Police in Surrey advises motorists to break Highway Code

A couple of weeks ago, someone asked on Twitter whether it was OK to park on an advisory cycle lane, one with a broken line.

The Highway Code is quite clear. Rule 140 states:

Cycle lanes. These are shown by road markings and signs. You MUST NOT drive or park in a cycle lane marked by a solid white line during its times of operation. Do not drive or park in a cycle lane marked by a broken white line unless it is unavoidable. You MUST NOT park in any cycle lane whilst waiting restrictions apply.

However the response from Surrey Police was quite different:

No mention of “Do not park unless it is unavoidable”. On the contrary, the message is quite clear: “Go ahead and park there, we will not do anything to stop you”.
Why would anyone do something like that? Why would the Police advise people to endanger other people’s lives? I suspect there are three reasons:
1. Many cops don’t know the Highway Code
2. When there is a dispute between ordinary citizens and motorists, most cops side with the latter; in other words, the Police force is institutionally biased in favour of people who drive
3. This is yet another case of the peculiarly British disease of using absurd rules for not doing the right thing.
Let me explain the third point: sometimes we are faced with stupid rules, be it due to incompetent legislators or to senescence of the rule; in most places, including the UK, the absurd rule is either ignored or changed. 
However, this country has mastered the art of using stupid rules as an excuse for not doing what is needed to be done.
Surrey Police is strictly correct, because apparently there is an omission in the Act relating to advisory cycle lanes and the Highway Code is unenforceable. But this is NOT an excuse for advising motorists to act in a way that endangers others. The obvious course of action is to stress what the Highway Code says, and if motorists object and persist in their dangerous behaviour because the Act is unclear, then the Police should put strong pressure on the legislators to amend the law.
Let me give you some other examples.
Taxi drivers probably suffer the most unhealthy working conditions of all Londoners: they sit all day behind other poisonous vehicles. I recently challenged some drivers in being more vocal in  favour of a rapid transition to electric vehicles; rather than campaigning for unsafe streets, they should put pressure on Transport for London to abide to EU air quality directives. With so many electric vehicles in the market, why don’t taxi drivers switch right now, instead of killing hundreds of people every year with their diesel emissions? Their response: “We cannot drive electric vehicles because none turns inside 7.62 metres”, a stupid 110 year old rule upheld by the Public Carriage Office. Really? Hundreds of people lose their lives because of such an idiocy? Or is it more likely that no-one really wants to change and do the right thing, so the rule is used as an excuse.
Zig zags at zebra crossings. This is a very good British idea and indeed the UK has probably one of the best record for motorists stopping at zebra crossings. The role of the zig zags is to ensure that an adequately large area around the zebra is visually uncluttered. The Regulations do go in some detail on how the zig zags should be painted, but they also state “where …the requirements of … these Regulations as to the placing of … road markings … to indicate the … controlled area [i.e. where the zig zags are] have not been complied with in every respect, … the controlled area shall nevertheless be treated as complying with these Regulations  if the non-compliance is not such as materially to affect the general appearance of the … controlled area”. This is excellent pragmatism of the legislator, who probably was well aware that British roads are not US grids. It means that allowances to the shape/size/placement of the zig zags are allowed as long as the general principle is maintained, that an area around the zebra is left clear. 
In spite of this, I have heard numerous people saying that European style zebra crossings at road junctions are not possible in the UK because of the zig zag rule. Even our friend, As Easy As Riding a Bike got confused, stating that “zebra crossings will inevitably be displaced from desire lines. Unlike in the French and Swiss examples, where the crossing goes from corner to corner, UK zebras have to be set back from junction mouths.” That is not true and here is an example in central London:
A few years ago, BJ Cunningham, an entrepreneur, thought he had found a loophole in the legislation of European cigarette excise duties. At the EU Court of Justice, he received this verdict: “According to the law you are right, but the law was never meant for you to be right, so I am ruling against you”. We should never forget the intention of the legislators; if the regulations are defective or become obsolete, let’s amend them. It is perverse to adhere to defective rules and put people’s lives at risk.


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