Fatal crashes are cyclists' fault, says Boris

Mayor condemned for saying that two-thirds of riders killed on the road were at fault in accidents

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Indy Politics

He may be known as the “cycling Mayor” but Boris Johnson has caused outrage by accusing two-thirds of the cyclists killed and seriously injured in London of causing the crashes by breaking the laws of the road.

Cycling campaigners criticised the newly re-elected Mayor, saying his comments were "antagonistic and inflammatory" and questioning the veracity of the figures; they cited other numbers that suggest as few as a third of cyclists are at fault when they are killed on the roads.

"He has done a lot of harm to cyclists because he has upped the ante between cyclists and drivers when we need to be upping the level of mutual respect," said Kate Cairns, whose sister Eilidh was killed by a lorry in 2009.

"It is tarring people with the same brush. There are cyclists who jump red lights so people say they all do. But there are also bad drivers and that doesn't lead us to say everyone is bad."

Mr Johnson, who is often pictured cycling around the capital, told the first Mayor's Question Time meeting this week that "the increase in cycling has not necessarily been accompanied by an increase [in an] observance of the rules of the road". He added: "It is very important, I think people should be aware of the high proportion. I have seen a figure of I think 62 per cent... of cyclist KSIs [people killed and seriously injured] are associated with some infraction by the cyclist themselves of the rules of the road. That is very sad."

Mr Johnson said he was a "passionate, militant cyclist" but he described an on-road "ecosystem" in which "everybody understands that everybody has got to obey the rules, otherwise they forfeit sympathy".

He did not disclose the source of his figures at the meeting on Wednesday.

Mike Cavenett, of the London Cycling Campaign, said Mr Johnson's comments overshadowed other good work he has done on improving conditions for cyclists in London, including his campaign promise – reiterated this week – to implement measures to make London's roads more akin to those of Amsterdam.

Figures in a 2009 report from the independent Transport Research Laboratory showed that – when a cyclist over the age of 25 sustained serious injuries – the motorist was entirely at fault between 64 and 70 per cent of the time, with the cyclist at fault in 23 to 27 per cent of incidents.

And in cases when a cyclist over 25 died in a crash, the motorist was deemed entirely at fault in 48 to 66 per cent of incidents and the cyclist 33 to 43 per cent of the time. Mr Cavenett said: "He has moved wildly away from the established opinion and data and is doing a massive disservice to cyclists in London." But Mr Cavenett admitted that some cyclists do jump red lights and commit other offences.

Ms Cairns added: "If you ask most cyclists, when they jump red lights it is because it is the only safe thing to do. It is often safer to get in front of the [stationary] traffic and pull away ahead of it. When we make the laws and the roads safe, then we can start complaining."

Mr Johnson's comments follow similar sentiments expressed by the chairman of the taxi firm Addison Lee, John Griffin, who was heavily criticised for saying cyclists lacked training and that the "influx of beginner cyclists is going to lead to an overall increase in accidents involving cyclists".

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: "When attending a recent Mayoral hustings event the Mayor was told that figures indicated a high proportion of cyclists killed or seriously injured were either committing an offence or in the process of doing so. He has asked his team to look into whether that statistic can be confirmed as part of getting the most accurate assessment to tackle the issue successfully."