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Cyclists: Safety

Volume 746: debated on Wednesday 3 July 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the Department for Transport’s figures on road casualties in 2012, what steps they are considering to increase the safety of cyclists on the roads.

My Lords, as I said on Monday, we take cycle safety very seriously. Earlier this year, we announced £40 million, including local contributions, for 78 junction safety schemes. In addition, the majority of schemes in the £600 million local sustainable transport fund include cycling. We have made it easier for councils to introduce 20 mph speed limits and install Trixi mirrors. We are considering the recommendations of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group inquiry and will respond shortly.

My Lords, over the past two years, the number of cyclists killed on the roads has gone up from 111 to 118 per annum and the number seriously injured, perhaps more worryingly, from 2,660 to 3,222. One of the main problems that cyclists have is their interaction with heavy vehicles. It is welcome that the Minister for Road Safety announced, I think last week, the setting up of the cycle-lorry safety working group, jointly between the Transport Department and Transport for London. Can the Minister say when this working group will start work; who will be involved and particularly whether cycling organisations will be able to give evidence to it; and which specific aspects of cycle lorry safety will it look at?

My Lords, my noble friend has asked me quite a lot of detailed questions and I think it would be better if I wrote to him. I agree that HGVs are a disproportionate problem. HGVs do not have any more accidents with cycles than do cars. However, when they do have an accident, the result is generally much more serious. It is quite right that we pay special attention to HGVs.

My Lords, the use of mobile phones by motorists is illegal, because it is unsafe. Surely the use of audio headgear by cyclists is equally unsafe and should be made illegal?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that it is extremely unwise to cover one’s ears when riding a cycle, because you cannot hear traffic approaching or someone sounding their horn. I am not sure that it is necessary to make it illegal.

Would my noble friend agree that cyclists should wear some form of identification? I was nearly knocked over outside Millbank. I shouted at the cyclist—I did not swipe him—but please could we have some identification on them?

My Lords, we want to do everything we can to increase the level of cycling because of the health benefits. To require someone to carry identification when riding a cycle would be an unnecessary burden. There can be incidents with pedestrians, for instance, when it would be good if they carried identity, but we do not require them to do so, so we do not see why a cyclist should carry identity either.

My Lords, what is being done to encourage children to wear helmets? Is the Minister aware of the particular fragility of the skulls of young children?

My Lords, we are acutely aware of this problem. We strongly encourage children to wear helmets. However, again because of the difficulty of enforcing the wearing of helmets for children, we do not want to make it compulsory—a legal requirement—but we strongly encourage children to wear helmets and we think it is a very good idea for adults to wear helmets as well.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the health benefits of cycling may not be as great as he imagines, given that in London the pollution from slow-moving traffic is about 10 times the legal limit in Europe?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises an interesting point. The noble Baroness, Lady King of Bow, has raised this matter with me and I have had a meeting with her about it. We are doing everything we can to improve the air quality in London, but it is difficult to get to where we want to be.

My Lords, the most radical and probably most effective measures proposed by the cycling organisations, such as the Go Dutch campaign, would be quite expensive. However, does the Minister not agree that the benefits would be very substantial? There would be less pollution, less congestion in cities and a better urban environment—and, of course, as the Minister has acknowledged, anyone who gets on a bike instead of sitting in a car will be much healthier, whatever their age.

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. I was a little bit worried when he started talking about expensive solutions, but I do agree with him.

My Lords, I am concerned about the safety of pedestrians, as has already been mentioned. Cyclists ride with mobiles to their ear, with ear things otherwise filled with music, turning right across the traffic when the light is red against them. What are the Government going to do to tell cyclists to obey the red signs?

My Lords, I think that I agree with the whole House that it is important that cyclists adhere to all the rules in the Highway Code, in particular by not using a mobile phone while riding and not covering up their ears, in order to avoid unnecessary accidents.

My Lords, of course cyclists should obey the Highway Code, but the Question with which we started reflected on the fact that deaths and serious injuries for cyclists have increased during the past three years. Several months ago, the Times newspaper launched a campaign on cities fit for cycling and established eight points which have been largely endorsed by the cycling organisations. Are the Government supportive of those points and, if so, what action on them have they taken?

My Lords, we are generally supportive of the Times campaign; I have the list of all its suggestions here and we are measuring our performance against them. Not every single one can be adopted, but we are trying as hard as we can to reduce the casualties.

My Lords, how many cyclists actually pay the fixed-penalty tickets which are issued to them for offences such as riding on the pavement to the danger of pedestrians? My noble friend may know that they habitually give false names and addresses; there is no way for the police officer issuing the penalty notice to know that. What are we going to do? Are we going to compel cyclists to have some form of identification so that, if issued with a penalty ticket, they are required to pay it instead of just scoffing at the law?

My Lords, it is up to the police to decide how they enforce road traffic law, and they have the necessary tools to do so. I gently say to my noble friend that the police look at where they can deploy their resources to reduce casualties. Although it is extremely annoying for noble Lords to see cyclists riding on the pavement, and although it does cause accidents, it does not cause fatal accidents.