British Cycling has today played down the alleged widespread animosity between motorists and cyclists portrayed in the BBC’s upcoming documentary ‘War on Britain’s Roads’, which will air on BBC1 on Wednesday 5 December at 9pm.
A clip from the programme have appeared on the Guardian website and feature head-cam footage depicting aggressive confrontation between cyclists and motorists, together with footage of cyclists running red lights and flouting other traffic laws.
Responding the clips from the forthcoming programme, produced for the BBC by independent film company Leopard Films, British Cycling’s Policy and Legal Affairs Director Martin Gibbs said: “It sounds like they're taking what is a serious issue and making it into drama, which is disappointing. What disturbs me is that it's creating an artificial distinction between cyclists and motorists."
Gibbs’ comments have been joined by other voices from the cycling and motoring communities. Edmund King, President of the Automobile Association was quick to play down the alleged divide between motorists and cyclists, referencing the organisation’s recent member survey that points out that almost two-thirds of drivers want to see improved road infrastructure for cyclists, and that 1.5 million AA members cycle regularly. “I do think the problems can be blown out of proportion,” said King. “We need to talk to each other in a civilised manner, and I don't think a programme like this really helps. It's not a war out there.”
Ian Austin MP, British Cycling member and Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG) issued a press release condemning the documentary as “stupid, sensationalist, simplistic, irresponsible nonsense.”
Austin went on to say it “was about as representative of ordinary cycling in Britain as a James Bond car chase is of ordinary driving”.
The APPCG co-chair has contacted Tony Hall, newly appointed BBC Director General, demanding other BBC programmes “present the reality of cycling and driving in Britain in a much more sensible, considered and accurate way”.
The preview clip which appeared on The Guardian website comprises head-cam footage of confrontations between motorists and cyclists collected specifically for the documentary, spliced with footage taken from a DVD produced in 2006 by filmmaker Lucas Brunelle, which focuses on illegal urban cycling. The BBC, however, has insisted that the footage used in the documentary is fair and balanced.
A spokesperson for the BBC has claimed at the documentary is intended as “a serious examination of the relationship between cyclists and other road users.
“It uses actual footage of real incidents to provoke discussion and investigates the outcomes and consequences of several of the incidents captured. Raising awareness of these issues, on a primetime BBC1 programme, can only be a positive thing for both cyclists and other road users."
If the documentary’s title and the clips released ahead of its screening are representative of the documentary as a whole, it appears as if ‘War on Britain’s Roads’ does little to foster an environment of mutual respect on Britain’s roads, an issue that British Cycling members feel strongly about, as British Cycling’s Martin Gibbs points out. “Our members don’t want us to be anti-car and indeed nine out of ten British Cycling members drive a car, so it makes no sense to talk about “them” and “us”, “motorists” or “cyclists”. We’re just people, sometimes people on bikes, other times people in cars, often both in the same day. We all bear a responsibility for the culture on the roads.”