We welcome the opportunity to respond to the Department for Transport’s Review of Cycle Safety.
The Call for Evidence sets out the very considerable benefits that increases in walking and cycling would achieve, including improvements in public health, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, improvements to air quality, and more efficient uses of land. Over a third of children in year 6 in England are overweight or obese.We agree that demand for active travel is suppressed by feelings of safety and discomfort on the road network.
This response is based on the inquiries the APPCG has carried out in previous years, including:
- Do you have any suggestions on the way in which the current approach to development and maintenance of road signs and infrastructure impacts the safety of cyclists and other vulnerable road users? How could it be improved?
In our 2016 report we felt that the Government has made progress in deregulating street design to accommodate ongoing innovations in cycle provisions, but further progress is still required around simplifying many aspects of street design, particularly the layout of pedestrian and cycle crossings. This should be complemented by an improvement in the overall quality of cycle infrastructure being implemented across England. To do so, the Government should consolidate recent good practice changes in infrastructure design from cities that have invested in good quality cycle facilities, and endorse a single set of national design standards.
Better quality cycle facilities – clearly segregated from pedestrians and motorised vehicles – will not only improve the safety of cyclists, it will also reduce the concerns associated with perceived poor cycling behaviour.
Our 2017 inquiry found that British Cycling’s ‘Turning the Corner’ report, published in December 2016, provides some useful solutions. The report identified a problem with the confluence of design and road traffic law: a lack of priority for pedestrians and cycles over vehicles turning out of or into side roads. The report explains that changes to the Highway Code (accompanied with changes to the way traffic signal control operates) would improve the feeling of safety for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as releasing junction capacity in urban areas.
In our 2013 report we recommended that the Department for Transport should implement Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004, to allow local authorities to enforce mandatory cycle lanes and other moving traffic offences without needing to require police resources. This has still not been accomplished.
In addition, we are very concerned that the headline recommendation of our 2013 report – £10, rising to £20 of funding for cycling per person per year – is still very far from being achieved across the country. The evidence presented to us in our various reports have reiterated that the only way to achieve good infrastructure for walking and cycling is to ensure that there is sustained, dedicated funding, ring-fenced for active travel schemes.
Aligned with this, we feel that additional funding from the proceeds of future growth is required to ensure that local road network is better maintained to ensure the safety and comfort of cyclists. Road defects are a major source of danger to cyclists, and is associated with 22 deaths of cyclists in the last ten years, as well as 368 serious injuries.
- Please set out any areas where you consider the laws or rules relating to road safety and their enforcement, with particular reference to cyclists and pedestrians, could be used to support the Government’s aim of improving cycling and walking safety whilst promoting more active travel.
For the justice system to function, it requires a wider public understanding of and support for the law. This applies to all road users, including cyclists. From the evidence given to us from the police, from other witnesses, and from the public, it appears that there is a widespread misunderstanding of traffic law on how to drive around cyclists, and a failure of the driver education system to evolve in step with changes in cycling infrastructure and numbers of cyclists.
There is also evidence of deliberate aggression shown towards cyclists, including ‘punishment passes’ – close overtakes designed to intimidate or frighten cyclists, some of which may result from ignorance of the rights of cyclists to be on the road, or some other antagonism from having to share the same space at very different speeds. Aldred (2016) found a very similar pattern, with the average cyclist likely to experience some sort of harassment every 3 weeks or so, in addition to weekly frequency of incidents considered ‘very scary’. Evidence given to us from the general public in particular emphasised that improving driver behaviour and designing better road infrastructure must go hand in hand.
The Highway Code is also fundamental to assisting vulnerable road users with obtaining justice under civil law. The ambiguities and divided responsibilities expressed in the Code lie at the heart of the problems some cyclists find when attempting to secure compensation in the event of a collision. The Code must be clear that those with the greatest capacity to cause harm be the ones on whom responsibility to take care ultimately rests. We heard from Paul Kitson of Slater and Gordon that many civil cases involving cyclists are challenged by drivers’ insurers which often delays compensation to the victim. A clearer, less ambiguous Code would help prevent the most vulnerable victims losing out financially because of contributory negligence claims made against them on the basis of spurious interpretations of the Highway Code’s advice. In addition, he suggested that advanced stop/bike boxes at traffic signals should be re-designated to hold the same legal status as yellow box junctions.
Martin Porter QC urged us that any “element of victim-blaming should be removed” from the Code, and that references to wearing high visibility clothing and helmets should be accompanied by clear statements that these are not legally required.
In our 2017 report we made the following recommendation to Government:
The Highway Code should be revised to give clearer priority to cyclists (and other vulnerable road users), particularly with regard to the issue of close overtaking and the need to give way to cyclists and pedestrians at side road crossings, which would support the introduction of new cycling infrastructure.
An issue raised by several witnesses in our inquiry in 2017 was the infrequent use of the penalty of driver disqualification for those who have been found guilty of traffic offences. Currently disqualification is obligatory for a range of serious offences, ranging from those causing death, to dangerous driving and a mandatory 12 month ban for driving whilst under the influence. It can also be imposed as a penalty in summary offences, such as careless driving.
As RoadPeace told us, levels of disqualification for these obligatory offences have been dropping: in 2005 97% of these cases resulted in a ban; by 2015 this had fallen to 93%. Disqualification is also required for drivers who accumulate more than 11 penalty points within a three year period. However, up to a third of drivers who receive 12 points – or sometimes even more – escape any form of disqualification by pleading ‘exceptional hardship’ in court.In 2016 8,594 drivers retained their licences despite having 12 or more points, though in not all of these cases have these individuals successfully pleaded for ‘exceptional hardship’ in the magistrates’ court, and there are other reasons why drivers may still be legally driving despite having accumulated points.
The doubling of the penalty for mobile phone use while driving from 3 to 6 points will – if enforced – lead to many more drivers reaching the 12 point limit, yet the effect of this will be limited if drivers continue to retain their licences.
RoadPeace also pointed out to us in oral evidence that the total number of endorsements for mobile phone use has halved in the last 5 years, while only 33 out of 15,000 drivers taken to court were banned outright for using their mobile phone.
‘Exceptional hardship’ was raised with us by many of the witnesses as a topic where it was felt that the justice system was failing to protect cyclists and other road users. The driving demerit system operates by giving offenders chances to redeem their behaviour before the sanction of disqualification is imposed. By offering yet another chance the system risks losing its effectiveness in modifying behaviour.
In written evidence to us Nick Moss explained that in his experience as a solicitor he “found it very easy to persuade a Court not to ban somebody because they had collected 12 points. You were almost pushing at an open door. There seems to be lack of appreciation within the judiciary that points are collected because of a repeated failure to understand or be willing to comply with basic rules of the road.”
Martin Porter QC – who also has professional experience in dealing with the outcomes of road crashes – suggested that “a whole industry has arisen of lawyers specialising in permitting motorists who would otherwise face a mandatory period of disqualification to retain their driver’s licences… These loopholes should be closed. Every driver should think through the consequences both to other and to themselves of breaking the law before committing the crime.”
We made the following recommendation:
The number and lengths of driving bans appears to have declined, with a 62% fall in driver disqualifications over the last ten years, double the fall in convictions for driving offences. Furthermore, very large numbers of drivers are escaping disqualification upon reaching 12 points or more. The Ministry of Justice should examine the reasons behind the decline in the use of the penalty of disqualification, and in particular the effect of the ‘exceptional hardship’ scheme.
A higher priority given to roads policing
At the heart of the concern from the members of the public we found was the lack of enforcement of basic road traffic law. For instance, Cycling UK pointed to the collapse in roads policing numbers as a serious concern – overall police force numbers have fallen by 12% over the last 10 years, but that has been outstripped by an even faster decline in road traffic policing numbers outside London.
Stronger roads policing would benefit all road users, including – in certain circumstances – cracking down on dangerous or inconsiderate cycling where this is considered a source of concern. Cyclists are much more likely to be the victims of illegal road users than the perpetrators. In many cases, those people committing these crimes are likely to hold similar attitudes whatever mode of transport they are using, whether on a bike or in a car.The level of danger to others is far greater when they driving than when they are cycling.
DCS Paul Rickett from the Metropolitan Police told us that resourcing of roads policing in the capital was good, but suggested that the decline in prosecutions nationwide might be linked to the fall in road traffic policing, saying: “the fall in disqualification and prosecution probably tracks the levels of policing.” Nearly all the drivers stopped during a nationwide crackdown on mobile phone use while driving were in London. Even in London, however, Amy Aeron-Thomas pointed out basic problems with roads policing such as the fact that only 27% of drivers involved in crashes were tested for drink driving in the capital.
One solution offered by several witnesses was to include roads policing in the ‘Police Effectiveness, Efficiency, Legitimacy programme’ used by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to evaluate police forces. This might help focus attention on roads policing amongst Police and Crime Commissioners and senior officers. In addition, Police and Crime Commissioners and police forces should include perception of the dangers of illegal road use as part of way they measure local satisfaction with their services.
In our 2017 report we recommended that:
Specialist roads policing has greatly reduced in recent years, with a 37% reduction in officer numbers over 10 years. Roads policing should be given a higher priority by police forces, Police and Crime Commissioners and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. Effective deployment and use of surveillance technology should be used to support the reduced manpower and to enhance productivity and public awareness that road policing remains a priority. Only through adequately resourced roads policing will bad drivers – and bad cyclists – be apprehended and cycling feel safer.
Tackling close passing
One of the most encouraging submissions we received was from the West Midlands Police who explained the development of their ‘Be Safe, Give Space’ initiative which targets inconsiderate driving on key cycle commuting routes in Birmingham. This has been very well received by the cycling community and – according to PC Mark Hodson and PC Steve Hudson – has resulted in noticeable improvements in driver behaviour.
The close passing initiative began in association with Birmingham City Council, which was investing in measures to improve cycling conditions. The initiative has not taken officers away from their core work of general enforcement and attending the scenes of crashes. One officer cycles in undercover clothing and directs colleagues to intercept drivers who have given him too little room when overtaking. Offenders are then offered the opportunity to take part in a short demonstration of how to overtake around cyclists, or face a summons for careless driving. Of around 200 drivers so far stopped, only one has refused the roadside demonstration, a further handful have been issued a summons for careless driving.
Even though this was a limited scheme, over a small area, the impact has been considerable, including on attitudes to policing. Many witnesses specifically mentioned the effect it has had on their confidence in the police. We received evidence from a cyclist, Toby Draper, who was injured in 2015 while cycling in Birmingham. He told us: “I experienced some loss of confidence in getting back on the roads and have since been heartened by West Midlands Police’s increased activity to protect cyclists exposed to poor driving.”
Such has been the success of the programme that the officers have demonstrated it to many other police forces, and similar enforcement operations have commenced in several other areas, including London, Hampshire as well as half a dozen other forces that are planning to start. This appears to have been an excellent example of road traffic police officers working together to share a successful scheme, but it remains a very small initiative. We were disappointed to hear that there has yet to be a formal endorsement of this approach by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, which might help establish it as a standard roads policing tactic.
We made the following recommendation:
We welcome the focus some police forces are showing towards close passing of cyclists, particularly the West Midlands Police. Close passing by drivers not only represents a significant danger, it also makes cycling feel unsafe and risky. More police forces should adopt close passing enforcement practice on a wider scale, and the National Police Chiefs’ Council should clearly endorse this approach.
- Do you have any suggestions for improving the way road users are trained, with specific consideration to protecting cyclists and pedestrians?
- Do you have any suggestions on how we can improve road user education to help support more and safer walking and cycling?
We have considered these two questions together.
Our 2017 report focused on improvements to driver training as a means of improving safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
Drivers learn about safe driving techniques when they take the driving test, with usually no formal re-education thereafter. The Metropolitan Police told us that they wished to see more frequent testing of drivers, with DCS Paul Rickett told us: “retesting and re-qualification on a regular basis would be a hugely beneficial.”
Presently re-education is mainly restricted to the use of diversionary courses for a variety of offences, administered through the National Driver Offender Retraining Scheme, but the evidence for the effectiveness of these schemes is not yet clear.As discussed below, one measure might be to impose more frequent retesting on drivers who have committed offences – at present only a handful of offenders are banned until they successfully pass a driving test.
The driving test offers the best opportunity to communicate vital information on how to behave around cyclists and reinforce messages around safe road user. Unfortunately, while the content of the driving test may have improved over the decades, it still fails to deal with the responsibilities towards cyclists other than in a cursory manner. In a country where 61% of the population never ride a bike, there is a risk that fundamental misunderstandings will emerge between road users unless the educational system is not used to help reduce these differences, which often lie behind aggressive and inconsiderate behaviour.
We heard worrying evidence that driver eyesight was going unchecked, even after major incidents. Gradual deterioration due to eye disease can often go unnoticed beyond the legally acceptable level. Regular retesting of professional drivers should also include assessing eyesight.
We make the following recommendations:
The driving test must be changed to help improve driver behaviour towards cyclists, including questions about overtaking distances and advice on adopting safe methods of opening car doors. This is particularly important for those attending an extended retest following disqualification.
Professional drivers should be retested more frequently, with better testing of skills and eyesight. Being able to drive should not be considered as a right – it should be seen as a responsibility and privilege that can easily be forfeited, particularly for those whose jobs require them to use a vehicle.
The issue of taking greater care when opening car doors should also be improved through changes to the driving test and Highway Code to explain how to do this safely. The ‘Dutch Reach’ is an approach now commonly taught in many countries, and should be made a standard in this country.
In addition, we strongly support the role of cycle training in giving children and adults the skills and confidence to cycle in safety. Such training helps to spread understanding of the needs of cyclists to these children when they reach the age at which they can learn to drive, as well as helping to overcome their parents or other adults’ misconceptions with regard to cycling. We believe it it crucial to sustain these programmes and increase availability of Bikeability level 3 training to older children, as well as similar training levels for adults returning to cycling.
- Do you have any suggestions on how Government policy on vehicles and equipment could improve safety of cyclists and pedestrians, whilst continuing to promote more walking and cycling?
In urban areas, cyclists are particularly at risk from conflicts with large vehicles. In London, around half of cyclists fatalities occurring in crashes with large vehicles, which make up just 5% of traffic. The Metropolitan Police operate a well established education scheme – ‘Exchanging Places’ to inform cyclists about the risks associated with large vehicles. These schemes benefit further if drivers of large vehicles also get to experience life on two wheels. Transport for London explained the intra-agency working arrangement with the Metropolitan Police, Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and other organisations to target enforcement against commercial vehicle operators.
Since 2013, over 20,000 vehicles have been targeted, of which 11% had infringements – 120 vehicles have been seized. Similar partnerships between local authorities, police and the DVSA could help raise standards in freight operators elsewhere in the country. Siwan Hayward of Transport for London expressed concern that the enforcement activities undertaken through their partnership working was impeded by the uneven penalties handed down in the Magistrates’ Courts. In some cases the levels of fines imposed in some parts of London were 10 times higher than in other areas for vehicle defects and other offences. Transport for London wants to see “stronger sanctions that reflect the seriousness of the offences and the danger these pose on London’s roads.”
Our 2017 report made the following recommendation:
Large vehicles present a disproportionate risk to cyclists. In London, TfL, the DVSA, the Police and other enforcement agencies work together to target illegal freight operators. The Government and other local authorities should adopt similar partnerships in other parts of the country to counter the risk posed by illegal freight operations. Stronger sanctions are needed to tackle the offending associated with some commercial operators.
Autonomous/assisted driving vehicle technology
We are disappointed that the Government chose to undertake a change to the Highway Code merely to enable autonomous parking systems. We are concerned that this demonstrates a wider pattern in which vehicle technology is welcomed if it makes the driver’s life easier, rather than improving safety for all road users.
A future in which driving becomes easier, more convenient, and safer, while cycling and walking remain relatively higher risk activities is a bleak one. Public health will be damaged if day to day transport on foot or bike becomes less appealing.
We believe the Government should ensure that the technological changes emerging in motor vehicles are regulated to ensure that reduces the risk of walking and cycling, and gives greater priority to these modes. This could mean: automatic enforcement of speed limits, greater restrictions on motor traffic access and reallocation of road capacity and parking spaces for walking and cycling infrastructure.
- What can Government do to support better understanding and awareness of different types of road user in relation to cycle use in particular?
As above, changes to the Highway Code and improvements in driver training, together with more enforcement and education activities will help improve understanding. Continued application of child cycle training – particularly Bikeability level 3 – will also help to increase understanding of the needs of cyclists amongst young people and, through them, their families.
APPCG, May 2018
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