Cycling – Healthy & Safe?
We are all encouraged to get more exercise and cycling can be an enjoyable way to do so. In London, for example, the so-called “Boris bike scheme” has been popular.
There is often a perception that it is not safe to cycle on the roads and news reports over recent years of deaths of cyclists may put some people off, although the BBC reports that in 2013 there was only 1 death per 29 million miles cycled in the UK. In the same article they do, however, report an increase to serious injuries.
Motorists, cyclists and pedestrians all have a role to play in making sure the roads are as safe as possible. We all share the road and have a responsibility to be considerate towards and think of the safety of others around us. I write this as a car driver, cyclist and pedestrian. Here are a few thoughts from my own experience…
- You are surrounded by a heavy, dangerous metal box. Cyclists and pedestrians are not, so if you hit them you could seriously injure or kill them.
- It may be frustrating trailing along behind a slow cyclist but they are not trying to hold you up, they just want to get from A to B. An opportunity to safely pass them will come along soon, so a little patience goes a long way. Most cyclists will be considerate enough to keep to the left where it is safe to do so.
- It can be intimidating for cyclist if you overtake them with the narrowest gap possible, so estimate the required distance to pass safely and then double it.
- Any experienced driver will know the difference in likely speed between the lycra-clad cyclist with the “go-faster stripes” and someone out for a casual afternoon ride … but keep in mind with new electric-assisted bikes, the latter may be going faster than you think.
- Going up hills on a bike is tough, which means the cyclist will probably ascend slowly. Keep in mind that at they top of the hill they are likely to accelerate.
- Wherever possible, responsible cyclists will make (polite!) hand gestures to let you know they are about to turn. But this is not always possible, e.g. when moving fast round curves in roads, as this can cause the cyclist to lose balance. You can usually tell when and in which direction a cyclist is intending to turn by their position on the road.
- Keep in mind that a cyclist may have already indicated their intent before you came into view, e.g. you came round a corner after they signalled their turn.
- If a cyclist moves towards the centre of the road before a junction, they probably intend to turn right. Do not try overtake them at this point, as it is not safe to do so. You will be driving straight into their path and may cause death or serious injury.
- If you take a left-hand fork in the road, do not pass a cyclist as you do so (or very shortly beforehand), i.e. do not assume they are also turning left. If they intend to follow the road to the right, you will be driving straight across their path and are likely to cause a collision.
- Signalling can safe lives. As a cyclist and a pedestrian I have had some near misses over the year, simply because a driver was too lazy to indicate that they were about to turn into a side road.
Cyclists have every much right as motor vehicles to be on the road but we are more vulnerable, so it is sensible to protect ourselves:
- It is a good idea to wear a sturdy cycle helmet and bright clothing so that you are clearly visible.
- Beware fake helmets, as recently featured on Fake Britain. These were cheap, shoddy imitations that will not protect you at all during an accident. The tests they ran on the programme were truly horrifying with helmets shattering and posing a risk of piercing the skull.
- Right-hand turns can be dangerous as cars may not realised you are about to turn right and therefore may try to pass you as you pull out. It is always sensible to briefly check there is no-one immediately behind and then signal your intention to move out.
- Cycling side-by-side on roads is rarely a good idea and may irritate even reasonable, considerate motorists.
- You are absolutely entitled to cycle on busy 60mph sections of road with heavy traffic, including vans, buses and lorries. But if there is a perfectly good cycle path along side it, personally I feel safer using it.
- Where the road curves right and there is a side road that effectively goes straight or bends off to the left, cars overtaking you make wish to take that turn. In these circumstances you may be safer moving towards the middle of the road to prevent cars overtaking you until after that junction. It is considerate to return to the left, once the risk has subsided.
- If a car coming in the opposite direction stops to let you through, even if you have right of way, it never hurts to acknowledge their consideration in the same way as might if you were driving a car. Small acts of consideration like this help to make the roads a nicer place.
- Pedestrians are usually perfectly happy to share the pavement, even if there is no cycle path or shared path at that point – but they do not like being crashed into or sworn at on the way past, so it is good to recognise that they are more vulnerable and you need to pass them with the same care and consideration that you would expect a car driver to show to you.
- If a cycle path and footpath run side by side, try to stay on your side of the line. It is frustrating for cyclists if you block the way.
- Whilst, strictly speaking, it is illegal for people to cycle on the pavement where no cycle path or shared path is marked, on busy main roads it is understandable that some cyclists may feel safer on the footpath. The vast majority of cyclists will pass you considerately and will be happy to make their way round you rather than expecting you to get out of their way.
In my experience, the key thing here is consideration for others. Whether I am driving, cycling or walking, I find that indicating my intention, taking care to watch out for those who are more vulnerable and acknowledging kindness and consideration on the part of other road users all goes a long way to feeling safer on the roads and making them safer for those around me.
A government article provides a few further tips for road users.