That last week’s collision of an electric bicycle with a pedestrian in London was one of the tiny minority of road crashes to make national news is unsurprising. E-bikes, which have a battery and electric motor to assist with pedalling, remain a relative rarity in the UK, although their popularity is growing. This crash was newsworthy because it was unusual.

The cyclist, who was filmed carrying his bicycle away from the scene, was later arrested. At the time of writing, the 56-year-old woman who was injured remained in hospital. It should go without saying that this is a terrible situation. The violence and suddenness of injuries and deaths caused by road collisions make them hugely distressing. But the incident also attracted attention because a consultation regarding new laws to tackle reckless cyclists is under way.

This follows last year’s conviction of Charlie Alliston for causing bodily harm by “wanton and furious driving” after he collided with Kim Briggs while riding a bicycle that had no front brake. Alliston was jailed for 18 months, but acquitted of manslaughter. The case attracted a high level of public attention, with Briggs’s widower calling for new laws. Politicians responded positively and the consultation is the result.

If, as seems likely, it results in the creation of a new offence of causing death by dangerous cycling, this would apply to electric as well as other bicycles. Apart from an age restriction of 14, e-bikes are not treated any differently in law from other bicycles as long as their motors do not exceed 250W and cut out when 15.5mph is reached. The exception is Northern Ireland, where riders require licences and insurance.

All road users must obey the law and the Highway Code. Inconsiderate as well as illegal behaviour should be challenged. But it is wrong for politicians to address perceived gaps in the laws on cycling while ignoring the longstanding complaints of other road crash victims, for example regarding inconsistent sentencing and the lack of specialist prosecutors. The recent announcement of new roadside sight tests for drivers is welcome, as is transport minister Jesse Norman’s promise of new measures to boost cycling and walking before the end of the year. But also needed is the comprehensive review of traffic offences trailed in 2014 but never delivered.

Collisions with cars and lorries kill and injure far more people than collisions with bicycles, while motor traffic poses another set of risks in the form of pollution. Rhetoric about “cracking down” on cyclists risks discouraging cycling, when policymakers should be encouraging it as a way of improving air quality and raising exercise levels in a population that is the fattest in western Europe. Other European countries are as far ahead of us on e-bikes as they are on cycling in general. In Holland, around a third of all bicycles sold are electric. Just like less fit and able individuals, or those who live in hilly areas where ordinary bikes are hard work, British cycling culture needs a boost.


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