Should the news of Gary Mason make me doubt myself?

Post by Nicole

Hands up those who were spooked by the untimely death of former boxer Gary Mason in a cycling accident at the weekend?  I was.  Apart from the awful loss of another human being, there are two reasons why this made such an impression on me.

Taking the kids to school

First, I had recently resolved to get my children cycling to school one or two days a week. We had done a couple of dry runs, just to measure the distance and see if they could do it. We live out in Sussex and currently drive along some country lanes to get to school. However, the danger with country lanes is that cars expect them to be empty and consequently use them to drive as fast as they can (un)comfortably go.

When I mentioned it to friends, they were less than enthusiastic, and one suggested that I would be certain to lose friends in the playground when my cycling was making the other mothers late! And then, on 7 January, I heard the news about Gary Mason’s death.

Asking the difficult questions that put people off cycling

Am I putting my children in an unnecessarily risky position, just so that we don’t have to drive to school every day?  How can this be?  That I feel that I can’t do such a simple and pleasurable thing because of the danger from car drivers, who are mostly comprised of a zillion other mothers trying to get to school on time, and who wouldn’t dare (or be bothered) to cycle.  Am I really putting them at so great a risk?  Should I?

The second reason it made such an impact on me was that since the week before Christmas we have been inundated daily, and sometimes hourly, with reports into the investigation of the murder of Joanna Yeates in Bristol.  Does the death of a cyclist mean so little that it merits only a paragraph in the press, and only then because of the fact that he was a boxer and therefore already famous, while the death of a very ordinary young woman merits so much coverage.  

There is no doubt that the two events are equally tragic, but the media only wants to highlight the ones which sell papers, not events which should be on our national conscience, or ones that we could prevent. 

At the moment, I can’t say anything about the nature of the death, other than that Gary Mason was pronounced dead at the scene after a collision with a combi-van. Obits and plaudits galore for his prowess in the ring, but not a squeak about the nature of  the problems that cyclists face on a daily basis in and around the congested South-East, the only comment being how dangerous it is to cycle nowadays!

Was it his fault that he was on the road? We need to be changing this mindset. I feel increasingly motivated to stand up.

There are any number of organisations and bodies requiring the vocal support of all cyclists, a lot of them with good things to say.  Have a look at the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, the City of London’s Local Implementation Plan, to name just two.  I’m not an activist. Nor am I political in the sense that I participate in party politics. However, I am coming around to the idea that we need to stand together with these organisations and make our voices heard.  We need a more coherent strategy so that we can cycle our children to school if we feel like it.

What do you think?

Leave a comment below.

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31 Responses to Should the news of Gary Mason make me doubt myself?

  1. Dave Escandell 11/01/2011 at 9:51 am #

    Nicole, A thought provoking read.

    To add further weight to your point, another tragic accident has taken place in the past few days with little more than a few lines in the local press.

    http://www.whtimes.co.uk/news/potters_bar_cyclist_dies_in_accident_1_770647

    I too cycle with my children to school, when work allows. I’m very much in the ‘safety in numbers’ camp and will not let these and other tragic events alter how I choose to live.

    Your cycle to school sounds lovely, and I bet it’s a pleasure in the summer months. Should we not be encouraging the other mothers to also cycle in? that may well reduce the traffic on said country lanes somewhat.

    Keep doing what you’re doing, your children will thank you for it one day.

    On a slight tangent, does your childrens school encourage cycling in? are there sufficient facilities on site for the bikes to be locked up safely? or are they introducing a de-facto ban on cycling in by providing no cycle facility at all? This is the wider problem.

  2. Daniel 11/01/2011 at 9:52 am #

    I agree we need a more concerted campaign and have mentioned this to others on various forums. The CTC and others are too conservative when it comes to campaigning. It is all very well lobbying local councils etc but we need visible campaigning which will capture the imagination of the public and media.

    We will only get favourable law changes and planning if the public is generally supportive.

    I have seen other commentators / bloggers suggest that focusing on benefits to child safety is an effective campaigning technique, echoing your concerns.

    I am not sure there is a lot we can do in the current financial climate to dramatically improve our already congested urban environments for cyclists in planning terms, but we can change the law to put responsibility for collisions / injuries / fatalities with the ‘stronger party’ (i.e. motorists) unless proved otherwise.

  3. nicolep 11/01/2011 at 11:15 am #

    Dave

    I’m not going to let it stop me. I think that if I let my fears get the better of me, I’d never do anything. My children have skied down black runs with me. That’s far more dangerous than cycling to school!

    Trying to persuade other mothers out of their 4×4′s and onto bicycles is never going to happen I’m afraid, at least not at my children’s school. The only comments I’ve had so far have been how cross they will be when our cycling makes them slow down, and therefore late. Sad, but true.

    I have asked the school about secure or lockable cycle parking and I have yet to receive a response. Apparently, I’m the first one to ask and the school is in the process of spending millions on improved access and car-parking facilities for drop-off and pick-up. A bike rack shouldn’t break the bank should it?

    This morning I was nearly in a collision with a 6th-former who’s just passed her driving test and got a brand new car as a gift. How can we compete against that mindset? To allow your 17-year old to drive to school…

    Daniel,

    I agree with you. Every cycle accident that results in death or serious injury commensurate with that of an assault should result in a similar sentence to assaults and manslaughter charges. At present, causing death or injury by dangerous driving carries a much lower penalty and those convicted serve much less time.

    I have read that focussing on the safety of children is a better angle but we see so few children cycling these days, they’re almost invisible. But my small contribution is something at least.

    On a positive note, the more we are, the better. There is such an interest in all things cycling at the moment, that it can only improve. All over the world, cities and communities are waking up to the benefits of an integrated cycling infrastructure and if London and the rest of the country don’t pull their fingers out, we’re going to be left behind. He has his detractors, but Boris Johnson had done more to get cyclists on our streets than anything else. But that’s IMHO

  4. davidnottingham 11/01/2011 at 12:54 pm #

    What would really help out would be if the UK adopted a Strict Liability Law, in the same way that all but 4 other European countries have done.

    On a side note, the cycle hire scheme would’ve been implemented by whichever mayor won the last election. Boris has actually hindered cycling in London in some areas (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/nov/21/london-cycling-boris-johnson)

    I’m not fervently anti Boris, but do get irked when I see him touted as a pro cycling mayor.

    • Dave Escandell 11/01/2011 at 1:23 pm #

      Do you mean a ‘presumed liability’ law?

      I appreciate that many call it strict liability, but cyclists have to speak with one voice on such a subject. Confusion with terminology will not help.

      My personal view is that our civil law system can be changed with relatively little disruption. However as cyclists we would have to be insured against third party claims.

      There would be no point at all suing a cyclist for damages if he/she is unbale to satisfy the judgment.

      Changes to the criminal law of this sort is almost impossible without a fundamental change in our entire legal system, and teh principles in which it has developed. That will not happen.

      • davidnottingham 11/01/2011 at 1:32 pm #

        You are indeed correct Dave, I did mean presumed liability

        http://cycling.access-legal.co.uk/2010/11/strict-liability-v-presumed-liability.html

        You stated that as cyclists we would have to be insured against third party claims? Is this the case on the continent? I can’t believe that in the countries where presumed liability is in place that there is a larger emphasis on cyclists having insurance than those without presumed liability.

  5. John 11/01/2011 at 6:18 pm #

    Hi,

    Well, getting back to the original question of yours Nicole, The very sad news of Gary Masons fatal accident whilst out cycling has yet to actually come up with any facts about the accident, As terrible as it is and the van driver was arrested we don’t yet know wether any of Gary’s actions put him in a dangerous profile out on the road – Did he need lights,have lights,was he wearing any hi vis for the time of the day etc etc.
    So although it is a terrible loss to everybody related to or friends to Gary there are still questions to be answered.

    With regards to the murder, well every time we have a loss of life in those circumstances they always take priority in the media over any other tragic accident. That is just the media for you.

    Most importantly for you is your children cycling to school, well, how old are they and are they out and about on their bikes alone now, or is this the start of road cycling for them?
    Country lanes have to be amongst the most dangerous roads with tall hedges so there is no view around the corner, banks that prevent you bailing out easily when all else fails and a parent in a 4×4 with kids taking their attention off the road whilst driving along and contending with running late!!! a totally inexcusable offence of driving.
    If your kids are riding these lanes now then your question is answered, if not then they need to be made aware of the hazards first.

    Their school must be made to be sustainable transport friendly, The school where I work had an offer of a free bike rack for 6 bikes, It took off so well we now have covered racks for up to 60 bikes and an awful lot more healthy kids and to date thankfully not one accident in about 10 years by any of the kids riding their bikes to school.

    Cheers John.

  6. Nicole 11/01/2011 at 6:58 pm #

    John,

    I’m a part of that media and I know it only too well. And no, we don’t know too much about the accident and it would be wrong to comment further at this stage. We don’t know too much about the murder of Jo Yeates yet either, but it’s still front page!

    My children are 10 and 9 and no, they wouldn’t be cycling to school alone. I would be with them. I’m looking for a cycling proficiency course for them to do at the moment. It seems that there aren’t too many around. The only person that can teach them at the moment is me. We cycle everywhere we can, just not to school yet, so they know about some of the dangers.

    The school is fee-paying and so a law unto itself. If the 4×4-driving parents don’t want it, I’m afraid a lone voice is ulikely to cut it.

    I’ll keep the throng updated.

  7. Adam 11/01/2011 at 7:02 pm #

    Fell off my bike on the 4th of Jan ,breaking my finger which allowed me to listen to the sad news of Gary Mason’s death on LBC Radio and then listen to the horrible phone in presenter use that to lead a discussion on how bicycle riders are a danger to other road users and should be licensed or registered.
    Despicable.

  8. Chris 11/01/2011 at 9:47 pm #

    It makes you wonder when you read things like garry mason and others ending up like this . Has anybody noticed that car drivers who are responsible for killing someone on a bike is actuelly getting away withit there is a technical term but im not a lawyer. i myself have been very nearly hit by some idiot not paying full attention to the road .my advice is when on a cycle 100% observation is a must Take all.

  9. Chris 11/01/2011 at 9:51 pm #

    It makes you wonder when you read things like garry mason and others ending up like this . Has anybody noticed that car drivers who are responsible for killing someone on a bike is actuelly getting away withit there is a technical term but im not a lawyer. i myself have been very nearly hit by some idiot not paying full attention to the road .my advice is when on a cycle 100% observation is a must Take care all.

  10. Iain 12/01/2011 at 4:33 pm #

    The council here have a BikeIt officer who encourages kids to cycle to school (and presumably elsewhere) I’ve tried to find more info, but can’t find any… As for being scared to ride on the roads – if that idiot in the range rover who treats the speed limit as a minimum is going to hit you, whether you’re on a bike or in a car you’re not gonna win…

    The terrible irony about the school run is that the heavy traffic that is used as the excuse to drive is caused by people driving their kids to/from school because other methods are too dangerous… The traffic/parking around schools mid afternoon during holiday is fine, surprisingly quiet even, yet once the schools are in there’s cars everywhere, parked (abandoned) on corners and pavements…

  11. Mike 12/01/2011 at 5:05 pm #

    You’ve said that the other mothers wouldn’t consider cycling. Can you expand on what reasons they’ve given, if any?

    On my ride to work I see plenty of harassed mums shuttling their kids to school in their MPVs and cars. However I do see a few on bikes, the best being an oriental guy who rides a shopper with his daughter getting a backy on the luggage rack.

    I genuinely think that persuading parents out of cars and onto bikes would make a huge difference to the way riding bikes is perceived. It’ll just take some of them to have a rational think about it and hopefully the rest will follow.

    • John 12/01/2011 at 5:39 pm #

      Going back to my original post about bike racks in my school – our first rack was going to take up ONE parking space and there was general uproar about it!
      Now I think it’s fair to say about up to 15 members of staff cycle during the summer months down to about 5 ‘real cyclists’ that cycle all year round.
      That’s quite a lot less cars fighting over that parking space!
      It can be a hard fight to start off with but as cyclists we are used to fighting our cause and someone has to lose a few friends for a while to get what they want, they soon come around when their own friends join in the cycling trend, which will happen.

      John

  12. Kim 12/01/2011 at 5:21 pm #

    We are badly served by the blame the victim approach to road safety promoted by the powers that be in this country. What we really need a harm reduction approach which is found in other countries.

  13. christhebull 12/01/2011 at 10:27 pm #

    Another tragedy, and a blameless one, is here, with a three year old girl who has died from swine flu. Her parents have criticised the government for not making the vaccine available to all. This has gained national media attention.

    I sincerely doubt that the BBC would do a piece saying “in other countries there are traffic restrictions outside schools, and separate cycle paths and strict liability and 30km/h zones and so on” if a child was killed as a vulnerable road user. They certainly wouldn’t have an overly emotional plea from the bereaved parents for more pedestrian crossings. I doubt it would get more than an article in the local paper unless the child was that of a celebrity.

  14. markbikeslondon 12/01/2011 at 11:26 pm #

    Hi Nicole, it’s great to see you making a splash here on London Cyclist, I really like the difference you bring to the blog – you and Andreas are going to make a great team!

    Mason’s death is extremely sad, and indeed what little press attention he has received has been namely because of his celebrity. There was a gentleman of very similar age and background who dissapeared beneath the wheels of a left turning lorry in central London last year that even most cyclists didn’t hear about, which just goes to show that things aren’t equal.

    Having said that, I’m not sure press coverage of KSIs for cyclists is especially helpful anyway – it tends to make cycling appear more dangerous than it is, which enforces fears and reduces subjective safety. More people die each year in the UK falling off of furniture or out of bed than cycling, but you never hear abou them (or indeed suggestions that one ought to wear a helmet and high vis jacket in bed!) What I’d really like to see is a wide approach to all road KSIs which might, hopefully, help to show just how serious a problem road danger is for everybody and that all deaths on our roads (but espcially of more vulnerable road users) should be unacceptable.

    As to the 4×4 Moms at your school – I’m a bit stuck as to what to suggest in the face of the response you’ve received from the other mothers. Maybe it is time to get a really swish cargoe bike and start a little game of ‘keeping up with the Jones’ on the bike front – if envy will drive people to cycle more then I’m all for it!

    All the best, and thanks for the link. Keep up the great writing,

    Mark

  15. Corin 13/01/2011 at 12:39 pm #

    Good article and discussion. Don’t have much to add except that, as someone who cycles 15 miles a day across central London in rush hour, I’d be very hesitant to cycle along country lanes in England. The speed at which local drivers take these narrow lanes, with their high hedges, embankments and severely restricted visibility, would put me right off.

  16. Mike (chthonicionic) 13/01/2011 at 12:41 pm #

    This made me laugh:
    “When I mentioned it to friends, they were less than enthusiastic, and one suggested that I would be certain to lose friends in the playground when my cycling was making the other mothers late!”

    There is a wonderful logical fallacy in that statement. It’s impossible for your cycling to make them late, unless you too are late: even if they have to stay behind you the whole way, they’ll arrive at the same time as you.

    Yet, it is this lack of control over destination time that eats away at car drivers (and commuters on delayed public transport, to be honest). They’ve been sold the idea of complete personal freedom, yet their movements are inherently restrained by the movements of others.

    Same goes for bikes, except their relative size on our roads means it’s much rarer that you get held up with no alternative.

  17. Mr Colostomy 13/01/2011 at 5:03 pm #

    If we are to make these deaths unacceptable, I think it would be useful to make a distinction. Very few cyclists and pedestrians die due to accidents, many more die due to the negligence. Referring to all of these deaths as accidents disguises the fact that the vast majority of them could have been avoided if the drivers of the vehicles involved were doing so with due care and attention.

    An accident sounds like something which could have just happened to anyone, which was inevitable, just bad luck. Most of these deaths could be avoided.

    • nicolep 14/01/2011 at 2:46 pm #

      Mr Colostomy,

      Thanks for stopping by. I read your comments on other blogs and they are always, as this one is, insightful.

      They are not, in the main, accidents. They are the result of driver neglect or assault with a vehicle. It’s time we started saying so.

  18. Ali B 13/01/2011 at 8:29 pm #

    Nicole, an excellent read if some what depressing. If we’re going to have any impact on further increasing cycling as an everyday activity, it will be through the mothers and fathers who cycle and let their children cycle.

    Here in Richmond we currently have cycle training in all the state schools provided by the council, and there’s this excellent mobile bike club, The Turning Hub, which goes into schools and community groups. One of the schools shown in the article linked below is really proactive on travel plans for schools, worth reading as its a very positive piece in these negative times.

    http://www.richmondlcc.co.uk/2010/12/17/the-turning-hub/

  19. Adam Edwards 14/01/2011 at 1:43 pm #

    My friend Rebecca takes her two girls the 1 mile up the country lane on bikes, having started with a trailer. At the school (Dane End, Herts) attitudes are beginning to shift as she talks to people and people begin to realise car to school = fat child. A bike shed has been bought as gradually more kids are riding there. So you start and influence the rest.

    As a practical solution to the lack of bike parking, could you afford to donate a Plantlock to the School? See http://frontyardcompany.co.uk/products/plantlock_work.html

    Looks like a nice flower planter and doubles as secure parking. Will look nice by the front door of the school and can even be positioned to stop a car driver ramming the front door by accident!

    So when it comes to influencing parents, I say “Yes we can!”

    Adam

    • nicolep 14/01/2011 at 2:42 pm #

      Hi Adam,

      Thanks for that. I had a look at some other options yesterday at http://www.cyclehoop.com/, at the London Bike Show, and when I got to school to pick up my children I was told that there was nowhere they could find for me to lock two small bikes up during the day. Isn’t that appalling! I’m going to write to the headmaster this afternoon with my suggestions. I love the plantlock and will suggest that to them too.

      The main problem here is that the school is an independent school, in the middle of nowhere, and the catchment area is so wide that most of the parents have to drive because they live so far away. My ride will be five miles, which for a 10 year old and a 9 year old, seems quite a way at the moment. For those parents who don’t cycle at all, it seems like 50 miles! But I will do it and whether they choose to follow me or not, my children will be fit, happy and healthy, and so will I doing 10 miles in the morning before I even start my own commute.

      Mikebikeslondon,

      You are absolutely right. And more people are kicked to death by a donkey each year than die in plane crashes. Neither is entreated to wear any kind of safety gear.

      Thanks for your encouragment.

  20. david 14/01/2011 at 5:50 pm #

    I feel for you Nicola. I live in a small village on the south coast that boasts three schools, two infants and one fee-paying public, and a large comprehensive on the outskirts. Consequently traffic is heavily congested in the morning and at a standstill in the afternoon due to thoughtless parking as parents wait for their charges. I have yet to see any children cycling to and from school and the one school cycling rack that I can see has rarely more than 2 bicycles.

    I have some suggestions on reducing this absurd state of affairs.

    I have read of convoys of children living in other areas being shepherded to and from school on foot by parents on a rota system. Why not a similar scheme for junior cyclists? What about using bridleways instead of public roads. How about schools enticing their pupils to cycle by offering time off from games, which many dislike and try to avoid anyway.

    David

  21. Ian Houghton 15/01/2011 at 12:37 am #

    Alas Nicole, Murder sells papers….Accidents don’t… Had Gary Mason not been a celebrity sportsperson it wouldn’t have even made a paragraph…

  22. Adam Edwards 15/01/2011 at 9:39 pm #

    Hertfordshire originated the walking bus and details on how to set one up are here:

    http://www.hertsdirect.org/envroads/roadstrans/rsu/schooltravel/walkbus/

    Their section on School Travel Plans (which all schools can do and get extra funding if they do so) is here:

    http://www.hertsdirect.org/envroads/roadstrans/transplan/travelwise/schooltravel/improve/devshooltrav/

    I believe Herts have tried cycling buses but there’s nothing on the web site so far.

    Adam

    • David Hembrow 17/01/2011 at 9:25 am #

      Actually, David Engwicht in Australia was the originator of the Walking Bus.

      I think it’s interesting what he wrote about it. He saw it as an intermediate step to win back confidence and to give children independent mobility, not as an end in itself. He’s been a bit critical of what has happened since: “The moment the Walking Bus turns into an official program, it creates some significant difficulties, particularly in litigious and risk-adverse cultures.”

      What’s needed is for children to be able to go on their bikes or by foot to school on their own and for no-one to think this is remotely unusual or unsafe. That’s what we have over here. The extent of it was a real surprise to me when we moved. It’s not just that children cycle to school, but that they go on school trips by bike, school cycle camping trips when they’re still in primary school, and even unsupervised triathlons along public ways are organised by schools, without any need for “risk assessments” at all. School discos go on until midnight, and then the children cycle home on their own unaccompanied.

      None of this is exceptional, none of it requires any particular thought. That’s why it happens. The environment is such that it all seems normal. But for us, coming from Britain, it took some getting used to even though this is what we came here for.

      Current conditions in Britain, where even big strong men like Gary Mason can so easily be cut down by the incidental violence on the street are hugely off-putting to the public at large. Telling people that it’s just fine on the roads as they stand at the moment won’t work. Freewheeler wrote a good piece on it at the weekend.

  23. Iain 16/01/2011 at 6:44 pm #

    Noticed this yesterday on the BBC news website – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-12198812 Not much in the way of details, but I suspect filtering motorcyclist tried to squeeze past filtering cyclist. It wouldn’t even have made the news had the motorists not moaned at the Police for closing the road…

    It’s daft isn;t it – we keep hearing how PE gets dropped from the school day to give more time for lessons, yet there’s little encouragement for kids to cycle to school (and teachers too!) Have to say I would’ve loved to be able to spend an hour or two on my bike instead of doing some PE class in something I’m crap at!

  24. Downfader 16/01/2011 at 10:40 pm #

    I think there are several issues with this that I personally see. One is that even the law abiding, and majority,of cyclists are under attack via the media (Adam Rayner on the BBC recently is a good example). Many of us do not break the laws, many of us would discourage others and have done, yet we are clearly tarred. It is the same mentality that attacks any other minority in the UK or society.

    Another issue I see is that raises its head is how non-cyclists dont understand the methods, even though legal, and why we use them. This includes positioning, filtering, light usage, that we arent obliged to wear helmets or hiviz and that they’re really not proven, that potholes can present a fair bit of a problem to all two wheelers, etc etc.

    With the collisions what is often raised in press and in debate is how inconvenienced drivers are (as happened on the Bournemouth Echo’s website when Police complained that impatient motorists made their job harder than it needed to be). Then the debate often turns to victim blaming, even though facts are never known until much later (and sometimes never at all as has been shown by recent news where the CTC and others have rightly cried foul). Some news sites get around this now by switching off all comments options on stories of collisions, or deleting unsavioury and irrelevant material.

    Mason was a man I watched fight on the telly when I was a lad. He was a great boxer, and the fact a Superman can be taken down in such a way really scares us all. The fact remains that we have to keep riding, or else we may lose the right, discourage others and make it worse for those remaining.

    We also have to become more vocal ourselves, and encourage as many others to do the same. We even need more non-cyclists to side with us, and this is starting to happen. What I see in the media and the web of the Superhighways and the Skyrides shows me there could very well be a market for decent segregation if it is done properly, and that in turn would make it better for many of us in urban areas, but we would need a massive culture shift for the club riders and cyclists who ride out of town into the lanes.

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