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Telford and Abergele - Cyclists' Right to Travel in Safety on trial

Primacy of Assertive Driving

In the same week as an Abergele car driver is fined 180 for his part in the deaths of four members of Rhyl Cycling Club and the injury of another, a Telford District Judge has fined a cyclist 100 with 200 costs for allegedly cycling inconsiderately and delaying traffic 15 seconds or less although he was cycling in accordance with the National Standard for cycle training

CTC member Daniel Cadden was cycling downhill on a single-lane approach to a roundabout, when he was stopped within 300 metres by police who believed that the position he had adopted, three feet from the lane edge, was leaving no option for drivers but to illegally cross the centre white line to overtake. But rather than stop the drivers who had broken the law, the officers decided on the soft option - charging Daniel with obstructing the highway. For the handful of drivers affected by his riding, this would have amounted to a 15 second delay or less - a small price for avoiding risk to life some might argue. The police officer in giving evidence was quite clear that the most important consideration was to allow traffic to drive at the maximum permitted speed for the road, 60mph.

In a Press Release, CTC Director Kevin Mayne commented, "The police at the scene said that Daniel should have been cycling well over to the left - effectively in the gutter - but the judge felt that Daniel should have crossed three lanes of busy traffic and used a segregated cycle track to save fractions of seconds off the journey times of a few motorists. CTC continues to fight a re-draft of the Highway Code, which says cyclists 'should use cycle paths where provided', in order to tackle the attitude - held by many people in the judiciary, police and public alike - that cyclists should be out of the way of motorists."

For cyclists there is a fundamental problem here, inasmuch as there is a specific law that the passage of traffic should not be unreasonably impeded, but there is no law that says that you should cycle in a way that maximises your own safety. Cyclecraft, the book published by The Stationery Office on skilled riding techniques, states: "The primary riding position (the centre of one's lane) should be your normal riding position when you can keep up with traffic, or when you need to prevent following drivers from passing you dangerously."

The primacy of assertive driving, where drivers are led to believe 'good driving skill' involves an emphasis on 'making progress' and knowledge of how to recover from a skid, rather than how to avoid getting into one in the first place, has also caused bitterness amongst the families and members of the Rhyl Cycling Club.  A statement by Leigh Day and Company acting on behalf of the families states, "The families of the cyclists killed and injured........are very disappointed and surprised at the decision of the Chief Crown Prosecutor to prosecute only for the.....three defective tyres". But in a letter to the Court, solicitors for the defendent stated that their client's driving did not contribute to the accident.

Both the Abergele and Telford actions remain on-going. The former will now proceed to a Coroner's Court hearing and we understand an appeal against conviction and sentence in the latter case has been lodged. Each involves important principles of driving practice and the right of all cyclists to proceed in safety on the roads of the UK.

Daniel Cadden's defence was supported by the Cyclists' Defence Fund (CDF), the independent charity founded by CTC to provide cyclists with support in legal cases. The CDF paid for John Franklin, author of 'Cyclecraft', to appear as an expert witness for the defence. Chair of the Cyclists' Defence Fund, Colin Langdon, said: 'This is exactly the sort of case for which the Fund is always in need of donations, so that we can defend the rights of cyclists as road users and more generally raise awareness of cyclists' position in law."

To donate money to the Cyclists' Defence Fund, go to www.cyclistsdefencefund.org.uk .

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