Road safety expert welcomes government response to Get Britain Cycling report

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Road safety expert welcomes government response to Get Britain Cycling report

28th August 2013

Road safety expert and specialist cycle collision lawyer Matthew Claxson has said that although today’s response from the Department of Transport (DfT) on behalf of the government, to the Get Britain Cycling report is welcome; there is still a huge amount of work to be done to improve the safety of cyclists in both urban and rural areas across the country.

“Much of today’s response to the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group's (APPCG) 'Get Britain Cycling' report, is highly encouraging as it demonstrates that the government is committed to taking road safety for cyclists more seriously and that they believe that better provision for cyclists is fundamental to ongoing transport policy,” said Matthew, a partner with the firm. “However, we still have a great deal of catching up to do with many EU nations in terms of improving both cycling infrastructure and driver awareness of vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians.”

The APPCG report, which was published in April, included a raft of comprehensive recommendations to entice more people across the UK to take up cycling, cycle more often and cycle more safely. The report was issued after a series of six inquiry sessions in January, February and March, during which expert witnesses gave extensive written and oral evidence.

The government’s response addressed each of the 18 recommendations made in the ‘Get Britain Cycling’ report, the first of which involved creating a cycling budget of £10 per person per year, increasing to £20. The DfT announced that since February 2012, £159m has been made available for cycling infrastructure in England, with improved cycle links in communities, and schemes such as segregated cycle lanes to make dangerous road junction layouts more cycle-friendly.

Earlier this month, cycling groups welcomed David Cameron’s pledge of £94m of public investment to improve safety and ‘cycle-proof’ our roads. “The Prime Minister said the initiative marked the start of a ‘cycling revolution’ and the government wanted to ‘make it easier and safer for people who already cycle as well as encouraging far more people to take it up,’” said Matthew. “Although it is very encouraging that Mr Cameron has shown leadership in promoting more and safer cycling, we now need to ensure the government delivers more cycle-friendly infrastructure with all new roads and junctions built with cycling safety in mind.”

The fund, which represents the largest single injection of public money into cycling in England, will pay for upgrades and other improvements to new and existing cycle networks, with £77m going to Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Newcastle, Bristol, Cambridge, Oxford and Norwich and the remaining £17m to be shared between the New Forest, Peak District, South Downs and Dartmoor National Parks.

The government has said that total new funding for cycling would be £148m between now and 2015, taking investment in the eight cities to more that £10 per head per year. Councils and the Highways Agency are expected to ‘up their game’ to ensure that cycling is taken into account from the design stage on trunk road and traffic schemes such as road widening and junction improvements.

“Although the money is significant, if we are to emulate countries such as Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands where around one-third of all journeys are made by bike, as opposed to about 2% in Britain, we need consistent and similar spending over several years to establish a nationwide system of dedicated cycling infrastructure,” said Matthew. “The £10 per head minimum spend must be a cornerstone of cycle policy going forward and cycling initiatives shouldn’t just be confined to London and the eight cities recommended in the report. If Mr Cameron’s so-called ‘cycling revolution’ is to become a way of life with everyday bike travel a reality for people of all ages and abilities, this level of investment must be maintained and extended to all parts of the UK.”

Other elements of the government’s response to the Get Britain Cycling report include:

  • Through the revised Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions, due in 2015, the government will be making further changes to make it easier for councils to install cycle facilities, by removing the requirement for Traffic Orders for mandatory cycle lanes and exemptions for cyclists;
  • Work will begin immediately on junction improvements and other improvements that will help cyclists at locations on the trunk road network where major roads can prove an obstacle for journeys by bike;
  • The DfT has made it easier for local authorities to introduce 20mph speed limits and zones in residential areas and has said it would be open to considering applications from local authorities for 40mph zones on rural lanes;
  • DfT Ministers are treating the risk posed to cyclists by HGVs as a priority, with a view to make new standards for mirrors on the passenger side of lorries a mandatory requirement;
  • The Sentencing Council (an independent non-­departmental public body of the Ministry of Justice) will undertake a review of the sentencing guidelines for the offences of causing death by careless driving and causing death or serious injury by dangerous driving;

Matthew said that two areas of the government’s response to the report that he found particularly encouraging involved firstly, the promised review of sentencing guidelines for dangerous driving offences and secondly, vehicle designs for heavy goods vehicles.

“Next year, the Sentencing Council will review the sentencing guidelines for dangerous driving offences to ensure that those resulting in deaths or serious injuries are treated sufficiently seriously by police, prosecutors and judges,” he said. “This is extremely welcome news as for too long now cyclists have so often been an afterthought.

“When serious accidents occur between vehicles and cyclists, on many occasions, victims have been let down by the courts with overly lean sentences being handed down,” he added. “This needs to change, and it is encouraging to hear that the DfT Justice Sub-Group is commissioning research to investigate the link between police reported road traffic incidents where cyclists or pedestrians are killed or seriously injured, and prosecutions to better understand how the justice system works.

“The government’s promise to improve lorry driver training and vehicle designs for HGVs was also especially good news as HGVs are repeatedly responsible for a disproportionate number of cyclist deaths - the majority of which occur at traffic lights or other junctions when such vehicles are turning left,” said Matthew. “Blind spot visibility on lorries needs to be improved and as international standards for mirrors on lorry passenger sides have been agreed, it is heartening to hear that the DfT is in talks with the European Commission on making this a mandatory requirement for all new heavy vehicles. Put simply, these measures save lives.”

In the last few years, several high profile campaigns have been launched addressing the issue of cycling safety, with the London Cycling Campaign’s ‘No More Lethal Lorries,’ and the ‘See Me, Save Me’ campaign, which was launched by the family of Eilidh Cairns, a 30-year-old TV producer who was killed by an HGV in February 2009.

“Despite tireless lobbying the government has often been accused of dragging its heels over implementing cycling safety measures and as such, it is refreshing to hear ministers claim that they want to do more to protect vulnerable road users,” said Matthew. “Cycling in the capital alone has risen by 173 per cent since 2001 and it is high time cycling is seenas a mainstream form of transport.”

Although the political will for change is finally evident and the government has made great progress over the last two years in boosting cycling funding, the problem Britain now faces in regard to building cycling infrastructure, is that we are starting from a very low base as a result of years of underinvestment and the complete absence of cycling as part of our overall transport strategy.

Matthew said that one of the most consistent points made in the report was that lower speed limits as well as ‘road-calming’ measures such as speed bumps or traffic islands naturally reduce the number and severity of collisions for both pedestrians and cyclists.

“In addition to the seemingly obvious measures - such as reducing traffic speeds, widening cycle lanes and giving cyclists priority at intersections - that would naturally be included in any policy response to concerns regarding for instance whether we should be encouraging more children to cycle to school, we also need firm political leadership from the very top, significant ongoing investment and improvements to our cycling infrastructure and mandatory cycling provision to be included in all new road schemes,” he said.

Regarding the report, it has been said that the evidence submitted, together with the sources they cite, probably represent the most complete compilation of literature on cycling policy that has ever been made available anywhere and will prove invaluable as a resource for future research projects and policy. The inquiry concludes that the evidence demonstrates quite clearly that cycling as a mode of transport is ‘on the cusp of greatness.’

“The economic benefits of getting more people interested in cycling in terms of health and traffic congestion alone are considerably greater than the proposed £10-£20 per head costs needed over several years to expand the role of cycling as a viable means of transport to so many across the country,” said Matthew. “The House of Commons will be debating the APPCG Get Britain Cycling report on 2 September, and we very much hope that there is a general consensus to back calls for long-term funding and the widespread promotion of cycling.”

 To read more, please visit: 

Get Britain Cycling report

All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s Get Britain Cycling Inquiry HM Government Response