Chris Grayling, on cyclists

Chris Grayling was appointed Secretary of State for Transport on 14th July 2016, replacing Patrick McLoughlin, who had held that post since September 2012.

In early December, Chris Grayling was interviewed by the Political Editor of the London Evening Standard, Joe Murphy, on various aspects of his new job.

Joe Murphy noted

“Mr Grayling has not cycled since he was at the University of Cambridge, where he read history before joining the BBC as a trainee journalist, and grimaces at the idea of venturing out on a Boris bike.”

chris_grayling_2016Chris Grayling was Minister of State for Employment, where he championed workfare. He moved on to become Lord Chancellor, the first in more than four hundred years to become the Crown’s chief minister for justice without being a qualified lawyer (though David Allen Green, legal blogger for The Financial Times, reckons Grayling’s problems with the job go deeper than lack of legal training).

As Minister for Transport, Grayling looks to be achieving a new low in his usual standard. As Minister for Employment, while he supported people working for Poundland and Tescos without being paid, he did not actually throw anyone out of work himself. As Minister for Justice, his problems seem to have been from incompetence and inexperience, not antipathy to justice itself.

As Minister for Transport, during his first six months in office, Grayling’s already knocked one cyclist off their bike and then departed the scene without giving the victim of his carelessness his name and contact details.

This is Chris Grayling to Joe Murphy, on 6th December:

London has too many badly designed cycle lanes and too many cyclists who ignored the rules of the road, he said. “I don’t think all the cycle lanes in London have been designed as well as they should have been. There are places where they perhaps cause too much of a problem for road users and they could have been designed in a smarter way.”

Chris Grayling doesn’t appear to include cyclists as “road users”, and doesn’t feel any responsibility to create better cycle lanes, “because it is a matter for the Mayor.”

As Peter Walker notes in the Guardian on a discussion of how our increasingly-sedentary lifestyle is exacerbating our care crisis as people who don’t walk or cycle regularly have more health and mobility problems as they get older:

The mechanics of how you nudge people away from cars and on to bikes is another discussion, but there is little doubt it can be done if the political will is there. The Netherlands and Denmark, for example, have spent decades very deliberately re-shaping their road environments away from the car culture of the 1960s and 70s towards mass cycling. It’s not an accident.

But for Chris Grayling, from what he said to Joe Murphy, re-shaping the road environment isn’t his problem as Minister for Transport: he feels the problem is cyclists who “ignored red traffic lights on their journeys in the capital”.

(As Chris Harvey pointed out in the Telegraph three years ago: “Mate I always go through that red light when the green man is on and the pedestrians have crossed. I do it to get to this bit of the road here, just after it narrows, where I turn right, so I can get a small head start on the cars behind me. It gives me a slightly better chance of not being left completely exposed in the middle of the road with cars passing very close, at speed, either side of me. Experience tells me that some of the drivers in those cars will not be thinking of my safety with any great concern. And I’m trying to stay alive.”)

But from Chris Grayling, not a cyclist, who is frequently driven through London by his Ministerial chauffeur:

“At the same time, cyclists in London are too often unwilling to obey the road signs. I’ve seen regular examples of people who just bolt through red lights. The growth of cycling is a good thing. But good cycling is responsible cycling.”

And just as Chris Grayling feels no responsibility for designing cycle lanes to keep cyclists safe, he feels cyclists who go through red lights to stay alive are not doing “responsible cycling”.

Chris Harvey pointed out:

“There are many who believe that the higher incidence of deaths among women cyclists are because they are more likely to follow the rules, more likely to be waiting patiently behind the stop line on the left hand side of the road when a lorry turns left and crushes them under its wheels. Most cyclists want to get as far away from cars, buses and lorries as they can.”

On Wednesday 12th October at about 6pm, Chris Grayling’s Ministerial car was stopped in traffic outside the Palace of Westminster. Grayling opened the door of his car into the cycle lane without bothering to check if there were cyclists using it. The opening door knocked a cyclist off his bike: the cyclist, 35-year-old Jaiqi Liu, landed on the pavement, the bicycle went into a lamppost and was damaged.

Grayling sent Liu flying and his bicycle crashing into a lamppost, leaving him dazed and bruised on the pavement. Liu said his bike sustained a damaged wheel, brakes, mudguard and lost its lights.

The Guardian posted a video of the incident yesterday.

One wouldn’t want to be unjust, so note that Chris Grayling, having knocked a cyclist off his bike, did show common humanity by getting out of his Ministerial car and going over to the man he’d injured – sitting on the pavement in shock, having never had a cycling accident before, hurt in his back, legs, and head, and Grayling was “apologising and putting a hand on Liu’s shoulders as he sat up on the floor.”

In the interview in the London Evening Standard, a few weeks after knocking Jaiqi Liu off his bike, Chris Grayling told Joe Murphy “Motorists in London have got to be immensely careful of cyclists”.

“One thing he did say was that I was cycling too fast, which was not true,” Liu said. “That made me really upset. He made out it was my fault.”

Passersby recovered the bike and its bits and pieces. Chris Grayling himself asked Liu if he was all right, stayed less than two minutes to watch Liu get to his feet, then shook Liu’s hand and left the scene without giving his name or any contact details to pay for the repairs to the bike Grayling had damaged by opening his door into a cycle lane.

Liu then reported the incident to the Metropolitan police, though he was unable to give the name or other details of the man who’d doored him. The footage obtained by the Guardian was taken by a video camera mounted on the handlebars of a bike that was not far behind Liu when he was hit by Grayling’s car door.

The video shows that Grayling

was accompanied by his fellow transport minister Paul Maynard, who left the scene, while Simon Jones, a former Conservative parliamentary candidate and now special adviser to Grayling, is seen watching the scene unfold as he puts his identity badge in his jacket pocket.

Liu said he did not expect police to investigate, but he had wanted the incident to be logged in case his injuries proved more serious. “Also,” he said, “I think it’s important to report all these incidents to the police so they are recorded, and they can make the roads safer.”

Some people would think it was the Minister for Transport’s responsibility to make the roads safer.

Not Chris Grayling, though.

Just as he didn’t think it was his responsibility as Minister for Employment to ensure unemployed people got paid work instead of workfare, he seems to interpret his job as Minister for Transport as indifference to cyclist or rail commuter safety.

From more detailed reports of the incident, it seems that the part of the road in which Jaiqi Liu was knocked off his bike by Chris Grayling, was technically not a cycle lane: it was an unmarked part of the road joining two cycle lanes.

Laurence de Hoest, the cyclist who took the video footage (who was also not aware of Chris Grayling’s identity at the time) said he was concerned about the conditions cyclists face, and the incident showed that

“your cycle lane is only as good as your weakest link. We need to make sure they are properly connected”.

The question now is whether Chris Grayling will be prosecuted, or if his driver will be held responsible for Grayling’s dooring of a cyclist.

The Road Traffic Act 1988 requires that after an accident, the driver must stop and give particulars “if required by any person having reasonable grounds to do so”. There is no legal obligation on the driver to offer assistance to a person who’s been injured, but there is a legal obligation, if a vehicle has been damaged – and from the video footage, Grayling knew he’d damaged the bicycle even if he assumed the cyclist was all right – to report the accident to the police.

From the Telegraph, Street legal: what to do after an accident:

If, for whatever reason, particulars were not given at the time, you must report the accident at a police station or to a police officer “as soon as reasonably practicable and in any case within 24 hours”.

The High Court has ruled, in Bulman v Bennett, that those words mean what they say. You cannot put off reporting the accident for up to 24 hours; you must do it “as soon as reasonably practicable”. The High Court has also ruled, in Wisdom v Macdonald, that you cannot telephone a police station to report. You must do so in person.

Furthermore, failing to stop and give particulars is one offence and failing to report to the police is another. You could easily find yourself convicted of both, and each carries a maximum six months’ jail sentence or £5,000 fine and five to 10 penalty points.

Cycling UK has offered a private prosecution of Chris Grayling if the Metropolitan Police don’t take legal action, but a difficulty is that Grayling was not the car’s driver. It’s an interesting legal point.

Chris Grayling wasn’t driving the car – it would have had a ministerial driver. Grayling did cause the accident by swinging the car door open without due care and attention to other road users. But legally, the person in charge of the car and the passengers was one of the drivers employed by the government: and ministerial drivers are required to be discreet as part of the job.

The driver would be the person held legally responsible by Metropolitan Police for not reporting the accident.

And if the driver wants to keep their job, they’re between a rock and a hard place – if they report the accident to the Met, this would be highly embarrassing for the Minister for Transport – and it would not surprise me if Chris Grayling made it clear to the driver that no reports were to be made – but if the driver fails to report and is caught out by later-discovered video evidence, they could lose their job because they no longer have a valid driving licence – even if we assume Grayling would take care of the fine for the driver for whom he caused this trouble.

Of course it’s possible that the driver reported the accident to the Metropolitan Police and explained how embarrassing this was going to be for Chris Grayling and the police decided they just wouldn’t be taking it any further … without a word to Jaiqi Liu.

A messy business, either way. You’d think that three years as Lord Chancellor would have taught Chris Grayling something better about justice than trying to dodge responsibility for a traffic accident.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bicycling, Healthcare, Politics, Public Transport

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.