Princes Street

 

“Name any crisis, active travel helps.”

These are the words of Chris Boardman, Active Travel Commissioner for England and are a reminder of the far-reaching benefits of riding a bicycle.

Cycling improves physical and mental well-being, reduces our carbon footprint and is a relatively inexpensive mode of transport (depending on your choice of bike of course!)

So, why is the UK still seen as a car-driving nation and what more can be done to encourage people to swap four wheels for two?

People choose not to cycle for many reasons, but studies show that overwhelmingly the most common reason that people will opt for a car over a bicycle is the perception that our roads are too dangerous to cycle on.

Ironically, whilst there’s an increase in the amount of people viewing cycling as too dangerous, cycling has in fact been getting arguably safer.

According to some analysis conducted by Cycling UK, last year saw a 24% drop in cycling fatalities in England, Wales and Scotland per miles cycled, to the lowest level in 30 years.

Whilst these numbers are encouraging, road safety still has a long way to go and more needs to be done to counter the immobilising perception of danger.

In deciding what action needs to be taken to improve safety, it helps to consider why roads are unsafe and what factors are shaping our fears over safety.

A recent Road Justice Report by the All-party parliamentary group for walking and cycling looking at cycling and the justice system confirms a consensus amongst road users that drivers are not held to account as often as they should be for offences on the road. If justice was better served, our roads would not only be safer, but they would also feel safer.

With this in mind, the report makes recommendations to improve road safety and promote active travel by targeting certain road safety laws: clamping down on repeat offenders; enforcing more driving bans; and removing tolerances in speed enforcement, to name a few.

The recommendations come on the back of research which shows that 47% of people convicted of driving offences had at least one previous conviction for the offence. This indicates that offenders are clearly not deterred by the penalties they face.

Further leniency is apparent in the findings that around 23% of people who amass 12 penalty points successfully argue against disqualification on grounds of exceptional hardship. Similarly, drivers will not ordinarily be charged with speeding unless they’re 10% plus 2 mph over the speed limit i.e. over 35mph in a 30mph zone.

The lack of justice on the roads facilitates a belief that road safety does not need to be taken seriously and that contraventions of the law will not lead to punishment.

As a result, our roads are less safe and road users, particularly the most vulnerable, are impacted the most.

If we can improve both the objective safety and the perceived safety on our roads, we’ll encourage active travel and in the words of Mr Boardman, “help to avert crises.”

Jo Clancy

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