If you cycle in London, you’ve almost certainly seen these yellow stickers over the last few months. They’re on the back of most buses, many vans, and a few HGVs.
What can they mean?
“Cyclists stay back – I get priority as I pay road tax / am bigger / faster / more important than you“?
“Cyclists stay back – I can’t be bothered to check my mirrors before turning, stopping or pulling out, so if I run into you it’s your fault“?
Most people reading this will know that there’s a major safety issue for cyclists and pedestrians that HGV drivers can’t see all round their vehicles, and often drive into roadspace without knowing if anyone is already in it. As a result, around 50% of cyclist fatalities in London involve HGVs. (This is often referred to as the “blindspot” issue)
But what does that have to do with vans and buses? And how many of those seeing the sign on a van or bus make the connection?
A couple of problems arise immediately:
- Van drivers in particular have perfectly adequate near side wing mirrors and no excuse for not using them. Non-use of nearside wing mirrors is a classic failure of motorist behaviour. Why should an official body legitimise this?
2. Do the signs mean that cyclists should never overtake? On either side?
It may be coincidence, but I think the behaviour of some van and bus drivers around cyclists has got worse since these signs became common. That’s not a surprise – the signs aren’t exactly self-explanatory, and it’s very tempting to assume one of the meanings I suggested at the top.
Do these signs benefit anyone? Inexperienced cyclists, at whom they’re presumably aimed, may not know about the special dangers of overtaking HGVs on the inside. Being told not to overtake any commercial vehicle is not going to teach them about this. And when they see other cyclists happily passing any vehicle they can, on whichever side has more space, they’re going to learn to ignore the signs pretty fast.
Some HGVs have more understandable signs on the back, typically reading ‘Beware of passing this vehicle on the inside’ (such as the one on the Murphy van above). That’s a lot clearer. But we now have no suggestion that this is any more dangerous than passing a van or bus which may well have a stronger message on the back.
It was a good idea to try warning signs on the back of HGVs, to help teach cyclists about a real risk. But putting signs on the back of vans and buses, which pose no special risk, is counterproductive. And making those signs so blunt and unclear is plain stupid. It misleads cyclists, and encourages bad driving. They need to go, and TfL have been told so. Yet again, a well-meaning attempt to help cyclists actually makes things worse – and is far harder to reverse than it was to implement.
If you agree, why not email TfL, Boris, or your London Assembly member now?
Colin McKenzie (as RDRF Committee member)