A war on all road users’ sensibilities

Notwithstanding the alarming picture painted in a television documentary by Leopard Films, there is no “War on Britain’s Roads”. There are instead large numbers of people going about their business with various modes of transport, with a small proportion behaving irresponsibly, criminally, and, on mercifully rare occasion, homicidally. The problems on London roads are caused by bad driving, crap cycling and dozy bipedalism.

The “War on Britain’s Roads”, as it was presented last night on BBC1, was an example of egregious journalism of the kind that even a heavy-handed statutory public service broadcast regulator will seemingly accept. It was sensationalist reportage and commentary that serves only to foster tribalism on the roads, and tar all cyclists, cab drivers, HGV drivers, car drivers and other road users with the same negative brush. The documentary was stressful viewing, and I imagine that was the production team’s intention.

The programme also crossed a serious ethical line, and for this I hope that its producers are hauled over the coals by Ofcom and the court of public opinion. Video from cameras worn by cyclists was mixed with commercially shot film of an unrepresentative group of cycle couriers known as the “Alley Cats” engaging in illegal and criminally irresponsible urban street racing. This wasn’t explained to viewers, but it damn well should have been.

London’s roads can be dangerous for cyclists. They get killed. Often. But I cannot imagine that any more than an insignificant number of motorists and cyclists set out to cause trouble, injury and death. “The War on Britain’s Roads” was crash TV at its worst.

The programme’s only saving grace was the participation of Cynthia Barlow, a grieving mother whose 26-year-old daughter Alex was killed 12 years ago by a left-turning cement lorry. Since that terrible tragedy Cynthia has campaigned for proximity sensors and better mirrors to be fitted to large commercial vehicles, and the results of her campaign are life saving. Cameras carried by cyclists have their uses, but Cynthia is achieving more. Much more.

Cynthia’s final quote…

“It’s a competitive space, but it needs to be a cooperative space.”

Cynthia Barlow is chair of Road Peace, the UK charity for road crash victims.