Cycling is safer in numbers, says CTC

More cycle commuters = fewer casualties

Cycling gets safer the more cyclists there are. That's the finding of a new report by the CTC, the UK's national cyclists' organisation.

Safety in numbers, launched in Parliament today by broadcaster and CTC president Jon Snow, shows that places with the highest cycle use are also the safest places to ride a bike.

CTC ranked non-metropolitan English highway authorities according to the levels of cycle commuting in the 2001 census and the number of cycle casualties per million cycle commuters.

Places such as York, Cambridgeshire and Hull were in the top band both for cycle use and cyclists’ safety, while authorities with low cycle use such as Bradford, Leeds and Stockton-on-Tees were among those with the highest casualty rates.

CTC also highlighted a major change in London, which has seen a 91 percent increase in cycling since 2000 and a 33 percent fall in cycle casualties (going on absolute numbers) since 1994-98.

In Holland, long held up as an example of a cycling-friendly nation, cycling increased by 45 percent from 1980-2005 while cyclist deaths fell by 58 percent.

In the report, CTC puts this down to three factors:

  1. Drivers grow more aware of cyclists and become better at anticipating their behaviour when there are more of them around.
  2. Drivers are also more likely to be cyclists themselves, which means that they are more likely to understand how their driving may affect other road users.
  3. More people cycling leads to greater political will to improve conditions for cyclists.

CTC stresses that cycling isn't as risky as commonly thought – there's one death every 32 million kilometres (the equivalent of travelling 800 times around the world) and cyclists on average live two years longer than non-cyclists.

The organisation is pressing for the Government’s new Road Safety Strategy – currently out for consultation – to encourage more as well as safer cycling, by tackling the factors that deter people from getting on their bikes. They want ministers to address the following issues:

  • 20mph zones: CTC wants ministers to make 20mph speed limits the norm for most urban streets.
  • Bad driving: Tackling bad driving is a key aim for CTC and, the organisation says, is one of the weaker areas of the strategy. Nearly half of all drivers exceed 30mph speed limits when not prevented from doing so by congestion, and mobile phone use at the wheel is widespread. CTC is particularly concerned that some driving offences with potentially fatal consequences are still treated in law as “careless driving”. It quotes evidence from France and Australia that increased investment in traffic policing can substantially increase compliance with traffic law and achieve significant road safety benefits.
  • Hostile roads and junctions: The Department for Transport published new guidance on Cycle Infrastructure Design last autumn, but CTC says little has been done to ensure local authorities follow its advice. It says the Government needs to sponsor professional training for planners and engineers involved in designing streets and highways that stresses the importance of a safe cycling environment.
  • Lorries: HGVs typically account for 20-25 percent of cycling deaths each year, and over 50 percent in London. Last year, 10 out of 13 cycling deaths in London resulted from collisions with lorries. CTC says driver awareness of cycling issues and the design of lorries (in particular the fitting of mirrors) needs attention.

The draft strategy already includes a target – called for by CTC – to halve the risks of cycling within 10 years. CTC says the best way to meet this target is to double cycle use over the same period, and is urging MPs to sign a parliamentary motion backing its call for the Road Safety Strategy to aim for more as well as safer cycling.

Mr Snow said: “My own experiences as a regular cyclist tell me that London’s streets have started getting a lot safer, thanks to the growth in cycling over the past decade. We all know that more cycling is good, not just for our own health but also for our communities and the environment. I hope decision-makers throughout the country will now heed CTC’s message that more cycling will improve road safety too.”

Roger Geffen, CTC’s campaigns and policy manager, said: “There's good evidence that cycling gets safer the more cyclists there are. Yet despite this, local councils are often reluctant to encourage cycling for fear that this would lead to more casualties – and some even think the best way to meet their safety targets is to scare people off cycling altogether!”

The Government’s own statistics show a massive drop in everyday on-road cycling levels in the UK from the 1950s onwards, largely due to increasing motor traffic. However, leisure riding on off-road routes has become increasingly popular over the past 30 years, mirroring the rise of the National Cycle Network.

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