Philip Pank, Transport Correspondent
More people are taking to the road on two wheels, but government data yesterday revealed a striking increase in fatalities among cyclists.
The number killed or seriously injured rose by 19 per cent to 820 in the three months to June.
Motorcycle riders were the only other kind of road users to suffer an increase in deaths or serious injuries last spring, according to preliminary figures from the Department for Transport.
However, cycling groups urged caution against reading too much into a single quarter’s data.
The figures in part reflect a big increase in the number of cyclists last spring, when good weather, rocketing fuel prices and the recession encouraged large numbers of commuters on to their bikes.
Many were inexperienced, or had not ridden on public roads for many years, a factor that may have contributed to the increase in accidents.
“There has been an increase in new cyclists and they are probably likely to be more at risk than more experienced ones,” said Chris Peck, policy co-ordinator at the national cyclists’ organisation, CTC.
Andrew Howard, head of road safety at the AA, said: “This is a problem you have when you get a whole new wave of cyclists coming to the road.”
Whitehall has been trying to encourage people to get out of their cars and on to bicycles as a healthy, cheaper, environmentally friendly mode of transport. Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, and David Cameron, the Tory leader, are all ardent cyclists who actively promote cycling.
Lord Adonis launched a £14 million campaign to build cycle hubs at mainline rail stations in September. The Government offers substantial tax breaks for people willing to cycle to work. The mayor plans to build 12 cycle “highways” into central London by 2012 and will introduce a cycle hire scheme next summer.
These cycle-friendly policies contributed to a 12 per cent increase in cycling between 2007 and 2008, taking the number of cyclists to the highest level in 17 years.
As the popularity has increased, so too has the number of fatalities. In London alone, at least six women were killed by lorries in the first six months of the year.
“While we’d be deeply concerned if cycling were becoming more dangerous, it’s more likely that there are just more cyclists on the streets. Riding a bike is a great way to get about, but cyclists are particularly vulnerable to careless and dangerous driving,” said Richard George, roads campaigner at Campaign for Better Transport. “The Government must make sure people feel safe while cycling, by taking bad driving seriously and making sure that cycle training is available to anyone who needs it.”
Some campaigners argue that the incidence of accidents need not rise with the number of cyclists on the road. They say that cycling actually becomes safer the more people turn to two wheels.
“Where you get more people cycling, certainly drivers get more frustrated with cyclists but they also get better at anticipating cyclists,” Mr Peck said.
The Government’s own data show that the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured on the roads each year has fallen by 31 per cent since the mid-1990s. And in London, the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured has fallen by almost 20 per cent in the past decade, despite an increase of 107 per cent in the number of bicycle journeys.
“Cycling in London is getting safer,” said a spokeswoman for Transport for London.
Steps to avoid becoming a statistic:
Improve your road skills with good quality cycle training. One-to-one training for adults is available from most local authorities while many children receive Bikeability training at school.
Some of the principles of cycle training are:
- Position yourself so that you can see and be seen. In some circumstances this means further out in to the carriageway than you may think, especially when approaching junctions.
- Make eye contact with other road users and communicate your intentions clearly.
- Anticipate hazards, for instance pedestrians stepping out without looking or other road users manoeuvring without signalling.
- Pay particular attention to large vehicles – they need extra space when turning . Never try to pass them on the left at junctions.
- Stay within the law. Lights are mandatory at night and are the most important safety equipment.