Opinion: Help someone begin their cycling journey by showing them the way

This article was published in 2019, in Magazine 145.

Robin Heydon (top); 20mph streets have both safety and public health benefits for people walking and cycling.

Image as described adjacent
Image as described adjacent

In 2019, the Department for Transport (DfT) published a Road Safety Statement which details how they plan to make roads and streets safer for everyone.

The number of road traffic fatalities has not been reducing. Since 2010, the number of people prematurely killed per year by other people driving motor vehicles has pretty much stayed the same. It is not known why. The only comment on this in the statement is: ‘This points to a complex phenomenon with many possible causes and interactions.’ So, about 1,800 people alive today will be dead this time next year as a result of an encounter with a car or truck.

The DfT is suggesting some major improvements. For example, Heavy Goods Vehicles are required to be fitted with sideguards, except that the construction industry has some historic exemptions dating back to 1986 allowing them to be removed. These exemptions should be withdrawn, making it significantly safer to cycle and walk near these vehicles.

The driving test will be improved to give greater importance to cycle safety and include people cycling in the hazard perception test. Of course, a test is only as good as the education received up to that point. Whilst we can teach a teenager to know that they have to pass a person cycling with as much space as they would give a car, if their friends and parents pass too closely they may regard this as socially acceptable.

Another possible new change is a graduated driving licence. Today, you can pass your test and buy any vehicle, pile all your mates into the car, and have them distract you until potentially you kill them all. In the future, you may have limits on the number and age of passengers, and have to pass an additional test to escape that limit, and have a zero alcohol tolerance.

The young, and people aged over 70, are the most vulnerable road users. Somebody aged over 80 has a higher casualty rate per distance travelled than somebody aged 25, and it gets even worse for those 85 and over. Active travel is suggested as a way to reduce this, by providing resources to help older people to walk more and take up or continue cycling. For the young, it is suggested that walking and cycling to school are good things even if that means closing roads outside schools. Getting children to walk and cycle to school for even a little bit of the journey may be helpful.

There is also a clear statement that for major streets where there could be significant numbers of people walking or cycling, a 20mph speed limit can be implemented. The slight slow-down for motorists is more than outweighed by the safety and public health benefits for people walking and cycling.

The DfT provides evidence that where 20mph streets have been implemented, the change has increased the number of people walking and cycling as well as improving quality-of-life for residents and visitors.

So what would you do to improve road safety? A more rigorous driving exam? Make it harder to kill somebody by driving recklessly, especially next to a school? Perhaps safer lorries or 20mph main roads? Perhaps continual testing so you don’t just pass once? Perhaps all of the above?

Robin Heydon is Chair of Camcycle. This article was first published on 30 June in the Cambridge News and online at cambridge-news.co.uk, where you can read his column each week.

20mph streets make urban areas safer, but we’d like to see rural roads improved too. We’re calling for Highways England to uphold their own standard on design for cycle traffic when building new roads and junctions.