Why the Addison Lee saga is important


Cyclists protest outside Addison Lee HQ: (Photo: Big Smoke)

While off the air, a major story broke: RDRF responded and was quoted in The Times  and various blogs .A version of another e-mail was posted by our friends at Movement for Liveable London . Here is an updated version of it:

Following cancellation of some accounts and the promise of a flash-mob protest outside his offices on Monday 23rd April, the boss of Addison Lee issued a pseudo-apology while re-stating his prejudices – which discriminate against cyclists and other road users outside motor vehicles in general and Addison Lee vehicles in particular. For us he is digging himself in deeper. This saga is not just about a publicity seeking bigot angling for notoriety and some extra business. It actually reveals a lot about the way in which we are supposed to think about transport and safety on the road .

He has form: as indicated by the humorous David Mitchell in the Observer. But we repeat: this is not just one more extremist. His views are simply versions of the dominant “road safety” ideology which bedevils a civilised approach to transport and real safety on the road. His tendency to get hold of the wrong end of the stick not just once, but on a range of issues is typical of the inversion of the reality that passes for “road safety”.

The most obvious example of this corrupt ideology is that Mr Griffin has – would you believe – signed up to The Times cyclists’ safety campaign : yes, he is actually on the side of cyclists!

But “road safety” has so often been against the safety and well-being of cyclists and others: after all, if cyclists get out of the way of motor traffic, they won’t get hurt or killed. If people are too scared to cycle or walk (or their parents to let them), then they won’t get killed – something which traditional “road safety” sees as progress. Griffin is just part of that tradition, and the following expresses it:

“My foreword in Addison Lee’s magazine Add Lib, has caused quite a storm amongst the Twitter community, and I’m glad it has. In the article, I argue for compulsory training and insurance for London’s bicycle owners and I still stand by my contention.

“About one cyclist is killed on London’s roads every month and countless others horribly injured. If the article causes a debate around cycle safety, and perhaps saves some lives, bring it on.

“Cycling is a deadly serious issue and lives are at stake. There have been huge campaigns recently to encourage cycling, but not so much in terms of improving safety and awareness for cyclists. “I’m glad that the issue is being debated. If anyone has more ideas for improving safety for cyclists, I would be delighted to hear them. In the meantime, I will continue calling for compulsory training and compulsory insurance for bicycle users.”

And there is no indication that he has backed off – indeed, his response to the admirable protest at Addison Lee’s offices ( for a full account see the always up to the minute road cc) was to – read out his second missive.

So let’s take this opportunity to puncture some of the myths:

TRAINING. ( or perhaps we should say “TRAINING”, as plainly what Addison lee drivers are all too often up to indicates that any training they may have received has been for a form of behaviour which is not advocated by the Highway Code).

This is the classic example of getting hold of the wrong end of the stick – twice over. Firstly, if anyone needs regulation to control behaviour which is genuinely anti-social because it threatens other people’s lives, it should be that of motorist. After all, by any objective measure (the third party insurances of motorists as compared to members of the cycling organisations, for example), it is motorists, not cyclists, who need control and regulation.

But the other stick wrongly handled is that of “training” in the first place: generally it is not about control or regulation anyway: it is about breeding confidence. The RDRF has strongly supported National Standards cycle training as a way to do this and generate more cycling, with major safety benefits accruing from the greater awareness by motorists of increased numbers of cyclists. Many of this cycling will of course be precisely the assertive cycling (taking the primary position etc.) which seems to upset so many motorists, Addison Lee drivers among them.

It is about empowerment and enablement. It is not something to be forced on actual or potential cyclists; it isn’t what Mr Griffin would probably like to see anyway (it teaches rights as well as responsibilities), and it is ludicrous to see cyclists, rather than motorists, as the problem to be controlled.

INSURANCE. There is a  good case for motorists carrying their party insurance – but there ahs to be proper chances of errant motorists actually having to be found liable and with proper pay outs for the damage they cause to people’s lives: we would argue that neither happens at the moment.  We need black boxes on vehicles to establish cause of collisions and proper reparations. Also, we certainly have a significant proportion of London’s motorist who don’t pay 3rd party insurance, which Mr Griffin does not seem to be chasing up.

But full insurance against responsibilities is just that – a way of protecting motorists from their responsibilities. At the very least no more than 80 – 90% of the cost of injury to human beings (we are not so concerned with damage to property) should be recoverable through insurance. 3rd party insurance should be seen as at least in part another example of motorists getting away with it.

WHAT – OR WHO – IS “DANGEROUS”?Throughout, Griffin assumes that because some road users are not inside crashworthy vehicles there is something wrong with them – not the road users who are dangerous to them and everybody else on the road. We won’t go into how the increasing crashworthiness of vehicles has made motorists even more of a potential menace to others: suffice it to say that we need to see the principle problem as  those who can endanger others  the most. This seems to be completely outside Griffin’s world view.

“Road safety” ideology protecting the (careless) motorist has always patronisingly muttered about “protecting the vulnerable road user” (that’s human beings outside cars) – what do you think may actually be endangering them.

And in case anybody wants to point out that cyclists and pedestrians can – surprise, surprise – actually break the Highway Code, well:

  1. We would argue that it is generally less dangerous to others than motorist law breaking, and therefore less of a priority, and:
  2. Motorist law and rule breaking is generally accommodated – or even colluded and connived with – by the creation of crashworthy vehicles (crumple zones, seat belts, airbags, roll bars etc.) and a highway environment (anti-skid, crash barriers, felling roadside trees etc.). Maybe try doing that for cyclists if equality is what you’re after?

TAXATION: We will also need to demolish the myth of motorists being “overtaxed”, although it is not there in Griffin’s latest outpourings.

LAW ENFORCEMENT? We will certainly need to raise again – London cyclists have long complained about this – the lack of law enforcement by motorists in general and private hire cars in particular. This episode should be seen as an opportunity to do so. The failure to discuss this has been a major problem in The Times campaign so far, as we have pointed out If it is not to fail it needs to be addressed.

One thought does stick in the mind from the original Addison Lee “Editorial”: what cyclists would have to do to join “our gang”, including being “trained”. If it is a question of being in a gang which can hurt and kill with minimal (if any) punishment, there might be quite a few cyclists who would welcome such “training”…

“Our Gang”: Addison Lee boss addresses protesters.(Photo: Cyclists in the City)


And here is the first e-mail we sent off as we found out about the “ Add Lib” “Editorial” :

You probably know that Addison Lee have – quite properly – attracted opprobrium for their attempt to get their private hire vehicles to use bus lanes. Even Transport for London have stood up to their encouragement to their drivers to do this. (See here and here particularly the comments after these pieces)

You know that there is enough pressure on cyclists in bus lanes from buses, coaches and taxis, unjustifiably added to by permitting motorcycles in bus lanes on TfL and some (but not all) bus lanes on Borough roads.

You should know that private hire vehicles (minicabs) have a justified reputation for being driven in a particularly dangerous way towards cyclists, and that there is no real attempt to properly regulate their behaviour other than the usual (lack of) law enforcement and (utterly inadequate) sentencing of errant drivers. Addison Lee’s encouragement of the illegal behaviour of driving in bus lanes should be seen in the context of the widespread rule and law breaking of its drivers when they are outside bus lanes.

But it gets worse.  We have just seen the revolting piece in Addison Lee’s house magazine ( keep a sick bag at the ready before opening). This display of self-pitying bigotry and victim-blaming is, above all, the kind of incendiary message that exacerbates rule and law breaking behaviour by motorists.

And the bigotry is deep seated and needs to be properly confronted by those in power: step forward all those with responsibility for transport policy, as well as those charged with enforcing driver behaviour on London’s roads.

The “paying road tax” myth is inevitably associated with negative behaviour towards non-motorists and needs stronger opposition than the usual remarks from cyclists about how lots of them are also motorists.

The idea that drivers are “extensively trained” is laughable. So too is the implication that vehicle occupants have somehow fulfilled a greater responsibility than cyclists or pedestrians because they are in a crashworthy environment. These myths are simply part of the inversion of reality presented by Addison Lee’s Chairman – a world where drivers are the victims of cyclists, rather than the other way round.

But these myths are part of a “road safety” culture which has long inverted reality. Encouraging people to feel that they are good drivers because they have driven properly once for 25 minutes, and producing idiots by idiot-proofing the motor vehicle and highway environment, are part of the problem of danger on the road – and these examples of “road safety” culture are officially sanctioned.

Dealing with dangerous prejudice often requires a radical analysis of the nature of problems it refers to. But it can also provide us with an opportunity to achieve a lot more than responding to one bigot.

Dr. Robert Davis, Chair, Road Danger Reduction Forum