Cyclists at more risk in country than in towns

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CYCLING IN the countryside is three times more dangerous than riding in towns and cities, according to an analysis of government statistics.

Although rural roads account for only 9 per cent of all accidents involving bikes, almost half of the 220 cycling deaths each year occur in the "non- built-up" areas. The report, by the Transport Research Laboratory, found that the rate of fatal accidents on roads in rural villages was three times that on city streets.

Experts blame the death toll on motorists who use rural roads as rat- runs to avoid busy highways, and an increase in tourist traffic.

The risk of being killed while riding a bicycle is now 16 times greater than while driving a car, and the injury rate has risen every year for the past five years. The report calls for a comprehensive network of cycle routes to tackle this.

Ministers are aware of the difficulties faced by cyclists. Earlier this year the Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of state for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, John Prescott, set up the Countryside Traffic Measures group to see what measures could be adopted to stem the rising accident rate.

Yesterday, ministers approved the conversion of more than 200 miles of disused railway land into cycle lanes as part of the 8,000 mile National Cycle Network. Mr Prescott would like to quadruple the number of cycle trips made in Britain by 2012, and the network is central to this.

Most of the new routes will allow cyclists to stay off busy highways. The use of 13 miles of former British Rail land between Airdrie and Bathgate will mean that cyclists can largely avoid traffic while travelling from Glasgow to Edinburgh.

Radical measures such as low-speed zones and car-free streets may also be required in the face of an explosion in rural car use. The Countryside Commission has pointed out that for many city dwellers "the countryside of England offers a valuable escape from the rigours of everyday life. It is therefore ironic that 91 per cent of visitors to national parks arrive by car, thus risking the destruction of the very thing for which they are looking for".

In city centres, the report says, busy junctions pose the greatest threat for cyclists. However, for two-wheelers in the countryside, 40 per cent of injuries sustained are in locations "that would not create the expectation of risk".

The report adds: "In other words, rural cyclists appear to be in danger when they are cycling along 'minding their own business'."