In June of this year, I wrote a blog about the safety of cyclists on the UK’s roads following research by ROSPA which showed that over 19,000 cyclists were injured in the UK the previous year.
Unfortunately, this hotly debated topic is in the spotlight again following the deaths in London of an unprecedented 5 cyclists in just 9 days, bringing the total number of cyclist deaths in the capital this year to 13. A sixth cyclist was lucky not to be killed when she was pulled under a car in a collision. She was saved by her cycle helmet and quick thinking passers by who together managed to lift the vehicle off her.
Clearly something is very wrong on London’s roads and there has been much argument over the past week as to who or what is to blame and more importantly, what can be done to prevent further deaths or life changing injuries. I have been following the debate with interest as I often act for cyclists who have been injured, some of them seriously, in collisions with vehicles.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson was heavily criticised this week when in response to the deaths, he stated that cyclists had to accept a portion of the blame for taking unacceptable risks and for not obeying the rules of the road. His view was that safety precautions could only go so far.
Cyclists will almost always come off worst in any collision owing to their lack of protection and whilst there are certainly some cyclists who do ride through red lights and take foolish risks, his comments don’t reflect the whole story. In respect of the most recent deaths, no arrests of the vehicle drivers involved have been made and there is no suggestion either as yet of fault on the part of the cyclists. So what can be done to prevent further accidents?
The most recent accidents have involved either Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) or London buses. Generally, these very serious accidents occur when a cyclist is to the left of a HGV or bus at a junction or roundabout and is pulled under the vehicle when it proceeds, seemingly without noticing the presence of the cyclist. Southwark Council has now become the first Council to call for a complete ban on HGVs in the capital during rush hour. Peter John, leader of the Council, suggested that a ban twice a day between 8 and 9am and 5 and 6pm would allow most cyclists to get to and from work safely. However, the worry is that this would simply increase traffic at other times and still put cyclists at risk.
Other suggestions have been to fit additional wing mirrors to HGVs to cover the blind spot or for proximity sensors to be fitted in all HGVs and buses to alert the drivers to the presence of cyclists next to them.
Boris Johnson has long championed cycling in London and many thousands of those who work in the capital commute to and from work in this way every day. However, London’s roads were not and are not geared up for the surge in recent years in the popularity of cycling in the same way roads in places such as the Netherlands are.
In fact, there have been three cyclist deaths at Bow roundabout since the opening of the Cycle Super Highway 2, which runs from Bow to Aldgate. One of those deaths was one of the five mentioned at the start of this blog. Most of the highway is simply made up of a strip on the road painted blue which is supposed to be used by cyclists alone but which fails to protect cyclists from other road users.
So whilst safety improvements are being made and segregated cycle lanes are being introduced, progress is fairly slow and it is likely to be several more years before the capital’s infrastructure will safely support the number of cyclists who wish to use it. Until then, it is unfortunately likely that there will be further deaths and life changing injuries to cyclists on London’s roads.