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Deaths of cyclists in road accidents were up in the first month of lockdown.

Cycling fatalities rose during first month of lockdown

While cycling blossomed during the first lockdown, so did the number of fatal accidents involving cyclists. Looking at accident figures over the years, it is clear that much needs to be done to bring the safety of cyclists to an acceptable level. The risks run by cyclists also include the damaging effects of inhaling vehicle emissions. Nick Terdre reports, photos by Russell Jacobs.

During the first 30 days of lockdown starting in March, as reported by cycling website road.cc, the Department for Transport (DfT) found that cycling fatalities were more than double the number compared to the same periods from 2015-18 even though the level of vehicle traffic had dropped to 36% of its pre-lockdown level.

Fifteen cyclists in the UK lost their lives from 23 March to 22 April, all but two of them in incidents involving a motor vehicle.

Road.cc suggested that at a time when the number of vehicles was greatly reduced, the explanation might be that the motorists on the road were speeding and in other ways driving less safely than normal, and that they were likely to be less responsible drivers, as more responsible ones would be obeying the lockdown.

The grim statistics, which were publicised by Turquoise PR, are not encouraging news for cyclists as a second national lockdown gets under way.

Turquoise suggests it is time to remember Rule 163 of the Highway Code, which stipulates that drivers should allow “plenty of room” when overtaking cyclists – a 1.5 metre distance, roughly the width of a car, is often recommended. The rule also states that drivers should overtake only when it is safe and legal to do so.

Research commissioned by Cycling Scotland found that 34 per cent of the population of that country don’t always leave a 1.5 metre gap from cyclists, while almost 64 per cent were unaware of the three-point penalty on their licence if they are caught driving too close, Turquoise added.

Accident dossier under preparation

Figures relating to cycling accidents in Hastings this year are not yet available, though Ian Sier of Hastings Urban Bikes tells HOT that Hastings & St Leonards Cycle Club is working to produce a dossier of accidents where cyclists have been hit by cars, for use in a campaign to try to get the police to take more robust enforcement action. “It would seem that not enough prosecutions are being made and sanctions are too weak to act as a deterrent,” he said.

Cycling activist Tim Godwin took a longer-term view, looking at statistics for Hastings as provided on the Crashmap accident website. “Over the last 10 years, six pedestrians have been killed and 153 seriously injured in our town by motor vehicles,” he said. “In the same time period three cyclists have been killed and 74 seriously injured by motor vehicles.

”That’s an average of someone every three weeks being killed or seriously injured by a motor vehicle. ‘Seriously injured’ in the terminology of Police reports means a life-changing injury.”

Air pollution

In addition to worrying accident statistics, cyclists also face the health risks posed by air pollution. In 2018, in a case brought by the environmental activist charity ClientEarth, a court found for a third time that the government’s policy for tackling air pollution was “unlawful.”

Air pollution plays a role in a significant number of deaths in the UK – between 28,000 and 36,000 a year, according to a study published by Public Health England in 2019.

Local figures are not so easy to come by. But a 2014 study, also published by PHE  calculated annual mortality rates for local authorities attributable to particulate matter in air, which results mainly from fossil fuel burning. In East Sussex the figures were Hastings 49, Rother 62, Eastbourne 61, Lewes 48 and Wealden 74.

Fossil fuel burning in the form of emissions from diesel and petrol vehicles directly affects cyclists, though its other main occurrences, in heating homes and buildings and in power generation, does not.

The first lockdown brought some relief, with air quality improving significantly due to the reduction in road traffic. When restrictions were eased, it began deteriorating again. Assuming the second lockdown again reduces road traffic, air quality should benefit again, at least temporarily.

According to a recent study by Nottingham Trent University, cyclists, pedestrians and bus passengers are most exposed to air pollution on busy roads. But findings vary – other research indicates that those in the enclosed spaces of vehicles suffer greater exposure than cyclists in the open.

Be that as it may, exposure to air pollution is not good for anyone. There are mitigating measures – cyclists are advised to use quieter side roads whenever possible, as pollution levels are significantly lower. And overall the health benefits of cycling are claimed to outweigh the damaging effects of exposure to air pollution.

Both road traffic and cycling have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels and are unlikely to while the second national lockdown remains in force. According to figures from the Department for Transport, in the seven days prior to the introduction of the second lockdown UK road traffic levels averaged 89% of those in the first week of February and cycling levels in England 79% of those in the first week of March.

Turquoise PR works for Quotezone, a price comparison service for bike and other kinds of insurance.

 

Posted 11:17 Friday, Nov 13, 2020 In: Transport

2 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Bryan Fisher

    There may be other contributing factors to the higher incidence of injuries and fatalities to cyclists:
    a) Less cars on the road during lockdown may have tempted drivers to enjoy that freedom too much and travel too fast
    b) A sudden influx of new or returning cyclists as individuals look to both get fit and avoid travelling on public transport. Some of those were perhaps not used to cycling on their bike and also not fully aware of the highway code..?

    Comment by Bryan Fisher — Wednesday, Nov 18, 2020 @ 11:00

  2. Erica Smith

    Important information about an East Sussex Cycling Consultation forwarded from Anna Sabin:

    If you would like to contribute to the East Sussex Consultation on Cycling and Walking here is the link to do so. Please forward the link to anyone else you know who would like to contribute.
    https://consultation.eastsussex.gov.uk/economy-transport-environment/escc-lcwip-2020/

    In 2011 East Sussex wrote in their Local Transport Plan:

    Vision and objectives
    Over the next 15 years, our aim is to develop an effective, well managed transport infrastructure with improved travel choices.
    We want to make East Sussex a prosperous county by:
    helping businesses to thrive
    delivering better access to jobs and services
    creating safer, healthier, more sustainable and inclusive communities.
    Transport contributes to a wide range of other policies and plans. Our high-level objectives are to:
    improve economic competitiveness and growth
    improve safety, health and security
    tackle climate change
    improve accessibility and enhance social inclusion
    improve quality of life.

    Since 2011 SUVs and delivery vans have proliferated and Active Travel has increased by less than 4%. That is because towns are not made Clean Air Zones, there is incomplete coverage by public transport, there are no secure bike shelters in residential areas, promised greenways have not been built and priority has continued to be given to privately owned large vehicles over Cycling and Walking. They talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.

    So please contribute to the Consultation and pass it on.

    Comment by Erica Smith — Sunday, Nov 15, 2020 @ 22:16

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