Cycling Safety in the UK
Road Safety Week 2018
Taking place between November 19th and November 25th 2018, Road Safety Week is an annual event organised by road safety charity Brake. In this article, guest blogger Suki Chana, shares some top tips for safe cycling and how to safely share the roads with cyclists.
Aiming to promote road safety awareness within the UK, many businesses, communities, and schools all play their part with a series of talks, demonstrations, and more taking place over the course of the week. The event has one goal in mind – improving the safety of all road users in an attempt to reduce the number of accidents on UK roads. In 2018, the theme is based around Bike Smart, which focuses on the road safety of two of the most vulnerable road users – cyclists and motorcyclists. As more people try to get fit and to travel in an eco-friendly way, cycling safety in particular has gained major importance.
According to the most recent statistics provided by the Department for Transport, 2016 saw a total of 18,477 cyclist casualties and 19,297 motorcyclist casualties – many of which could have been easily avoided. To help reduce these incidents, Brake proposes the following measures:
- Prioritisation of cycle-friendly infrastructure by policy makers – implementing a safe systems approach and mandating lifesaving technology.
- Drivers being ‘Bike Smart’ and looking out for road users on two wheels – ensuring they leave plenty of room when passing and driving safely and slowly.
- Cyclists and motorcyclists being ‘Bike Smart’ by utilising safety equipment, undergoing training, and riding safely at all times.
Using the roads as a cyclist
Cycling on the roads is something which a lot of cyclists are afraid to do – whether it’s down to a lack of confidence or for any other reason. But, when you go about things properly and really think about cycling safety, it doesn’t have to be as dangerous as you may think.
While a lot of roads are very busy with traffic particularly at peak times, there are still a lot of cyclists who cycle on the road day in day out. For a start, it is a great form of exercise, which many people up and down the country simply don’t get enough of. Particularly for those who work in an office job, cycling is a fantastic way to offset the negative impact of sitting for around eight hours or more.
In addition to the health benefits of cycling, it is also an environmentally friendly method of transport and will help to reduce the amount of carbon emissions. In an age where global warming is becoming more of an issue, this can go a long way in reducing the negative impact of greenhouse gases on the environment.
While cycling can sometimes take longer than other methods of transport, it is far more cost effective when compared with paying for a season ticket on a bus or train. Additionally, it saves on the high cost of running a motor vehicle and being stuck in traffic too! With these factors in mind, it is well worth considering commuting to work via bike.
However, for some, it isn’t always viable. When you consider the distance that you need to travel and the somewhat unpredictable British weather, cycling to your place of work isn’t always a preferred option for many people. Alternatively, you could choose to cycle for leisure purposes as opposed to commuting. Again, this is a great way to burn calories and get in some cardiovascular exercise each week. You might choose to do this before or after work, or even go for a relaxing bike ride on the weekends when the roads are often quieter.
Either way, there are many obvious benefits of cycling on a regular basis. But, if you’re not entirely convinced that it’s for you, or you’re simply a little wary of cycling on the road, then you’ll be happy to know that it needn’t be as scary as many people believe it to be. In the next section, I’ll give some tips which you can follow for cycling safety on the road.
Tips for cycling safety
Wear a helmet
Although wearing a helmet is something that a lot of cyclists don’t like to do, it is highly advisable that you do wear one as a safety precaution. There are many debates on whether the helmet should be made compulsory for all cyclists to increase cycling safety. But, people often see this as a deterrent and that it could potentially put off many people from cycling – the exact opposite of what the government wants.
While cycling on the roads, it is important to be constantly aware of what is going on around you. This is something that goes for all road users. For example, make it your practice to look over your shoulder and then clearly indicate your intentions to road users behind you before moving further into the road to ride past parked cars, for instance.
Also, ensure you keep an eye on other road users when turning at junctions. Don’t always assume that they are going straight on, just wait for them to pass you just in case they happen to turn in front of you.
Undertaking vehicles or cycling along the inside of them is something that you should never do. This especially goes for large lorries and buses which have many blind spots. So, ensure that you hang back so that you can reduce the chances of putting yourself in a dangerous position. Also, bear in mind that large vehicles often move to the right before they make a left turn. You should always make sure that you remain fully aware of this when cycling close to large vehicles. Cycling safety is as much your responsibility as that of other road users.
In addition to this, it is a good idea to ride in a central position when you cycle on narrow roads. This improves your visibility to other road users considerably and discourages dangerous overtaking. Be sure to ride a car door’s width away from parked cars. This ensures that if a car door was to open unexpectedly, you’d be a safe enough distance away to avoid a collision.
Follow the Highway Code
Everyone is equally entitled to use the roads, no matter what your circumstances are. However, in order to use them safely and appropriately, it is important to know the law when it comes to cycling safety. The Highway Code is a set of rules for using the road, and it isn’t just for drivers. There are a handful of rules which apply to cyclists, such as stopping for red lights, not cycling more than two abreast, as well as not cycling on pavements unless it is marked as a cycle route.
Consider using cycling infrastructure
Over the past few years in particular, cycling infrastructure within the UK has seen significant investment in an attempt to improve cycling safety. With that in mind, it would be appropriate to suggest that taking full advantage of the cycle paths at your disposal is a good idea. With that said, there is no legal requirement to use them, so the choice really is down to you!
While many cycle routes are simply lanes at the side of roads, there are actually quite a few that are completely traffic-free. Particularly useful for less confident cyclists or for those who are new to road cycling, this is a great way to boost your confidence so that you’ll feel ready to tackle busier routes. There’s still a long way to go before Britain can match the renowned cycling countries like Denmark and the Netherlands, but it’s most definitely a step in the right direction to boost cycling safety in the UK.
Be safe, be seen
When cycling on the roads, be sure to take the necessary steps to improve your visibility to other road users – particularly drivers of motor vehicles. Especially over the winter months when the dark nights roll in earlier and the weather gets worse, making yourself visible is something which should be at the top of your cycling safety priority list.
Purchasing a decent set of lights, both front and rear is a great start, but there’s more that can be done to improve your cycling safety. This includes signalling clearly, wearing reflective and brightly coloured clothing, and making eye contact with other road users – particularly at junctions where you are usually at your most vulnerable.
Particularly if you have never cycled on the road before or if you need a bit of a refresher, an ideal way to boost your confidence is with a training session. This should be considered an essential for children. If you undergo a cycling training course such as Bikeability, you’ll be taught everything that you need to know by a qualified instructor. Bikeability is a government-backed training course and gives all cyclists the confidence and skills they need for cycling safety on the road.
Tips for drivers on how to be Bike Smart on the roads
When it comes to ensuring the safety of cyclists on the road, it isn’t just the cyclists themselves who need to play by the rules and use the road safely and appropriately. Motorists also need to play their part in order for everyone to coexist on the roads safely. Here ate some tips on how you as a driver can share the road safely with cyclists.
It is a common occurrence to come across a cyclist when driving on the road, but it is not always possible to pass them safely, and many drivers quite often end up losing their temper. Whether it is honking their horn in anger or shouting abuse out of the window, this is something which should be avoided at all costs. While it might be frustrating not being able to overtake bikes immediately, simply wait until it is safe to do so – ensure you give the cyclist plenty of room (at least four feet) when overtaking and ensure that you have full visibility of the road ahead to avoid endangering any oncoming traffic.
In addition to this, ensure that when you are overtaking cyclists, don’t then turn left immediately in front of them and cut them up. This is something that the cyclist might not be prepared for, and so it is best to hang back until you have passed the junction just in case the cyclist is going straight on.
When you stop at traffic lights, make sure that you don’t stop in the ASL (Advanced Stop Line) area. This is a space for cyclists which they can use to be seen by other road users. Ensure that you give cyclists plenty of time to set off when the lights turn green, and once again, give them enough space.
Expect the unexpected
It’s important to be prepared for the unexpected. A cyclist may quickly change course either intentionally or unintentionally – placing them in a more vulnerable position.
For example, there might be some debris in the road or perhaps a pot hole that you may not have noticed which the cyclist needs to manoeuvre around. Another hazard for cyclists is poor weather conditions which has the potential to throw the them off course. This might be due to wet weather which can cause the road surface to become slippery, as well as a crosswind which can take cyclists by surprise and force them into the path of your vehicle unintentionally. Be sure to give them plenty of space at all times.
Cycle routes are not compulsory
When driving down a road which has a cycle path, you might sometimes come across a cyclist who isn’t using the facility and is instead cycling on the road. However, as I mentioned earlier, there is no legal obligation for cyclists to use cycle routes. They have as much right as anyone else to use the road so please bear this in mind when you come across a cyclist who isn’t using a designated cycle route.
Overall, the most important thing to remember is that everyone has the right to use the roads in the UK – whether you’re a cyclist, pedestrian, motorist, or other road user. However, for everyone to coexist on the roads and use them safely and appropriately, everyone needs to play their part.
Whichever method of transport you use, please consider the points I’ve discussed in this article. If everyone does that, it will certainly be a step in the right direction for keeping the roads safe for all.
I have been social cycling for about 10 years, mainly weekends with my friends. I have also completed many UK sportives, a London to Paris cycle for The British Legion, and can add cycling up Mount Ventoux twice, to my achievements.
Safe pleasant cycling!