British cyclists at risk.

Britain risks a third annual rise in the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured on the roads according to The Times.

Analysis conducted after a Times reporter, Mary Bowers, was crushed by a lorry on her ride to work shows that twice as many cyclists have been killed in the past decade as the number of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the rising toll masks an even more troubling trend for the people turning to cycling as a healthy, cheap and flexible mode of transport and the politicians whose policies are supposed to protect them: the rate of cyclists killed or seriously injured measured as a proportion of distance travelled rose in 2009 and 2010, the most recent years for which data exist. The rate rose to 886 per billion vehicle miles in 2010 from 875 in 2009 and 866 in 2008. This calls into question official assurances that it is getting safer to cycle.

The initial signs are that last year was little better. In the first two quarters of 2011 the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured also rose (by 10 per cent and 8 per cent respectively), while casualties among drivers, pedestrians and motorcyclists fell. Data for the third quarter are due out today.

A cyclist in Britain is three times more likely to be killed than one in the Netherlands and twice as likely as a cyclist in Denmark or Germany.

Road safety professionals, cycling groups and motoring organisations join The Times today in urging the Government to take practical steps to reverse this increase, to protect the lives of vulnerable road users and to build cities that are fit for cycling. The subject will be highlighted this spring as candidates set out their policies for mayoral elections in London.

Data for the capital released last week show that the rate of casualties among cyclists rose in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Questions over the “Cycle Revolution” of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, have been raised after 16 cyclists were killed last year.

Jenny Jones, the Green Party’s mayoral candidate, said: “The truth is uncomfortable for all of us who want London to be a cycling-friendly city. The mayor has failed to make roads safer for vulnerable road users and he is fast becoming the big barrier to the future expansion of cycling in London.”

Mr Johnson denies the claim and rightly points out that the rate of cyclists killed or seriously injured is falling in London. He agreed to review all main road junctions after a spate of fatalities last year. However, fear may yet thwart plans to encourage cycling. As one Whitehall source put it: “One of the reasons we have had quite good results on cycle safety is because people are too scared to get on their bikes.”

Road safety groups say that ministers must act. “It is time for this Government to sit up and look at the issue,” said Robert Gifford, the executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety. “If the success of people like Mark Cavendish at the Olympics causes people to get on their bikes, it is important that they get ahead of the curve on this.”

He said that two years of rising fatalities among motorcyclists a decade ago spurred the Government into action to reverse the increase.

Chris Peck, policy co-ordinator at the CTC cyclists’ organisation, said: “We do know that this Government has done things that are completely unprogressive on road safety. We are really cutting back on the gold-plating of safety to get the economy moving.”

Critics argue that coalition policies including cuts to road safety budgets, an end to casualty reduction targets, reduced funds for speed cameras and hints of a rise in motorway speed limits have created an environment that is hostile to road safety. The Government abolished Cycling England, the body charged with enticing millions of motorists to take up cycling, along with its £60 million annual funding for cycle schemes. Cuts to police and highways maintenance budgets are putting lives at risk, campaigners say.

Mike Penning, the Road Safety Minister, dismissed those claims as “rubbish”. He added: “We have been more open and more honest about the way that road safety should be done in this country than ever before.”

Lorries pose a particular danger. While they account for just 5 per cent of traffic, they cause almost 20 per cent of cyclist deaths. A poll conducted byBritish Cycling the national governing body, found that 87 per cent of respondents have had an accident or near miss while cycling on the roads, 94 per cent think that lorries should improve their ability to see cyclists, 92 per cent think that cycle awareness should become an integral part of the driving test and 65 per cent believe that reducing urban speed limits from 30mph to 20mph would reduce the severity of injuries.

Signatories to The Times cycle safety campaign are calling for 20mph to become the default speed limit in residential areas which do not have segregated cycle lanes. This newspaper is calling for better training of cyclists and drivers. It urges the Government to back creative funding mechanisms to finance world-class cycle facilities.

 

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About dbda
dbda is a corporate social responsibility consultancy embracing education and safety in the community. We are privileged to work with a large number of blue chip corporate clients, Government organisations, charitable bodies, Institutes and local authorities. We also have a network of schools, professional bodies, associations, universities and partners, with whom we regularly work in collaboration.

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