Getting the best for cycling out of HS2
Cycling UK will be presenting a petition in Parliament about the HS2 rail scheme on 17 July. It advocates for high quality conditions for cycling designed into any changed infrastructure and sets out the need for an ongoing dialogue with both HS2 and DfT.
Nottingham Pedals, liaising with Sustrans and various other groups such as ourselves, as part of the East Midlands Region of Cyclenation, is pressing HS2 to include a pedestrian/cycle paths in the detailed proposals for the new HS2 bridge over the River Trent between Thrumpton in Nottinghamshire and Cranfleet Lock / Long Eaton in Derbyshire. This would provide a link to many local, regional and national walking and cycling routes on both sides of the river, including Sustrans NCN routes 6 and 15, the Trent Valley Way, Erewash Trail and River Soar Trail. The case is being made for good cycle access to and from the proposed HS2 East Midlands Hub at Toton a few miles to the north, on the Nottinghamshire / Derbyshire border.
Both of these suggestions have recently been included in Pedals’ comprehensive list of missing links / gaps in the Greater Nottingham Cycle Network, which has been submitted as part of the process for the preparation of the Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP) for the D2N2 (Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Local Enterprise Partnership) area, for which DfT-funded consultancy support is being provided by Sustrans and Phil Jones & Associates.
Highway Code’s rules on overtaking cyclists
The Highway Code’s rules 162-169 deal with overtaking generally, with Rule 163 referring to the distance to leave when overtaking a cyclist, and advising drivers to overtake only when it is safe and legal to do so and “give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car”.
It is not clear, however, how much room that is, because the space people give when overtaking cars varies considerably. If a driver routinely overtakes other motor vehicles leaving less than a one metre gap, does Rule 163 imply that this is all they have to leave when overtaking a cyclist, regardless of their speed, the weather and the road conditions?
Rule 212 also refers to overtaking cyclists and motorcyclists, with advice to “give them plenty of room”. This phrase is repeated in Rule 213 in the context of advice that they “may suddenly need to avoid uneven road surfaces and obstacles such as drain covers or oily, wet or icy patches on the road”.
But ‘plenty of room’ is another subjective concept. Either Rule 163 needs to be amended, or a new rule inserted, to specifically refer to a minimum passing distance guideline.
Research indicates that near misses are a normal experience for many people cycling in the UK. Women reported more incidents per mile than men, although that was due to a difference in speed. Slower cyclists experience more near misses. This is of particular concern given that increasing and diversifying those cycling requires the creation of comfortable cycling conditions for a range of ages and abilities.
The very high rates of non-injury incidents by comparison to reported injury cases is crucially important because road safety policy is often driven by casualty statistics, and near misses do not register on those statistics. However, experiencing these can create a perception of danger, which is a barrier to cycling.
A Minimum Distance Law would be difficult to enforce, given the need to establish in evidence the exact parameters beyond reasonable doubt.
However, minimum distances set as guidelines within the Highway Code would not only provide much clearer advice than the current rules, but also allow the flexibility to take account of road conditions, weather, speed and size/type of vehicle etc.
These guidelines have been suggested by Cycling UK
- minimum distance of 1.5 metres at speeds under 30 mph;
- minimum distance of 2.0 metres at speeds over 30 mph;
- All drivers to take extra care and allow more space when overtaking cyclists in bad weather.
Highway Code's advice on cycle helmets and hi-viz
There are 307 rules in the Highway Code. Those saying ‘MUST’ or ‘MUST NOT’ relate to statute law, and breaching them is an offence. Infringing the other rules may be used in court to decide whether a more general offence has been committed or if civil liabilities have arisen.
A comprehensive revision of the code is long overdue.
Rule 59 of the Highway Code (HC) contains advice on what people should wear when cycling, including:
- A cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened;
- Light-coloured or fluorescent clothing which helps other road users to see you in daylight and poor light;
- Reflective clothing and/or accessories (belt, arm or ankle bands) in the dark.
The opposition to both helmet promotion campaigns and helmet compulsion is based on the detriment to public health that accompanies both. This is because they lead to a reduction in cycling, an activity that offers enormous health benefits.
Enforced helmet laws have consistently caused substantial reductions in cycle use (e.g. 30-40% in Perth, Western Australia). Although they have also increased the proportion of the remaining cyclists who wear helmets, the safety of these cyclists has not improved relative to other road user groups (e.g. in New Zealand). The resulting loss of cycling’s health benefits alone (i.e. before taking account of its environmental, economic and societal benefits) is very much greater than any possible injury prevention benefit.
Evidence also suggests that even the promotion of helmet-wearing may reduce cycle use. Research commissioned by the Department for Transport (DfT) found that, in areas where a helmet campaign was held, “a larger increase in helmet wearing was found than in the areas which had not held such a campaign. However, this increase was found to be strongly linked to a decrease in the numbers of cyclists observed.”
A report for the European Conference of Transport Ministers noted that: “even the official promotion of helmets may have negative consequences for bicycle use, and that to prevent helmets having a negative effect on the use of bicycles, the best approach is to leave the promotion of helmet wear to manufacturers and shopkeepers.”
Even picturing helmets on marketing materials designed to promote and encourage cycling appears to have an adverse impact: Danish research found that images of cyclists wearing helmets had a negative impact on people’s attitude to cycling, despite the apparently high public acceptance of bicycle helmets in Denmark.
Thus it is essential to weigh up whether any possible injury savings due to helmet wearing justify the likely reductions in cycle use which accompany either compulsion or promotion, and the consequent loss of its health, environmental and other benefits.
Australian statistician Piet de Jong concluded that: “Even with very optimistic assumptions as to the efficacy of helmets, relatively minor reductions in cycling on account of a helmet law are sufficient to cancel out, in population average terms, all head injury health benefits.” This suggests that (instead of focusing on helmets) health and road safety professionals and others should promote cycling as a safe, normal, aspirational and enjoyable activity.
Although individual cyclists may choose to use helmets, either for confidence or because of the type of cycling they are doing, they should not feel under pressure to wear them. For the sake of our health, it is more important to encourage people of all ages to cycle, than to make an issue of whether they use a helmet when doing so. This is the main reason for Cycling UK recommending that Rule 59 of The Highway Code should be amended to delete reference to helmets.
As currently drafted, then, Rule 59 creates the impression that a cyclist riding without a helmet is behaving irresponsibly and, in legal proceedings, it may be used to underpin attempts to deflect responsibility for the real cause of a collision.
Cycling UK has similar concerns regarding advice on clothing, given that:
- There is no sound evidence that hi-viz clothing makes a positive impact on cyclists’ safety;
- The rule is frequently used to blame cyclists when drivers fail to see them in order to deflect attention from their own apparent failure to look properly.
Research on hi-viz clothing suggests that:
- Wearing hi-viz makes very little difference to how closely motorists overtake a cyclist;
- Whilst the rules refer to light-coloured or fluorescent clothing, it is in fact contrasting colours which are likely to make a difference;
- At night, retroreflective accessories attached to limbs make the most difference because they move, and human beings are particularly sensitive to ‘biomotion’.
Rule 59 advises light-coloured or fluorescent clothing, yet a cyclist wearing a yellow jacket as they ride past a field of oil seed rape is less conspicuous against that background than someone wearing a black jacket. When cycling at night, retroreflective accessories attached to limbs (e.g. ankle straps) probably make more difference than the colour of someone’s jacket, but the rule omits to mention this.
Nobody would accept the argument that a driver who crashed into a parked car should not be held responsible because the parked car was black. Yet Rule 59 has led to a situation where the colour of a cyclist’s clothing is commonly, and incorrectly, thought to be relevant to the cause of the collision. Victim-blaming like this does nothing to promote road safety; rather, it can deflect focus from the true cause of the incident, i.e. someone’s failure to pay attention and look properly while driving.