Get Britain Cycling: Justice system is failing cyclists

Second session of the inquiry focuses on safety

The UK Government must make serious investment in cycle infrastructure and make drivers more accountable for their actions if cycling safety is to see the major improvement that it needs

The second session of the Get Britain Cycling inquiry shifted the focus on to the all-important issue of safety. The key message, the panel heard on Wednesday, is that the police and the courts are failing cyclists all over the country. The police were described by cycling lawyer Martin Porter QC as "spineless" in cases where cyclists are injured or killed, and Chris Peck of the CTC challenged the courts in his evidence highlighting that many drivers are being charged with careless rather than dangerous driving.

The inquiry was also told that it isn't all about infrastructure, although pivotal to improving cyclist safety. Without a doubt, measures including segregated cycle lanes and safe crossing areas will improve matters, but cycle safety needs to be incorporated into the driving test and National Curriculum, speed limits in urban areas need to be reduced, and HGVs should be banned from town centres unless fitted with sensors. Without all these measures in place, cyclists will continue to be in a position of weakness on Britain's roads.

This is all very sensible and after hearing the evidence, the inquiry committee will no doubt be able to give good advice to the Government and local authorities on what needs to be done to make cycling safer.

The question then becomes whether the Government wants to do it. Some of it is expensive: the £62m 'extra' investment in the road infrastructure announced by Transport Secretary Norman Baker on the same day won't go very far in terms of constructing dedicated cycle routes and safe crossing areas for cyclists at junctions. Although any extra investment is extremely welcome, more than this is needed to make the kind of difference the cycling community wants to see, and that the many witnesses to the inquiry are calling for.

Unfortunately, spending on road safety has been cut by nearly 80% since 2008, according to the Institute of Advanced Motoring as a result of a Freedom of Information enquiry, despite cyclist KSIs (killed and serious injured casualties) increasing year on year. A mere £53,000 will be spent on cyclist safety in 2013. The Department for Transport's excellent Think! Cyclist campaign should be more widely promoted; how many motorists have even heard of it? 

Despite this cut in spending hampering efforts to improve vital measures for cyclists, some of the reforms urged on the inquiry are not expensive and could be implemented simply if the political will existed. Tougher treatment of drivers within the criminal justice system is one measure that could have a major impact on driver behaviour and in turn reduce the number of casualties on Britain's roads. Driver behaviour has been changed over time in relation to drink driving, through the combined impact of forceful campaigns and compulsory driving bans on drink driving, and it can be achieved again to protect the country's cyclists.

The inquiry is progressing well, with the main manifesto points of the best cycling campaigns being brought inescapably to the minds of high-level decision makers. We await with interest how representations on planning and design are received in next week's inquiry session.

For Simon Edwards' take on the first session of the inquiry, see Get Britain Cycling: UK leadership and cycling

Prolegal are a team of bike solicitors who specialise in representing victims of serious cycling injuries.

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