. I hope I don’t become too desensitised to things…

Addendum March 2021: I now have three cameras: a helmet, front handlebar and seat stem mounted. I recently repositioned my front camera to record behind me/to the side. This really illustrates how close vehicles can be which isn’t always picked up by a front viewing or rear viewing only camera. It records the actual pass – something you don’t get with just a front and rear camera – and you may be able to get a glimpse of the driver! If you are considering running cameras I would recommend one in this position.

Where do we park?

“Where do we park?” is one of those questions I hear a lot when planning a trip. Needing to know where one can park their car is important but focussing on it also implies a car dependency – at no point has the idea of NOT driving been considered.

Local councils get criticised for not providing parking in town centres, as if the lack of parking prevents people from coming to town even though there’s public transport and walking as options.

But this blog is more about parking on the highway, not the lack (or perceived lack) of parking provision for visitors.

Let me start with a theoretical conversation:

Child: “Dad, can we get a pony?”

Father: “A pony? They cost a lot of money to buy, to look after and so on. A real commitment!”

Child: “But I need one!”

Father: “We have no stables, no proper sized garden. Where would we put it?”

Child: “We’ll leave it outside in the street!”

Father: “Don’t be silly: it’ll be in the way, could be stolen, hurt. We wouldn’t be allowed to leave personal belongings like that on the street!”

Or about this one?

Business: “We’ve purchased 2 tonnes of machinery, costing £10,000, but realise we have nowhere to store it. Can we put on public land?”

Local Council: “No, that could be considered flytipping and you’ll be fined”

Now, replace “pony” and “stables” with “car” and “garage”; replace “2 tonnes of machinery” with “car”.  We wouldn’t leave a pony on the street, we wouldn’t dump machinery on the street, but once it is a car we have no issues with it. 

Cars are expensive, can get damaged when left in public places; there is probably no other item of our personal belongings we would voluntarily leave overnight out in public. We hire storage areas for belongings we don’t have space for at home, but very few think to do it for their car. The expectation is it can be left on the public highway for free. To put a figure on it: in Southend the average cost of land is £365 per square metre. The average car is 8 square metres. This equates to £2,920. Motorists are getting a rent free space that could be rented out for almost £3,000 per annum.

Parking on the road is permissible  but there are exceptions and no one has a right to a spot on the road. But, with more and more cars on the road in the UK, and 92% of their time is spent parked, parking is a problem. 

Here are some issues parking causes:

  • Reduces road capacity –  a row of parked cars literally takes the same space as a line of moving traffic. There are many streets around me that are wide enough for three lanes of traffic but due to parking on both sides only one lane of moving traffic is possible, turning a two-way road effectively into a one-way street. Indeed, some streets have been made one-way simply because of this. There are also boulevard style streets near me, with two lanes of traffic in either direction. But, parking in the left hand lane means cars simply stay on the right hand lane the entire time, even if just one car is parked.
One parked car in left hand lane. All traffic observed whilst here stayed in the right hand lane.
  • Danger to pedestrians – being forced to cross the road emerging from between two parked cars. As a kid I was taught not to do this, but in my street the entire length of it is parked cars, so one has no choice.
  • Danger to motorists – parking obscures views. When I drive there are number of junctions that require you to turn blind since the parking is preventing you from seeing if anything is coming. 
Taken in line with the give way road markings, note how obscured the view is. Funnily enough, when I went to cross the road, a car was there I had not been able to see…
  • Pavement parking – so many cars are parked on the pavement, even if partly (ie two wheels on the pavement, two on the road). The rationale given is that the road isn’t wide enough and so parking fully on the road would be an obstruction. But, by parking on the pavement they’re still creating an obstruction – to pedestrians, wheelchair users etc. But this gets dismissed, since “they can always go round”.
  • Territorial – people view the bit of road outside their house as their own, when it isn’t. Despite this, people get very territorial about a bit of tarmac.

So what can be done?

In Japan (here’s an example) one has to prove they have somewhere to store their car before buying one. In Singapore  they have to pay a tax of at least 100% its market value plus obtain a certificate of entitlement at a cost of over £20,000. This is just at point of purchase – there’s more taxes to pay each year.

In the UK there is nothing to stop you just buying a car. There’s no expectation for a car buyer to consider where they will store it. When considering the purchase of a car, the cost of storing it (hiring a garage or transforming your front garden into a car port) should be considered..

But ultimately, you should consider whether or not you need a car. If we have fewer cars on the road, parking will become less of an issue.

What journeys do you make? Are they walkable? Could they have been done on public transport?

Is it simply a convenience for you to have a car and if so, how much are you willing to pay for that? If you are not willing to pay for proper storage and assume it is fine leaving it out on the street or on the pavement, where it inconveniences others, then you may wish to consider the thought you are putting your own convenience above those that do not have the choice of buying a car.

Addendum July 2021 – an article in the local paper highlighted the issue but the angle was “too many double yellow lines”. There are clearly motorists who feel the inconvenience they face of not being able to park right outside their house trumps the need to prevent parking where it is would be dangerous to do so!

How do Cycle Lanes Cause Congestion?

As an advocate of segregated cycling infrastructure, it may seem to be an odd blog title: how do cycle lanes cause congestion?

This blog came to mind when I read this article in the Sunday Telegraph over my morning porridge:

It is a very common argument: cycle lane installed, reduces road space, causes congestion. And you can see the logic – ten cars spread over two lanes, on average, would be two queues of five cars. Make it one lane, then that is a queue of ten cars. Quite reasonable. Obviously, the cycle lane has caused congestion. But there is a flaw in the logic.

It is confusing the cause with something making the symptom worse.

Congestion is a symptom of too many cars on the road. Anything which reduces road space will make the symptom worse. The problem is that we become used to a certain level of traffic. It becomes normalised and we no longer see it as congestion. So, when something worsens the symptom, ie the congestion, we blame that. And thus we ignore the actual cause.

No doubt, many people drive on roads that at certain times of day the journey time is longer. It is just accepted. It’s the norm. How many of us actually stop and think – is it becuase there’s too many cars on the road?

Government statistics show that in 1991 there were 20 million registered motor vehicles in the UK. In 2020, 38.3 million. A near-doubling of vehicles in a period that the UK population only increased by 20%. Road space has not changed much in that time. So, is it really cycle lanes?

In my home town, you can count on one hand the number of segregated cycle lanes (not including “magic paint” and shared space). There’s congestion. What might the cause be? Because it ain’t cycle lanes!

And it’s not just cycle lanes that get blamed.

The advent of Sat Navs has precipitated an increase in rat-running meaning some try to avoid traffic on the main roads by using side roads. This is not much of a problem if it is just one or two drivers with the “insider knowledge” but once Sat Navs came along everyone and their dogs suddenly knew these back routes.

Low traffic neighbourhoods (I prefer people friendly neighbourhoods) are designed to stop rat-running. Of course, this means more traffic on the main roads and so complaints have been raised that they have caused congestion. But, is it not just the fact there are too many cars on the road, but over the last few years that traffic has been rat-running around residential areas?

Some parts of London recently removed their low traffic neighbourhoods on the premise of the congestion they caused. Just search on twitter and you’ll find that after the removal congestion was just as bad – it was just elsewhere.

And my last point – this article points out the Government’s support for the motorist. The Government supports a group of people responsible for the deaths of five people per day. Just let that sink in.

The Avenues, an update

A while back I posted about the Avenues, some roads near where I live. Residential roads, used as through routes. Straight roads, with cars often going well above the 30mph limit. I asked about ideas to improve them.

I have mulled it over and I think one approach would be to stop the Avenues being straight roads. This could be utilised by changing the priorities at junctions. Instead of traffic going along South Avenue, say, without giving way, the traffic gets forced into side roads.

For this to work, the junctions would have to be redesigned, rather than rely on just new road markings. Some of the side streets may have to be made one-way (although with all the parking either side they practically are anyway). A 20mph limit should be imposed as well. The Council should look at the whole neighbourhood and consider how it could redirect traffic so that it is less attractive for traffic that is trying to cut through to avoid main roads.

What this means is, instead of a car driving from one end of South Avenue to the other, potentially at great speed and without having to give way,  the driver would have to slow at the junctions and turn back into South Avenue.

Furthermore, these junctions could be designed to allow non motor vehicles to continue straight – a cut through in the junction for cycles and mobility scooters etc.

A rough sketch of one such junction is below.

IMG_4883

Helmets

A while back, I blogged about hi-viz. This post is about something that can be just as controversial: helmets.

In general, I wear one these days but when I was a kid I didn’t. At that time, there wasn’t a thing about wearing a helmet when cycling. Somewhere along the line it has become an expectation by many. If you’re not wearing a helmet, you’re not looking after yourself, and not being serious about the dangers of cycling. Many feel helmet wearing should be mandatory.

I see parallels with cricket helmets. Again, when I was a kid you didn’t need one. Somewhere along the line they became required for under 18s. Now, they are worn more often than not by adults, particularly in the higher levels of the game. Many adults started wearing them because they were involved in youth training and felt they couldn’t insist on kids wearing them if they didn’t themselves. I wear one now, but not because of bouncers/beamers – one can get out of the way of those – but for the top edge off the shoulder of the bat into the face or for when hit by a fielder who’s aim wasn’t great (or spot on, depending on how you look at).

But, the one difference is that it hasn’t prevented people playing, whereas countries that adopted mandatory helmets (eg Australia) have seen a drop in cycling. Helmets may give the impression that cycling is inherently dangerous and thus put people off.

Cycling itself is fairly risk free – the fact insurers throw it in as a freebie on house insurance bears testament to that. Cycling on the road with multi-tonne vehicles driven badly is not. So, helmets surely would help?

Well…

Helmet manufacturers themselves say they don’t or can’t test helmets for motor collisions.

Helmets have been tested and work for when one falls off their bike. This is more likely if you are doing mountain biking courses or going fast on a road bike, say. For someone pootling at 10-12 mph around town a helmet isn’t really necessary.

In addition, research has shown that those in helmets suffer more close passes – the thinking being they give an illusion of safety for driver, ie the cyclist is protected so I can get closer. There is also evidence that the most likely person to suffer a head injury on the road is a motorist, yet there are not calls for mandatory helmet wearing.

So knowing all this, why do I wear one?

In the summer, we were in Center Parcs. All four of us cycled without helmets and thought nothing of it. It was great to feel the wind through my hair. When I came home and cycled without a helmet, I felt uneasy. The only difference? Cars.

So, despite knowing that helmet was actually useless if I was hit by a car, wearing one gave me a sense of security when riding on the road with cars. Perhaps, there is a little of victim-blaming-prevention as well.

Ultimately, the main reason I wear one is because it is a very handy camera mount.