Finger still being pointed at cyclists in road safety debate

At the end of a major road safety operation in London, the debate on how we tackle the daily hazards we all face on the roads, and in many cases what is the cause of road accidents, is coming up with all the wrong solutions.

Among the clamour, the Daily Mail seems to be seizing every opportunity to blame cyclists for their own injuries and deaths, through jumping red lights, riding on pavements, etc., etc.

>> Struggling to get to the shops? Try 6 issues of Cycling Weekly magazine for just £6 delivered to your door <<

In its latest attempt at stirring up animosity against cyclists, the Mail lists the number of cyclists fined for cycling on pavements and jumping red lights at the top of an article (from an FOI request) along with last year’s London cycling deaths. The implication is the two are linked.

The Mail then chucks a few terrorism terms at those who ride their bikes to work, saying among them are ‘extremists’, ‘hard-line militants’ and ‘fundamentalists’.

The idea cyclists are some sort of commuting suicide bombers, intent only on annoying other people and, ideally, killing ourselves on our ways to work may be yet another depressing attempt at headline grabbing, but to a greater or lesser extent the sentiment is widely shared. The latest to join in is an equally ill-informed Birmingham MEP who wants cyclists registered and wearing hi-vis ‘to increase accountability’ for running red lights and ‘putting pedestrians in danger’.

Accountability for what, though? According to CTC between 2003-2012, 23 pedestrians were killed by a bicycle and 585 seriously injured. In that time 3,330 pedestrians were killed by cars and 46,081 seriously injured by them.

What’s more, risky cycling, non-wearing of hi-vis, etc. is the cause of only 2% of collisions where the cyclist is seriously injured.

Almost two thirds of incidents where cyclists are killed or seriously injured occur at junctions, and in almost 60% of cases drivers failing to look properly was a key contributory factor.

Now to red light jumping. In only 1% of incidents involving pedal cycles red light jumping was a contributory factor – about the same percentage as for cars. Of course that’s not to excuse doing it.

Just to highlight that this is a human problem, not one related to those on two wheels alone: during Operation Safeway 1,113 FPNs/reports for summons were issued to motorists for red light jumping, 1,277 for cyclists. Some claim police targeted cyclists under the same misconceptions that they were the ones causing harm, hence the high relative numbers.

Meanwhile the CTC points out that of pedestrians hit on the footway in London 1997-2007 58% were hit by cars/taxis mounting the pavement (37 fatal), 20% by buses (nine fatal) and 2% cycles (none fatal).

Then there’s the lorries – a factor that deserves far more attention than the distractions of red light jumping or pavement cycling. Half the cyclist deaths in London year-on-year are the result of a rider ending up in a lorry’s blind spot.

While police operations to make our roads safer are laudable and overdue, as we’ve learned from London, well-intended safety campaigns can too often fall foul of overemphasising the importance of things like hi-vis, which, research shows, doesn’t protect cyclists from those 1-2% of drivers who will overtake too close regardless of what they wear. This is just the latest in a long line of well-intentioned but ill-informed police advice that lays the responsibility for cyclist safety on those not causing the harm – those on bikes.

While the Met’s successful Operation Safeway targeted dangerous cyclists, motorists and lorries at dangerous junctions, the latest spree in Chichester to target cyclist safety sees police stopping cyclists without lights, issuing fines and then revoking them if cyclists later produce lights.

Cyclists are legally required to use lights at night, but again the evidence is that in only 2% of cases ‘not displaying lights at night’ was a contributory factor in incidents. Again, the focus is on cyclists, and on the cause of a minority of accidents. If we are using our resources to improve safety, why not target the main causes of accidents first?

The focus on cycle safety is welcome – the safer the roads are for those on bikes, the safer they are for everyone. However, it must be done in the right way, targeting those things actually implicated in the majority of accidents, not fringe issues in a group some people happen to find irritating.

Sure, fine cyclists who jump red lights, but please don’t be under any illusion what is causing the harm on our roads.