Road Safety News

MP says BBC cycling documentary is “garbage”

Thursday 6th December 2012

A documentary on the “war” between cyclists and drivers, which aired on BBC One last week, has been described as “stupid, sensationalist, simplistic, irresponsible nonsense” (Telegraph).

The comments came from Ian Austin, joint chair of the Parliamentary Cycling Group and Labour MP for Dudley North, about the programme, titled ‘The War On Britain’s Roads’, which claimed a battle is raging between cyclists and drivers.

The hour-long documentary was aired against a backdrop of rising cyclist casualties and demands for investment in infrastructure to make it safer to ride a bike.

The aim of the documentary was to offer an insight into the daily conflict between cyclists and motorists. Footage from cycle helmet cameras provided a close-up view of the unfolding tension and conflict.

But Ian Austin described the programme as “about as representative of ordinary cycling in Britain as a James Bond car chase is of ordinary driving”.

He added: “I am not in favour of banning programmes, but I don't see why garbage like this should be produced in the first place and if the BBC insists on showing it, they have a duty to ensure that it is placed in context and the real issues around cycling and driving in Britain are discussed properly on its other programmes.

“I cycle in London every day I'm there and have cycled all over Britain and whilst I do see drivers and cyclists do things they shouldn’t, I have never seen some of the things they present as everyday occurrences.”

A BBC spokesman defended the documentary, saying: “The War On Britain's Roads is a serious examination of the relationship between cyclists and other road users.

“It uses actual footage of real incidents to provoke discussion and investigates the outcomes and consequences of several of the incidents captured. Raising awareness of these issues, on a prime time BBC One programme, can only be a positive thing for both cyclists and other road users.”

Click here to read the full Telegraph report, or click here to watch the documentary.


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As a regular motorcyclist and driver in urban environments barely a journey goes past where I don't see or experience similar things to those shown on the BBC last night. Suggesting it's just sensationalism is perhaps a way of avoiding the unpalatable truth that years of cutting roads policing resources, squeezing the network to accomodate bus and cycle lanes and a driver training system that just gets people to pass a test has produced a situation where people fight for road space and see other road users as opponents.

As the programme concluded, roads should be shared space, not competitive space. Let's get our heads out of the sand and start to deal with the problem.
Dave, Leeds

Agree (20) | Disagree (1)

Other factors to bear in mind are:
• The massive increase in traffic that is now way above what many urban roads and networks were designed to carry
• Many roads have evolved from local track ways and even Roman roads to carry all sorts of combinations of traffic over the centuries
• Private cars, motorbikes, buses and goods vehicles are significantly larger in all dimensions - especially width - and take up more roadspace
• The number of cars and vans that are kept parked on our roads, reducing available space for anyone to travel along them
• Modern life is impatient and deadline driven - real or imagined - which reduces many road users' tolerance of any perceived delay

We do need to look seriously at all the contributory factors and the realistic and achievable options to improve the travelling experience and safety for all road users. We do need to share the road and stay calm – all of us!
Honor Byford, Vice Chair, Road Safety GB

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Having watched the programme on BBC, I must agree that it certainly did seem to be sensationalist. After all it is not difficult to produce a programme around conflict with regard to two groups with opposing views. Minority groups in each camp are as bad as each other, you do not need a TV programme in order to establish this.

Without this sensationalist approach the BBC know that viewing figures will be down.
When was the last time anyone aired a road safety programme or documentary without such an approach?

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I would not suggest that the issue is sensationalism, simply the means that which the programme was put together and the way they portrayed it is.

Policing would not solve this. Policing will only pick up those that have been identified as been involved in such conflict.

I must admit that I believe the issues identified in the programme last night identify a general decline in the behaviour of a minority in our society regardless of what the arena is.

It is unfortunate that as almost half the country drive, it is an area in which an individual's character and behaviour can be triggered to extract the worse traits of their behaviour.

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By definition minority is less than half while majority is greater than half. Are you suggesting that these clips are coming from the majority of cyclists?

Having taken to motorcycling again after many years, I am more aware of the proximity of other vehicles to the rear etc. However, I do not believe they are deliberately driving close. They are simply doing what they do to all road vehicles and unaware of the impact on vulnerable two wheel users.

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Basically to my mind what came out of the programme is intolerance towards others. There were mistakes and beligerances on both sides but with more willingness to compromise and understanding (and less testosterone) a lot of the aggressive conflict could be curtailed.

With the increase in traffic, particularly in London and I am sure many other larger cities, at peak times our road system and users have difficulty in coping. Each defending his own right to be there.

lets not forget historically, before the modern car and following the war years, thousands of people walked and rode on cycles and motorbikes the short distance to work and cars were not as frequent.

As we became, as a nation, more affluent in the 1960s then cycles disappeared and cars predominated our traffic thinking so one has as had some 50 years without the presence of cyclists.

Now due to global warming the cyclist is the darling of the government and as such we are encouraged to take up cycling and also cycle to work.

This more recent proliferation of facilities and changes in laws to accommodate cyclists' useage has not gone unoticed by other road users and to them it smacks of preferential treatments which many do abhore.

And so the cycle goes on and on and on.
bob craven Lancs

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A very interesting and thought provoking programme, but I couldn't help but notice that not one of the cycles shown was fitted with a rear-view mirror. In most of the events shown the problem seems to be a complete lack of awareness of what is happening behind the rider and by the time the conflicting vehicle comes alongside it will be far too late for the cyclist to do anything about it.
Duncan MacKillop, Stratford on Avon

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Keith, I think the answer to your question is: it was in the 1980s. The programme was called "The Biggest Epidemic of our Time" and it was the BBC!
Right Road NW

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I regret that I only saw part of the documentary but what I did see mirrors my observations of what I have been in the mix with when on the few occasions I have had to drive in London.

Coming out of London across what is now an extended rush hour is frightening. Cyclists seem to be adopting a somewhat competitive approach to their commuting on a pedal cycle and as a car driver one is frequently only inches away from catching their rear wheel. Two, three or four abreast is not untypical. Cyclists are looking for car drivers to be more tolerant towards them and that I applaud but it does work both ways. London might not be replicated across the majority of UK but the clips on the programme are real and not just from a minority. I guess they probably don't see the danger that I as a car driver do.
Graham Feest, AIRSO Secretary

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I think Keith’s third and fourth paragraphs in his second comment, sums up the problem admirably and succinctly, but would also point out that the programme did also show police officers, also on cycles, being pro-active and taking action against all wheeled offenders.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

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If you think that the footage shown in the programme is not representative, you need to think again. I was a passenger in the seat nearest the front of a Park And Ride bus in Cambridge only two days ago, and I witnessed the driver overtaking a number of cyclists whilst giving them nowhere near enough room. I strongly suspect that the riders were shaken by the experience.
David, Suffolk

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Graham, a motorist is encased in a tonne of metal and a cyclist is not. If a cyclist acts recklessly with a motorist then it is the cyclist that gets injured or worse and only have themselves to blame. However if a motorist acts recklessly with a cyclist the motorist will not get hurt, but the cyclist will. I'm glad you see the dangers, because some motorists don't.
Wayne Moore West Midlands

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Drivers squeezing cyclist. The aggressive angry taxi showed the common belief that as soon as his taxi is mostly in front of the cyclist, the cyclist has to alter their speed and direction to make room for the taxi driver. As a driver I am all too aware of this overtaking procedure but as a cyclist with much more braking distance needed, this move can be deadly. As a cyclist I have had three drivers swerve towards me this year. One driver squeezed her car between myself and a couple pushing a pram on the opposite side of a narrow country road. It was truly heart stopping as the woman pushed her anxiously grimaced face against the windscreen as if threading a needle. Only the thread was a 40mph moving car.
Cam, Kent

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I have never, as a cyclist, had incidents and confrontations as shown in this BBC programme and I wonder whether those cyclists that ride in a manner that brings confrontation are the ones using cameras to document their confrontations?

The programme also showed that safe is not necessarily legal, and legal not necessarily safe. A cyclist illegally goes through a red light and safely crosses a junction. To speak to him, an officer then goes through the same red light straight in front of a car.

I thought Cynthia was a magnificent woman. She turned the tragedy of her daughter's death into a campaign to prevent someone else going through the same trauma as she suffered. She studied the evidence, came up with solutions, implemented them and monitored progress.

Although there are good reasons to criticise previous BBC programmes on road safety, this was better than others they have broadcast.
Dave Finney - Slough

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