Cycling documentary depicts our roads as unremitting war zone

A prime-time documentary that promises to deal with cycle safety couldn't come at a better time. Weeks after Bradley Wiggins' bruising encounter with a van, the number of cyclist deaths in Britain this year hovers at a record 112.

It also comes as the perception of conflict on our roads threatens an Olympic gold-plated bike boom of the sort not seen for generations.

But cyclists and drivers have accused the BBC of presenting a woefully distorted picture. I believe The War on Britain's Roads, which is broadcast on BBC1 tonight, does more in 60 minutes to terrify would-be cyclists and knock a safety campaign off-course than a lorryload of angry road users could in a month of rush hours.

The documentary, made by Leopard Films, is at best provocative in a way that might lead to more useful debate. It's compelling, too. I've seen it and was shocked by some of the encounters it shows and moved by the accounts of participants whose relatives had been killed. At its worst, however, the film, which uses clips from YouTube, is sensationalist and dangerous. The footage it presents as everyday depicts Britain's roads as an unremitting war zone. Furious drivers throw punches, angry cyclists bang on windows, people die. It's a wonder, after years and thousands of miles of cycling and driving, that I still have four limbs.

The BBC defended the film as "a serious examination of the relationship between cyclists and other road users", adding: "It set out to explore real-life stories and is not a comprehensive investigation... Raising awareness of these issues, on a primetime BBC1 programme, can only be a positive thing..."

This will only be true if everyone who sees it is also presented with cycling as a safe, convenient way to get around that would be safer still if authorities woke up to the needs of road users, and if everyone, including self-appointed warriors with helmet cameras, learned to be nice. If not, the BBC has only fuelled the war.