Panorama – Road Rage: Cars vs. Motorcycles is an odd title for a TV show that tends to show how vulnerable cyclists are when motorists overtake them too closely; or didn’t see them at all, as in one case highlighted in the episode we covered at the time, when a driver drove the wrong way through a roundabout and catapulted a cyclist and his bike through the air.
When this Panorama episode was first watched last month – its broadcast was delayed due to events in Westminster taking over the current affairs agenda – the title had many Twitter users expressing concerns about how cyclists would be portrayed on the show, suggesting a similarly divisive approach used in previous recordings on the subject.
The most notorious of these are those of Channel 5 Cyclists: scourge of the roads? from 2019 or those of the BBC War on the streets of Britainaired in 2012, both taking a very one-sided approach and being harshly criticized by cycling activists while providing ammunition for those who see all people on bikes as a nuisance at best and a bunch of lawbreakers doing nothing on the streets at worst have to look for.
However, this latest program takes a very different approach, not least because it is hosted by a journalist, Richard Bilton, who himself rides a bike, and follows him on a journey from his home in North Yorkshire to London.
> ‘Road Rage’ on BBC Panorama: Stoke the Fire or Raise Awareness? We interview the presenter in the road.cc podcast
Along the way he stops to talk to people including Duncan Dollimore, Campaigns Manager for Cycling UK, and Andy Salkeld, Cycling Director at Leicester City Council, which is transforming the East Midlands city for cyclists, including by building segregated infrastructure.
We also hear from Jack Schofield, the cyclist who was thrown into the air at a Leicestershire roundabout by the driver we mentioned in the first paragraph of this article, returning to the scene, as well as Mike van Erp – CyclingMikey – the uses action cameras to catch outlaw drivers, particularly in the Royal Parks of London.
The program’s most poignant segment focuses on the widows of cyclists Andy Coles and Damien Natale, who were killed by a driver on the A40 in Buckinghamshire in June 2020 and feel abandoned by the criminal justice system after the motorist admitted to the death of causing their husbands to drive negligently received no more than a suspended sentence.
Bilton himself suffers a few tight passes during his on-camera plays and the program also features numerous clips from our near miss series of the day, clearly showing the danger drivers pose to cyclists on a daily basis. The journalist points out that on average two cyclists lose their lives on British roads every week.
However, there are some irritating notes – poll results, for example, which found a third of motorists do not want cyclists on the road at all, and the appearance, presumably for “balance” reasons, of Spectator columnist and former BBC producer Rod Liddle, who two years ago said he found it “tempting” to stretch piano wire across roads used by cyclists.
He kept repeating that, and these days it’s apparently just five percent of people on bikes he has trouble with, although he believes “some form of registration” of cyclists is required. At least we didn’t catch Mr. Loophole.
Those who advocated safe cycling infrastructure have largely been full-time professionals in the field, such as Dollimore and Salkeld, who have developed a clear understanding of the benefits to individuals and society that come with reducing car dependency and facilitating people’s lives bring Select bike and footpaths for specific routes.
Aside from Liddle, however, the contrasting voices were more of the person-in-the-street variety – a Leicester market stallholder, for example, who took Bilton on a city tour in her van to underscore her belief that the new cycling infrastructure was not being utilised. When Salkeld was asked to provide the city’s own figures on actual usage levels, his response was not made public.
It was perhaps a missed opportunity that someone the stature of AA President Edmund King – who, while the public face of the country’s largest automobile association, also promotes the importance of using appropriate transportation, including cycling, for the journey undertaken – was not invited to express her opinion.
And while the program included changes made to the Highway Code earlier this year to protect vulnerable road users, it failed to highlight that the vast majority of adult cyclists also hold a driver’s license.
Arriving in London, it’s clear that Bilton has stepped out of his comfort zone at the sheer volume of car traffic that cyclists share the streets with – perhaps a chance to highlight the number of cyclists using safe infrastructure like Cycleway 3 use the Embankment to demonstrate how it gets more people to saddle up.
The focus in the capital is instead on the infamous Holborn Gyratory, where eight cyclists have lost their lives over the past decade and a half and where Camden Council is now deliberating on a range of measures, including separate cycle lanes, that activists have long campaigned for.
The journalist is led around the one-way street by a truck driver in a segment that shows exactly why the need for segregation of cyclists and motor vehicles is so urgent there – something the Council’s plans, if implemented, will finally address.
Overall, the program conveys the dangers that motorists expose cyclists to on the country’s roads every day, explains why vulnerable road users need protection and what role safe infrastructure can play in this, without amplifying the voice of the minority (as surveys repeatedly show) against such interventions that are carried out in the interest of road safety for everyone.
Which brings us back to that title, which reinforces the misconception that motorists and cyclists are two distinct groups who somehow come into conflict when the program itself highlights how they ride bikes, including the presenter himself, and whether for recreational or everyday driving, are people who simply want to get to their destination safely without being exposed to serious injury or worse.
Panorama – Road Rage: Cars vs. Motorcycles is available to watch now on BBC iPlayer and will be broadcast on BBC One tonight (at 8pm in England, 8.30pm in Scotland and 11.40pm in Wales).