A Safer Conversation

A Safer Conversation: Road Safety - Part II

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The rise of cycling continues to be accompanied by an increase in cyclist deaths – 8% nationally – with HGVs mainly in the construction industry disproportionally involved in those accidents. The CLOCS voluntary code of practice was launched two years with some good results. What else can be done?


Will: As a start point, I have been a regular cyclist for the last 45 years and seem to have evolved into a MAMIL, (a middle-aged man in Lycra). There is absolutely no doubt that cycling is brilliant for society. The health and economic benefits of cycling are well documented, and there is massive economic case for investing in cycling as a form of transport.

I think the government target is to get cycling up from 2% to 10% of journeys. That’s worth about a quarter of a trillion pounds to Great Britain PLC if that target is met by 2050. And that’s in terms of a whole range of benefits; including sustainable mobility, better health and fitness and economic development opportunities. It’s a real opportunity for us as a nation. We’re way behind some of our peers in the way we treat the bicycle and the cyclist.

From my perspective, cycling is a really great opportunity for London and other urban and rural areas in the UK. London is a lot cleaner now and a lot safer than when I first started cycling there. I accept that road fatalities in London including cyclists have gone up but cycling has a massive potential for us as a country.

At the same time I do think there are opportunities. You’ve alluded to cyclist fatalities and injuries rising more steeply than bike use and you’re right to mention the Construction Logistics and Cyclist Safety Scheme (CLOCS) because I think something like a quarter of fatalities of cyclists involve trucks and particularly trucks turning left. So, the more we can do to educate cyclists around how to deal with trucks, and truck drivers how to deal with cyclists, the better.

There should be better enforcement, better engineering, better separation, better engineering of vehicles so the drivers can actually see the cyclists, and also better analysis of the data. Schemes like CLOCS provide a very good opportunity to ensure road safety is built in as a key factor at the start of projects rather than as an afterthought.

From an engineering point of view there’s a group who have a website called ‘Crap Cycle Facilities’. I don’t know if that’s the kind of language you want to put in your publication but if you were to look at that, some of the existing infrastructure for cyclists is shocking.

There are some opportunities in terms of education of cyclists and other road users. For example, one or two of our clients over the last two years have really been focusing on better sharing of the road and how their drivers understand the needs of other road users; trying to get their drivers to be more empathetic about how to deal with vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists.

Malcolm: We [Licence Bureau] are members of CLOCS. We try and get as many of our organisations following the example because I think what CLOCS is trying to do is brilliant.

In May, I met with the Metropolitan Police staff who liaise and work with CLOCS; they are putting cyclists and drivers together in training so they both understand each other’s concerns and requirements. This is great training and a fabulous opportunity. It does, however, need more investment. I used to cycle in and out of London every day.

Nowadays, on the odd occasion when I drive into London, I must admit it is frightening because of the volume of cyclists and the way it is actually quite difficult for vehicles to go through central London.

My concern is that unless we get a lot more education and a lot more investment, unfortunately we are going to get a lot more fatalities and injuries because the infrastructure in London does not support the number of people going in and out.

There is also the case of the tube strikes in London. Strikes cause chaos and from that chaos more people will actually consider cycling out of necessity. Forget the benefits health wise, it simply gives them the ability to get in and out of work and not pay an exorbitant amount of money to do so and to be in control.

But you need to educate all parties on the rules of the road and understanding of lorries. Since 1 September vehicles of more than 3.5 tonnes coming into London – except for motorways – must have sideguards fitted to protect cyclists from being dragged under the wheels and class V and Class VI mirrors to give the driver a better view of cyclists and pedestrians. I also understand that Transport for London (TFL) is looking at a ‘no turn left policy’ in the future.

Simon: As someone who drives in London I think the efforts shouldn’t be just focused on the drivers as there are many cyclists who put themselves at risk through reckless or thoughtless riding. We need to look at encouraging cyclist education.

Will: It is really important that cyclists don’t create the risks, don’t go up the inside of trucks and don’t break the traffic rules.

Malcolm: Absolutely. We’ve got people jumping on push-bikes, Boris bikes and everything else, and that is absolutely brilliant. It’s wonderful to see less pollution, easier to get around etc., but my concern is there is just not the education either way. There is no public information on the TV or at least I haven’t seen an advert that tells me how to cycle in London.

Will: I do think there is a lot of good information and besides CLOCS there are some other really good cycle schemes as well. For example, Transport for London have issued some great guidance on driving and cycling. The Freight Transport Association have got a really awesome cycling code.

The Cycling Touring Club provide guidance on sharing the road with trucks. There are a lot of resources out there, for me it is more about how the good practice is shared and then applied by riders and drivers. Obviously the more you can do to mention some of those really good initiatives, the better.

Malcolm: My concern is how do you get business to tell the staff about it? I can tell you that I’ve got no one who cycles in to work in my business. Most of them walk. If you are a business that has cyclists, there’s nothing that says to you as a business “this is what you should be doing”.

Will: I kind of agree but at the same time I’m not that pessimistic. Like you, we’re a relatively small organisation but in a typical week, probably as many of a quarter of our staff would cycle to work at least once. Maybe because we’re based in Yorkshire, quite a few of our team got really inspired by the Tour de France and have bought better bikes, got better clothing and actually have really got into cycling.

I agree there could be more information but there are opportunities. The other thing that we’ve done is to ensure we have cycle facilities. Relatively simple initiatives encourage more people to cycle to work and for leisure.

Malcolm: I was referring to the safety knowledge side. That’s the bit that worries me. I understand what business can do. When our building was built it actually got built with cycle racks for people to lock their bikes up too.

Will: The other thing – we are a relatively small organisation so it’s pretty easy for us – but we have a really clear travel policy that says that you should minimise your car journeys. I agree there’s some negative sides to cycling and the numbers of fatalities and injuries have gone up probably disproportionately but at the same time we are way behind some of our peer countries in terms of infrastructure, in terms of separation, even just the culture of road use.

The EU has set a target of reducing road deaths by 50% by 2020, compared to 2010 levels. From now on it would be necessary to reduce road deaths by 8% every year to meet the target. What can be done at EU level or should it be a national concern?

Malcolm: I don’t know enough about the EU issue to be honest. I think this should be a national concern as we’ve touched on. Every person in the UK should be able to go to work and arrive home safely, it’s as simple as that. We should change the way we think at work. This is a national concern and we should be leading by example throughout Europe.

Simon: I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the causes of crashes in other EU countries to offer an opinion here. In terms of road accidents, the UK is performing well, not far from the Scandinavian countries.

Malcolm: Absolutely but as we’ve touched on, we simply need to keep improving. I don’t think it matters what the EU is doing, we should not await their lead; we should drag everyone forward no matter where you live.

Will: I have a slightly different view. I’m maybe not typical but I actually consider myself as being European as much as or more than I consider myself English or British. I actually think the EU, despite a few flaws, is a great institution. As a nation we have a bit of a tiny island mentality but I really think if we were Sweden or Germany or one of those countries that maximises the benefit from the EU, we could be exporting much more of our road safety brilliant programmes and we could be real pan-European leaders in road safety. But because of our small island attitude towards the EU we miss a massive opportunity. The European Union is a great opportunity for the UK to export our road safety initiatives, which we are missing with our negative attitude towards partnering with our nearest neighbours.

This is a bit left field but if you think today is, what, 70 years since Hiroshima? If you think of the years before the EU and two major world wars in Europe and all of the implications of that as against the years since the EU and the peace and development. Despite a few flaws, the EU is great and we as a nation miss a massive opportunity with it.

Malcolm: I totally agree with you, but what can the EU do at this moment in time? We’ve got such big issues maintaining what it’s doing and my concern is that road safety just won’t be targeted.

Will: There have actually been some really great initiatives that have come out of the EU that have helped us here; for example, you mentioned the HSE guidance and that came from the EU Framework Directive 89/381/EEC, probably without the EU Framework Directive we wouldn’t have the HSE guidance.

Recently in the EU, though DG Employment they’ve acknowledged that E-89/381/EEC does apply to driving for work. The European Transport Safety Council has done some great programmes on work-related road safety. More and more of our global clients are putting in place European level programmes.

I think there are two opportunities. One, we can learn a great deal through the EU. EU policy definitely has an impact and we, as road safety practitioners, can do much more to export our good practices to other parts of Europe. As a nation we could maximise the benefit internally and externally of the EU much more than we do.
Going back to the targets, personally I would rather have a target that’s high and not quite achieve it than have a target that’s low and beat it.

Malcolm: I can’t agree more. I just think it’s essential that businesses understand that it is just good common sense to look after their drivers, that the vehicle is essential to their business and it should be a major part of their safety policy and culture. Businesses understand that once change is implemented it works and brings savings as well. There’s nothing worse than having a fatality or a serious incident within your business. I think it is important to get that message out there.

Will: I often ask people if they would rather be promoting a good news story because you’ve reduced your collisions or you’ve won a safety award or you’ve implemented a great programme or would you rather be cleaning up the mess after a major incident? Obviously, for me, the good news story is much easier to give than the bad news story and, as Malcolm said, I think there’s a range of business reasons, societal reasons and legal reasons to do it.

To finalise I want to reiterate that the on-the-road vehicle is part of the workplace under health and safety law and the people working in health and safety could and need to do more to be pro-active in managing it.

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