John Griffin; Where's your common sense?
Ambling across the front lawn, a keg of home brew under my arm, I step over several prone bodies and rap smartly on the front door, just as the music is being turned down and the lights are being turned off. I am late to this ‘John Griffin and his comments about cyclists’ party, but I am here nonetheless and I am still determined to neck my ale and have a good time. Torturous metaphor over.
If you haven’t heard, Griffin, chairman of London cab company Addison Lee, decided to use his ‘Chairman’s Column’ in the spring 2012 issue of their quarterly magazine to pontificate on the increased presence of cyclists on the roads of London. This went as follows:
“Green party candidates and others are up in arms about what they see as the murder of cyclists on London roads.
There has, as we all know, been a tremendous upsurge in cycling and cycling shops. This summer the roads will be thick with bicycles. These cyclists are throwing themselves onto some of the most congested spaces in the world. They leap onto a vehicle which offers them no protection except a padded plastic hat.
Should a motorist fail to observe a granny wobbling to avoid a pothole or a rain drain, then he is guilty of failing to anticipate that this was somebody on her maiden voyage into the abyss. The fact is he just didn't see her and however cautious, caring or alert he is, the influx of beginner cyclists is going to lead to an overall increase in accidents involving cyclists.
The rest of us occupying this roadspace have had to undergo extensive training. We are sitting inside a protected space with impact bars and air bags and paying extortionate amounts of taxes on our vehicle purchase, parking, servicing, insurance and road tax.
It is time for us to say to cyclists 'You want to join our gang, get trained and pay up'.”
This disjointed bilge is so contemptible that it is actually quite difficult to pick apart eloquently. Luckily several people have already done the eloquent bit, which leaves me to pile in foaming at the mouth and put a big fat tick in the ‘incoherent rant’ box.
It is a fortunate coincidence for the construction of my moral high ground that I happened to have mentioned Addison Lee on this website before. In my “...it's never too late - to learn to ride a bike!” expose of October 2011, I made a cursory reference to “bring cut up by Addison Lee drivers”. As whimsical as the context was, for legal reasons I was referring to real experiences. Of course, I have not been cut up by all Addison Lee drivers, and in that respect my generalisation was unfair. Perhaps I should follow the example of Mr. Griffin and suggest that these were perhaps beginner Addison Lee drivers, who may or may not also have been grannies. I didn’t check.
Any upsurge in cycling, particularly on London roads, might be down to many things, but in these austere times it is at the very least an economical way to get about London, as well as being healthier and often quicker than sitting in the back of a cab. Theoretically, in jumping aboard a bicycle rather than using four-wheeled transport, cyclists are actually reducing the clogging of the “congested space” they are “throwing themselves” at. Perhaps is this loss of potential customers that has irked Griffin so.
Griffin’s muddled narrative would be embarrassing if it wasn’t so infuriating. He seems to start by attacking enthusiastic cyclists, presumably the beginners responsible for the upsurge, using evocative terms such as “throwing themselves” and “leap”, apparently trying to create an image of ineptitude by referring to cycling helmets as “padded plastic hat[s]”. Then, suddenly, it is the grannies of London who are the cause of his vexation. These grannies appear not to be throwing themselves or leaping, but are “wobbling” around avoiding pot-holes or rain drains. If, in doing either of these things, a granny is not observed by a motorist, they are apparently then responsible for any demise that results. Their “maiden voyage into the abyss”, apparently. How charming.
Mr. Griffin, should a motorist fail to observe a cyclist of any age or gender swerving slightly to avoid a pot-hole or rain drain, might I suggest that they are not paying enough attention? Currently, to gain a UK driving licence, one needs to demonstrate an aptitude for “hazard perception”. Fail to observe, fail the test. No driving licence. Now, when I passed my driving test, this wasn’t part of the show, but the Driving Standards Agency have apparently recognised in the meantime that this should form part of the initial stage of the “extensive training” which you go on to refer to. Can I also propose that, to further scrutinise your puzzling example, if a collision results from such a manoeuvre, then the motorist was either following too closely or was attempting to pass when there was insufficient room to do so? The Highway Code states that, when overtaking (for example), motorists should “give... cyclists... at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car” and your stopping distance is unaltered whether you are following a cyclist, another Addison Lee cab, or Optimus Prime (in truck form, of course).
The column says that “however cautious, caring or alert” drivers are, more beginner cyclists are going to be involved in accidents. Perhaps; sheer probability bears that one out. But in Mr. Griffin’s own example, “failing to observe” and “just didn’t see her” are implied as legitimate defences for motorists colliding with cyclists because they were old, or female, or avoided a hazard in their path that may have caused them to crash without any help from a motor vehicle. You don’t need to look too far on this site to see the perils of pot-holes. Perhaps if terms such as “cautious” and “alert” were not merely flung around, and were actively employed in respect of the growing number of cyclists, then the number of deaths might actually fall.
The “rest of us”, presumably all non-cyclists, have had to undergo this extensive training I mentioned earlier. Well, I may not drive a cab, but I didn’t, and Mr. Griffin appears to be representing all motorists. In 1997, I did a basic theory test that required me to memorise stopping distances and a few other now-forgotten facts and then a half-hour practical test, of which I spent the majority in traffic, before pausing briefly to reverse round a corner. That entitled and still entitles me to get in a car and use the roadspace [sic]. Addison Lee drivers, I am sure, undergo additional training, during which it would surely be prudent to address issues of caution and alertness with regard to an expanding group of road users. Let’s call it “hazard perception”, shall we? It is because, not in spite of, the fact that motorists are protected by impact bars and air bags that they should be aware of the growing number of cyclists and how to safely share the road with them. The vast majority of cyclists, precisely because they have minimal protection by comparison, are much more careful and aware of the hazards around them. This is not to pretend that there aren’t negligent and dangerous cyclists, much as there are negligent and dangerous pedestrians and negligent and dangerous drivers. However, regardless of how negligent they are, drivers will have their “protected space”. Cyclists, however careful and competent they are, do not. In a collision, howsoever it is caused, there will only be one loser.
I could go on to address the utter claptrap that is the statement about taxes, but I would probably be better directing you to: http://ipayroadtax.com/, where it is explained much more clearly than I could manage. In summary, none of the ‘taxes’ mentioned are relevant. But then, you probably knew that already.
John Griffin, I am in my own gang, which has every right to use the road and much more of a right to use bus lanes than your company’s own vehicles. I don’t want to be any part of any gang you’re in or will ever be in. And the next time one of your cautious, caring and alert drivers turns across me at the junction of the A3 and Harper Road, I’ll be sure to give them a wave.