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Roads: Motorists and Cyclists

Volume 735: debated on Wednesday 7 March 2012

Question for Short Debate

Asked By

My Lords, bicycles and those who ride them have been making the headlines for a few weeks since the Times newspaper started a campaign after one of its employees was badly injured in an accident involving a lorry. I am not out to knock bicycles today—quite the reverse. I believe that they are practical vehicles and the exercise they provide should help to contain obesity, which at home in my province is the most serious medical problem, especially among young people. In short, I support encouraging the use of bicycles.

I want to quote from a brief I received from the mayor’s office today:

“The Mayor of London is committed to turning London into a ‘cyclised’ city where people see cycling as one of the best ways to get about. Cycling, with all its social, environmental, health and financial benefits, has an important role to play in the future of the capital, and the Mayor is working with TfL to deliver a 400% increase in cycling by 2026, compared to 2001 levels, while making cycling safer, more attractive and more convenient … In conjunction with this growth the Mayor has prioritised improving cyclist safety. In March 2010 TfL published the Cycle Safety Action Plan designed to help reduce the number of collisions on London’s roads involving cyclists, which has led to numerous successful initiatives which continue to be rolled out across the city … The Mayor is now calling on the Government to take forward new nationwide policies, including changes to vehicle regulations and changes to driving tests, to help improve the safety of cyclists across the country … TfL supports the London boroughs in providing cycle training to people who live, work or study in their borough. In 2010/11, 8,350 individuals were trained, which represents a 42% increase on 2008/09 … TfL funds the Met police Cycle Task Force, a team of 30 police officers who patrol London on bikes, engaging and educating all road users and taking action against irresponsible behaviour. In 2010, a six-week operation resulted in more than 900 Fixed Penalty Notices being issued to drivers and motorcyclists in relation to responsible and safer driving”.

Most of the media coverage recently has been aimed at motorists and those responsible for road safety. There are undoubtedly issues here, but there are also issues for the cyclists themselves. If bicyclists choose to use the Queen's highway, I suggest that they must learn the rules of the road and obey them. They should familiarise themselves with the Highway Code and obey it. How often do we see bicycles on the pavement, shooting traffic lights and riding too close to lorries and cars?

We need a change of culture among cyclists. We need them to have some form of third-party insurance so that when they run into a pedestrian—me crossing the road from Westminster to the cathedral on my way home—there will be some form of recompense. It should be compulsory by traffic law and health and safety regulations for bicycle riders to wear a minimum of protective clothing such as helmets and an orange or yellow top. They should carry lights and ideally at night wear reflective armbands, helmets and gloves. How many times at night have we been walking in London and not seen a bicycle until it has practically hit us—no protective cover, no fluorescent clothing, no lights, and probably going at 30 or 40 mph?

It will be of little value bringing in the changes that I have suggested and many more if they are not well publicised, understood and most important of all, enforced by the authorities. I ask Parliament and the media to assist in bringing this culture change to the cycling community in the hope that when it is paired up with the capital expenditure proposed by the mayor and the Government it will mean safer roads, safer pavements and a safer time in the city for pedestrians as well as bicyclists.

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, told us, the way to encourage cycling is to make it safer. One way of making it safer is to provide separate road space for motorists and cyclists. Frequently, however, that is impossible. Cyclists and motorists have to share the road. Certainly the Highway Code should apply to all road users, but in practice that does not always happen. When I was knocked off my bike by a car turning left from the outside lane, the driver's explanation was simply that cars have priority over bikes. That attitude simply discourages cycling by making it less safe.

When I ride on the continent, in any country apart from Portugal and the Republic of Ireland, I feel safer. In all those countries the presumption in law is that if there is a collision between a motor vehicle and a bicycle, the driver of the motor vehicle is at fault. That makes sense because figures from the TRL indicate that in serious and slight crashes that injure cyclists over the age of 25, drivers are far more likely to be deemed solely liable than the cyclists. This is simply a measure to protect the more vulnerable road user and make the road users who are protected more aware of the dangers that they pose to cyclists. As a letter in Saturday’s Guardian from Dr KJ Eames pointed out, this is fair as a presumption can have its validity tested against evidence if it should be necessary. There is no doubt that this simple measure would improve the rate of cycling here.

Urban design can also change the balance of responsibilities. Have noble Lords been to Exhibition Road in South Kensington recently? It has been converted into a shared walking, cycling and driving area. There is a 20 miles per hour speed limit, and although walkers and cyclists must still give way to motorists, it has become a far more pleasant area, with more space because there is no car parking, there are no traffic islands and traffic is much reduced. I am sure that many people will want their suburban areas changed to shared-use zones of this kind, where the traffic is more strictly controlled, cyclists and pedestrians have more freedom and there is more open space.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, is right: there is a lot of work to be done in rebalancing the legal responsibility of motorists and cyclists on the roads, but all as part of an effort to encourage cycling. What will the Government do about that?

My Lords, my preferred forms of transport are sail, bicycles, foot, rail, buses and—lastly— cars. Living in central London, I gave up my car in 1974. We then established our family motto: two wheels good, four wheels bad. That has proved an act of liberation. The advantages are obvious.

First, there is fitness and health, as was pointed out by a number of people in the House of Commons debate, as well as by speakers here tonight. Studies show that regular cyclists live some two years longer than those who do not cycle—that is quite an advantage. Secondly, there is the convenience: you arrive at your destination at a time that you can judge accurately. That is a great advantage. Thirdly, parking—the curse of the motorist—is much easier. I sympathise with Woody Allen, who said, “It is all very well talking about the expanding universe but, if the universe is expanding, why can I never find a parking place?”. It is a question, too, of being able to live more freely. There is no question of having to abstain if one goes out to dinner or of making the invidious choice as to whether you or your spouse should cease to imbibe. There is no perpetual worry about cars getting scratched.

Of course it would be a great advantage to life in cities if there were more bicycles. The bicycle is a very green form of transport. It was described by one person as a form of transport that has a built-in gym and can be fuelled on tea and cakes. But it is not only that: one has a different attitude to travelling in London, because bicycling is a very sociable activity. At traffic lights you talk to people. I quite often talk to policemen. On one occasion I stopped at a traffic light and the police were extremely friendly. One said, “I didn’t know cyclists stopped at traffic lights”. On another occasion there was no traffic about and I moved off. I had not realised that there was a policeman nearby. At the next traffic light he came up beside me and said, “Sir, I would have thought that someone of your maturity would pay more attention to traffic signals”. They are an extremely friendly lot. Bus drivers are extraordinarily considerate to cyclists and bus lanes are a great convenience. For every possible reason, cycling is to be encouraged.

Is there any danger? There is the suggestion that all sorts of action should be taken to lessen the risk to cyclists. Many people are put off by that risk but, in fact, it is greatly exaggerated. In terms of benefits versus of risks, a study by the BMA way back in 1992 showed that for one life-year lost through accidents, 20 life-years are gained through greater fitness. I am not exactly sure what that means but it is impressive. Of course the position is much better now because the more cyclists there are, the lower the proportion of people who are injured. Some calculations show that if cyclists double in numbers, the accident rate per cyclist is reduced by about one-third. In Amsterdam there are no accidents. People do not wear helmets because there is such a large number of cyclists that nobody gets injured. Indeed, they have a rather draconian law that if there is an accident and a motor car, the motor car is to blame under all circumstances.

It is really a case of promoting cycling by every means we can. Cyclists of the world unite—we have nothing to lose but our chains.

My Lords, I speak as a frequent cyclist, and my views are well balanced by also being a motorcyclist and a motorist. I am also a member, and was a long-time officer, of the All-Party Cycling Group, which was largely instrumental in the lobbying and recent debate in Westminster Hall, assisted by the campaign in the Times. I would like to follow rather randomly some of the themes in that debate.

After reading his winding-up speech for the Government in that debate, I believe that we are extremely fortunate to have a Minister such as Mr Norman Baker who is so sympathetic to the cause, as well as his colleague Mr Mike Penning. I hope that he can drag his department some way along the path of enlightenment, as I have always felt that one of the main obstacles from the past in all this has been the ingrained anti-cyclist mindset of the department. We are also extremely fortunate in having the enthusiastic and balanced support of the cyclist Sir George Young as the Leader of another place.

In addressing the balance mentioned in the Question before us, I will not be entirely on one side of the argument, and in my opinion the Question’s wording has ignored motorcyclists, who should be near the centre of any balance. As many have said, including the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, a key change required is in the attitude to cyclists of other road users. I can share and appreciate the visionary mentions of that in relation to Denmark and Holland, where cyclists are normally treated with great consideration and respect. I am less certain of being able to realise here the vision of developing similar separate and purpose-built cycle paths that are so admired in those countries. I believe that we should be realistic and practical and accept that our cities are never going to be able to be converted to the ideal for cyclists. I do not know what the effect is of the recent blue lanes for cyclists in London, but I am hoping that they will be deemed successful.

Improvements can indeed be made, and the Times manifesto is a good example of practical measures that can very usefully be taken. Almost all the eight points of the manifesto seemed to be supported as far as he could by the Minister Mr Norman Baker in the debate in another place. But on item six of that manifesto, I am more than hesitant. If we want the respect and co-operation of the motorist for cycling, I believe that too wide an introduction of 20 mph zones would be counterproductive, by inducing genuine frustration in law-abiding motorists, especially if too widely introduced. The official campaign is asking for that in all residential areas which do not have cycle lanes. The Government have rightly reduced the bureaucracy and cost of creating such 20 mph zones in the right places; it will be decided more locally. But to advocate their use too widely would be unwise. The proliferation and uncertainty about advance stop lines at traffic lights also sends mixed messages, and causes some frustration. I would hope that the type that one sometimes sees, covering only one of two lanes going in the same direction, could become more common.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, praised the Mayor of London. We should be grateful for the impetus that Boris bikes have given to more widespread use of cycles. I hope that the overall cost can be manageable for the scheme to be maintained over the longer period, and the area in which they are available widened, as originally intended. The Times manifesto encourages copying such a scheme to other places. I hope that such schemes, after initial investment and enthusiasm, can eventually become self-financing.

We at this end of this building seem to be very fortunate to have a new row of such cycles being installed on Abingdon Green, which is where outside broadcasts are often made, showing Big Ben in the background. I hope that encourages more of our colleagues to join the scheme, as it is particularly convenient to our House.

As a motorcyclist, I think that we should also be grateful to the Mayor of London for experimenting with motorcyclists sharing bus lanes. I understand that there has been no detriment to cyclists. The only uncertainty for motorcyclists is that such use of bus lanes is not uniform all over London; that final step has still to be taken.

I hope that the Minister can emulate his colleagues, not only in his reply today but in his department.

Thanks to my noble friend, this is an extremely timely debate. As the mayor has announced, there are going to be many more cycle stations in London.

In the 1950s and 1960s I had a Moulton cycle with such small wheels that I could ride on the pavement. No one ever stopped me, anyway. The explosion in the number of cyclists in London inevitably results in problems for all concerned. I agree with my noble friend that they should have insurance. Licences, obviously, are not feasible, and helmets would be difficult for those who ride only very occasionally.

Good manners and patience are required by all. Having experienced nearly being run down by a cyclist on the pedestrian crossing outside here with the light in my favour, I now always thank cyclists when they stop.

This debate speaks only of motorists and cyclists; there is no mention of pedestrians. Pedestrians may not have legal responsibilities but they are equally affected by all types of transport. As I am 99 per cent a pedestrian, I feel strongly about good manners by all road users. What happens if a pedestrian knocks a cyclist over on a crossing? Does he or she get prosecuted?

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, on securing this debate on a matter of great concern to millions of people in this country. I echo much of what noble Lords have already said. Rebalancing the responsibilities of road users is clearly important, as noble Lords have argued. We are reminded daily by personal tragedies all over the country of just how vulnerable cyclists are to motorists, and how careless motorists can be of their responsibilities to other road users. I support noble Lords who have called for action in that respect, although as someone who gave up driving in London many years ago I should add that those cyclists who treat roads as their personal property—weaving in between traffic with no regard for queues, ignoring traffic signals and threatening the safety of other road users—make a powerful case for tightening the regulation and penalties for cyclists, alongside the case for protecting them better against motorists.

However, I shall focus on another area, which other noble Lords have mentioned, where rebalancing is necessary: the responsibility of cyclists to pedestrians. To adapt the phrase adapted by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, “Four wheels bad, two wheels good, two feet better”. When I represented North Swindon in the other place, one of the issues raised most frequently in the open meetings that I held regularly was the selfish and reckless behaviour of cyclists towards pedestrians, particularly when they cycled on pavements. The elderly, the disabled and parents of very young children felt particularly vulnerable to such behaviour, and were outraged by the contempt shown to them by those who cycle on pavements meant for pedestrians. This is a growing problem. In the last five years for which figures are available, the number of pedestrians who have been killed or injured by cyclists has increased by two-thirds. Although the overall numbers are not large, the trend is clear. As the Department for Transport has said in answer to a Question that I asked:

“These statistics are based on personal injury road accidents that are reported to the police. It is known that a considerable number of personal injury road accidents are unreported; in particular it is known that less serious accidents involving pedal cycles are particularly liable to underreporting”.—[Official Report, 1/12/11; col. WA 90.]

We need to deal with this problem. The fact that cyclists are so often treated with discourtesy and contempt for their safety by motorists is no justification for them to cycle on pavements and treat pedestrians with the same discourtesy and contempt for safety. However, some cyclists, usually younger men—the so-called lycra louts—in my anecdotal experience, seem to believe that the risks they run on the road entitle them to risk the safety of pedestrians on pavements. There is no excuse for this. It is illegal and there is no reason why cyclists who need to cross a pedestrian space should not get off their bikes and wheel them across it.

In response, the Minister may well suggest, as Ministers often do, that this is a matter for the police and local authorities, and so it is. They can be diligent and constructive in addressing this problem and trying to find solutions. In this respect, I pay tribute to Camden councillor Tom Simon and Sergeant Ian Gilks for their efforts in my neighbourhood in London. However, it should not be left to the police and local authorities alone. Central Governments need to ensure that they have the tools they need to do their job.

There is action that the Government can take to mitigate the problem. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, gave some very useful pointers in this direction. I hope that the Government will take advantage of his recommendations and take action on them. Also, increasing penalties for cycling on a footway would send a powerful signal, making it clear that space used primarily by pedestrians is not to be treated as a space shared with cyclists. I would be grateful if the Minister could indicate whether officials will explore these options.

Finally and most importantly, training for young people who will shortly become road users, whether as cyclists, motorists or motorcyclists, to make them aware of their responsibilities to all other road users, including pedestrians, would help tackle cycling on pavements and all the wider problems on the roads. Fatalities and serious injuries are caused predominantly by young people, mainly young men. Appropriate early training could help prevent thousands of personal tragedies every year and save the public purse millions of pounds. Therefore, I would be grateful if the Minister would agree to ask officials to explore with colleagues in other departments how such a training scheme could be developed.

My Lords, I, too, welcome the debate that has been secured by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. I have to say that I am in substantial disagreement with some of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Wills.

I start by declaring my interest in and knowledge of bicycling in London. I began working in London in the early 1960s. I used to travel in by train from north Buckinghamshire, have a good journey to Euston and then struggle from Euston to Lincoln’s Inn, by either Tube or bus, each of which was unpleasant and took much longer than it should. Therefore, I began using a bicycle and have used one ever since for the purpose of getting around London. That is now a period of nearly 50 years. On a couple of occasions I have been knocked off my bicycle by cars, although not seriously. The drivers of the cars were enthusiastically remorseful and we parted on good terms. I have never seen a cyclist bang into a pedestrian or a vehicle, and I have never had a cyclist bang into me.

The question for the Government, posed by the noble Lord, relates to the responsibilities of cyclists and motorists. Both have responsibilities in private and public law. The private law responsibilities are that cyclists and motorists alike—and, for that matter, pedestrians—owe a duty of care to all other users of the road that they are using. If there is any breach or alleged breach of that duty by a cyclist, or by a motorist or pedestrian, it is a matter for a judge to resolve. The judge can decide whether the duty of care has been broken and, if so, deal with any damages claim that has arisen from the accident. The law does not need rebalancing; it works perfectly well as it is—so much for private law.

There is also public law, which must be observed by motorists and cyclists. There is, I am afraid, no public law that has to be observed by pedestrians in London, although in some cities abroad pedestrians are required not to cross the road except when the light is green in their favour. As far as I know, there is no such law in this country. However, the law applies to motorists and cyclists alike. They must stop at traffic lights, not go up one-way streets or ride on the pavement, and they must obey speed limits, not that a cyclist is in much of a position to break the speed limit, although many may try. The laws apply to them as they do to motorists.

In my opinion the overriding obligations that cyclists owe to everyone else on the roads are twofold. First, cyclists must do their very best never to bump into a car or be bumped by a car. That means keeping eyes and ears open at all times. Secondly, they must get out of the way of pedestrians wherever the pedestrians may be. Whether the pedestrians are legitimately crossing a road or cyclists are on the pavement with the pedestrians, they must get out of the pedestrians’ way. Those are the two essentials for cyclists in my opinion. If those two essentials are observed, there ought to be no problem and no rebalancing needed.

The enforcement of the public law is, of course, a matter primarily for the police. The police are very sensible about this. As most of them have ridden bicycles themselves in London in their training periods, they know that there are two particular dangers for cyclists. One is at red lights when the cyclist stops as near to the pavement as may be, a vehicle then draws up next to the cyclist, the light turns green and both cyclists and motorists start off at the same time. As I get older I am becoming more aware of the fact that it is almost impossible to start off from a stationary position without some degree of wobble. That is why cyclists try to get ahead of the line of vehicles which have stopped at the red light. They want to start first so that the motorists can see them. I always do that. It means going a few yards ahead of the red light, but no policeman has been silly enough to object to that practice as it is obviously conducive to safety and the avoidance of accidents.

The other danger with which cyclists are presented occurs during the tourist season. Given their experience abroad, foreign tourists naturally expect the traffic to be flowing in the opposite direction from that which applies in this country. Therefore, they step into the road looking to their left for any traffic that is coming instead of looking to their right. If they do that while a cyclist is riding along with a car coming up on one side as well, the cyclist is in a very difficult position. You have to keep your wits about you to avoid banging into these foreign tourists or being banged by the car coming up on your side.

Over the years I have found cycling to and from work in London very enjoyable. One is free of the nuisances of tubes and of buses caught in traffic jams and one is in control of one’s own situation. One arrives at work or at home, depending on the direction in which one is going, a little bit sweaty. That is probably a good thing although one needs to put on a clean shirt when arriving at one’s destination. I would not like to see any government interference with cycling as it operates at the moment. I see plenty of cyclists every day as I go to and fro from my flat in Camden to, formerly, the Royal Courts of Justice and now to this House. Some cyclists go faster than I would go, and I always rather envy them. However, I deprecate the fact that a number of cyclists now ride their bicycles while wearing ear plugs, which enables them to listen to their choice of music. The two things you need when you are on a bicycle are your sight and your ears, so that you can hear what is coming up behind you and you can see what is in front of you. Ear plugs stop you hearing what is coming up behind you. If there was to be any government interference—

The noble and learned Lord has been speaking for seven minutes. Speeches are time limited to four minutes.

It has just this moment turned five. I will now sit down. However, I hope to be able to continue cycling, as I have done for the past 40 to 50 years.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, for an opportunity to participate in this debate. I am not a traffic expert, or knowledgeable about the legal side. What interests me is the wider perspective of the quality of public urban space. The behaviour of and interaction between all road users ought to be a significant aspect of that quality.

If we were to be concerned foremost with how we conceive the urban environment—and we have always had some idea of what that is—it could be argued that the responsibilities of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians might sit very differently according to what the conception is. Our response as a society to road users will carry a tone inevitably based on their current modes of behaviour. I say that because there is mounting evidence that the shared-space schemes being introduced across the world, for many years now in Europe—particularly in Holland; and several in Britain, including the recent Exhibition Road scheme in the heart of London, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, and the Seven Dials modification that has worked so well for more than 20 years—change people’s behaviour.

I first came across the work of the Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman a couple of years ago in Tom Vanderbilt’s very readable book, Traffic. Sadly, Monderman died in 2008, but he and others such as Ben Hamilton-Baillie in Britain have been keen to remove the hegemony that motorists still largely occupy within the urban space. Monderman indeed called motorists “guests” within what he termed “the social world”, as opposed to the “traffic world” of the motorway. The shared-space movement wishes not only to reduce the level of accidents, but to achieve, as a goal in itself, a closer and more equal relationship between road users by levelling the road surface, including pavements, and removing road markings and signs. Monderman wanted to take out all traffic lights so that all road users could freely negotiate with each other, and so that—this is the important point in terms of this debate—that negotiation becomes the prime responsibility, rather than the need to obey a multitude of externally imposed rules. There are several films on YouTube demonstrating these schemes, including in Drachten in Holland, and Berne in Switzerland. The latter is fascinating to watch because on an urban street with more than 20,000 vehicles a day it is the motorists who give way to the pedestrians.

There have been criticisms of shared space, many of which come from the most vulnerable in society and therefore need to be listened to. However, I agree with those who say that there should be more explanation of the concept itself when schemes are introduced. Shared space is still fundamentally radical. It is against segregation of road users as much as possible, against control, and against aggressive lobbying by all user groups. Apparently, to illustrate his schemes, Hans Monderman would walk backwards into the traffic with his eyes closed—vehicles calmly going around him.

On a serious note concerning the incident in Bristol last year between a bus driver and a cyclist, Veronica Pollard from Life Cycle UK said that motorists and cyclists should,

“be more courteous to each other”.

I agree. Monderman talks about “negotiation” and Ben Hamilton-Baillie about “civility”, but I think that people will not become courteous simply because they are told to do so. Importantly, people cannot be forced to do so through the courts. It is worth contrasting the fast, heavily signed, overdirected and, in fact, normal urban space around the huge Stokes Croft roundabout in Bristol with any of the new schemes. I think that if that district were to be converted into a shared-space environment, such incidents would not occur. One of the things that the shared-space movement is doing is to highlight the particularity of the conventional traditional method of treating urban space, and showing it up as being simply not good enough.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, on securing this debate and on introducing it in such a clear way. He is of course right to say there are mutual responsibilities because a cyclist and a motorist share some rare space. Transport makes enormous demands upon space in this crowded island, and we all know that our roads are increasingly crowded, particularly in our great cities. Inevitably, a great deal of this debate has reflected the problems of London in particular.

We should therefore appreciate that cyclists of course have obligations. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, indicated their legal obligations that we all know well. He also said that he shaded a little on legal obligations regarding the red light—and I understand the particular demands of two-wheeled traffic. In fact, one of the problems that cyclists face is that far too few motorists have experienced using two wheels and the difficulty there is in balancing a bike and manoeuvring it in limited space.

Cyclists clearly have obligations, certainly when it comes to pedestrians. They need to take the same care with regard to pedestrians crossing roads as those driving motor vehicles are expected to do. Where cyclists break the law by going on pavements, they have a real obligation. It is better that they do not break the law, but we all know the temptation when the so-called cycle lane seems rather more hazardous than normal road space. That can be the case when sunken drains are in the cycle lane and all sorts of other dangers occur, so cyclists are tempted to go on pavements. Their social obligation there is clear, but cyclists cause a very small percentage of accidents.

This debate should highlight public concern about the number of serious accidents to cyclists in recent months. I do not want to exaggerate the matter. We should recognise that our road safety record compares well with other countries, but we should also recognise incipient dangers. Several of them are clear.

One is that large heavy goods vehicles have caused death to our fellow citizens in recent months because the drivers of those vehicles were unaware of the cyclist on their nearside. We need to address that issue. It can be solved by better mirrors for drivers, so that they are more acutely aware of what is on their nearside. It can also be helped by guard rails, which prevent the cyclist, if knocked off the bike by the vehicle, from falling under the wheels, where death or serious injury is almost certain. Is the Minister considering legislation for heavy goods vehicles in view of the recent tragedies from collisions with cyclists?

Secondly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, raised his problem with traffic lights. We probably need extra consideration for cyclists at traffic lights. We do that for pedestrians, as we need to in crowded circumstances, where we have crossing lights for pedestrians. We probably need a signal which gives cyclists a pre-emptive start on the rest of the traffic to give them the opportunity to move safely. I know that that will not be universally popular, because we all know that traffic lights slow down traffic, and London traffic is still not going much more quickly than it did a century ago. Nevertheless, safety is important.

I should like the Minister to respond to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Haskel and the noble Lord, Lord Taverne. It shadows what happens at sea, where responsibility is placed on power to take care of sail. In the same way, it seems to me, motor vehicles ought to take greater responsibility than people who are pedalling cycles. If an accident occurs, there should be a presumption that it is for the motorist to be answerable.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Glentoran for introducing this important subject for debate and for the clear way in which he did so. There are two camps in this debate; however, there is no doubt that all noble Lords are concerned about the safety of all vulnerable road users, so that cyclists are safe and that they do not endanger others.

The commendable Cities Fit for Cycling campaign has been spearheaded by the Times newspaper. Its campaign is in response to the tragic accident involving Mary Bowers. I understand that not only was she such a good reporter that she was on the staff of the Times but that she has undertaken highly commendable aid work in Africa. I am sure that we all hope and pray that she can make a recovery.

My noble friend referred to the mayor’s cycling strategy, which is entirely consistent with the coalition Government’s policies. All road accidents are tragedies that strike hard and without warning, so the Government, like our predecessor, are working hard to make highways safer for everyone. In answer to the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, since at least 1997 the UK Government have been strongly pro-cycling. For instance, many cyclist fatalities involve large vehicles, so to make cycling safer in our cities and towns we have recently given councils in England the power to install Trixi mirrors at junctions so that HGV drivers can see more at blind spots.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, raised the issue of visibility and sensors. We are leading discussions at a European level to further improve standards for HGVs to help to reduce accidents caused by poor visibility. We also welcome initiatives such as the Exchanging Places events, at which you can sit in a lorry cab and watch for a police cyclist riding up on the left of the vehicle. This gives you an idea of what the lorry driver can see.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, also asked about side guards on HGVs. Most HGVs already have to have side guards, but the noble Lord will be aware that there are some exemptions, particularly construction vehicles, and they have been disproportionately involved in these tragic accidents. Over time, we should see fewer new vehicles without side guards. New European rules that are currently being phased in are stricter than existing GB rules and should reduce the current fairly long list of exemptions from the fitment of side guards, as well as limit exemptions to vehicles where fitting side guards is difficult or impossible.

We are also considering how to make motorists more aware of the needs of cyclists and are looking at how to incorporate more cyclist awareness in the driver certificate of professional competence for drivers of large vehicles.

The noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, advised caution on 20 mile per hour speed limits. Reducing traffic speeds can make our roads safer for everyone and make streets more pleasant places for both cyclists and pedestrians. We are supportive of local authorities adopting a 20 mile per hour speed limit, particularly in residential areas, and have relaxed regulations to enable these to be introduced with less bureaucracy. It is for local authorities to determine their suitability for introduction.

We have also committed £11 million per year for the remainder of this Parliament for Bikeability training to help a new generation of cyclists to gain the skills they need to cycle safely. Bikeability is not just for children; it is for adults too, and some local authorities provide free or subsidised training.

My noble friend Lord Glentoran talked about driver testing. We are committed to further improving the safety of young drivers. Young people ought to learn how to handle risks before taking the driving test. We want a driver training and testing system that ensures that learner drivers have the knowledge, skills and, most importantly, the attitude to be safe and responsible on our roads before a full licence is granted and that encourages continued training afterwards.

I am also well aware that your Lordships are very concerned that all users of the highway should abide by traffic laws. Indeed, I have recently answered Oral Questions about cyclists riding on pavements and going through red lights. Cyclists injure other road users less frequently than do motorists. However, it is important for cyclists to comply with road traffic laws for their own and others’ safety and to help to build respect between the different groups of people using our roads. I fully understand the points made by my noble friend Lady Sharples and the noble Lord, Lord Wills. The noble Lord talked about the problem of the underreporting of accidents. It can be difficult to measure cycling accidents, particularly cyclist-only accidents.

The offences of careless and dangerous driving are applicable to drivers of motor vehicles. For cyclists, there is a similar legal framework, including offences of dangerous cycling, careless and inconsiderate cycling, and cycling under the influence of drink or drugs. Noble Lords will be aware that enforcement in relation to cycling offences is an operational matter for the police. They have at their disposal a variety of sanctions, including the use of fixed penalty notices for some offences, such as cycling on the pavement. Fixed penalty notices can be issued to people aged over 16. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Wills, the most effective deterrent is the probability of sanctions being applied rather than their levels. There is also the problem of some cyclists being ignorant of the law.

The police acknowledge that many cyclists, particularly children and young people, are afraid to cycle on some roads. This is one reason why, at times, they use their discretion and enforce the offence of cycling on the pavement using verbal warnings. Police and crime commissioners, being elected later this year, will set the strategic direction and accountability for local policing. They can represent public concerns, for example about roads policing, and instigate change locally.

Cycling has many benefits, as pointed out by my noble friend Lord Taverne and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote. Research suggests that for each life lost through a cycling accident, approximately 20 lives will be extended by the health benefits of cycling. As well as the health benefits, cyclists offer other benefits when they replace vehicle trips, and these include reducing carbon emissions, improving air quality, and reducing congestion. My noble friend Lord Taverne has done the House a great service by explaining the benefits so well.

Last September, my colleague Norman Baker chaired the inaugural Cycling Stakeholder Forum. The forum was set up to gather together expert stakeholders who share our goal of increasing cycling. The group is currently looking at the links with health and how to tackle both the real and perceived risks of cycling. I believe that the next meeting is due on 20 March.

The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, talked about shared spaces. New guidance to help local authorities to design high-quality shared space schemes was published by the Transport Minister Norman Baker last year. The local transport note on shared space has been developed to assist local authorities that want to put in place well designed shared space schemes. The guidance places particular emphasis on engagement with the local community and on inclusive design, where the needs of a diverse range of people, including people with disabilities, are properly considered at all stages of the development process.

On top of the integrated transport block funding, we are also providing £560 million to local authorities through the local sustainable transport fund to support packages of measures that deliver economic growth and cut carbon: 38 out of the 39 successful bids announced last July included a cycling element. The Government will announce decisions on tranche 2 and large project bids later this year. Last month the Government announced a further £15 million of funding for new cycle infrastructure: £7 million will go to improving facilities at stations for cyclists and £8 million will go to Sustrans to provide better local links by creating new off-road cycle paths or shared-use paths.

My noble friend Lord Glentoran talked about insurance, as did my noble friend Lady Sharples. The Government have no plans to make insurance compulsory for cyclists. We encourage all cyclists to take out some form of insurance, and many do through cycling organisations, such as CTC, which provide it with membership, or through their household insurance. The absence of insurance does not prevent a cyclist from being liable for their actions. The police, and ultimately the courts, will take into account all the circumstances of any incident and judge accordingly.

My noble friend Lord Glentoran mentioned the need for high-visibility clothing. We want to encourage all cyclists to wear high-visibility clothing to help them to stay safe while riding and to make them more conspicuous to other road users. However, to make it a legal requirement would, in certain circumstances, discourage cyclists and many noble Lords have recognised the dangers.

My noble friend Lady Sharples talked about helmets. We want to encourage cyclists, especially children, to wear helmets to protect them if they have a collision. However, we believe that it should be a matter of individual choice, rather than a matter of imposing additional regulations that will be difficult to enforce and, again, could discourage cycling.

The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, and others raised the issue of strict liability. In English civil law, the principle of civil liability in motor insurance is predicated on the establishment of fault. In order to prove fault, it is necessary to prove that the defendant’s actions caused the accident and were either negligent or intentional. We have had the benefit of advice from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, which has saved me the effort of straying outside my area of expertise.

I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene, because I realise the constraints of time. He will know that in Holland and Denmark, which have been cited in this debate, the presumption of responsibility for the accident lies with the powered vehicle. That issue was raised by several noble Lords and I sought to emphasise it, too. Have the Government considered that matter?

My Lords, we have considered it, but it would be a little odd to have a completely different legal system just for cycles. There are serious complexities here that in my opinion are insurmountable.

The noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, talked about advanced stop lines. There appears to be some misunderstanding about the law. It is essential that all motorists read the Highway Code to avoid inadvertently committing an offence and therefore being prosecuted by the police.

If I have missed any vital point, I will of course write to noble Lords. In conclusion, I can assure the House that we are committed both to promoting cycling and to improving road safety for all road users, including cyclists.

Sitting suspended.