Is cycling too dangerous?

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Cycling has always been a student’s favourite. It gives you an extra twenty minutes in bed in the morning, is cheaper than running a car, and is an excellent way of keeping fit and healthy. However, in 2011, 670 cyclists were injured on Southampton’s roads, provoking concerns over cyclists’ safety in the city.

Dilys Gartside, spokesperson for the Southampton Cycling Campaign, said: ‘excessive speed of motorised vehicles in built-up areas where roads are narrower combined with lack of space given by them when passing a cyclist are my main concerns for cyclists’.

All cyclists can list at least one near miss with another road user, often when they have done nothing wrong. Being undertaken, clipped by overtaking cars and having cars pulling out in front of them at junctions are the most common dangers, although luckily accidents are not usually fatal. Car uses do often appear inconsiderate towards cyclists, passing too close out of frustration, or simply not looking carefully enough.

Luckily accidents are not usually fatal.

Cyclists often blame other road users for the accidents, and indeed in most cases cars and in particular lorries are at fault in collisions. However, this is not always the case, and cyclists need to be aware of how vulnerable they are on the road. There are numerous stories of drivers nearly hitting bikes at night, when the rider isn’t wearing any hi-viz clothing and has no lights, rendering them completely invisible to other road users. It is still getting dark at about four o’clock, and it is vital that cyclists make themselves seen on the road. Just a reflective or florescent jacket gives a driver an extra three seconds to see you, and can be the difference between hitting and missing you. It is also a legal requirement that if you are riding on the roads at night that you have lights on your bike. Failure to do so can result in a £30 fine, and police do have the power to confiscate your bike.

Police do have the power to confiscate your bike.

Despite the warnings, many cyclists ignore the safety advice, arguing that the hi-viz clothing is unfashionable and doesn’t increase their safety. However, many accidents could have been avoided if the cyclists do everything possible to make themselves seen. So it’s not just a question of red tape gone mad; cycling without reflective clothing or lights is dangerous, for both the cyclist and other road users.

Gartside, and many others, argue that we need ‘strict liability’ imposed in UK as on the continent.  ‘This is the presumption that, in the event of a collision between road users, the more dominant user is deemed to be at fault. For example in a crash between a cyclist and pedestrian, the cyclist would be seen to beat fault, but between a car and cyclist, the car is assumed to be at fault, unless this can be proved otherwise’.

The Police have stopped nearly 4,000 cyclists in the last six and a half years and are trying to help protect cyclists in Portswood and Southampton. One method is to enforce No Cycling zones, and another is the council is supporting road cycling training for the over 16s in the county. They are also cracking down on cyclists who break laws such as not having lights, cycling through red lights, or cycling on pavements. In Portswood signs have already been put up and a £30 fine implemented. Already, one person has been fined for cycling on the pavement along Portswood High Street.

Despite the risks and concerns, cycling has, according to British Cycling, increased by 15% between 2008 and 2009, a sure sign that the benefits of cycling far outweigh the costs. As with any sport, cycling is dangerous, but with the appropriate care and attention, it is no more risky than walking to uni and helps ensure that more students are able to arrive on time for their 9:00 lectures.

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Discussion3 Comments

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    Cycling is only dangerous when other road users ignore them. In a traffic-free environment, there are few hobbies/sports that are safer, provided you wear the proper safety gear (at least a helmet). The trouble is about getting people to use helmets, lights, etc. Few people would get in a car without putting on a seatbelt, and when cycling, people should automatically reach for their helmet.

    I have been hit a couple of times on my bike, both times I was wearing a helmet and a hi-viz jacket and weren’t my fault, and receive abuse just about every day from other road users. It is experiences like these that prevent more people from cycling, which would ultimately make it safer.

    The Highway Code does say that whenever there is a more vulnerable road user, a driver must be considerate of them, give them enough space and not go too fast. However too many drivers ignore this. If drivers were properly punished for endangering the lives of cyclists, then perhaps cycling would become safer.

    Ultimately, cycling itself isn’t dangerous, but as a method of transport it is, largely because of the selfishness of other road users.

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    It’s good to see an article about this at long last. Unfortunately this isn’t a new thing. It’s amazing the number of students that fail to take their own safety seriously when cycling.

    Over the years of walking up and down Glen Eyre road I’ve been amazed at the number of cyclists who wear dark clothing, on a dark bike, with no lights and no florescent / reflective material at night (Usually with no helmet as well). The number of cyclists who attempt to make themselves visible is very small in comparison. Usually this sort of cyclist makes up the majority of people I see on bikes.

    These cyclists can be pretty invisible to me as a pedestrian and are even more invisible to drivers.

    The important thing for cyclists to remember is that lights aren’t necessarily there to help you see where you are going. They also serve a very important purpose to allow you to be seen. Using Glen Eyre as the example:

    For the cyclist that has nothing to make themselves visible I often have to be pretty much on top of your before you’re visible (and then it can be a challenge to see you) – Sometimes the only visible thing has been the reflectors on the back of the pedals. At this point I have very few choices of what I can do.

    For the cyclist that has good, unobscured lights on the bike. Reflective, Hi Vis Clothing etc. It’s possible to see them a good way off. Meaning I have lots of options available and I can choose a sensible place and time to pass you.

    As road users (be it Pedestrian, Cyclist, Driver, Skateboarder etc.) we all need to be aware of the other users, what they can or can’t see / hear etc. and how they can or can’t react in a situation.

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    As a driver, it is not uncommon to see in the course of ten minutes driving in the area between half a dozen and a dozen cyclists in dark clothing and without lights, especially dangerous at dusk in the winter, but it can be the case at any time from dusk to dawn.

    Cyclists will often swerve out into the middle of the road without looking behind or signalling, they often run red lights across busy junctions, they will cycle across a road at speed from one pavement to the other without checking for traffic, and frequently do not wear cycle helmets.

    Cyclists often seem to cycle wilfully into the path of oncoming traffic expecting themselves to be seen and avoided by motorists they clearly expect to be vigiliant excellent drivers with tremendous reactions.

    While as a driver I always take great care to drive considerately and look out for cyclists, I see a great many drivers on the road who are not so safe. We know how many drivers may be drunk, on their mobile phones, checking their hair and nails, or having an argument with their kids in the back of the car. It amazes me that cyclists behave the way they do, with no lights, no signals, cutting up drivers, while trusting their safety to the skill and vigilance of the drivers around them, when they have no real idea whether those drivers have actually seen them, and when the cyclist is the one who will inevitably come off worst in any collision.

    If as cyclists you cannot take the trouble to look after yourselves for your own sake, think at least of your parents and siblings, and what impact it will have on your family should they one day see a policeman at the door with dreadful news. Who was in the right in the accident will be of little comfort to them.

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