An administrative affair

driving licence

I have a licence to drive. The state permits me to operate a vehicle on the public highway. To get this privilege, I had to demonstrate competence: to pass a driving test administered by the state. It’s the state’s job to ensure that when you use the public highway the motor vehicles you share it with are operated by people of established competence.

Everyone who has passed a driving test knows there are many ways to bring your competence into question. Top of the list is colliding — with a tree, a gatepost, a parked car or (whisper it) another road user. No one expects to pass a driving test in which they have collided with something or someone.

Driving examiners protect the public from drivers who are not demonstrably competent. Police officers investigating highway collisions should be empowered to do the same. In real life as much as in a driving test, a collision brings a driver’s competence into question. Investigating officers should as a matter of routine take and keep the licences of drivers involved in a collision until the investigation — or a subsequent court hearing — has removed the question over their competence. (This suspension should be for a minimum period — at  least 24 hours — to remove pressure on officers to resolve the matter on the spot.)

It would be a great inconvenience for drivers who collide, but there is no question here of reversal of the burden of proof or of punishment without trial. This is an administrative matter, protecting the public from drivers whose competence is currently in question. No right is being infringed. A licence to drive is a privilege requiring a demonstration of competence. It should be routinely suspended while that competence is being investigated. Who supports sharing our roads with drivers whose competence is in question? 

It is a sad thought, but the certainty of an immediate end to one’s journey and the added inconvenience of getting one’s vehicle impounded if no one else is available to drive it, would do more to improve driving standards than the currently remote prospect of conviction for a driving offence.


Road niggers


The failure to prosecute Gale Purcell for the killing of Michael Mason should frighten anyone who rides a bicycle.

Mrs Purcell drove into the rear of Mr Mason’s bicycle as he was riding north on Regent Street in the West End of London on 25 February.

Mrs Purcell, who stopped at the scene, told the inquest she had not seen Mr Mason despite his bike having front and rear lights.

She was unable to explain to the inquest how she failed to see Mr Mason. The coroner, Dr William Dolman, recorded Mr Mason’s death as an accident.

A court trial might find reasons to acquit Mrs Purcell of manslaughter. But on the facts known so far she simply ran him down and killed him. She offers no reason why she should not be held responsible for his death.

The coroner sees no one responsible. It was an ‘accident’. It just happened. There is a case to answer that Mrs Purcell failed in her duty of care to other road users. But Dr Dolman excludes that.

The police consider they have insufficient evidence for a prosecution to succeed. They lament the absence of CCTV footage of the collision. It is hard to see why this would be relevant. No one disputes Mrs Purcell ran down Mr Mason and killed him. A film might show some unreported incident to explain what Mrs Purcell says she cannot explain. The defence might seize on that gratefully. But the absence of CCTV footage could hardly weaken a prosecution, and it is difficult to see what its presence might add to it.

View this as a test case. The facts are rarely this plain. The bald and frightening implication of the inquest is running down someone riding a bicycle is not an offence. We are ‘road niggers’. There is no justice for us.

This cannot stand. Urge and support the Cyclists Defence Fund and the CTC’s Road Justice campaign to get the coroner’s verdict overturned and Mrs Purcell prosecuted for killing Mr Mason.

A farewell to Sustrans


Dear Sustrans

Notice of cancellation of funding

I have been funding your work for about a decade. Only a modest monthly donation, but these things add up. Today I have cancelled my Direct Debit. What you are doing is not what I want you to do, and I will no longer fund it.

What I want you to do is promote cycling as sustainable transport and to construct a national cycling network. Your name certainly suggests this work and for a long time I hoped that was what you were doing. But you‘re not.

You began so well, as the Bristol-based group who campaigned successfully for the Bath-Bristol bike path. That is a useful route between the two cities. It is now somewhat congested, which lessens its usefulness, but this only underlines the demand for good-quality routes.

In the decades since then, Sustrans has become a national organisation employing people around the country and handling tens of millions of pounds. What has this achieved?

The National Cycle Routes are not fit for long-distance travel, or even commuting. Take, for example, NCR 1. On the map it looks like my way in and out of London to the north east, a cyclist’s version of the M11. I have twice attempted to use it to reach Cambridge and been defeated both times. The Lee Valley section to Ware is too narrow, too congested, too obstructed and too badly surfaced to make progress. Compared to what? Compared for example to my route north-west from central Copenhagen to meetings in Bagsværd. I take the Hillerød motorway, which is equipped with comfortable bike paths. To leave London, I feel safer on the A1010, the old coaching road.

You will object that your work is not to serve experienced cyclists like myself, but to attract those not now riding. Very well – but to what?

Yesterday I again rode on the Lee Valley section of NCR 1, returning from a ride in Epping Forest. It was a perfect winter riding day, clear and cold. We stopped to admire ducks, talk to strangers and pet ponies. We took it carefully or walked over cobblestones, negotiated narrow muddy corners and dismounted for the gates. We had a delightful time. Everything was as it should be for a ride in a park. But you have no business claiming or designating this as a cross-country cycle route. The same is true of other paths suited to recreational riding that you have designated as NCRs: for the Thames Path, for NCR 61’s use of the Grand Union Canal towpath.

When you have a choice between the recreational and the useful, you choose the recreational. Take NCR 57, which can be picked up from the Metropolitan Line at Chesham and followed to Oxford. At Great Missenden it detours through picturesque Angling Spring Wood, a muddy detour to be avoided by any rider intent on reaching Oxford. At Wheatley it ignores the useful cycle path into Oxford beside the A40 for a picturesque ascent of Shotover Hill, across rutted gravel roads.

And this is the nub of my quarrel with what you are doing. You are promoting recreational riding for families and children where they can be out of the way of motor traffic. That is not a bad thing to do, but it is not sustainable transport and it is not the national cycle network we need. It does nothing to help us ride to work, to school or the shops. It does nothing to help me get between cities, as the Bristol-Bath path does. When I ride off from home in London to the shops or to see friends I see nothing of your work helping me. And when I ride across country I have learned to be wary of your routes.

Worse, you occupy a prominent place in the political landscape and consume a large part of the meagre resources granted. You claim to be working on a future of sustainable transport in which cycling plays a key part. By giving the comforting illusion of progress, and drawing resources to yourself, you are, I fear, more part of the problem than its solution. That is why I am cancelling your funding.

Yours sincerely

Stephen Taylor FRSA

Mastering rage


YouTube is full of screaming confrontations with dangerous drivers. If you can master your rage and are lucky enough to look over 40, other conversations are open to you.

— Do you hold a licence to drive this vehicle?

— Of course I f*****g do!

— Come and see me at Marylebone Magistrates Court at 10.30 on Thursday morning. Bring the licence. Give the Clerk the name of the registered keeper of this vehicle: he will be expecting you. I will examine whether you are a fit person to hold a licence. This will be a personal hearing; you will not have representation. But if you fail to attend I will issue a bench warrant for dangerous driving, a charge which could lead to imprisonment. Do you have any questions about what I have just told you?

— What’s this about?

— That is the first question you will have to answer at the hearing. I suggest a careful reading of the Highway Code. We’ll talk again on Thursday. Be punctual; I have a full schedule.

If anything about this fantasy appeals to you, consider how little the law and justice system actually does to protect you. Support the Road Justice campaign.