Blue Monday cycling blues

This being “Blue Monday”, we are all supposed to be feeling suicidally depressed. Or whatever. I woke up this morning feeling totally indifferent, which for me is the normal state of affairs for a Monday. In today’s case this is quite positive, considering that my aim by early evening is to have initiated legal action against a publisher for non-payment of several grand in fees, and to have broken the back of my 2007–08 tax return. Heaving with drive and ambition, me.

Now, fast approaching dinner time, my mood has darkened, and this is due to having read a report in the Independent based on a press release from purveyor of motor insurance LV=. The story centres on a “survey” supposedly carried out by the company into bad cycling habits, and the mortal danger that we velopedists present to the decent, law-abiding motoring majority.

LV= claims that over the past six months there has been a 29% increase in road accidents involving cyclists. The truth is that this is no more than the difference in cycling casualties between winter and summer, and LV= is presenting a typical seasonal variation as an upward secular trend. Very naughty.

According to the cyclists’ organisation CTC, LV=’s estimate of the number of collisions involving cyclists is over nine times the official figure, and is based on a miscalculation of the number of cyclists on British roads. CTC has dismissed the motor insurer’s “survey” as a scaremongering publicity stunt. I would describe it as total bullshit.

Cycling has increased dramatically in recent years, and figures show that the activity is becoming safer as more and more people take to two wheels.

Quoth Roger Geffen of CTC:

“This is Mickey Mouse research and flies in the face all official published statistics on cycling. There is plenty of evidence showing that cycling gets safer the more cyclists there are. In London there has been a 91% increase in cycle use on the capital’s main roads since 2000, and a 33% reduction in cycle casualties in roughly the same period.

“CTC has been researching cycle safety for over a century. Manipulating statistics for a PR stunt wastes the time of the people who took part in the survey. By demonising cyclists and scaring people into staying in their cars, it also undermines the efforts of charities like CTC to encourage more cycling and improve road safety for all.

“Singling out cyclists as a law-breaking group is discriminatory and serves only to create aggression and conflict between road users. This is highly irresponsible behaviour for an insurance company professing to care about road safety.”

The data cited by LV= are bear no relation to reality, and serious questions have been asked of the company. LV= is ignoring requests for information, and its spin has been ripped to shreds in the comments following the Independent article.

As for LV=’s demand that cycle helmets be made compulsory, these provide little more protection to a human skull than do codpieces to the nether regions. I personally would only recommend their use by small children who are liable to fall off their bikes at low speed when learning to ride. LV=’s call is a cynical move intended to discourage cycling. Those countries that have implemented helmet laws have all seen a massive fall in bike use.

There are bad cyclists on the road, just as there are many reckless drivers of motor vehicles. Riders and drivers get away with their appalling behaviour, perhaps due to a lack of concern from police and public, and other riders and drivers. Base human selfishness has a lot to do with it, and you cannot legislate that away.

As a cyclist (and occasional driver) I have been known to shout at other cyclists who ignore red traffic lights and fail to use cycle lights at night. And let’s not forget those who indulge in such modish twattery as wearing shorts over perfectly adequate cycling or running tights. But far more likely am I to express myself to motorists, and bring my fist down on the tops of their vehicles.

Reinforcing the law in certain areas may help, but what is important is that existing road rules are enforced. For example, many of my recent near misses have been due to car drivers engrossed in mobile phone conversations while attempting to negotiate roundabouts and other junctions.

For tips on how to manage roads for all users, we should be looking to countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands. In many if not most cases British local authorities haven’t a clue.

Update

LV=’s PR agency Band & Brown are quick on the uptake. Just minutes after I posted these comments on their client’s ludicrous anti-cycling spin, the PRs were surfing this this website and googling my name. And so too is someone from LV= subsidiary ABC Insurance.

Update 2

An LV= press officer has presented me with an explanation of the figures published in the press release and Independent/PA articles. I shall try to find time later to paraphrase the arguments, and put forward my response. I remain totally unconvinced.