Second 'Get Britain Cycling' inquiry session deals with cycle safety

20 mph is one of the easiest ways to improve safety for all road users

Second 'Get Britain Cycling' inquiry session deals with cycle safety

After discussing the strategy for cycling in the first week, the second session of the Parliamentary 'Get Britain Cycling' inquiry, on the 30th January, was a more detailed examination of cycle safety issues.

The inquiry panel wanted to hear evidence on how to tackle the actual and perceived cycle safety concerns which deter people from cycling.

Much of the session was taken up with discussion of issue of traffic law enforcement and the legal system's often inadequate response to road crashes.

Witnesses include campaigning organisations, including CTC, British Cycling, RoadPeace and the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety.

CTC's evidence focussed on the calls in CTC's Safety in Numbers campaign, which points to the fact that places with high cycling levels also have lower risks of cycling.

CTC argued that currently local authorities need to improve cycle safety in ways in which cycling can also flourish, and, in particular, by tackling the barriers that prevent people from cycling, such as high speeds, major junctions, the threat from lorries and inadequate adherence to road traffic law. Local authorities also need to measure the risks of cycling, not just counting numbers of casualties.

20 mph should be the standard limit for most urban streets, while for busier streets there needs to be high quality dedicated cycling provision. However, CTC believes that the standards used for cycling provision need to be greatly improved, with local authorities given the resources and flexibility to implement innovative solutions and follow the examples set by the Dutch or Danes. 

Safety in numbers doesn't mean local authorities only need to promote cycling and expect cycle safety to improve - far from it. It's only by tackling the barriers to getting more people cycling - particularly heavy, fast moving traffic - that we can obtain the huge health and societal benefits that come from more people cycling."

Chris Peck 
CTC Policy Co-ordinator

Lorries represent a particular threat - they are responsible for 20% of cyclists' death, while forming just 5% of traffic. London has shown that industry and local authorities, working together, can achieve some improvements through driver training and procurement of safer vehicles, but nationally, the Department for Transport is making conditions worse by allowing longer lorries, with a subsequent proposal to allow lorries to go faster on rural roads.

Finally, CTC - alongside British Cycling - expressed its  growing concern with the operation of the legal system, where the collapse in road traffic policing is compounding problems with a system of traffic law that allows bad driving to go inadequately - or more often never - punished. CTC also pointed to the drastic fall in the proportion of cases of 'causing death by dangerous driving' being brought by prosecutors since the introduction of the new offence of 'causing death by careless driving' in 2006. 

Claims of a war on the road are unjustified

Also giving evidence were be representatives from road users groups, such as the AA, Institute for Advanced Motorists, the Freight Transport Association and The Association of Bikeability Schemes - which represents cycle training providers. Together they denied the existence of a battle between road users, as suggested in the controversial, recent BBC programme, War on Britain's Roads.

Edmund King, President of the AA, expressed the need for better understanding between road users, arguing that Bikeability cycle training should be more widely available, suggesting that drivers who have experienced cycling themselves will be safer around cyclists. He felt that cycling should be a more integral part of the school curriculum, with road safety awareness treated as a life skill. 

David Dansky, representing the Association of Bikeability Schemes, went further, suggesting that obtaining your three levels of Bikeability should become a prerequisite for acquiring a driving licence.

Enforcing the law

Sarah Wollaston MP suggested that the need to enforcing road traffic law was crucial, saying that "today's careless incidents [could be] tomorrow's fatality" and 'careless' incidents should be treated properly by police.

Finally, the MPs heard from the legal world, including Martin Porter QC, who has represented victims and bereaved families of road crashes, and who has documented his own attempts to achieve road traffic justice following incidents on his own cycle commute to work. In an impassioned speech he compared the lax standards of road safety with industrial or aviation safety, where near misses are treated extremely seriously.

He berated the Police as "spineless" for their failings to enforce road traffic law or respond to evidence submitted by cyclists using helmet cameras. Most of the submissions merely end up with a letter being sent to the driver involved. Mr Porter compared this unfavourably with other areas of the law, asking, "How many people who took part in the riots in 2011 received letters telling them not to do it again?"

Chief Inspector Ian Vincent, representing the Metropolitan Police, explained that although they receive many video submissions from helmet cameras, they had only recently appointed a staff member who was dedicated to trying to mount prosecutions from the material submitted. 

Amy Aeron-Thomas, representing RoadPeace, the road traffic victims' charity, revealed that there were only 2 prosecutions for dangerous driving in London per day, which was clearly far fewer than the number of offences being committed.

Funding announced

The evidence session coincided with an announcement from Transport Minister Norman Baker of how  £62m of earmarked funding for cycling will be spent.  It includes £30m for up to 3 cycling cities, and an additional £5m for cycle safety improvements particularly at junctions.  CTC has welcomed the funding, but Chief Executive Gordon Seabright has also urged the Government to make substantially larger and more consistent funding commitments to cycling, in order to reach the levels of cycle use and cycle safety of some of our continental neighbours.


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