“The bicycle is a curious vehicle.
Its passenger is its engine.”
- John Howard
Is a cyclist akin to an unprotected pedestrian or should a person on a bicycle be treated the same as a motorbike / motor vehicle?
Perhaps one reason why certain cycling issues can be so contentious is the fact that no-one is really sure how to classify cyclists. A cyclist is somewhere in between a pedestrian and motor vehicle, but we’re not quite sure where.
For example, when the surprisingly emotive issue of cycle helmets was raised. John Humphries argued  that if motorbikes have to wear helmets, why should cyclists be exempt?
Well, you could argue, there’s a big difference between doing 0-60mph in 3 seconds and the average speed of most city cyclists which is less than 15mph.
Secondly, I don’t know how much motorbike helmets protect, but I’m sure it’s considerably more than cycle helmets, (tested for accidents at 12-14mph).
Fatality rates per billion passenger Km.
If you look at the risk of different forms of transport. One statistic clearly stands out – motorbikes are by far the most risky form of transport. If you want to improve road safety, don’t ride a motorbike.
(BTW: You would have to cycle an average of 41,667,000 Km to be statistically likely to die. )
If human powered transport has the same laws as motor vehicles, cycling advocates may ask if cyclists have to wear helmets, why stop there? why not ask other groups at risk of head injury to wear protective clothing too? After all, more pedestrians die from road accidents than cyclists.
Cycling as a mode of transport doesn’t fit neatly into either category. Away from the velodrome, cycling is essentially a fairly slow form of self-propelled transport. Cyclists travel quicker than pedestrians, but can’t be classed in same bracket as motor cars.
With the rare / odd exceptions, cyclists do not cause fatal accidents. The death statistics from around the world are caused by motor vehicles. This is important in classification. Many road laws are there not to protect the drivers but third parties who get caught up in accidents.
Since motor vehicles are potential death traps, the abuse of road legislation is more serious when undertaken by cars. If a cyclist goes through a red light, he is essentially putting himself at risk. If a motor car goes through red light, there is a bigger danger to a third party.
This is not to justify red-light jumping which can be dangerous and annoying. But, the issue isn’t clear cut. Pedestrians can cross roads when they are clear – they don’t have to wait for the lights to be favourable. In that case, is it so bad if cyclists filter left when the road is clear?
Of course, a cyclist can very quickly dismount and become a pedestrian by pushing bike. A car driver can never jump out and push his car around.
How do Cyclists want to be perceived?
If you ask most ordinary cyclists, they would never really consider themselves a motor vehicle. Most cyclists identify would feel a vulnerable road user – like a pedestrian there is no protection of crushable metal boxes around them.
Yet, non-cyclists probably perceive things in a different light and are more likely to view them as just another vehicle on the road.