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Are you Clarkson in disguise?
25.12.05 by Buffalo Bill

what we could all end up with if Matt gets his way

Matt Seaton, author of a terrific book about cycling called The Escape Artist, writes the Two Wheels column for the Guardian. His latest article leads me and others in the London cycling community to believe that he is actually a 5th Columnist, or perhaps a 5th Wheeler, a petrol-head masquerading as a pro-cyclist. Perhaps we should expect nothing less from someone who is by-lined as a Motoring Correspondent.

I’ll summarise his proposal: in order to be accepted as legitimate road-users, cyclists should be subject to licensing, and take a some sort of proficiency test before being licensed to use the road.

I sent the following email to him:

Dear Matt,

With regards to your suggestion that we should take a test:

All I can say is: are you Clarkson in disguise?

Yet another cyclist was killed last month by a left-turning HGV. Harriet Tory is the 2nd London cyclist that I know to have been killed this year by a collision with a HGV. 3 other London cyclists, to my knowledge, have been seriously injured this year by left-turning HGVs this year.

And what are you writing about?

Get your priorities straight.

PS If you missed it, here is the link for the MT news item.

Buffalo Bill
Editor, Moving Target, the world’s most useless messenger ‘zine.

+44 79 6663 6988


I received the following reply from Matt:

Hi Bill

Nice to hear from you. It’s mainly a provocation (like, it’ll never happen anyway). Main object is to make people think: if I as a cyclist want more respect, what do I need to do to get it?

But please do write in a full response to letters@guardian.co.uk

Best, Matt

Oh very good, Matt. That’ll get all us cyclists thinking about why it is that the British Public hate us so much. And, to judge from the tone of Matt’s piece, come to the conclusion that it’s all our own fault, and get back in the gutter, where JC and others think we belong.

I wasn’t the only one to have been more than a little annoyed by Matt’s missive. I bumped into Dr. Robert Davis, a hard-core, hard-riding cycle activist and respected traffic policy maker, who wrote a book that changed the way I looked at the world called
‘Death on the Streets: Cars and the Mythology of Road Safety’, whilst I was out on the bike in Regent’s Park. He was fuming, and wrote the following letter (not published):

Letters Page, The Guardian

Dear Sir, 21st December 2005

(Matt Seaton: A licence to stop at red: 21st December)

As a local authority officer organising cycle training programmes in London with a specific commitment to showing cyclists how not to cycle on pavements or disobey traffic signals (as well as not intentionally breaking the law during my 30 years cycling experience) I find that Matt Seaton presents an argument which is simple, attractive – and completely wrong.

The only arguments for a formal control on cyclists, based on mimicking a supposed regulation on motorists, are that such controls work and that there is a problem comparable to that which motorists are responsible for. If Seaton had bothered to look at the evidence he would see that the chances of cyclists being responsible for hurting or killing pedestrians are tiny compared to those of motorists doing so – despite the supposed controls of testing and other pseudo-restrictions.

It may seem perverse for someone committed to correct cycling to oppose such an idea – but the real issue is that we live in a society where everyday rule and law breaking by motorists has become acceptable. Opposing this violence means exposing the myths (of which the supposed regulation of the driving test is just one) shared by Seaton’s social circle.

There should be no special treatment for cyclists – but the continuing need for equitable controls of anti-social behaviour on the road. I’m afraid that comes down to questioning the refusal of the Great British Motorist to obey the law, which as endless discussions on speeding, not to mention literally billions of rule and law infractions and millions of insurance claims annually, is as persistent as ever.

Of course, if Seaton wants to regulate the vulnerable, he could try bringing pedestrians under the control of the law as they are in Germany, the US and other countries – no country requires cycling tests.

All minorities tend to believe that if they pander to the prejudices of those who oppress them they will become liberated. Not only will it not work, but backing up this prejudice – which, incidentally, has been voiced for decades before cyclist misbehaviour was commonplace – will end up making it worse for all road users’ safety.

If Seaton was interested in the issue he would notice that Transport for London have just cut funding for child cyclist training and axed adult training schemes for 2006/07 – but he isn’t.

Mind you, if I could seriously threaten the lives of those I don’t like with little chance of real punishment, pollute congest and still get treated as a victim by the gutter press – all on the basis of taking “a test” – let’s go for it!

A lot of people I know read the Guardian. Personally, I have never found the liberal middle-class consensus that I find in its pages an agreeable read. Being anarchist in outlook, I learned a long time ago that you can never trust a middle-class socialist, especially not a middle-class socialist from North London. However, as Blair and New Labour flap the right wing more and more, perhaps it is only right that the Grauniad should adopt the agenda of the Daily Mail. Which makes Matt Seaton the cycling equivalent of Lynda Lee-Potter, I guess.

Why don’t you stick to writing about trouser turn-ups, Matt?

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  1. I’m sure the part of the test involving running red lights without harming anyone or myself will be particularly easy.

    — A. Courier    25 December 2005, 22:43    #
  2. Running reds is too easy. It’s them gert big juggers and cabs chicanery that I’m looking forward to..

    — Ann Ouverh Curriah    8 January 2006, 13:12    #
  3. So… Cyclists shouldn’t be regulated because car users break the law all the time? That’s not really much of a convincing counter argument, frankly.

    I cycle, I also drive. In both instances, I obey both the law and the highway code. I really spend most of my time walking everywhere – and I’ve only ever been in a ‘near accident’ either in my car, or on the pavement – every time, it’s a cyclist that has caused it, and been at fault – swerving without signal into traffic, jumping a red light, not stopping at a give way, ignoring one way signs, not knowing the difference between a pelican crossing and a toucan, and the real bane – speeding down the pavement.

    To get on the road in a car, you have to pass a theory and practical test to prove you understand the rules, and can manoeuvre the car safety, register your vehicle, prove its road worthy, pay for the upkeep of the roads, and carry insurance – third party at minimum.

    How can anyone serious about the future of cycling not think regulation, registration and mandatory insurance is a not good thing? If it stops just one idiot cyclist (case in point: Jason Howard blogs.guardian.co.uk…) then it’s a very good thing.

    — Annoyed with the idiots    9 July 2008, 16:56    #
  4. F*ck me it’s Clarkson!

    — overdrive    9 July 2008, 17:23    #
  5. “and I’ve only ever been in a ‘near accident’ either in my car, or on the pavement – every time, it’s a cyclist that has caused it, and been at fault – swerving without signal into traffic, jumping a red light, not stopping at a give way, ignoring one way signs, not knowing the difference between a pelican crossing and a toucan, and the real bane – speeding down the pavement.”

    # you just described almost everyone who writes on this site well done dear boy
    — zack speedfast    9 July 2008, 17:23    #
  6. ‘not knowing the difference between a pelican crossing and a toucan,’
    All cyclists know that Pelicans waddle across the road and toucans hop

    — laidback al    10 July 2008, 22:49    #
  7. It is abundantly clear that the police are guilty of gross neglect of duty. Motorists, cyclists, and for that matter pedestrians regularly commit violations, and with utter impunity.
    Until the police get off their backsides, and react to this pernitious and growing anarchy, the situation will remain.
    Since the late sixties, the police have abdicated their responsibilities for road safety. Once upon a time, they regularly patrolled trunk roads, and Cities, and drivers were very aware of their presence.
    Now, they con the public with speed cameras, and totally indescriminate breath testing.
    They are a bunch of moribund Charlies!!!

    — Bob Cross    25 August 2008, 11:14    #
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