Ban HGVs, not headphones

Jon Day

Six cyclists have been killed on London’s streets in the last fortnight. On 5 November Brian Holt, a hospital porter from Aldgate, was hit by a lorry on Cycle Superhighway 2 in Mile End. On 7 November a man died after a collision with a bus in Croydon. Last week Francis Golding was hit by a coach at the corner of Southampton Row and Theobalds Road. He later died in hospital. On Wednesday morning a woman was hit by a heavy goods vehicle as she cycled round Bow roundabout, where two other cyclists have died this year. Another man died on Thursday morning after he was hit by a bus at the junction of Whitechapel Road and Commercial Road on Wednesday night. He was also cycling along CS2. Yesterday, a cyclist was killed in a collision with an HGV in Camberwell. Another was hit in Camden in the afternoon, and three more are in hospital with serious injuries. Fourteen cyclists have died in London so far this year.

In an interview with LBC radio last week, Boris Johnson appeared to suggest that at least some of these deaths were the fault of the victims:

Unless people obey the laws of the road and people actively take account of the signals that we put in, there’s no amount of traffic engineering that we invest in that is going to save people’s lives... If you take these hasty, rash decisions that we’re seeing sometimes, then you will be endangering your life.

Last year the mayor claimed that 62 per cent of cyclists killed or seriously injured in London had committed ‘some infraction of the rules of the road’. He later admitted that he’d been told the statistic at a mayoral hustings meeting and didn’t have a source for it.

The London Cycling Campaign has long argued that the Cycle Superhighway network is badly thought through and dangerous. Johnson trumpets his investment in cycling but seems fundamentally unwilling to challenge the dominance of motor traffic in London, preferring to spend money on more visible projects, such as painting tarmac blue and installing Boris bikes. Ashok Sinha, the chief executive of the LCC, has said that a proposal for a safer crossing for cyclists and pedestrians at Bow roundabout was rejected because it would have caused delays to traffic. Earlier this year Johnson seemed more interested in expanding the cycle hire scheme with electric bikes than in improving the existing infrastructure.

In 2010 Johnson suggested he might ban lorries from central London, but these days Jenny Jones seems to be the only member of the London Assembly contemplating an outright ban on HGVs during rush hour. The mayor would rather ban cyclists from wearing headphones. Jones has repeatedly challenged Johnson’s claims that London's roads are safer for cyclists than they were when he took office. ‘The reality is that they are safer than they were twelve years ago, but they have become more dangerous since he was elected,’ she says. The statistics back her up.

Yesterday morning the Met's 'Safer Transport Command' stopped cyclists during rush hour. They told people off for not wearing hi-viz and helmets. Wearing a helmet is not a legal requirement and it is far from clear that they make cyclists any safer on the roads. It is unlikely that any of the cyclists killed in London this year would have been protected by wearing one. Several of them were.


  • 20 November 2013 at 6:00pm
    DaveyG says:
    While the cycling infrastructure needs clear improvement, it is also clear that many cyclists take absurd risks (as both a cyclist and driver i see this all the time). Banning headphones is a positive step because, as Boris says, you cant hear traffic. HGV involvement in accidents need to be addressed too and quickly (I was nearly wiped out by one recently despite clearly cycling in a lane as per my right) but surely this can be done in tandem with cyclist safety initiatives.

    Maybe "ban HGVs and headphones" would be a more appropriate title?

  • 21 November 2013 at 3:23pm
    Joe says:
    It would be interesting to know the comparative degree to which one is aurally connected to one's surroundings when (on one hand) cycling while listing to music on headphones at a moderate volume and (on the other) driving with the windows closed while listening to the car stereo. We wouldn't want to accuse cyclists of 'taking absurd risks' if the behaviors in question were equivalent to those we see as totally unproblematic in other road users, I'm sure.

    Also, while it's good and necessary to look as widely as possible for the causes of cyclist deaths, there does also need to be evidence. HGVs have been brought up because they feature in a hugely disproportionate number of cyclist deaths; does a similar statistic exist in connection with use of headphones, or is this just a convenient way of expressing the feeling that the victims of these accidents must *surely* be partly to blame?

    • 21 November 2013 at 4:28pm
      Harry Stopes says: @ Joe
      Indeed. Cyclists in London are 7 times more likely to have an accident per km ridden than their dutch counterparts - do they take 7 times more absurd risks?