Cycling Safety: How Can We Improve It?



In recent months cycling safety has been under increasing scrutiny, especially in London where a spate of cycling fatalities caused many to question just how safe cycling really is. So what can we do to improve the situation?

As Tony Booth, Director of cycling specialists All Terrain Cycles, explains, worsening road safety for cyclists calls for improved awareness and initiatives.

Road safety for cyclists has always remained an issue for the UK but more initiatives are being carried out to make it a more prevalent concern in 2014. Last month, Neil Grayshon, an East London publisher and cyclist, released a book titled ‘Cycling Shouldn’t Hurt’ which showed gruesome images of cyclists’ scars and injuries.

The idea of the book was to raise awareness of the immediate human impact of road cycling accidents, focussing on individuals, rather than statistics. This followed icycleliverpool’s publication of the very human stories around the 102 cyclist deaths in 2013.

In 2012, according to cycling safety statistics compiled by the Department for Transport (DfT), 118 cyclists were killed, 3,222 were severely injured and 15,751 were only slightly injured. This five-year high and didn’t seem to be exclusive to any particular kind of cyclist – with fatalities ranging from age 8 to 94.

The figures, based on official police reports, indicate that road safety is a growing issue for cyclists – particularly in urban areas – the length and breadth of the country. With a social and political emphasis on greener transport and healthy living, we can expect an ever increasing number of cyclists on the UK’s roads. Needless to say this fact makes the issue of road safety for cyclists even more pressing.

In November 2013, police in the capital, as a response to a string of cyclist deaths around London, launched Operation Safeway – a six-week road safety operation, which deployed 2,500 officers at 170 junctions, intended to crackdown on misuse of the road by cyclists as well as motorists. This resulted in more than 14,000 individual fixed penalty notices (one in three being cyclists) and a marked change in attitude towards safety on the road.

The AA carried out a survey last month which suggested that, of the 18,000 participants, almost 93% found spotting cyclists on roads quite difficult. The survey coincided with the AA’s plans to promote a new safety awareness campaign. This started with over one million small stickers being distributed onto wing mirrors which displayed a yellow triangle with a bike in the middle. Boris Johnson has also announced that almost £300m will be spent on re-designing 33 junctions that are known to be cycling danger areas around London.

In response to the AA survey – seemingly showing drivers’ inability to see cyclists around them – behavioural consultant Crawford Hollingworth set up Brainy Bike Lights. Hollingworth subtly re-designed the common bike road signal to incorporate a rider on the bike too and allowed for the LED light to be visible at more acute angles and from further away. Hollingworth’s idea for Brainy Bike Lights centres on creating a faster association for the driver between the bike signal and the need to be aware of a bike around them.

"If you don't help the brain to be cognitively efficient it will struggle, which is why I think lots of people miss cyclists – or don't see them clearly enough" said Hollingworth in a recent article for The Guardian.

It should be stressed though that the figures provided by the DfT need to be placed in context. It’s straightforward knowing how many cars are on the roads due to registration numbers and tax codes, but nothing like this exists for bikes. As a result, it is extremely unclear whether the fatalities involved in cycling accidents represents a large portion of those who cycle.

So as a cyclist, what can you do to be safer on the roads?

- Wear reflective/bright clothing during the day and reflective clothing with lights attached to your bike when it’s dark.

- Make eye contact with oncoming drivers and signal with your arm in as much advance as possible your intentions.

- Make sure you follow the Highway Code. For example, stop at red traffic lights, be aware of ‘Give Way’ signs and watch out for pedestrians at zebra crossings.

- Always wear a helmet when cycling in urban areas.

You can also find some amazing new technologies which aim to make cycling safer for urban environments including LED sensor lights that are attached all the way around the front and back tyres (white for front, red for the back) to illuminate the way ahead and alert drivers behind you.

Photo courtesy of William Murphy

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