Robert Gifford: Cycling safety must be moved into the fast lane

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The Independent Online

In 2005, 148 cyclists were killed and 16,413 were injured in Great Britain. It was the second year running in which deaths rose.

Per distance travelled, cycling is 18 times more dangerous than driving, but it is also healthier and better for the environment. So, whatever measures we take, we want to ensure that they do not frighten people from cycling.

One positive step is to remind drivers about the Highway Code. Paragraph 139 says: "When overtaking, give cyclists at least as much room as you would a car." In that way, all of us will have more room when someone makes a mistake.

Local Transport Plans and the national cycle network have given cycling a higher profile. However, there are still places where paths come to an abrupt end, forcing cyclists to share space with cars and buses. Provision must be consistent and comprehensive.

In urban areas, speeds can be reduced by the use of chicanes, traffic calming and road narrowing. Such measures place the vulnerable at less risk: alongside the right to drive is the responsibility to do so without imposing additional risk on others.

Perhaps most controversially, helmets and civil liability must be taken seriously. Helmet wearing will not prevent an accident but it may mitigate the effects of an injury, especially for children.

In other European countries the car driver is deemed at fault after a collision with a cyclist. That may seem a breach of the principle of innocent until proven guilty. However, how many of us drivers would overtake more carefully if we thought that we might end up in court?

Robert Gifford is executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety

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