Evolution of Cycling in the UK: From Poorly Maintained Cycle Paths To Helmet Laws And Future Proposals


According to Louise Ellman, Chair of the Transport Committee, statistics in the Transport Committee Report on Road Safety show that road fatalities increased in 2011 for the first time since 2003, with 1901 people killed on the roads. Furthermore, motorcyclists especially are at serious risk of injury on London’s roads. Motorcyclists make approximately 200,000 trips daily and this represents only one percent of journeys in London. In 2011, however, 15 percent of slight casualties on the Capital’s roads, 21 percent of serious casualties and 19 percent of fatalities were from motorcyclist accidents. This recent increase in road fatalities has implications for possible changes in laws surrounding vulnerable road users such as cyclists and motorcyclists in order to maximize safety.

Poorly Marked Footways and Cycle Tracks

In Taylor v Goodwin bicycles are defined as “carriages” and as a result are not allowed on pavements.They are to be used on the road or the “carriageway” and not on the footway. Cycling is banned on footways (pavement that is not a carriageway). The fine is £30. A problem that arises is thatmany local authorities allow cycle access to what appear to be but are not actually footways. There isalso confusion among pedestrians becauseit can be difficult to know where a cycle track starts and then stops due to unclear signs. On 1st August 1999, new legislation came into force to allow a fixed penalty notice to be served on anyone guilty of cycling on a footway. The Home Office indicated that the new legislation should only be used where a cyclist is riding in a manner that may cause harm to others. Home Office Minister Paul Boateng’s letter stated that the purpose of the fixed penalty is not to deter cyclists who may use the pavement out of fear of dangerous traffic conditions and who show consideration to other pavement users when doing so. For many cyclists, particularly children and young people who are afraid to cycle on the road, careful police discretion is to be used. To prevent cycling casualties, cycle tracks should be clearly marked to prevent cyclists from risking injury to themselves and potentially other cyclists and pedestrians.

Leadsom’s Private Member’s Bill

Andrea Leadsom strives for the equal protection of all road users and wants them to take equal responsibility for their actions. She aims to achieve this goal through a new private member’s bill that would make death by dangerous cycling a new traffic safety offence. This new offence would allow the actions of a low number of the cyclists who kill pedestrians (on average 0-3 a year, 0 in 2009, 1 in 2008) to be investigated by the police and possibly convicted. 500 pedestrians were killed by motorists in 2009 and 572 in 2008. Ms. Leadsom’s bill was due to be given its second reading in the House of Commons in January 2012 but was dismissed as the Common’s debate on the Daylight Savings Bill was time-consuming and given priority. The only charge at present is for wanton, furious driving under section 35 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act originally aimed at the “wanton or furious” driving off a horse-drawn carriage. It is unlikely that the bill will be passed because Mike Penning, the Under-Secretary of State of the Department for Transport states that the department is looking into the situation to determine whether there is any need for new legislation. If this bill is put into effect, the new offence could potentially hold cyclists to a greater level of responsibility and raise awareness that minimizing dangerous cycling is a key objective of parliament. By making death by dangerous cycling its own offence, it can encourage cyclists to be more careful, protecting both the cyclists themselves from getting involved in collisions and the other road users they encounter.

Controversial Helmet Laws

There are currently no laws to enforce the mandatory use of helmets for cyclists in the United Kingdom. In 1998-1999, a private members’ bill put before the British parliament to mandate the use of helmets for children under 16 failed, as well as a similar bill put before parliament in 2003-2004. Different interest groups debate whether enacting compulsory helmet laws are necessary to protect cyclists.

Hooper and Spicer argue that compulsory helmet laws for adults violate individual autonomy and suggest that governments provide cyclists with public health information about the possible benefits of wearing helmets as an alternative to legislation. They concur with the British Medical Association (BMA) report that children should wear helmets becauseevidence suggests that helmets are more beneficial in protecting children than adults andthey may not have sufficient maturity to exercise individual autonomy. Furthermore, helmets may not even contribute to the safety of the cyclists. Research in Australia shows that eighty percent of cyclists killed and eighty percent of those injured while cycling were wearing helmets. Furthermore, the overall risk to cyclists is small, whether or not they elect to wear helmets.In 2008, there were

17, 604 reported cycling casualties in the United Kingdom, but there were only 104 deaths and 2606 serious injuries. According to the BMA report, helmets were more effective in situations where the cyclist fell from the cycle as opposed to accidents between vehicles.

In addition, the Transport and Health Study Group, an independent British society of public health and transport practitioners and researchers, published the report Health on the Move 2 containing Cycle Helmet Evidence demonstrating reasons for the opposition of helmet laws. Their research distinguishes betweencase-control studies that report up to 88 percent helmet protection from brain injury and population-level studies accounting for secular trends that show no noticeable prevention of serious head injuries, either in traffic collisions or falls on the highway. In case control studies, people with a specific outcome (i.e. head injury when cycling, the ‘cases’) are compared with ‘controls’ (i.e., non-head injuries when cycling). Some issues are that the later population level studies have been left out by official reviews. For example, the 2002 UK government review, the Cochrane Review and a recent review by NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) all leave out information regarding population-level studies. Furthermore, there are issues with case-control studies because they do not take into consideration that social class has a strong influence on helmet use by children.

All in all, mandatory helmet laws in the United Kingdom may not be necessary for the protection of cyclists. Cooper and Spicer’s proposition regardingpublic health information about the possible benefits of wearing helmets as an alternative to legislation is beneficial in preserving individual autonomy by allowing people to make their own informed decisions and raising awareness can reduce serious cycling injuries and fatalities.

Government Budget Cuts

Government Budget Cuts to “End the War on Motorists”. Several road safety professionals claim thatthe government’s cuts to police, road safety budgets and speed cameras result in more deaths and injuries in road accidents for vulnerable road users. According to Robert Gifford, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, dangerous cycling is becoming an issue, particularly for 18-59 year olds as the increase in traffic is lower than the overall increase in cycling casualties.Chris Peck, policy co-coordinator for CTC, the cyclists’ organisation, also states that the increased numbers of cycling casualties over the last few yearsis most likely partially due to less traffic policing because road safety is not a priority for the government and that cyclists and pedestrians are suffering as a result. Also,Mick Giannasi, the chief constable of Gwent who speaks on the topic of roads on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers, told ministers the £38m cut in the 2010 road safety budget will lead to a rise in fatal road accidents if councils decide they cannot afford to operate the cameras and potentially remove 4 out of 5 cameras within five years.One example is Oxfordshire County Council that announced that it would turn the cameras off after the funding cut.Giannasi said the cost-effective community speed schemes were meant as an “addition to and not a substitute for” existing road safety measures, such as volunteers trained to use mobile speed guns and report offenders to police. These schemes have resulted in motorists receiving warning letters rather than automatic prosecution. These budget cuts are ultimately problematic and more money should be reallocated to these areas to potentially protect cyclists and other road users with more traffic policing. Furthermore, keeping cameras can also protect pedestrians and other road users by regulating motorcyclists’speed on roads and highways.

Proposals for Future Cyclist Safety

Developing a London-wide Road Safety Action Plan is one of the proposals in the Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS). The Greater London Authority Act 1999 allows Transport for London (TfL) to put together a program of measures to promote safety on London’s roads and to add to measures taken by other authorities. The consultation document proposes seventy actions intended to decrease the number of road casualties and to improve perceptions of road safety in London. For example, the Cycle Safety Action Plan (CSAP) was created by TfL and its partners in March 2010 to prevent cycling casualties on London’s roads. It is based on a review of evidence that identified the people who are at the greatest risk, and where and when the conflicts are most likely to occur. There are nine areas that need to be improved on including the need for safer infrastructure, training and information, communication, enforcement, regulation, technology, commercial driving and working practices, research and monitoring, and partnership. In engineering, TfL also performed a test using roadside mirrors at traffic signal-controlled junctions on London’s BCS to give HGV drivers improved visibility of cyclists. Also, permanent provisions have been made to permit motorcycles in bus lanes after trials to allow motorcycles in Transport for London Road Network (TLRN) bus lanes. A road safety campaign focusing on the need for road users to watch out for motorcycles in bus lanes will continue. There will also be increased enforcement of motorcycle speeds. Lastly, the Department for Transport publicized the Think! Campaign ‘Named Riders’ to focus on motorcycle safety as well as the cycle safety stakeholder forum to decide how to deal with the problem of distinguishing between the real and perceived dangers of cycling. These proposals and provisions that have been made will work to further improve existing road safety conditions, as well as campaigns that raise awareness and involve the public in making roads safer for vulnerable road users.

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