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Stewart WhiteLast month in the UK 15 cyclists perished on our roads.  Out of the 15, some 13 of those fatal accidents involved motorised vehicles; Ford Fiesta, Honda Accord, Toyota Aygo, Renault Trafic, Range Rover Sport, Peugeot van, Ford Transit van, BMW, Vauxhall Corsa, one HGV, a skip lorry and a motorcycle were the weapons of choice.

A number of the drivers received charges ranging from death by dangerous driving to manslaughter, but not one of them was injured. It is a shocking statistic particularly when allied with the fact that over 90 cyclists have died on our roads this year, all in similar circumstances to those last month. 

In Holland, the figures are higher, 162 cyclists died in 2010. You might expect these numbers to be higher when you consider that there are an estimated 16 million cyclists there compared with our two million.  However, a British cyclist is three times more likely to be killed than a rider in the Netherlands and twice as likely as someone in Denmark or Germany.

In my view, the Government of this country has a chance to create a lasting legacy on the back of the phenomenal achievements of Team GB and Bradley Wiggins, in the Tour de France this year. There are a number of things the Government can do to reduce the amount of deaths and improve health as a consequence’

Primarily, driver awareness is the key to this. So are public awareness campaigns, I recall growing up as a kid there were numerous public safety campaigns for drivers to look out for motorcyclists, the memorable one, Think Once, Think Twice, Think Bike! It was hard hitting and effective as I remember annoying my dad from the back seat to watch out for bikes, ‘especially at junctions’. I can’t ever recall a similar campaign for cyclists who are far more vulnerable on the road.

Secondly, our infrastructure just simply isn’t good enough. Even when we are afforded cycle paths some are poorly maintained. I once represented a cyclist who, while travelling along Princes Street, struck a large protruding embedded bolt in the middle of the cycle lane causing him to go over his handlebars to his injury. The bolt looked as though it had been embedded there for some time and despite a successful claim being made against Edinburgh City Council, that large obstructive bolt remained there until work started on the trams, which coincidentally has also been a bone of contention for cyclists in the city.  

I may not endear myself to fellow cyclists when highlighting the point of cyclist awareness. Cyclists have to be very perceptive when on the roads and a cycling safety course is one that I would recommend every cyclist undertakes before going onto the roads.  There have been a number of deaths involving cyclists being crushed by heavy goods vehicles turning left at traffic lights. There are also additional hazards with pedestrians coming between large vehicles, unsighted to the cyclist and car drivers opening their doors into the path of cyclists.  I think compulsory cycling safety courses would make cyclists more vigilant on the road and can ultimately save lives.  Cyclists would also have to up their game and abide by the laws of the road which means actually stopping at Red lights!

Finally, and from a lawyer’s perspective, the law should be changed and strict liability should be enforced against drivers and in favour of victims. In Holland and Belgium the law states that if the driver of a motorised vehicle has been involved in an accident with a cyclist, unless the driver can actively prove it was the cyclist’s fault it is the driver’s fault. There is an assumption of guilt on the driver. In most European countries the onus is on drivers to prove their innocence in collisions resulting in civil actions for damages. The reverse is true in Britain, where cyclists or their families have to prove that the driver was at fault if they are to win a civil action. It is also arguable that if drivers were aware of such sanctions they would proceed with more caution.

In a year when we had our first winner in the Tour De France and British cyclists knocked spots off the rest of the world, it really is up to the UK Government to take the initiative and promote cycling onto its people. I don’t buy in to the tired argument about our climate not accommodating cycling, if anybody has spent any time in the Netherlands, they would realise it has a similar climate and as much rainfall.  Further, Denmark is very popular amongst cyclists which has as cool if not a cooler climate than the UK. 

If the Government took positive action it would not only reduce the number of cyclist deaths on our roads but would be promoting the health, safety and welfare of its people.  

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