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Cyclists: Road Accidents

Volume 699: debated on Tuesday 26 February 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What action they are taking to reduce deaths and injuries to cyclists in road accidents.

My Lords, measures to reduce death and injuries to cyclists in road accidents include providing better infrastructure, funding cycle training and improved testing and training for motorists, and encouraging cyclists to protect themselves by making themselves conspicuous and by wearing a safety helmet. Other initiatives, such as anti-drink-drive and anti-speeding campaigns and the provision of 20 mph zones, can contribute to cyclists’ safety.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer—the Government are investing a lot of money in new cyclists’ facilities. Does he agree that one of the main campaigns must be to encourage children to cycle to school? Once they have learnt to cycle and used cycles as children, they will carry on doing so as adults and will, I hope, cycle to work. What exactly are the Government doing to encourage cycling to school safely—with new cycle routes or whatever—and so to encourage parents to allow their children to do that?

My Lords, we are doing many things. In January this year, we announced that we are investing in cycling a record £140 million over the next three years, through Cycling England. Much of that money will be directed towards improving training and standards of cycling. That is a very good investment when it is put into the hands of those who train schoolchildren. It will provide—by, I think, 2012—for some extra half million children to have access to new cycle training and will create some 250 additional links to school to encourage home-to-school cycling.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a lot of the cases of cyclists being killed or seriously injured occur because of collisions with lorries? I believe that the Government are undertaking a major review that will result in much larger lorries—those towing trailers—being let on to British roads. Will he ensure that when the study is presented to the Government, it will evaluate the damage that is being done by bigger lorries to people such as cyclists?

My Lords, as ever, the noble Lord makes a very useful point. Of course we will look carefully at road safety issues involving lorries. He is right to say that there is potential for lorries to cause harm, serious injury or death to cyclists.

My Lords, does the Minister agree—I will understand if he would not dare do so—that in addition to cyclists running into lorries there is the serious problem of pedestrians being hit by cyclists?

My Lords, that is an issue about which noble Lords appear to be particularly exercised. The last time we had a short discussion on this topic, a number of noble Lords said the same thing. Yes, of course, we have occasional instances of pedestrians being hit by cyclists, but it is profoundly the case that pedestrians are most at risk from cars. Sadly, cases of pedestrians being hit by cars in any given year generate a lot of fatalities—last year, there were some 471—although, thankfully, those numbers are coming down. The number of pedestrians who are injured by cyclists is very small. I think that there were 47 recorded incidents in which there was some form of injury.

My Lords, perhaps I had better sit down. What are the Government doing to improve the lighting on cyclists at night? Every evening when I leave here in the dark in a taxi, I would be prepared to give evidence on behalf of the taxi driver if he hit a cyclist who has no lights on the back of his bike and is impossible to see until you are on him.

My Lords, I thought that the noble Baroness was going to tell me that she had taken up cycling as well as giving up smoking. She is right that we should remind cyclists to take much more care, because it is important that they are visible. A key component of encouraging safer cycling is to ensure that, as part of the training, cyclists are told to be more visible and to have sensible lighting fixed to their cycles.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety recommended that there should be a 20 mph default speed limit in built-up areas? Does he agree that, as well as reducing the number of road deaths, that would mean that pedestrians and cyclists could share the road? That would certainly encourage people to cycle and it would encourage children to cycle to school, as my noble friend suggested, as there would be much less likelihood of injury.

My Lords, I agree that 20 mph zones are a good thing, certainly in urban areas. However, it is for a local authority to determine where it is most appropriate to put 20 mph zones. Such zones certainly have a significant impact on reducing accidents and deaths. I shall give a couple of statistics. The Transport Research Laboratory found that, in the UK and other EC countries, child road accidents fell by 67 per cent and cyclist accidents by 29 per cent in areas where there were 20 mph zones. I do not think that there should be default zones of 20 mph because I believe that the beauty of 20 mph zones is that they are self-enforcing. If you impose a default speed limit of 20 mph, you perhaps lose that benefit.

My Lords, while we all agree with the noble Lord’s proper concerns about the safety of cyclists in relation to predatory motorists, I want to turn the question on its head and refer to something that my noble friend said earlier. What steps are the Government taking to protect pedestrians from cyclists? First, would he think it a useful beginning to enforce the law on riding on pavements? Secondly, and perhaps most important, could he make it a legal requirement for bicycles to carry a bell, as they used to do in the old days?

My Lords, I used to have a bell on my bike, but it rusted up, I am afraid. The noble Viscount makes a fair point about enforcement. One positive thing that we have done is to ensure that community support officers, along with the police service, can impose fixed penalty notices, which has aided and added to enforcement. It remains the case that the major problem for pedestrians is the potential for a road traffic accident caused by a car and not a cycle. We need to keep a sense of proportion about these issues.