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Mellor says riders deserve rising death toll

Published: 24 June 2001

Riders who crash while jumping long queues or filtering in traffic are " getting what they deserve " , according to former Cabinet Minister David Mellor.

The Tory made the claim in his weekly column for last week’s Sunday People – and unsurprisingly it has provoked outrage.

In response to the annual road casualty statistics published last week, Mellor wrote: " Road deaths have fallen overall to the lowest level since records began – but motorbike fatalities are still rising. And I’m not surprised. Motorcyclists assume they have a divine right to be at the front of every queue, that they can overtake wherever and however they choose, and that none of the traffic laws apply to them. "

And, in the chunk which has really offended people, he wrote: " Sad to say, a lot of them are obviously getting what they deserve. " Imagine a national newspaper escaping without censure if it said any other form of people deserved to die. MCN has written to the Press Complaints Commission, while the BMF’s Jeff Stone said: " It is an awful comment to make – it’s crass, insensitive and the type of talk you’d expect to hear from someone at the pub. For someone who used to be a Cabinet Minister, it shows to what level he has sunk. "

Mellor was referring to Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR) statistics that suggest the number of people killed in bike crashes rose in 2000.

Leaving aside the taste factor, Mellor ignores the statistics that show bike crashes in built-up areas are the fault of other road-users in 58 per cent of cases. Those figures were confirmed by a report published last week by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), which also said lack of care from drivers was a contributory factor in a number of the crashes which were blamed on bikers.

Mellor’s office refused our requests for an interview, but our website was told by one of his agents that he’d consider answering questions in a webchat, though it didn’t prove possible to arrange.

Unfortunately, Mellor’s views – which are distastefully insensitive towards the families of those people who have lost loves ones in bike crashes – speak for some other car drivers.

Stone said: " It does reflect what some people think. When they’re stopped in traffic, they watch a bike go past and they don’t like it. "

The Sunday People, which gave Mellor the space to spout his opinion, distanced itself from his comments.

Editor Neil Wallis said: " David Mellor is a trenchant columnist. The views he expressed forcibly are his and his alone, not the newspaper’s.

" This three-paragraph comment, the smallest of the seven items on the page, drew a sizeable negative response from the readers, but that is the risk he takes every week. "

The factor that drivers clearly don’t realise is that bikes came closer than any other form of transport to hitting road safety targets set for them in the early 1990s.

The Government wanted 60 per cent fewer casualties from all forms of transport by the year 2000.

There was a 57 per cent fall in bike-related casualties, while vehicles like vans and lorries went down by less than one per cent and car casualties went UP by 44 per cent.

MAG’s Phil Neale said: " Motorcycling met its safety target four years ago – it was the only form of transport to get close – and now it’s getting slagged off for being dangerous. It makes no sense. "

Last year’s fatality count looked worse because of DTLR claims that the amount of bike traffic dropped by four per cent last year.

But the DTLR itself admits there is a large margin of error in that statistic because of the way it counts the number of us on the roads. It uses data from traffic monitoring cameras around the country and mileages of our bikes gained from insurance companies.

But the DTLR admits it is more accurate to take a longer-term sample, which will show the amount of miles we travel. " They must be under-estimating the mileage, " said the BMF’s Stone. " Sales of bikes are up, so it makes no sense that we are doing less miles each year.

" If the way it’s counted is just a tad wrong, we could be way out. It concerns us that fatalities are up, it’s bad news for anyone who is part of our great pastime, but we have to look at the reasons. "

The TRL report suggests growing numbers of fatal crashes are happening on rural roads, backing the view of safety group ROSPA.

Kevin Birch, from its advanced drivers association, said: " In built-up areas, 60 per cent of crashes are the fault of other people, but the reverse is the case out in the country. " We feel there is an issue with people returning to biking after a gap, the so-called born-agains.

" Their enhanced view of their own ability catches them out – they don’t have the skills, competence or experience to get round the corners at the speed they want to do.

" People who have always been on a bike can get out of trouble by applying a bit of counter-steer and the like, but returning riders aren’t able to do that.

" We are not talking about people going over the top by a ridiculous amount – it could just be one per cent more than their capability. On a bike, that one per cent is all it takes, " he added.

But Neale said: " We’re on a par with cyclists for the number of accidents per mile ridden, yet they are being encouraged and we’re not.

" There are cycle lanes everywhere, but there’s nowhere for motorcycles to park. We are being treated in an outrageous manner. "

The comments by Mr Mellor certainly led to a lot of postings in the Talk Bikes section of motorcyclenews.com. To see what other people have posted, click on the link on the right side of the page entitled " Talk Bikes "

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