The Times last week launched its Cities fit for Cycling campaign to increase the safety of cyclists (which can be found at http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/cyclesafety/contact/ )
Some may say it is a cynical ploy by News International to try to divert attention from the phone hacking or that it has only started a campaign after one of its staff was injured in a serious accident.
I’m not going to get into that debate. It is for others. I’m more interested in our safety on the roads.
The Times has launched a public campaign and 8-point manifesto calling for cities to be made fit for cyclists:
- Lorries entering a city centre should be required by law to fit sensors, audible turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars to stop cyclists being thrown under the wheels.
- The 500 most dangerous road junctions must be identified, redesigned or fitted with priority traffic lights for cyclists and Trixi mirrors that allow lorry drivers to see cyclists on their near-side.
- A national audit of cycling to find out how many people cycle in Britain and how cyclists are killed or injured should be held to underpin effective cycle safety.
- Two per cent of the Highways Agency budget should be earmarked for next generation cycle routes, providing £100 million a year towards world-class cycling infrastructure. Each year cities should be graded on the quality of cycling provision.
- The training of cyclists and drivers must improve and cycle safety should become a core part of the driving test.
- 20mph should become the default speed limit in residential areas where there are no cycle lanes.
- Businesses should be invited to sponsor cycle ways and cycling super-highways, mirroring the Barclays-backed bicycle hire scheme in London.
- Every city, even those without an elected mayor, should appoint a cycling commissioner to push home reforms
Over recent months, I have travelled a lot in cars, on foot and of course as a cyclist. I have had a chance to experience all three in rush hour and out of it. It has given me food for thought as to how we improve road safety.
The first thing to realise is that the problems that manifest itself on our roads are symptoms of a wider society and its problems.
I would start by saying that in order to improve road safety we need to reverse current trends and prosecute more rather than less. At present, unless someone is killed in an accident, it is very unlikely that someone will be prosecuted for their driving.
Too many people when using the roads are too selfish or self-centred. It is a reflection of a wider society issue. People talk about their rights, but few think about their responsibilities. People these days seem to have only a limited understanding of how their actions affect others.
If we are all honest, we would admit that we have used the roads without giving it 100% attention. There is little in the way of consequences for drivers for several reasons, including but not limited to:
Cars are safe so in general driving, the risk of harm to drivers or passengers is limited (obviously high speed driving is different)
Without a prosecution, the only loss to a driver is a potential increase in insurance costs
The consequences for the victims of accidents, especially if they are vulnerable as cyclists or pedestrians are can often be fatal.
Drivers are too insulated from the consequences of their actions. I have to confess that today whilst driving back from court, I ran a red light. Why? Because I was not paying sufficient attention to the lights and my speed on its approach. Fortunately, I did not cause an accident. Should I be prosecuted for this action? Then I would say yes I should if the police had evidence of the same.
Another reason why I would prosecute more offences of bad driving is to aid society at large. In the car with parents, whether on the way to/from school, activities or shopping is where many children spend the most quality time with their parents.
What example is being set to children seeing their parents driving aggressively or without consideration for other road users, let alone the foul and threatening language they are exposed to? Improving the behaviour of drivers would improve, hopefully, the example being set to our children about life in general and behaviour towards others.
I should also make it clear that I favour more prosecution for all miscreant road users. The increased risk of prosecution will help concentrate the mind of road users when driving/ riding. This will hopefully mean people driving with more care.
We do not need lots of new laws to improve road safety, or lots of additional expenditure. I personally am not in favour of spending fortunes on segregated facilities. These tend to be expensive and fail to provide satisfactory solutions. Cyclists have to give way at every junction, including driveways. The facilities do not get swept or cleaned and become filled with debris and broken glass etc. While away a few minutes looking at the Warrington Cycle Campaign Facility of the Month section for some incredible cycle facilities .
These are why I do not want money wasted on useless facilities
What we do need is for existing laws to be enforced and prosecutions where laws are broken.
We need to change attitudes to driving offences. Today on Radio 5 Lord Ahmed was being interviewed about a number of things. When the issue of peers being allowed to sit in the Lords despite having criminal convictions, he said that he had only been convicted of a driving offence as though this somehow was not a criminal offence.
Lord Ahmed was convicted of causing Death by Dangerous driving as he was texting whilst driving! Only a driving offence? Driving a powerful heavy weapon at speed whilst not paying proper attention to where he was going.
Driving is not a right; it’s a privilege that has to be earned and can as easily be removed. People need to remember this or be reminded of it.
SPECIFIC LAW CHANGES – to assist in road safety
1. All lorries to be fitted with skirts to prevent cyclists being dragged under the wheels if hit by a turning vehicle. This is not to say that lorry drivers are the problem in such accidents, but it is a simple design change that could save lives.
2. I would remove the 56 mph speed limit from lorries. It is often the case that lorries overtaking each other at 56mph are responsible for congestion and delay on motorways and dual carriageways. There is not this problem in the USA, where lorries are not so restricted. This change would speed up all traffic, and hopefully prevent motorist driving at excess speed because they have been delayed by congestion.
3. I would ban HGVs from urban roads, and effectively limit them to motorways and trunk roads. Companies would have to build distribution depots next to such locations and from there transfer the goods to smaller vehicles. Why do Tesco need to bring a 40 ton HGV into a little town or village to deliver to a Tesco express? These loads block roads, cause damage to road surfaces and fear to other road users. Why? To increase Tesco’s profits seems to be the sole reason. Yes, if there are smaller vehicles used, then there may be more vehicles on the road, but incentives could be given to use electric or other zero emission vehicles as the journeys will only be local ones. Exceptions would need to be made for those deliveries to for example building sites where it is not possible to use smaller vehicles owing to the size of items being transferred, e.g. steel girders etc..
A study found that despite making only 4% of road trips HGVs were involved in 43% of London’s cycling deaths. This startling figure shows something is sadly going wrong on our streets. Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) analysed police road casualty data over a 15-year period from 1992 to 2006. During that period there were 242 deaths in London, or an average of 16 a year. Heavy goods vehicles were involved in 103 out of 242 of these incidents.
4. I would ban vehicles from parking on the opposite side of the road to the direction they are travelling in. This is the law in New Zealand. It would aid road safety by reducing the amount of traffic crossing the road and reduce the number of drivers pulling out from places where they cannot see the road ahead or behind them.