The London Evening Standard: AA boss: Cyclist-hating drivers ‘are absolute idiots’
– AA president slams hateful drivers after BBC documentary
– He wants more safe cycle paths in London
– Mr King adamant that cycling issues are now being taken more seriously
06 December 2012
Drivers who refuse to share the road with cyclists were today branded “absolute idiots” by the head of one of Britain’s biggest motoring groups.
AA president Edmund King spoke out after a BBC documentary showed terrifying footage from cyclists’ helmet cameras of the dangers they face.
The programme, The War On Britain’s Roads, contained footage of cyclists in crashes and near misses, or subjected to abuse and physical attacks. But there were also examples of reckless cycling and riders ignoring road signs and traffic lights.
“They’re absolute idiots,” Mr King said of the cyclist-haters. “There are some motoring groups who are talking absolute nonsense and who wind up cyclists. That is pathetic.”
The row over the BBC film’s alleged sensationalism came as Boris Johnson unveiled a new transport plan this week, with increased money for roads and for cycling.
Thirteen cyclists have died in London this year and thousands have been injured, and a recent report from the London Assembly complained that the Mayor was spending too much money on Boris bikes and unprotected “cycle superhighways” and not enough on safer segregated lanes.
Mr King, a member of Transport for London’s roads task force, is cautiously positive about securing improvements, emphasising that it depends how the money is spent. He says junctions are the key: the large majority of collisions happen at or near them.
“Blackfriars, Bow, Waterloo — anyone who uses them, whether you’re a cyclist or a bus driver or a car driver, you know there are problems there and they haven’t been sorted,” says King. “More safe, secure cycle paths would be incredibly helpful.”
He is adamant that cycling is now being taken much more seriously. “Ten years ago, at meetings I would go to at the Department for Transport, cycling was not represented. There is now a realisation that it shouldn’t all be left to the traffic engineers.”
While motorists are quick to attack cyclists for jumping red lights, Mr King is conscious of similarly irresponsible behaviour among drivers — especially illegal use of mobile phones at the wheel.
“A lot of drivers have to look at their own habits first,” he said. An AA survey suggests that a third of AA members see other drivers using mobiles on most journeys they make. “It’s appalling,” said Mr King. “We’ve got to get through to drivers that they’re killing people.”
He is a cyclist himself, though he commutes from his St Albans home by public transport. “I never drive in central London — the hassle isn’t worth it,” he said. He is keen to emphasise the overlap between cyclists and drivers: about 18 per cent of AA members recently surveyed were regular cyclists, as are his chief executive and marketing director.
“I actually think it’s getting better,” says Mr King — in part because of the number of drivers themselves now cycling, especially in London. “We should encourage the explosion in cycling rather than resent it.”
Then there’s the favourite complaint that cyclists don’t pay “road tax” — a misconception, since vehicle tax linked to road spending was abolished in the Thirties. Now roads are paid for out of general taxation: anyone who pays income or any other taxes is funding roads, prompting one wag to produce “I pay road tax” cycling kit, emblazoned with tax discs.
“It’s a complete nonsense,” said Mr King. “I quite often wear an ‘I pay road tax’ cycling jersey and an AA helmet.”