Tuesday 18 December 2012

Imperial Winter Series Race 3

A balmy 11 degrees but with a fairly stiff south-westerly wind and with the skies changing from bright to threatening as the race progressed and some light rain eventually appearing.  The 3rd cat race was not that full, probably about 30 of us.  At the start line Richard C requested a more exciting race than last week.  I was sorry not to be able to oblige.  For me it was just dipping my toe gently back into racing after 3 months recovering from a spill.  Here I felt safe sitting in towards the back regaining trust.  Far ahead there were some attempts to form a break with one group of six making some promising headway at one point into the wind on what is now the home straight.  I was a bit over anxious about the final bends close to the finish and went into them last and crossed the line just behind the bunch.  I was happy to have finished and that everybody remained upright.  Objective over the coming weeks is simply to regain some confidence.
After I remembered to turn the Garmin on about a lap in, we did 25 miles in a smidgen over an hour.  Average 24.7 mph.
Results and report should be here shortly

Friday 14 December 2012

Legal Update R v Beiu; R v Aydogdu

This afternoon two juries in two separate London Crown Courts have delivered their verdicts in cases which have involved Defendants that have been (allegedly) responsible for causing death and very serious injury to two cyclists.

On 4th November 2011 Mary Bowers, a journalist with The Times, was struck down by a left turning lorry at a light controlled junction very close to her workplace in Wapping.  The lorry was being driven by Petre Beiu.  The evidence placed before the jury included that Ms Bowers was visible to be seen in front of the lorry for many seconds before he overtook her and turned left across her path; that Mr Beiu was talking on a hands free telephone at the time and that in the aftermath of the collision he jumped out of the cab leaving the handbrake off so that the lorry continued to roll over Ms Bowers.  Ms Bowers sustained devastating injuries which are seriously underestimated by describing her brain injury as 'significant'.

The jury decided that Mr Beiu was not guilty of dangerous driving.  They convicted him instead of careless driving - an offence which he had accepted, though the Judge had still left the jury with the option of acquitting on that charge as well.

Mr Beiu was fined £2,700 and banned from driving for (just!) 8 months.

On 6th August 2011 Sam Harding was riding his bicycle in a bus lane along Holloway Road.  As he passed a parked car, Mr Aydogdu, opened the door (wide according to the prosecution and a crack according to the Defendant) into the path of Mr Harding who hit the door and then was struck by a bus.  It transpires that Aydogdu had applied some reflective coating to his side windows which blocked 83% of the light.  The jury this afternoon decided that Mr Aydogdu was not guilty of the manslaughter of Mr Harding.

Following on from the case of the Townend brothers, these cases must give rise to concerns over how seriously the average jury considers the obligation not to endanger cyclists.  A jury reflects the society from which it is drawn and whilst cycling remains stuck at a modal share of 2% of journeys it is going to be an exceptional jury that contains even one regular cyclist.  That should change, if and when the proportion of cyclists on the roads increases.  However in rather a catch 22, the number of cyclists on the roads is inhibited by the apparently low value that the legal system appears sometimes to place on the value of the life of a human whilst cycling.

I commented at the time that I considered that the decision in the Townend case was perverse (the jury acquitting the Defendant of even causing death by careless driving); the verdict in the Bowers case is astonishing and to be honest the result in the Harding case was, to me, not unexpected.

In the Harding case it appears to me that tragically a combination of factors combined to result in the tragic outcome.  First, Aydogdu's daft decision to coat his windows so as to restrict his ability to see out (and that of others to see in).  Second, the pressure that cyclists often feel under to ride too close to the left.  In February (after Mr Harding's tragedy) The Times, as a part of its campaign published a 'Guide to Safe Cycling' which included advice to cyclists to look in wingmirrors and windscreens of parked cars to see if anyone in the car might be about to open a door.  NO!  The correct advice is DO NOT RIDE IN THE DOOR ZONE.  If for some extraordinary reason (narrow road, oncoming bus for example) you have to then slow to a walking pace.  At the time I advised discarding the Times guide in favour of  British Cycling's 'Effective Traffic Riding'.  Nonetheless there is definite pressure remaining on cyclists and encouraged by most cycling 'infrastructure' that deters many of us from adopting the safest riding position in the centre of our lane.  Third the opening of the car door which must have been done without careful observation even if the jury determined it was not gross negligence.  Fourth the bus driver (though exculpated by the prosecution at Aydogdu's trial) should have been holding well back behind a cyclist or ought to have been giving him a car width's space if overtaking.  I do not know the detail of the evidence but it seems to me surprising that a cyclist falling into the road would be run over by a bus if best driving practice was being followed.  Sadly my experience commuting in London is that very often buses get much much too close.  This tragedy illustrates why they (and others) must not do so.

It is important to recognize that the correct charging decisions were taken in each case.  The fact of acquittal does not in any sense indicate that the bringing of the charges was not justified.  Far too often I have had cause to complain in these pages that the appropriately serious charge was not pursued and it is only right to acknowledge that the police and CPS have been conscientiously doing the right thing in the cases I refer to above.

Thursday 13 December 2012

Cycle Super Highway 9. A Response.

Last month, believing the plans for CSH9 to be out for consultation I submitted my observations.

I have today had a response from the Head of Transport at the London Borough of Hounslow.  I reproduce it below followed by my response:

Sent: 13 December 2012 11:05
To: Martin Porter QC

Subject: RE: Cycle Superhighway 9

Dear Mr Porter

Thank you for your email and its attachment. 

This is merely an interim response as I am on leave from today, returning early January.

The consultation process has not yet begun.  Subsequent to the Central Hounslow Area Forum report, TfL expressed a wish to consult along the entire BCS9 route in a joined-up fashion – this is now likely to happen in April 2013.

The Cycle Superhighways are targeted primarily at people who want to cycle to work.  They aim to get existing commuter cyclists to cycle more, encourage leisure cyclists to start cycling into work and give new cyclists the support and confidence they need to start. They are designed to provide safer, faster, more direct and continuous routes between outer and central London.  As I am sure you will be aware, cyclists have many levels of ability and have a range of needs and aspirations in terms of infrastructure.  It is unlikely that all of these can be completely met with the provision of the cycle superhighway infrastructure but we will aim to provide a step-change in facilities for the great majority. 

Few cyclists would be able to match traffic speeds in outer London, even in peak periods, unless they ignore red lights.  Where there are long peak-hour traffic queues, we sometimes have bus lanes, which provide excellent cycling facilities.  Even fewer cyclists would be able to match traffic speeds in the off-peak, and of course even commuting cyclists may travel at different times of the day.  Facilities that allow cyclists to ride alongside motor traffic and be safely overtaken by it (and “undertake” it when the traffic is slower) should cater for the majority of cyclists needs. All the outline designs are under review prior to consultation, and the plans presented to the CHAF are clearly marked as draft and subject to further discussion.

In closing, I’d point out that my team and I are all keen and experienced cyclists, of differing levels of fitness and ability.  We are doing our best to ensure that the design of the cycle superhighway through our borough best meets all of our needs and those of our residents, workers and those who cycle through our borough en route elsewhere.



Chris Calvi-Freeman
Head of Transport
Regeneration, Economic Development & Environment Department
London Borough of Hounslow
Civic Centre, Lampton Road, Hounslow, TW3 4DN

And my response:

From: Martin Porter QC
Sent: 13 December 2012 11:59
To: 'Chris Calvi-Freeman'

Subject: RE: Cycle Superhighway 9

Dear Mr Calvi-Freeman,
Many thanks for your response which as requested I shall treat as interim and I look forward to a more full response in due course.  Please let me know if I need to resubmit my evidence for it to be taken into account when formal consultation takes place.
Although your response is interim there are some points that I feel need to be challenged.
Most cyclists can match average traffic speeds on the congested roads that lie between Hounslow and Central London (i.e. the route of CSH9).  I know this from personal observation.  I simply do not understand why you bring traffic lights into this, as both cyclists and motorists have to stop at red signals.  If speed limits are introduced and enforced that will calm the peak speeds that motorists reach as they accelerate into the next traffic queue.  Traffic lights can be phased to assist cyclists better than they presently do.
Second, a 1.5m lane is not a facility that enables cyclists to ride safely alongside a stream of traffic which includes many buses and HGVs for the reasons I have stated.  You appear to believe that if such facilities encourage cyclists to undertake moving traffic that is a good thing.  Let me assure you that is bad, not good, for cyclist safety.
Third, you imply that although the infrastructure you propose may not be helpful to me, it will assist others with different needs and aspirations.  I do not see that it will.  Many people wish to have segregated infrastructure where there is a physical barrier between cyclists and motor traffic.  For this to be worth doing it has to be done very well (“Going Dutch”).  The proposed plans with 1.5 metre wide lanes do nothing to distance motorised traffic from cyclists while at the same time they make it harder to integrate properly with traffic in the safest possible manner.
I am afraid I am sceptical that your team’s experience as cyclists is a true substitute for seeking proper advice from qualified  cyclist instructors.  I am hoping that all of your team to whose experience you refer have at least completed Bikeability level 3.
Let me assure you I am not making these observations to be awkward.  However as a taxpayer and a cyclist I hate to see public money squandered on misconceived solutions that actually make the position worse..
With best wishes
Martin Porter

Friday 7 December 2012

My Response to All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group

My evidence to the APPCG is here.
I hesitate to publish it since it is a personal response based on my experiences and is intended to cover what I perceive to be a gap in The Times and associated campaigns.  Segregation (especially if it comes with the assumption which most would make that the existing streets are for the segregated motorised, and not non-motorised, traffic) cannot it seems to me be the only answer for the foreseeable future.  We need a civilising of our streets (and Highways bar Motorways) everywhere so that they are more pleasant and inviting places to cycle.

CTC Magazine Article on Road Rage

My article on the whole Scott Lomas Road Rage Saga as printed in the CTC Magazine is now available here.

I add only the comment that I feel that the reason that it is hard sometimes to resist getting into a counterproductive row with motorists who endanger us when we are on our bikes is that we know that formal come back of the sort that ought to occur either will not happen or will happen at greater cost to us than to the miscreant.

Thursday 6 December 2012

The BBC and 'The War on Britain's Roads'

It was with some trepidation that I watched this Leopard films production last night.  Thank heavens for Michael Hutchinson on the Today programme this morning.  It is a great shame that he was not on last night's film to explain rather better certain aspects of cycling to a largely non-cycling public.
The shots from helmet camera cyclists has been done before (and I think rather better) on the BBC's One Show back in February 2011, without the false 'them and us' dichotomy which the programme makers took care to emphasise by, for example, filming all cyclists in cycling jerseys.
The positive side of the programme was the portrayal of the courageous way in which Cynthia Barlow, Chair of Roadpeace has worked tirelessly for the last 10 years, since the tragic death of her daughter, first to find out what happened to her and second to minimise the risk that the same happens to others.  The work done by her and also Kate Cairns (similarly affected by tragedy) and others would have made great television.
'War on Britain's Roads' has had a gestation longer than an elephant's.  I was approached by Leopard Films some 18 months ago and certainly got the impression then that the planned show would be more focussed on road safety.  It is almost as though someone has looked at a proposed script at some stage and required it to be spiced up with a lot more focus on the trading of insults.  Since happily no punches were thrown, I do not care what happened after the black taxi driver who had cut up a cyclist had stopped and I care nothing for his acknowledgement in subsequent interview that he had overreacted.  Having tracked him down I would have liked the filmmakers to ask why he apparently makes a habit of passing cyclists with inches to spare and whether he has any familiarity with rule 163 of the Highway Code.  Above all I would like to know whether he acknowledges that even if, by some good fortune, he has yet to run into a cyclist, his behaviour contributes to intimidating would be cyclists off the road.  The unfortunate fact is that it suited the program's thesis better to portray the taxidriver and cyclist as two sides of a coin whilst both were standing on tarmac having a row, rather than beforehand when the driver was driving a substantial vehicle badly around vulnerable roadusers and the cyclist was not presenting any danger to anybody.
Sadly many people will take from this programme whatever they like to reinforce their own existing prejudices.  My own view is that one group that come over badly are the Police, and particularly the Metropolitan Police.
-Why did Cynthia Barlow have to spend her money on a private investigator to find out what happened to her daughter?
-With all the clips of bad driving shown on that film, why is that only one has resulted in prosecution (and no, the one was not the dreadful tanker on the roundabout)?  The black cab driver referred to above was guilty of driving without due care and consideration when he passed cyclists who had nothing to do with his subsequent confrontation.  As it is he is left still believing that his driving is acceptable.
- Why did the police not investigate the Bexley assault properly, leaving it to the victims to identify the assailant?
- Why did the Cycle Task Force officer depicted  (the one who did not hesitate to thread through a junction against a red light to catch an errant cyclist) allow a taxi driver, who had intimidated a variety of cyclists and passed close enough to have his cab bashed, on his way with reassurance he had done nothing wrong?  (I thought the deferential tone adopted with the driver in contrast to the silly patronising 'get a whistle' tone he adopted with the cyclist spoke volumes).  Unfortunately, as Sgt Castle of the Task Force explained to me when I met them, they do not believe in taking motorists up on close passes because they regard it as 'too subjective'.
There is no 'war' on the roads in the conventional sense or in the sense that the programme implied, with two sides fighting it out.  The death and destruction is all on one side.  We do not need 'peacekeepers' to keep the two sides apart.  There is however a battle in getting the authorities (who after all encourage us onto two wheels) to do sufficient for our protection.  Cycling is reasonably safe but it has an image problem and is often not perceived as safe.  I have recently completed my submission to the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group and have tried to emphasise that there should be a very low level of tolerance towards those who harm, endanger or threaten vulnerable road users.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

My Response to DfT Consultation on Increasing HGV Speed Limits

Response ID ANON-KMPX-Z9JK-8
Submitted on 2012-12-04 11:05:12.725334
1 What is your name?
Martin Porter
2 What is your email address?
3 What is your organisation?
4 Policy option 1: Raise the national speed limit for HGVs over 7.5t from 40 to 50 mph on single carriageway roads. Is this
your preferred policy option? Please explain your answer.
These roads already have a poor safety record in comparison with other types of road in the UK.
Single carriageway roads are often used by cyclists and the increase in speed in the heaviest vehicles will increase the actual and perceived hazard and danger
to them.
All the problems identified in the consultation papers ('platooning', fairness and competition) can all be dealt with better by lowering the speed limit for lighter
vehicles by 10mph and by better enforcement of limits.
England and Wales is criss-crossed by a fairly comprehensive network of motorway and dual carriageway roads. Heavy traffic will be diverted from motorways
and dual carriageways onto single carriageway shortcuts if there is no longer a significant speed differential.
Above all, lowering speed limits will save lives and this is a step in completely the wrong direction.
5 Policy option 2: Raise the national speed limit for HGVs over 7.5t from 40 to 45 mph on single carriageway roads. Is this
your preferred policy option? Please explain your answer.
For precisely the same reasons given above,
6 Do you consider there to be any additional policy options, or variants of policy options 1 and 2? If so, please explain
fully and provide any evidence you may have.For example, only increasing the speed limit for HGVs over 7.5t on single
carriageways where the national speed limit applies, and retaining the 40 mph limit at other times
Keep the current speed limits for heaviest HGVs and lower the speed limit of HGVs up to 7.5 tonnes to 40 mph and lower the speed limit for light motor vehicles
to 50 mph on single carriageway roads.
7 In your opinion does the current 40 mph speed limit cause any of the following: unnecessary costs to vehicle
operators; congestion; avoidable overtaking collisions; an uneven playing field for businesses; or anything not
mentioned in this list? Please explain your answer and provide any evidence you may have.
No. This is a leading question. The blame for these supposed problems cannot sensibly be laid at the door of the 40mph speed limit. Better enforcement of the
limit would level the playing field as would the lowering of speed limits for lighter vehicles.
8 We welcome views from HGV operators and trade associations about whether they feel the balance of savings and
costs of extra speed detailed in the Impact Assessment reflects their own experience or expectations?
9 If the speed limit for HGVs over 7.5t is not raised on these roads, collisions as a result of ‘platooning’ could continue. If
it is, the frequency of collisions could decrease due to a reduction in ‘platooning’, though on the other hand the severity
of collisions could increase.
The 'platooning' problem is best dealt with by lowering the speed limit of the other vehicles.
10 Do you have any opinion or evidence on the effect of ‘platooning’ on road safety, or on the frequency or severity of
collisions involving HGVs on single carriageway roads and what effect an increase in their maximum speed limit on these
roads would have on safety? If so, please provide it in response here.
An increase in maximum speed limit will obviously have a detrimental effect on road safety. It is amply demonstrated that speed kills. It is beyond any sensible
dispute that equalising speed downward (and not up) would save lives and injuries.
11 Do you have any opinion or evidence on what effect an increase in the maximum speed limit for HGVs over 7.5t on
these roads would have on non- HGV vehicle speeds such as car speeds?
It is likely to increase car speeds which will itself have a detrimental effect on road safety.
12 The Department invites information on where there are single carriageway roads which are subject to the national
speed limit, or are signed at 50 mph, in areas where there are air quality problems.
13 What impacts, if any, do you think there will be to the following if an increased speed limit for HGVs over 7.5t on single
carriageway roads is introduced? a) Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs). Local authorities may have specific
evidence on the effect on AQMAs in their authority; b) EU air quality standards [1] ; c) Noise levels; d) Areas currently
identified as noise hotspots [2]
14 If as a result of either of the policy options being implemented there was a reduction in ‘platooning’ do you think there
would be a significant impact on: a) Noiseb) Air quality
'Platooning' has a calming effect in slowing general traffic and therefore reduces the adverse impacts on noise and air pollution.
15 Do you think either of the policy options goes against the underlying principles of the EU Environmental Noise
Directive [3] or of the Noise Policy Statement for England?[4]
Yes, both do.
16 Do you think that all of the potential health and social costs of the policy options have been considered in the Impact
Assessment? Please provide details if you think costs have not been included.
It is government policy to encourage cycling. These are roads that are frequently used by cyclists. Overtaking of cyclists by heavy vehicles on single carriageway
roads is potentially hazardous and requires a great deal of care on the part of the HGV driver. The HGV driver travelling at 40 mph has a much greater
opportunity to see a cyclist ahead and to plan his overtaking manoeuvre.
It is a serious omission that the encouragement of cycling has not been considered in the Impact Assessment.
17 Do you believe an increase in speed for this class of vehicle on these roads will cause more HGVs over 7.5t to use
single carriageway roads, which do not currently?
Yes, clearly.
HGV operators are likely to calculate and use the quickest route. Currently it is worth a modest detour to use motorways and dual carriageways, which are far
more suitable for HGVs, because they are then able to travel significantly faster. If the speed limit differential is reduced more HGVs will be attracted away from
motorways/dual carriageways and onto single carriageway routes.
18 Do you think some freight may switch from rail or water to HGVs, if the speed limit is increased on these roads for
these vehicles?
Yes for the same reasons. Any reduction in the time taken to transport by road will increase its attractiveness relative to other modes of transport.
19 Do you think that there may be added wear and tear on these roads if the speed limit is increased for these vehicles?
Local authorities may have specific comments or evidence, with regard to roads in their authority.
Yes, obviously. An HGV braking hard from 50 mph will put far more stress on the road surface than it would braking from 40 mph.
20 Local authorities have powers to alter speed limits on the local road network, including non-trunk primary routes, in
line with guidance set out in Setting Local Speed Limits, DfT Circular 1/06.[5] Do you think that the increase in the national
speed limit for HGVs over 7.5t on single carriageways, would make it more likely that local authorities would introduce
more local speed restrictions, and if so on which roads?
It would mean that they should introduce more local speed restrictions but in practice they may well not get around to doing so until many avoidable collisions
have occurred.
21 If you are an organisation that provides information and you believe that an increased speed for this class of vehicle
on single carriageways would incur costs for your organisation in the form of publicity or conversion costs please
indicate what these may be. Also please advise whether these costs would be reduced given a lead-in time between
announcement and policy implementation as a result of costs being rolled into existing plans.

Monday 3 December 2012

Imperial Winter Series Race 1

A first for me, I turned up on Saturday afternoon to the first race of the Imperial Winter Series as a spectator and to show a bit of support for a novice rider from my club.  Places for the 4th cat event sold out indicating that the popularity of the sport continues unabated at a grass roots level even in near freezing temperatures.  Encouragingly all rode safely and skilfully even around the final twists leading up to the finish line and all remained upright.
Good therapy for me too to watch such a well organised event.  There are still, to my mind, unresolved issues arising from my crash last September but I hope to have made sufficient mental and physical recovery to join in this series shortly (if I can secure a place!)

Friday 16 November 2012

Cycle Superhighway 9. My observations.

Hounslow Transport Department is consulting informally on the plans in the Hounslow area.  the route goes west from Hyde Park Corner to The Bull in Hounslow Town Centre (an historic coaching inn which must still be a popular pub as the superhighway does a special dogleg in Hounslow to end there).

An example of the plans is here

I have written to the Highways Officers at Hounslow as follows:

Dear Sirs,
Cycle Superhighway 9 – Outline Designs

My interest
                I commute by bicycle from home to Central London through Hounslow and along the A315 following the proposed route of CS9.  I have been doing this for around 10 years.  I am in addition a senior lawyer who is often consulted by cyclists and their families following serious collisions resulting in the death or serious injury of cyclists.  I have a deep commitment to improving the safety and popularity of cycling.
The Outline Designs
                The designs of the proposed CS9 have some merit.  In particular the square blue box cyclist markings placed mid carriageway are useful in indicating to all road users that a cyclist can be expected to ‘take the lane’.  Comprehension of this is, in my experience, often lacking in motorists particularly in the Hounslow area.  However care needs to be exercised to place these on the approach to all junctions and bus stops sufficiently far back to encourage cyclists to move out well in advance of the hazard.
                Equally the improved advanced stop lines are useful though you will need to exercise your influence with the local police to enforce these so that they do not continue to be widely flouted.
                Also tightening up the parking restrictions along the road will obviously benefit cyclists.
                The problem with the outline design, though, is the widespread reliance on the use of narrow (1.5m wide) with flow cycle lanes.  These are positively inimical to the safety of cyclists and it would be far better to save the paint and omit these altogether.  The relevant design standard, Cycle Infrastructure Design (Local Transport Note 2/08) http://assets.dft.gov.uk/publications/local-transport-notes/ltn-2-08.pdf states that cycle lanes should be 2 metres wide on busy roads.  I attribute my survival after thousands of journeys on the A315 in part upon always travelling at least one metre from the kerb.  The distance from my centre line to my right elbow will take up almost the whole of the remaining 50cm.  All the 1.5m lanes will achieve is to encourage very close passing by motor vehicles, including buses and lorries, on the rare occasions when they are able to outpace a bicycle.  When stationary, as they often are, they are likely to have their wheels hard up against the cycle lane with the dual disadvantage of a narrow strip with poor visibility on the nearside and a reduction in the amount of room available for cyclists to overtake on the offside.  An appropriately trained/experienced cyclist will ignore the narrow cycle lanes, positioning him or herself as though they were not there.  This means that not only is installing them a waste of money, but that they may lead to unwelcome hostility from other road users who do not understand the principles of bikeability.  There is a particularly poorly designed section on map 9 where a kerb side cycle lane continues past an informal crossing where it would not be safe for a bus or HGV to overtake.
                The A315 is a busy road.  Traffic is frequently congested.  When it does move at speeds approaching 30 mph, that is only for a short distance before the next traffic light or traffic queue.  The designs appear to proceed on an utterly false premise that motor traffic is faster than bicycling.  This premise is not accurate over any significant distance along the A315 save in the dead of night.  What is clearly needed along this route is a 20 mph speed limit.  This would not increase journey times during the day; it would simply slow down the surges and it is a solution that is supposed to fit higher in the hierarchy of design than attempting to banish cyclists to a 1.5m wide strip alongside the kerb.
                I trust you find these comments helpful.  I hope you will share them with Council Members and TfL, who I assume also have some input into the design and financing of this project.  It would seem to me sensible that you consult with cycling groups such as CTC before investing considerable sums in a scheme that appears to me to avoid both proper segregation and proper integration, managing the worst of all worlds.
Yours faithfully,

Martin Porter

Monday 22 October 2012

What's the difference between a footballer and a cyclist?

Knock a footballer over in a vicious unprovoked attack and you get 16 weeks in jail.  Knock a cyclist over in a vicious and unprovoked attack and get a police caution and the sympathies of a civil court that will bend over backwards to help you avoid bankruptcy or the seizure of your assets.
One consistent theme of the justice system is that if the victim is a cyclist the kid gloves go on.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Cycling on Dual Carriageways - An Open Letter to The Times

I wrote to the Times yesterday in response to the letter from HHJ Tonking that they printed last week about banning cyclists from dual carriageways where the speed limit is more than 30, or possibly 40, mph.  There is no sign that The Times is interested in printing my response.  They used to print stuff from me but that is before I morphed from a lawyer to a cycling-nut.


In recent times cycling in this country has enjoyed massive highs with a summer of almost incredible sporting success but also tragic lows when individual cyclists (like Rob Jefferies of British Cycling and Mary Bowers of The Times) have been killed or have sustained quite devastating injury.  Like The Times’s campaign to make our cities fit for cycling, British Cycling’s campaign for justice for the victims of traffic collisions is soon to be debated at Westminster.  How telling that His Honour Judge Tonking’s (letters 03.10.12) response is a call to ban cyclists from many of Britain’s roads.  Cyclists historically were huge supporters of the construction of motorways, hoping that this would civilise the non-motorway network.  Many roads that by-pass existing provision (Baldock by-pass, Hindhead tunnel, Hammersmith Flyover to name but a few that spring to mind) are not open to cyclists.  Mr Tonking’s suggested blanket ban would cover many roads that form a cyclist’s most convenient direct and fast route from where she is to where she wishes to be.
Mr Tonking sits in the Crown Court and therefore deals with the most serious cases.  Sitting at the pinnacle of the state’s post collision response, he has the power conferred by Parliament to ban the worst drivers from our roads for substantial, even life-long, periods.  His language of ‘accidents’ and of ‘a moment’s inattention’ and his focus on cyclists using ‘dangerous trunk roads’ and to high visibility clothing typifies the exculpation of those responsible for, and the blaming of the victims of, bad driving.  It is a demonstration of how deeply the car culture is ingrained in our criminal justice system.
Cycling is both a leisure activity and a viable and responsible means of transport.  Cyclists will be attracted to roads that enable them to cover distance swiftly and efficiently without numerous stops and junctions.  Dual carriageways make passing slower vehicles easier and have sight lines which render  talk of momentary inattention, at any legal speed, wholly inappropriate.  By all means make better provision for cyclists so that they can reach their destination at the same speed on better infrastructure but let us not stifle cycling by withdrawing the existing facilities.
Happily Mr Tonking does not have the power to make the law.  He does though have the duty to enforce it and this is where his contribution to the safety of cyclists on our roads should lie.
Yours faithfully,
Martin Porter QC

Monday 1 October 2012

Legal Update - R v Fields

The Evening Gazette of Teeside reports that last week John Fields was 'spared jail' at Teesside Crown Court where he was sentenced for causing the death of Andrew Hutton by careless driving.  Mr Hutton had been riding his bicycle westbound along the A174 dual carriageway road, near Eston in Teeside.  Mr Fields was not only spared jail but also spared any driving ban beyond the one year minimum that Parliament has mandated for this offence.

The circumstances of the offence seem to demonstrate a very high degree of carelessness on the part of Mr Fields.  Andrew Hutton was there in front of Mr Fields' van for at least 11 seconds (if you do not think that is a long time count it out loud).  Instead of seeing and avoiding Mr Hutton, Mr Fields drove his van over the rumble strip at the side of the road before striking him at 60mph.  His best explanation was reported to be 'He just came out of nowhere..I just heard a loud bang'.  I do not know precisely where the collision occurred but this Googleearth picture of the A174 westbound serves to give a general impression of the layout.

Invariably when I am subjected to a close pass on this type of road the miscreant has seen me only too well and implies that I should not be on the road at all.  In short, they do not respond to my presence because they do not care sufficiently.  Perhaps it is possible to care so little that you just do not see.  Other explanations would be a matter of speculation which of course the prosecution would seldom, if ever, be able to prove against the driver who says he did not see.  This all points towards the need for some deterrence if the safety of cyclists is to be improved.  Prevention is also furthered by removing the very worst, least attentive drivers from the roads for a long time.

I have previously expressed my support for British Cycling's call for a review of sentencing guidelines.  These guidelines have very little to say about the appropriate period of disqualification saying only that the minimum should be one year or the period of custody (whichever is greater).

I am equipped only with the facts reported in the newspapers but on those facts it is very difficult to see why this driving was any less culpable than that of Katie Hart who was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving and sentenced to prison.  Why the CPS chose not to pursue a case of dangerous driving against Field is not clear from the reports.  How the standard of driving could be thought to be anything other than 'not far short of dangerous driving' (the top tier in the guidelines) puzzles me.  Certainly it was not momentary inattention (the bottom tier) but seems to have been regarded as middle tier (none of the above).  Mr Fields appears to have been very fortunate in the prosecuting decision and in the application of the existing guidelines.

The personal mitigation (ie relating to the offender rather than the offence) seems to have been powerful and swayed the Judge against the custodial sentence that the Guidelines rather suggest.

This is not unusual, after 9 months, my analysis of careless driving cases is starting to demonstrate how rare immediate custodial sentences are for motorists who kill cyclists.  Many cyclists would not take issue so much with the leniency over prison (though I rather incline to the view that some serious deterrence is required for the small minority of motorists who most endanger us).  However, if there is to be such leniency, it is a pity it is not accompanied by the simple expedient of withdrawing licences for substantial periods from drivers who have demonstrated themselves to be hopelessly incompetent.

Invariably Parliament leads and police, CPS, sentencing councils and courts struggle to keep up.  Perhaps it is time now for Parliament to mandate a minimum driving ban for causing death by careless driving of 5 years and for causing death by dangerous driving of 10 years.  Enforcement of driving bans would need to be improved but with modern technology this should be possible and could even be self financing if every car driven by a banned driver was seised and auctioned.  Some radical action is required to remove the least safe drivers from our roads.

As a footnote this is not an easy type of road to negotiate.  Sadly there is no safety in riding at the edge of the carriageway even if there is a rumble strip to protect you (for the same reason that you should always get out of a car that is broken down on a hard shoulder).  I would ride well out into the nearside lane, around 1.5m right of the rumble strip.  Not for everyone I appreciate but at least your presence is very likely to be noted and you have some room to move into to your nearside.  This is the sort of road where high quality segregated infrastructure for cyclists is badly needed.  See if you can spot the inadequacies of the provision alongside the eastbound carriageway of the same A174.

Thursday 27 September 2012

My Season Ends with a Bang

Regular readers will know I have a great enthusiasm for road racing.  Certainly my enthusiasm exceeds my aptitude.  There is an element of risk of course.  However in 5 years I have never before crashed or, perhaps more importantly, caused a crash in a race.  The racing provides an impetus for the dogged miles I put in commuting which, given the hostile environment of the roads particularly in and around Hounslow, I am hard pushed to portray as an unallured pleasure.

Lat Sunday Willesden CC put on a road race on the Great Milton Circuit in Oxfordshire.  It is a course I know very well and I earmarked it some months ago as a race I could finish.  Sadly I didn't.

I cannot tell you much about the race.  I have only small 'islands' of memory from around 0945 to around 1600 last Sunday.  Reference to my Garmin tells me I crashed at 1030 on a long wide stretch of road in Chalgrove.  I have a few short snapshots of the race, one short snapshot in an ambulance, another in the ICU at John Radcliffe, Oxford, one in an MRI scanner, one in Major Injuries and finally in Minor Injuries where uninterrupted continuous memory finally returned and I waited the rest of the day to get my wounds stitched up.

The distribution of damage to my body and clothing (and the very limited damage to the bike) suggests I went down onto my head and the back of my hands (possibly still gripping the drops) then flipped onto my left shoulder and side.  Eye witness accounts inform me that for no very obvious reason, a rider fell sideways into the road in front of me.  I imagine my front wheel stopped more or less instantaneously on hitting him flipping me and the bike over.

I have considerable litigation experience of head injury cases so I know this was, thankfully, a minor traumatic brain injury.  I can only have been unconscious for moments after the impact because I am told I started making an awful fuss, though my notes suggest I did follow this up with a 7 minute period of unconsciousness in the ambulance.  The prognosis for full recovery from a minor head injury is excellent (I have a personal conviction that long term consequences from a minor head injury, as often alleged in a Court, are more likely to be psychogenic than organic, though not all neurologists would agree).  It will though take a few days, as with my other injuries, to quite get back to normal.  Unfortunately I have had to work over the last 3 days (though thankfully from home) but I will now be taking time off to accelerate the recovery process.

In the meantime I am stuck with low mood (why me??), anger, queasiness and irritability.  The best cure for a depressed mood is getting out on my bike but that is an option that realistically is not open to me for a few days yet.  I have a few months to contemplate whether I will race again.  In the past when I had thought of the crash which would inevitably come some time, I had thought of roadrash, possibly a broken collar bone, not of landing forcefully onto my head with the awful risk of serious brain or spinal damage which that entails.  I feel I was unlucky to the point when I was flying through the air but then I was lucky that it was not a lot worse.

Roadracing does involve a huge degree of trust in your fellow competitors.  I trust all the people that I have got to know racing to handle themselves and their bikes well in a bunch.  Before I started racing I spent a summer going to training sessions run weekly by Prime Coaching at Hillingdon.  I highly recommend such preparation to any one who is considering taking up racing for the first time.

I suppose I have got to mention my helmet.  It is mangled.  Did it save my life as the nurse in the minor injuries unit confidently asserted to me?  I am sceptical.  My brain injury was caused by the sudden deceleration of my head which I doubt the helmet did much to ameliorate.  Certainly it saved me lacerations and roadrash to the scalp.  As always it is wiser to seek to avoid the impact rather than to put one's faith in protective gear.

Apologies to those who you who have found normal service to my blog interrupted.   Finally thanks to the road race organisers, first aiders, marshals, passers-by, fellow racers (especially the few who stepped forward with accounts of what happened) and wife who picked up the pieces.

Postscript: the rider who fell in front of me was permitted to leave the scene and was not identified in any subsequent incident report.  Accordingly neither I, nor British Cycling officials, will ever know what caused him to fall, save that it was getting wet and his rear wheel was seen to slip outward.  I feel it is a pity that he was not asked for an explanation and, if appropriate, given advice.  All of us involved in the great sport of racing should be striving to reduce the risk of this kind of incident to the lowest level we possibly can.

Friday 21 September 2012

The Mitchellgate Affair

I suspect an element of fault on both sides here.  Andrew Mitchell MP, Government Chief Whip, is going to have to learn that he is a member of the establishment unless and until he takes to two wheels when he becomes a mere 'cyclist'.  The notion that he would be extended the same courtesy as if he were in a chauffeur driven motor car is just unrealistic.  He should have meekly got off his bicycle wheeled it along the pavement and through the gate and remounted.  I have done this fairly regularly at the request of a policeman though I always feel like rebelling.  Threatening to arrest Mr Mitchell (if true) does itself seem to me an unnecessary escalation.

Linking this to the awful double murder in Manchester, as the Sun newspaper does, is not in my view justified.  It would be quite wrong to associate those who question police action (or inaction), however impolitely, with the unspeakable evil that resulted in two dead police officers.

Mr Mitchesll MP, I am sure, deplores the unnecessary loss of human life.  It is news to me that he cycles - good on him.  but why has he not signed up to EDM 407 which reads

That this House notes that many victims of road accidents do not feel that the criminal justice system adequately protects or supports them in the aftermath of their case; further notes that it is important that those who have suffered traumatic incidents are given effective and sympathetic support as they attempt to rebuild their lives; welcomes the work of British Cycling and other groups, including CTC, Sustrans, London Cycling Campaign, The Times, Cycling Weekly, RoadPeace and Brake to raise the profile of the issue; and calls on the Ministry of Justice to review carefully the evidence they have submitted and undertake a comprehensive review of each part of the criminal justice system, from crash investigation standards through to sentencing guidelines, to ensure that it is fairer for cyclists, pedestrians and other road users who are hurt or seriously injured on the country's roads.

[NB: if I had drafted this I would have ensured it included reference to the relatives of those killed on the roads in line with the evidence submitted to the Ministry of Justice.  Still, its general import is clear].

If you are one of his constituents, perhaps you could ask him.

Friday 14 September 2012

The Timothy Denman Saga drags on

Back in April this year I obtained a Judgment against the thug who pushed me off my bicycle because he hates cyclists.  The Judgment is for £1,254.  To date not a penny has been paid.  Denman offered £40 a month which I considered derisory.

I know nothing about the enforcement of Judgments and have little desire to learn so I am very happy to have received the backing of the CTC to instruct lawyers to deal with this.  However Denman's offer was yesterday endorsed by the Court and he has not been ordered to pay a penny towards the costs my lawyers have incurred, which are unavoidably substantial in comparison to the Judgment sum

All avenues of enforcement are closed whilst he keeps up this derisory level of payment.  It appears that Courts ooze sympathy for private individuals who cannot pay their bills.  Whether it is helpful to anybody in the long run to make Judgments between private citizens not worth the paper they are printed on is something I would question.  But for the CTC's support my Judgment would be of negative worth after costs even once he has paid in full.  And of course interest does not run.

So much for the Thames Valley Police advice given after they had decided to caution Denman; never mind I could inflict some punishment by suing him.

Denman is laughing all the way back to one of his two motor cars, which he needs (he informed the Court and the Court appears to have accepted) because he has 2 young children.

The Channel: An unnecessary barrier to Cycling

Last weekend I took my bicycle the very short distance to Abbeville, Picardie for the Ronde Picarde, a cyclosportive of the very highest quality which makes a great late season ride.

This is a very easy journey to make in a car.  Throw the bike in the back, drive to the channel and one hour on the motorway the other side.  However this year I decided to go by bicycle.  I imagined it would be equally easy, or even easier.  Ride to the tunnel, hop on a train, ride out the other end and hop on another train.

However it turned out to be surprisingly difficult.

First if you wish to take your bicycle on the Eurotunnel, it has to go in a motor vehicle.  If you do not supply your own motor vehicle then Eurotunnel will provide one for you, picking you up and dropping you off at points remote from the tunnel itself.  So far so (just) bearable.   However this service has to be booked in advance and is provided only twice a day: once in the early morning and once in the late afternoon, both times hopeless for me.

I imagine some health and safety assessment has defined cycling to a train as dangerous; perhaps because there are loads of motor vehicles about that might run a cyclist over.  What would the consequences be if Eurotunnel were to conduct a health and safety assessment at Elephant and Castle, I wonder?  At least at their terminals, they can impose speed limits and traffic calming where necessary and let cyclists onto trains first.  There is plenty of space at the front of trains for bicycles, I have seen it.

So, the ferry it was.  However I was denied a ticket on DFDs  with half an hour to go before the advertised sailing time.  How long can it take to ride a bicycle onto a ferry?  I had to go on a later P&O ferry and pay £25 one way (which seemed to me steep given that the costs for a car is advertised at starting from £19 one way.)

At least the Port of Dover does not worry about cyclists mixing with 'real traffic'.  Getting on the ferry was easy, I was let on first with the motorcycles.  Getting off the P&O ferry in Calais was, however, far more frustrating.  Whilst the motorcyclists were let off first a grumpy man yelled at me "You!  Stay there!  They will run you down!." and with that I had to wait on a fume choked car deck fro 20 minutes while every last motor vehicle got off and I missed a train running out of Calais Ville.  Why anybody would run me down on an exit ramp from a ferry baffles me.  Impose a 20 mph speed limit if this is a real concern.

Once in France taking the bicycle on the train was easy

Very few people take a bicycle across the Channel; far more take them on the back of cars.  Now I understand why.

Still the Ronde Picarde was wonderful as always and well worth the hassle of getting there.

What a pity though that there is not a cycle track through the service tunnel of the Channel Tunnel.  It would be much faster than the ferry.  Still I expect some Health and Safety assessment would rule that idea out.

Thursday 13 September 2012

I am writing to my MP. Please write to yours.

We have now come to the end of a terrific summer of cycling (well almost, I hope to catch some of the Tour of Britain this Sunday).  The day of Bradley Wiggins's triumph in the Olympic Time Trial at Hampton Court was deeply marred by the death of Dan Harris outside the Olympic Park.  It was also the day I attended the sentencing of Joao Lopes at Isleworth Crown Court.  Wiggins is rightly a sporting super-hero so I will say no more than that his comments at a press conference that evening on cyclists' safety headed in a seriously wrong direction.

It is though important that the momentum of this exceptional summer is sustained to encourage cycling not only (or even principally) as a sport but as an everyday activity that is beneficial on so many levels.  This requires cycling to be not only objectively safe but subjectively perceived to be safe by the masses, who hear about far too many cyclist deaths and listen to Bradley Wiggins and Jon Snow refer to cycling as 'dangerous'.

Fortunately the balance has been redressed by another sporting hero, Chris Boardman, who was on the radio last week talking sense about cycling, the risks and how we should be focusing upon improving the cycling environment.  I liked his analogy that if there is gun-fire on the streets do you deal with it by issuing body armour (otherwise you can hardly complain can you if you have not done everything to protect yourself?) or do you deal with the problem at source?

I have had numerous problems with my dealings with the criminal justice system as regular readers will recall.  I am not alone, many others in far more serious cases have been dismayed at the frequent failure in the criminal justice system to play the part that it should in ensuring a safer cycling environment.  It is essential that those who kill, maim, injure, endanger or threaten cyclists are brought to account by our criminal justice system.

I am therefore writing to my MP, in response to British Cycling's call, asking him to support Julian Huppert's Early Day Motion.  I invite you to do the same.  Sad to say but without such pressure calls, even from British Cycling, fall on deaf ears whatever the Government's publicly professed sentiments.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Humour and good taste

Every so often someone writes and someone publishes a joke about cyclists that is in startlingly bad taste.  The latest offering that 'the only good cyclist is a dead cyclist' is penned by a Richard Nye and published by a free magazine distributed in south west London.  You can see the full context of the 'joke' here.

It is now almost 5 years since The Times published Matthew Parris's infamous article 'What's smug and deserves to be decapitated' article.  True he followed this up with a half-apology feigning surprise that cyclists took his offensive words seriously.

So how is it that I can shrug off or even manage a weak smile at lawyer jokes ("What do you call a lawyer tied to a mill stone at the bottom of the sea?  A good start") but like most cyclists feel outrage at the likes of Parris and his imitator, Nye?.  Simple; it is because there is no chance that somebody will tie a millstone around my neck and drop me overboard.  Conversely I have been attacked, sworn at and threatened merely because I am on a bicycle. Only last week my life was seriously threatened by atrocious and selfish driving.  It is hard to conceive of how distressing these 'jokes' must be to people whose loved ones have been killed whilst cycling.

I am in favour of free speech and would not therefore want a legal sanction against these 'jokers'.  .However I can still reach for the off button every time I hear Parris's distinctive voice on radio or television and were I a resident of southwest London, Nye's publication would go straight into the bin.  Whilst they exercise their right to make very bad offensive jokes I will exercise mine to think the worse of them for it.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Camera Reviews

On my cycling commutes I like to record the action around me onto camera.  Over the last several months I have been experimenting with different cameras.  Different users will have different uses and purposes but, for what it is worth I tender my thoughts on the cameras I have tried.

Veho Muvi with sports kit.

Basic cheap camera with, I think, very reasonable quality of vision and sound for the price.  Ease of editing files is, for me, very important as I do not wish to spend all day reviewing and editing files.  The Veho records onto 30 minute files of around 635MB.  A relatively  low capacity (4 or 8 GB) SD card will therefore take many hours of video, which can be easily cropped using Microsoft Moviemaker.
The limiting feature for my commute is the battery life.  Although sometimes advertised at 2 hours I have never had this long on any of my Muvi cameras.  More like 1 to 1 1/4 hours and this deteriorates with age.  Mine generally last about a year before the battery life is so low I change the camera (the batteries are not replaceable and the units are relatively cheap).  I bought my last one from Amazon for about £40.  I did buy one once when the colour was all off but it was replaced without drama.
The sports kit enables me to place it in a 'shell' that attaches to a strap which can be run around the vents of a helmet if you wear one or attached to the bike.  Be sure though to secure something through the little eye on the camera itself in case it falls out of its shell.

Daytime example:  Film used to convict Scott Lomas of threatening/abusive words and behaviour.

Quality at night is obviously diminished but still useable and better than nothing.
Nighttime example.  Film used to convict Levi Rayner of careless driving (and caution for threatening/abusive words and behaviour).

The camera does struggle when pointing towards the sun.  Since I live southwest of where I work this is a particular problem for me and calling out the number plate is always advisable as a backup.

Likes: Inexpensive.  Ease of operation.  Ease of preparing files.  Usable quality of video/audio..
Dislikes: Short battery life, not good in wet.


The police cycle team spoke highly of this camera when I spent a half day with them last November and, thinking them to be experts, I ordered one.  The bullet camera is mounted onto the side of a helmet (or onto googles) and a lead is run from there to the central unit.  After a bit of experimenting I decided the best thing to do was place the unit in a freezer bag and drop it down the front of my jersey hoping it did not migrate too far (or pawing at myself trying to encourage it one way rather than another).  The controls were out of reach but since I set the camera to run and left it that was not a great problem.
I never got on with this device.  The advertised battery life of 2 hours+ never materialised for me.  Mine lasted 1h19m.  I tried a new battery: same result.  The unit then started to record sound but no vision.  When I sent it back the replacement had a blank screen with just a narrow strip at the top.  The screen is used for the controls and settings and not just for playback so that unit had to go back too.  Picture quality was ok but I was expecting greater things of HD.  File sizes were bigger and harder to edit and to play.  I had to download software to play the files.
One further considerable annoyance was that the computer cable was non-standard size, meaning I had to carry the cable around with me or use only my work or only my home computer.
I did not use it for long but here is an example picture.  As you can see night time quality was not great:

Likes:  None (though the Met Police like it)
Dislikes: Expensive.  Hard to use.  Unreliable.  Not great quality (especially for HD).

Justice camera issued by 'Policewitness'

I was loaned a Justice camera to review and I have to say that once I got used to using it I have been favourably impressed.  The first camera I was sent did keep shutting down unexpectedly but a replacement was fine and it is possible that the fault lay in the SD card I was using rather than the camera.  Picture quality in daytime is good though at night mediocre.  The camera can be set to record in files that are whatever length you wish.  The default is only 60 seconds which is too short as the film skips half a second between files and this is always at a critical moment.
It is easy to use.  Just two buttons on it and the back screws off to reveal the standard mini USB port and SD card slot with a reset button (which is quite frequently needed to 'reboot' the camera).
The camera comes with mounts for helmet and bike frame though I had to rig something together for a rear view as the frame attachment only adjusts in one dimension (which leaves it pointing down if attached to a seat tube)..
Battery life is comfortably sufficient for my 2 hour commute.  For reliable use though I find that I do need to use a 16GB SD card.
One thing I do like about this camera is that (like the Veho but unlike the Contour) it has a similar focal length to the human eyeball so what you see on the film is much as it looks in real life.
Example, the driver of this van was required to attend a driver improvement course:

Like the Veho it struggles when pointing towards the sun (this vehicle remained unidentified) and nightime use is not great either

Another minor irritiation is that, I find, the time and date needs to be reset at regular intervals if you wish it to remain accurate.

I find it very good as a rear view camera (though you will see a skip here):

The idea of policewitness is to engage an enterprising ex-police officer to report road crime and shove the police into taking action.  Shame it has come to that but, given the level of interest in most police forces in prosecuting bad driving, I fear that it has.  Google 'Policewitness' for further details.

Likes: Ease of use, picture quality (daytime), battery life, focal length.
Dislikes: Skips between files, occasionally needs resetting, time/date drifts off.

Contour Roam

Well this I thought ought to be the bee's knees and youtube is full of cyclists (like the famous Gaz) who use and recommend it.  It can be fitted to a helmet but is relatively bulky and I fit to the bike frame.  It records in files that are approximately half an hour long and absolutely gynormous. (3.66GB).  I will only play with these files if I feel I absolutely have to and have only managed to send the police stills when reporting an incident.  Contour provides some software called 'Storyteller' which is basically useless.  you can see the files but not edit them and I can not even get their 'Awesome' feature (whereby you should be able to upload part of a file to youtube) to work.
Only the Windows MovieMaker on my newest computer (latest version) can handle the .mov files and these take overnight to load before stills or shorter clips can be taken.
So this camera gives you the highest quality but at the expense of useability.  If you have the patience to spend hours editing your film footage then this is the camera for you.
One serious drawback though is that the lens is very wide angle.  this means you will not miss much in the fisheye world but that, when you show the police footage of a vehicle passing 6 inches from you, they will have every excuse to say 'that was not so close'.

Likes: Picture quality.  Ease of use (of camera)
Dislikes: Ease of use of files.  Fisheye effect.  Pricey.  Software.


I use the Justice camera a great deal and have it set up rear facing on my commuter bike.  I have the Contour forward facing on the handlebars but because i would much rather not have to look at those files I back this up with the old cheap but good value Muvi camera on the front.