Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Why the BBC's 'War on Britain's Roads' was complete rubbish

Many people have criticised the BBC's recent 'War on Britain's Roads' programme so I know I'm hardly the first person to be saying these things. Yet, the programme was so infuriatingly banal that say them I must.

While being an hour of reasonably well-produced television, 'War on Britain's Roads' was brutally misinformed as to the real reasons that cyclists and motorists come into conflict on our streets. The programme went for the 'human-angle', interviewing both cyclists and motorists involved in incidents and eventually implicitly concluding that we should all get along better and perhaps lorries should have more mirrors and sensors on them.

A taxi driver very dangerously cuts up a cyclist. Rather than this just being condoned out-of-hand so we can all move on, we are interested treated by the BBC to 'both sides of the story'. This is bullshit. The taxi driver was at fault. He shouldn't have passed the cyclist so close. He could have killed the cyclist. Why can't this just be accepted as a fact?
If the cyclist can knock his frame to tell him he's too close, then he's too close. There shouldn't be any debate over this.

This is all 'true'. But it's also the sort of trite rubbish that a child could come up with simply by imagining a road that's being used by a cyclist, a motorist, and an HGV.

There is no pathological, eugenic difference between Britons and Hollanders.

The reason Dutch people do not have a 'War' on their roads is that Dutch roads are designed so that cyclists and motorists can both use the roads safely.

This is done in many ways. One of these is putting in cycle lanes on most roads where cars are doing 30mph or more which prevents motorists becoming angry about cyclists slowing them down when they want to drive at 30mph or above.

Do the BBC recommend implementing more and better cycle lanes, even implicitly? 

No. They seem to imply instead that motorists should perhaps maybe calm down a bit if they don't have space to overtake, and cyclists should maybe just bite the bullet if they get hit because they're 'taking control of the road'. (and on that note, can you think of a more idiotic and unnecessarily inflammatory way to describe cycling in the primary position?)

Similarly, after focusing on the tragic story of a young woman who was killed by a left-turning lorry, did the narrator draw the conclusion that enforcing a London-wide ban on HGVs that lack industry-standard mirrors and motion sensors would be a good idea?

No. It was simply left to the woman's bereaved mother to pursue her solo-campaign with the lorry companies that still fill our streets with dangerously ill-equipped vehicles. But why should this be one woman's responsibility? Anyone can get killed by a left-turning lorry. It's everyone's responsibility. Yet the BBC's opinion seems to be that people who (idiotically?) choose to cycle are some 'other tribe' that need to fend for themselves and don't come in for the basic rights of government-led safety that any normal citizen is entitled to.

How many of these cyclists have a head-cam? None. The BBC failed to mention that the agressive head-cam footage used for the programme was completely unrepresentative of both the cycling style and experience of the majority of Britain's cyclists who rather surprisingly don't choose to cycle on road-bikes at 30mph.

I could go on all day about the problems with the programme, but I'll end with a final thought:

Throughout we were treated to a fair range of clips of motorists behaving badly, then cyclists behaving badly, in what I presume was an attempt to give a 'balanced view' of the situation. Yet, did the narrator mention that in the case of motorists behaving badly cyclists die (119 so far in 2012; a five-year high). And did the narrator mention how many motorists have been killed by cyclists jumping red lights? I confess I don't know the exact figure off the top of my head but I imagine it's somewhere around zero.

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not condoning red-light-jumpers for a second. But there is, at least for my money, a complete difference both in degree and consequence between the crimes of bad driving and bad cycling.

I would have preferred it if BBC's 'War on Britain's Roads' could have pointed this fact out. Or if one of the cyclists interviewed had had the presence of mind to do so when confronted with the extreme footage of a messenger race at the end of the programme, instead of blithely suggesting that a "punch in the face" was the solution to the 'everyday' problem of a bicycle courier competition held for a cash-prize 6 years ago.


If you'd like to make a complaint about the programme you can do so in about 2 minutes here. (The BBC do at least have a very quick and easy online complaint-making system in place...)

For two much more thorough and better researched pieces on the same subject please also see:

As Easy As Riding A Bike's excellent recent article: That 'war' on Britain's roads - the statistics
- Peter Walker's latest piece in The Guardian: BBC's War on Britain's Roads: even more fake than we feared