Safer roads with more cyclists

Road users are often divided into separate camps by the media. Car drivers versus cyclists, or pedestrians versus cyclists. The truth is that many of us cross over camps. Car drivers are often cyclists, whether for fitness, on holiday or at weekends with their families. We can all be pedestrians and many of us will know someone using a mobility scooter.

There’s a new wave of cyclists currently venturing onto our roads due to a combination of social distancing, restrictions on public transport and as a legacy of lockdown, when cycling was one of the few forms of exercise available. Combined with the Government’s investment in extending cycle lanes, now is the ideal time for drivers to be reminded of the need to share the roads safely.

Back in 2018, 62% of people in a survey agreed, “it is too dangerous for me to cycle on the roads”, almost three times the proportion who felt safe (22%). Jump forward to 2020 and the Government wants everybody to feel safe commuting to work on a bike. The UK’s first trial of e-scooters on our roads has also been given the green light.

Interestingly, there are parts of the UK, such as Luton, Middlesbrough and Wellingborough where a third of people say they never walk or cycle. In contrast, university towns and islands are home to the UK’s highest proportion of cyclists, with 18-30% of people reporting that they use a bicycle regularly. Clearly, the UK’s profile of road users is diverse, depending on location.

Staying safe

In a perfect world, there would be no collisions, injuries, or loss of life, but it happens. Casualty statistics and collision investigations prove that in a significant number of cases, a simple error or a poor decision was made—just before impact.

Drivers who don’t cycle may not know what kind of driving behaviour puts cyclists at risk or makes them feel unsafe.

The What Matters Most campaign asked vehicle drivers what mattered more; music, mobile, a sandwich or seeing the cyclist? Does impatience, tail gaiting and quick overtaking matter more than leaving plenty of room?

The same campaign told cyclists to make themselves safer just by concentrating, thinking carefully about where they are positioned on the road and indicating their intentions properly for everyone else. Does beating traffic, lane jumping and road positioning matter more than staying aware?

According to recent surveys, here are a few things that cyclists wanted drivers to be aware of:

  • We’re not meant to ride close to the kerb. We are part of the traffic, not in the way of traffic.
  • Cyclists reduce traffic jams. If all cyclists were in cars, your journey would be longer. Therefore, don’t get impatient if you have to sit behind us for a minute at 15mph.
  • Bike paths are optional and not always fit for purpose.
  • Potholes and sudden gusts of wind can make us swerve.
  • Early signalling and taking care when you get out of a car is essential for safety.
  • We can appear at speed. When manoeuvring, factor in that we pick up speed downhill and fitter cyclists often cruise a 20mph
  • Close passes are dangerous. Imagine your car being passed by a speeding train.

Increase in bike ownership

Bike retailers reported massive increases in bike sales during the coronavirus crisis. Online retailer Wiggle said its UK sales increased by 192% since the start of lockdown, while Halfords reported a doubling in demand for hybrid bikes, with their share price also up 80 per cent.

While many stores struggle to fulfil demand, the Government has announced a scheme that encourages people to get existing bikes back on the road.

Fix your bike £50 voucher scheme

The Fix your Bike Voucher Scheme announced at the end of June allows members of the public to receive a voucher worth up to £50 towards the cost of repairing a bike. According to the government, the scheme has been set up to encourage more people to embrace cycling, to boost the number of commuting and leisure trips, and to promote an alternative to public transport — particularly while social distancing measures are in place. It also aims to help reduce the number of short journeys made by private cars. 

Vouchers can only be used with bike repair businesses that are registered for the scheme. The Government recently opened registration to businesses that want to take part. It is expected that members of the public will be able to apply for the vouchers from late July.

Eligibility for bike repairers

Bike repairers must meet certain eligibility criteria including the possession of valid public liability insurance with a minimum cover of £2 million and can apply online at the government’s website.

How to claim

A map of participating bike shops and mechanics will be available on the Energy Saving Trust website when the scheme launches to the public. The bike owner applies for a voucher. They bring their bike in to be fixed, using the voucher towards the cost. Bike shops and mechanics can then claim the cost of the discount (up to £50 per bike) back through the Energy Saving Trust website.