Whose Law Is It Anyway?

1 December 2014

What part does infrastructure play in lawbreaking? Let’s ask the Institute of Advanced Motorists.

Cycling and the law

When responding to a survey (conducted online by themselves and presented with atrociously unclear statements) in which 14% of cycling respondents said they jumped red lights “regularly or sometimes”, Simon Best, chief executive of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, had this to say:

Changes to road layouts and junctions can improve safety for cyclists, but no junction will ever be safe for those who continue to jump red lights. It’s dangerous and illegal. “The police need to enforce the law…when cyclists put themselves and others at risk…

The sentiment is clear: the law is the law, and people’s views on their own safety when on a bicycle are not sufficient to justify contravening that in any way.

Driving and the law

When responding to casualty figures in 20mph limits (whilst crucially overlooking the significant rise in the coverage of those limits), Simon Best, chief executive of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, had this to say:

The government and councils need to take stock on the effectiveness of 20mph signs…simply putting a sign on a road that still looks like a 30mph zone does not change driver behaviour. Authorities need to spend more on changing the character of our roads so that 20mph is obvious [and] self-enforcing.

The sentiment is clear: the law is the law, and people’s views on their own convenience when in a car are not sufficient to justify contravening that in any way.

Oh—no, wait a minute…

Where was the bit about how “the police need to enforce the law”? Or the bit about “putting others at risk”? Or “dangerous and illegal”?

None of that? None?

The sentiment is clear, though:

You can’t expect drivers to obey signs. That’s a signal that your infrastructure is poor: it’s your fault. It’s not worth mentioning enforcement of the law in this case, even though violating this law is—in every conceivable case—detrimental to safety.

But you should expect cyclists to obey signs. It doesn’t matter that your infrastructure is poor: it’s their fault. It’s important to mention enforcement of the law in this case, even though violating this law is—as shown in the IAM’s own survey—frequently born of a desire for increased safety.

The only means of logically reconciling these statements is that my convenience whilst in my car is of great importance, whilst my physical safety whilst on my bicycle is not.

This is, thus, the IAM’s stance.

Indeed, this tacit acceptance of lawbreaking behind the wheel but condemnation of it behind the handlebar is rife far beyond the IAM.

The former—despite the greater danger it poses to third parties—has been socially normalised, and that’s that.

(Oh, and a footnote: the IAM’s light-jumping survey also found that around 30% of drivers jump red lights, but—although they daringly lobbed it into the article before unilaterally sticking the boot in on cyclists—for some reason there was no comment on that. It’s also interesting to note that their figures show that drivers who don’t cycle are about 50% more likely to jump red lights in car than those who do.)


  1. cyclingmatt 1 December 2014 12:53pm #

    A nice piece of hypocrisy on behalf of the IAM!

  2. ORiordan 1 December 2014 1:11pm #

    The IAM has a track record of hypocrisy. They put out a press release highlighting an increased number of accidents on 20mph roads but failed to point out that after roads are converted from 30mph to 20mph, then even a single accident will count as an increase in accidents on 20mph roads because there would have been zero accidents on 20mph roads when it was a 30mph road…

    The BBC Radio 4 More or Less program called them out regarding their fast and loose use of statistics.

    I used to be under the impression that the IAM’s purpose was to raise the standards of driving, but they really just seem to be concerned with making life more convenient for car drivers, irrespective of safety for everyone else.

  3. andrewrh 1 December 2014 1:14pm #

    On a related note: The IAM this morning – after some prompting! – has stated clearly that they do not support nor endorse a petition making the rounds in Whitchurch, Hampshire that cites the IAM’s press release on 14 July that made a muddled mess of DfT crash statistics regarding the safety of 20mph speed limits:

    So why does IAM keep the misleading press release on their website which clearly can easily be “taken out of context and used for an initiative that [they] don’t endorse”?

    Article on town’s website, written by a resident, about the petition:


  4. chrisrust 1 December 2014 1:21pm #

    Interesting comment: “a road that still looks like a 30mph zone”. One might ask what a 30mph road looks like, or a 20mph road? Maybe we need a British Standard for road aesthetics? It costs a fortune to re-engineer roads in the way the IAM propose, should we increase ‘road tax’ to pay for it?

    The reason why we see a surge in 20mph limits is precisely because the government have got rid of those expensive engineering costs, now you just stick up a sign and these very popular speed limits are becoming the norm in many towns and cities. Maybe we’ll soon need “speed up” signs because these 30 and 40 mph roads look too much like the 20 mph ones we are used to. “Go faster kerbs anyone?

    • nfc 3 December 2014 5:56pm #

      A 30 mph zone looks ‘urban’, with streetlights less than 200m apart. At least that’s what the Highway Code says, and it says they should be treated as a 30mph limit unless signs say otherwise.

      So a simple change in the law: if it’s ‘urban’ and streetlit, it’s 20mph unless signs say otherwise, and we’re done. The main arterials are already signed for 40 mph or more.

      (These kinds of statistical misdoings, by the way, are why I left the IAM).

      • Bez 3 December 2014 7:16pm #

        All the signs on entry to those zones say 30, though. It would work in France 🙂

  5. rdrf 1 December 2014 5:34pm #

    Nice one Bez. One fort he IAM file.

  6. dr2chase 1 December 2014 7:15pm #

    Here in the US, if more than 15% of drivers are breaking the speed limit, the default guidance is that it should be increased:

    “When a speed limit within a speed zone is posted, it should be within 5 mph of the 85th-percentile speed of free-flowing traffic.”

    mutcd = Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices
    fhwa = Federal Highway Administration
    dot = Department of Transportation

  7. Robbie Burns 1 December 2014 10:15pm #

    Clear, sensible argument as always. It will be ignored of course, except by those already seeing sense.

  8. Jason 2 December 2014 1:35pm #

    Bez, I know it’ll be a total waste of your time…but have you forwarded this blog to anyone within IAM to get their response? Tell them you work for the mail or something 😉

  9. Two Wheeled Tank 3 December 2014 7:04am #

    The IAM set themselves up as some guru on the top of a mountain spouting bizaar statements that often contradict common sense. If criticised they retreat to a position of ‘no one understands the deep mysteries of the roads like we do’ implying that they are right and their critics are just unitiated plebs.

    They clearly take the Motorist element of their name to heart and because anyone without a motor can not aspire to their enlightened position they will forever remain in the dark pit of ignorance.

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