The Global Problem of Cycling Safety

There were 14 cyclist deaths in London in 2013, which has caused wide spread public outcry and prompted many high profile figures such as former Olympic cyclist, Chris Boardman to call for something to be done.

Boris Johnson's vision for a cycling capital has definitely seen an increase in the number of bicycle users, but many are saying there needs to be tougher safety measures need to be put in place to accommodate the influx of cyclists.

Cycle safety is a problem in most cities worldwide, and the role Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) play in the many casualties has brought them to prominence lately, with the introduction of cyclist awareness training for drivers. However cyclists themselves have also come under fire - but should the focus be on apportioning blame or making the situation safer?

Proposed Solutions

  • Redesigning HGV's to make them safer
  • HGV driver training
  • Mutual awareness of cyclists and HGVs
  • Promoting rail freight
  • Limiting HGV use on busiest streets at the busiest commuting times

The idea behind training for HGV drivers is to reinforce messages about road safety and as a result, reduce the numbers of cyclists hurt or killed on Britain's roads. The initiative is catching on and 25 out of 33 councils in London are now committed to cyclist awareness training for HGV drivers.

Calls for HGVs to be banned during commuter hours, and run out-of-hours-deliveries come off the back of the French system. There, HGVs are banned during weekends, and also on public holidays, as well as from certain roads. Some roads have restrictions on when HGVs can enter and leave its capital city.

Boris Johnson has expressed his desire to make London a safe place to cycle and to encourage more people to take up cycling as a fast, effective way of taking pressure off the London public transport system. While championing cycling, he has also infuriated cyclists at the same time by saying they should be more careful.

Proposed changes to actual vehicles, meanwhile (currently, there is no law to ensure older lorries are fitted with the latest in safety technology) including mirrors designed for maximum visibility, side bars designed to stop objects/people being pulled under the wheels, side and rear sensors to indicate when a pedestrian/cyclist is nearby, have also been put forward as ways of improving cycling safety.

Bike safety from a London commuter's perspective

Stella Ekebuisi, 33, London

Stella is the head of E learning at Queen Mary's University in East London. She began cycling as part of the Bike 2 Work scheme eighteen months ago and, from then, has been doing the seven-mile journey twice daily. Several weeks ago, however, a cyclist was killed right outside the university building and Stella has been too nervous to set out on her bike ever since.

The majority of the time however, Stella does feel safe when cycling. She tries to avoid the news stories and attempts to reassure herself that as long she is cautious, she should be fine.

Stella does not actually support the initiative to introduce a ban on HGVs during rush hour, and feels this would just increase accidents at other times.

"I heard that only three of the accidents in London over the last few weeks took place in rush hour - I know that's three that would be avoided but would there be more accidents after rush hour as a consequence."

For her, the main danger comes from the insufficient number of cycle lanes.

"Quite often I'm overtaken by cars and taxis squeezing into the combined bus/cycle lane - it can be terrifying if there's a pothole or other obstacle in the road as there's no room at all to manoeuvre. In an ideal word you could imagine a cycle system where entire roads are devoted for cyclists in the busiest areas. There are parts of London where the cycle lanes are a bit of a joke - in Battersea there's a section that's full of obstacles and as narrow as 30cm!"

Stella feels most uneasy when seeing cyclists from her seat on the bus. She offers some sound advice:

  • You are unseen until you are proven seen
    "I think you have to assume that other road users haven't seen you unless you are absolutely sure. I know that makes it difficult sometimes as you need to keep going, but I've felt that cars coming out of side roads aren't looking for cyclists specifically and can just drive straight out and see you at the last minute, so I often slow down and move out to the right if I can if I spot a car in a side-road."

  • Don't overtake a moving car
    "I think this is an obvious one, but worth saying. Don't pass vehicles on the left unless they are stationery and you're sure they'll remain stationery for the time it will take you to pass. If I didn't see the lights change then I'll usually hold back."

  • Don't worry about frustrating cyclists behind
    "Being safe is much more important - if they need to get round you they will"

Maxime Sietter, London

Running, single-handed, his mobile bike mechanic business - Maxycle - Max spans on average 25 miles across London roads on his recumbent each day.

Having cycled in London for the past ten years, spending a further seven years on his native roads in Strasbourg, and touching base on roads across Russia, Kazakhstan and Poland on his cycle journey to Beijing, Max would profess he is a very experienced cyclist. He is confident, self-assured and unlike many others, feels very safe on London roads - though when pressed he'd admit he "would feel safer if there were less trucks."

To him London roads are the same as any other, and would maybe say that he feels more nervous when cycling in Paris, despite the lack of HGVs during rush hour.

Max offers a couple solutions to the problem:

  • Relax the road rules for cyclists
    "At junctions, if the perpendicular road is clear, cyclists should be able to turn left even though the traffic light is red. They do a similar thing in some states in the US. Since most accidents with HGVs and cyclists occur when both are turning left, it makes sense to let the cyclist go first."

  • Introduce more cycle paths that are completely separate from the roads
    "Many road users don't respect the cycle lanes that are on the roads. Larger vehicles like rubbish SUVs and vans tend to have a wheel within the cycle lane, and not leave enough space for cyclists. It's very annoying, and really quite dangerous."

Could Max be on to something here? Perhaps this would work if we were to put in place a separate traffic light for cyclists, which could be easily staggered so that the cyclists set off first.

What are the other cities doing?


Banning HGVs during peak times

As we've already discussed briefly, Paris appears to have found success with their campaign to make the roads safer. There were no cycling deaths in 2011. Their strategy is to ban articulated vehicles from the city centre. Larger vehicles are banned during peak times, so smaller, less polluting vehicles are used these tend also to be more modern vehicles, designed to facilitate better visibility for drivers.

Paris was the first city to introduce free bicycles back in 2007. There are now 1,700 bicycle 'stations' with 652km of cycle routes for Paris's cyclist community.


Larger vehicles banned from city centre

Restrictions were made in Dublin back in 2007 to keep larger HGVs out of the city when the Dublin Port Tunnel first opened. A permit scheme was introduced to enable deliveries with pre-determined routes, and after only a year of introducing the changes, the number of people cycling in Dublin was up between 8% and 30%.


A city of cyclists, decades of history

Copenhagen's success in developing a cyclist friendly strategy for road users has been attributed to both a concentrated commitment by the city, and also an accidental economical legacy after WWII when for most people, cycling was a more realistic option due to the lack of car infrastructure.

The Danish have always held a good reputation for city cycling conditions, however they still have fatalities there, and one interesting point to consider is that cyclists do not tend to wear helmets and protective gear as much as in the UK. Some, in fact, though would argue that this actually makes drivers more respectful and cautious around them.

The city is covered by 350km of dedicated cycle paths, with some raised from the road and even flashing lights at some junctions to warn drivers when they are approaching. Bike hiring is easily accessible and everywhere. Getting around by bike is seen as quicker and more convenient by residents than by car, and as such it is the leading way of getting anywhere. Even getting to work for politicians themselves, there are many bikes outside the Christiansburg parliamentary building - all of which has been a process decades in the making.


Multi-million plans for cycle technology

Glasgow recently beat 29 other UK cities to win funding for a £24 million project, which will use smart lights triggered via a sensor when someone approaches new cycle paths, aiding visibility.

At present, only 2% of people cycle throughout the city, but the Future City/Glasgow project aims to identify the most popular travel routes for those who currently do walk or cycle, and share the information through a MapGlasgow website which is being developed.

Obstructions to routes will also be highlighted, and an Active Travel Journey Planner will enable cyclists to use their phone to plan the best route. The information gathered could then influence plans for future spending on cycle lanes and encouraging more people who currently feel it's unsafe to take up cycling throughout the city.


People power through safety campaigns

There has been a 100% increase in cycling in Sydney over the last three years, with the 2013 Australian Bicycle Council reporting 31,600 Sydney residents cycling in a typical week.

Sydneysiders have been promoting cycling as a healthy and beneficial way of getting around, with a 200km bike network of dedicated cycle paths.

But at the same time, they have been vigilant in reminding people that it can be dangerous and that wearing a helmet is important. There have been a lot of accidents in recent years, causing campaigns such as the Amy Gillett Foundation to raise driver awareness and provide a minimum one-metre clearance zone when overtaking cyclists.

From an Aussie's perspective

Peter Crump, 55

Peter began cycling as a hobby, which he picked up at a later age. His blog, Over 40 Cyclist, offers advice, tips and stories to beginner cyclists who like him, are 'slightly older'.

Cycling mainly for leisure and living out in the countryside, Peter is able to carefully choose routes away from traffic and large vehicles. He does however, cycle in Melbourne on occasion, and is not fond of it.

He dislikes the traffic and finds the cycle lanes inadequate. In his experience there are very few and when there are available, they are not of a sufficient size.

There is also the problem of pedestrians walking along cycle lanes and paths, which he highlights is dangerous for both the pedestrians and cyclists.

For Peter, the key issue is attitudes:

"Driver attitude is one of the biggest problems. It sounds terrible but there will be some truck drivers who will deliberately intimidate cyclists. Some truck and car drivers just don't believe cyclists have any right to be on the road. We've even had a driver deliberately drive the car at us, and its not just driver attitudes. Cyclists' attitudes can also get in the way; we had a cyclist killed recently running a red light, that wasn't the fault of a driver, but of a cyclist. Whilst education and training is good, changing attitudes is hard."

Inventions & ideas that could help

Warning Sign for the back of HGV Lorries

After a nationwide hunt to find a HGV/Cycle warning sign, a winning design by Huw Gwilliam was unveiled at Westminster, on June 25th 2012, following 2,500 casualties nationwide the same year - with 20% involving HGVs.

The cyclist safety sticker developed by InTandem - an initiative led by How's My Driving - is an award-winning design. It was chosen by a panel that included IoSH, RoSPA and freight industry representatives because it effectively communicated a clear message to cyclists without being judgemental. The design is now supported by the London Cycle Campaign, CTC and Roadpeace.

Gwilliam commented on his winning design: "I felt that a high-profile safety campaign such as this should feel authoritative, solid and lasting. I have attempted to capture the gravity of this campaign's important message".

Gordon Telling, Director of Policy at Sustainable Freight Solutions, who was involved with the project on the judging panel said:

"Every cyclist finds themselves having to make snap decisions about safety and this design helps them to make the safe choice. It is one of a range of measures that helps all road users to safely share a very confined piece of road space. How's My Driving showed great foresight in establishing the InTandem competition and supporting the ongoing dissemination of the design"

Transport for London (TfL) is currently coming to the end of the first phase of Construction Logistics and Cyclist Safety (CLOCS), a scheme that is looking at measures to reduce collisions, particularly in the construction sector, whose vehicles have been involved in a disproportionate number of fatal incidents. CLOCS2 is expected to launch shortly with Telling as Chair of one of the CLOCS working groups. More information is available from Glen Davies at TfL.

Transport bodies announce HGV task force

A new HGV task force has been announced to take direct action towards dangerous drivers, operators and vehicles. The Department for Transport (DfT) and TfL revealed the plans as a way of tackling the issue of cyclist safety.

Plans were announced to promote the safety requirements for HGVs, such as the fact that they should be fitted with sidebars or low skirts to protect cyclists in the event of a collision, and prevent them being dragged under. Certain smaller vehicles however, are exempt from these rules - such as those in the construction sector - but the plans are aimed at enforcing the message to larger vehicles who may be unaware or wilfully ignoring them.

The DfT and TfL aim to improve visibility of cyclists from lorry cabs as well as working with Bikeability training to improve cyclist awareness of Lorries.

Dennis-Eagle Vehicles: Designed for high visibility

Dennis Eagle are at the forefront of design for safer vehicles, after focusing on improving visibility for drivers with low front cabs that provide vision all around the front of the vehicle.

The recycling solutions company have been leading the way in the redesign of large vehicles, spearheading the recent campaign and calls from road users and cycling groups for all HGVs to follow suit.

In the new design, the driver's eye line is just two metres above road level. The driver is able to see all around the cab, which is a huge improvement for this type of bulky vehicle on the road, as despite having many mirrors, it has been well documented that there are definite blind spots. This means that HGV drivers sometimes fail to see cyclists.

There has been much support for the design of these vehicles from the cycling community; especially after TfL and the Metropolitan gave cyclists a demo at an event of what HGV drivers can see from their cab. It was immediately obvious to the cyclists that they are out of sight a lot of the time.

The National Cycling charity have also thrown their weight behind highlighting the success of these types of 'high-visibility' vehicles, so if the public support is anything to go by, there will be a lot of pressure put on HGV operators to update their vehicles and make them safer with these perhaps costly, but arguably life-saving changes.

Although the vehicles are used predominantly for recycling, they have also built chassis (the base frame) for traffic management vehicles, tankers and various others so there is no reason why these safer vehicles could not be produced for other uses.

Cycle Alert System

Cycle Alert is a system, which works by attaching a motion sensor to the cyclist's helmet or bike, then sending a message to the wireless sensors on the HGV that relays the information to the driver via the cab unit. The three part system helps to provide an alert to the driver in both an audio and visual form to warn the driver that there is a cyclist in close proximity - and it can even inform them of their position in relation to the vehicle.

Co-founder Peter Le Masurier, says "Cycle Alert is designed to save cyclist's lives. By fitting a part on both the cyclist and HGV, it helps remind everyone that they both have a role to play in staying safe on the roads".

However many have their reservations about the product:

"That sounds good, but in practice how long would it take for full usage? You wouldn't be able to depend on it until that was the case, and in the journey towards universal usage we could run into problems assuming that an HGV has a sensor when it doesn't. I would advise that everyone still uses their eyes and ears."

Cyclist Stella Ekebuisi

What HGV drivers say

While many HGV companies are welcoming the changes, and going out and physically putting in place initiatives to help solve the safety problem, there are still drivers who are less willing.

A HGV driver who wishes to remain anonymous, voices his own opinion.

"For drivers, especially truck drivers there are tests, training programmes and strict guidelines that we have to follow. And now they're bringing in more, which is fine but what about cyclists? Cyclists don't have to pass a test to be able to ride on roads, they're not made to wear protect gear like helmets or reflective clothing and so on. Even though it is all strongly advised there are still so many that just don't. There are also cyclists who cycle when listening to music, I guess just one headphone is fine but I see some with big Beats headphones over their ears. I admit I look at cyclists today and honestly think - you'll only learn if you get hit.

A Solicitor's perspective - Louisa Chambers

Most cyclists are well aware of the rules for cycling on the road, and the majority follow them responsibly. From wearing a cycle helmet, reflective clothing, always looking around before moving away from a kerb to taking care when approaching traffic lights.

But it's always good to refresh your memory - even if you've been cycling on Britain's roads for many years - to keep you sharper and safer on the roads. Britain's roads are changing with the number of cyclists growing, but also drivers. And therefore drivers and cyclists are being forced to share the road with growing numbers of both, changing the landscape.

So checking up on what your rights are on the road as a cyclist can put you in a stronger frame of mind when out cycling.

I have seen first-hand, victims of cycle accidents who have suffered devastating injuries as a result of a collision, and it is truly terrible what head and spinal injuries can be caused by this. RoSPA reported that hospital data showed over 40% of cyclists and 45% of child cyclists, suffer head injuries.

If there was a law made to make wearing a helmet compulsory we, at Spencers Solicitors, would definitely advocate that - along with any of the other measures that have been shown to successfully reduce cyclist accidents or injuries.

The paper designed bicycle helmets are another attempt at improving the prevention of head injuries and maximise the protection helmets offer.

Most cyclists are vigilant, but the sheer growth of traffic on the roads need addressing, so that there is room for both cyclists and drivers without any animosity. Some serious changes, such as introducing more cycle lanes needs to happen to make the roads safer for cyclists. If plans to make the UK a cycling nation, led by countries like the Netherlands are to work, then real progress needs to be made.

Figures for 2012 alone showed that membership to British Cycling had doubled since 2008 to 50,000. So there is a definite need for change to help better protect the growing number of cyclists on the roads.

...What do you think?

Do you think HGVs should be banned during rush hour? Or that cyclists be allowed to run a red light? Should car and cyclist be separated altogether with different roads for each?

Please share this page and help get more people up to speed with the facts on reducing cycling fatalities.

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