The Guardian view on cycling and the law: good manners needed | Editorial

When people are judged by their means of transport, it brings out the worst in everyoneHard cases make bad law. The tragic – genuinely tragic – death of Kim Briggs, a pedestrian in London who was hit by a cyclist as she crossed a busy road, and died of her injuries, has now led to the proposed introduction of an offence of causing death by dangerous cycling, to match the existing offence of causing death by dangerous driving. As the law then stood, Charlie Alliston, then 18, who killed Ms Briggs, could only be charged under a Victorian statute, even though it was argued that by riding a bike which had only a back brake he was not only breaking the law, but doing so with a culpable disregard for the safety of other road users.

Both the case and the resulting proposed law highlight the extent to which cycling has become a front in the culture wars. The bicycle started off as a symbol of liberation at the end of the 19th century. It allowed young people – especially young women – an astonishing degree of freedom and autonomy. In the mid-20th century it became a symbol of honest, unpretentious transport for anyone who could not afford a car. Mrs Thatcher’s grim employment secretary, Norman Tebbit, used the example of his father “Who got on his bike and looked for work” as a way to damn slackers and scroungers. Forty years later, the meaning has changed again and the bike is associated with everything reactionaries believe is wrong with modern Britain.

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