Skaters get stricter safety code after park death

Glenda Cooper and Liz Searl report on new guidelines drawn up for Rollerblading
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The Independent Online
New safety guidelines for Rollerbladers were issued yesterday as fears were raised over dangers associated with the sport following the death at the weekend of a cyclist who had collided with a skater in Hyde Park, central London.

The Royal Parks Agency and the British In-Line Skating Association (BISA) yesterday said that skaters should now keep in single file on footpaths, and are not allowed to jump, spin or skate backwards in busy areas. They should follow the BISA's earlier Skate Wise voluntary code of conduct.

However, the Royal Parks Agency dismissed suggestions that the new code had any connection with the death of Mark Welch, 26, of Co Durham, who collided with a skater last Thursday. It said the new guidelines had been under discussion since last April.

Mr Welch, a BBC television researcher, died from head injuries without regaining consciousness before his parents arrived from Kong Kong. He had not been wearing a helmet, and suffered a fractured skull and suspected brain damage.

The 32-year-old skater has not been charged with any offence. Police are appealing for witnesses and an inquest is likely to be opened and adjourned this week.

The sport has grown rapidly since its introduction into Britain in 1992. Already there have been crackdowns on skaters and gritty sand has been placed across paths in London parks to stop them entering certain areas.

The BISA Skate Wise code says that skaters should stay alert and be courteous at all times, know how to stop, turn and perform other basic manoeuvres. Skaters are told to keep to the left, overtake on the right and give pedestrians priority. The new code also insists that pedestrians are given a wide berth and that slaloming and hockey are confined to specific areas.

A BISA spokeswoman described last week's events as a "tragic accident" that "deeply shocked" skaters. But she rejected claims that some skaters went round the park at more than 30mph as "sensationalist".

"Skaters must approach the sport with a degree of responsibility," she added. "The main problem is that there are a very large number of skaters meeting in one area which can cause an obstruction to pathways."

Many people in Hyde Park yesterday agreed that the in-line skaters had as much right to the park as cyclists, but opinion still called for more areas designated for the sport. Two skaters, Michael Varlakhov and Michael Ageev, both16, argued that parks should provide longer runs for Rollerbladers to use.

"In Hyde Park there are only two areas for us to use, and if we stuck strictly to the paths made for us then we would have to take our boots off between the paths . . . We still reckon there should be some basic rules, because when it gets busy there are so many children around it could be dangerous. The same goes for bikes, though, and we are often more aware of who's on the path than cyclists."

Rick Jeffereys, 41, a runner, said he had more problems dodging pedestrians. "I just feel we should have paths that follow the rules of the road, with a keep-left policy," he said.

Simon Robson, a cyclist, agreed, but would also welcome the enforcement of safety helmets for both cyclists and skaters in parks. "It really is dangerous now to travel without a helmet, and I would condone the use of more obvious speed limits."

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