Cycling Safety

– in the House of Commons at 3:36 pm on 17 February 1993.

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Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan , Blaby 3:36, 17 February 1993

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make further provision for the safety of cyclists on highways; to encourage greater use of the bicycle; and for connected purposes. For the benefit of the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), I shall attempt to enunciate properly.

Outside the House, traffic is crawling up to Parliament square. The rush hour is building up, and millions of citizens throughout the country will waste millions of hours sitting in their cars on their way home. That position is unlikely to improve, because the long-term forecasts for traffic growth are horrendous, as the House will know.

Those millions of vehicles will pump more carbon monoxide and pollution into the air of our cities. In the past two years, we have seen smog return to London. It may not be like the old pea-soupers, but it is a potent and unpleasant mix. Carbon monoxide and exhaust emissions go up into the atmosphere to contribute to global warming. In Britain, as elsewhere, we are committed to reducing carbon emissions.

The life of all those who live near roads is further degraded by the incessant noise of traffic—[Interruption] —and by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Traffic and congestion continue to increase. Cycling can help ease the congestion and pollution. More than 60 per cent. of journeys by motor car cover a distance of less than five miles—well within the range of most cyclists.

Already, approximately 200,000 bicycle journeys are made each day by commuters into and out of London. Cycling is clean, non-polluting, cheap and accessible t o all. Cyclists rarely cause traffic jams. Cycling is an excellent option for short journeys: it is quiet; it can be relaxing and therapeutic; it can be healthy and it is recognised as an excellent form of aerobic exercise. It is a popular form of recreation in the lanes of Leicestershire and in my constituency. Indeed, I can find little disagreement with the idea that we would be wise to encourage cycling, especially in urban areas, but also for recreation.

The traffic management chairman of the corporation of the City of London was quoted on Monday as saying: We are keen to encourage cycling as an environmentally and economically sound way to travel around the City I have mentioned the City of London for the benefit of those on the Opposition Front Bench, to show that cycling is hardly a fringe activity of relevance only to those poor people who cannot afford cars, or to weirdos who for some strange reason prefer to battle through wind and rain rather than sit in a warm and comfortable car.

My county of Leicestershire has an excellent cycling strategy, which has the objective of increasing significantly the proportion of trips made by cycle in its urban areas. The Department of Transport, which wishes to encourage cycling, does not disagree. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle), the Minister for Roads and Traffic, understands the value of cycling as a means of local transport. His Department has been encouraging local highway authorities to provide safe and convenient cycling facilities.

The benefits of increased cycling are obvious: there is little disagreement about them. There has been an encouraging increase in the sale of mountain bikes, but sadly there has been no marked increase in cycling—indeed; there is anecdotal evidence of cyclists abandoning two wheels for four, especially in urban areas. The perception of danger is the main reason, and it is a very real danger. A Department of Transport study claimed that cycling is between 16 and 18 times more dangerous than driving over a given distance. Although those statistics do not tell the whole story, they point to a real reason for not getting on one's bike.

My brother, who cycles to work from Clapham to Westminster, has been knocked off his bicycle three times, yet to the best of my knowledge he has never had an accident in a car. The problem is not merely the reality of danger but the threat of it. Anyone who has cycled recently knows how much more intimidating and aggressive drivers have become as the amount of traffic on our roads has grown. A friend told me this morning how a double-decker bus had squeezed him into the pavement on Regent street and forced him off the road. That happens far too often when cycling in our cities.

I fear that most hon. Members have not cycled much since they were children or students.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

What about tricycling?

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan , Blaby

Yes, perhaps some have tricycled.

Instead, hon. Members perhaps share the worries of most parents and grandparents about allowing children to go out on the roads on their bicycles. There are other dangers, as we have all too sadly witnessed this week, but the fear of traffic has led to a marked decrease in children cycling to school, which means that parents drive them there by car, thus causing even greater congestion.

A long time ago, when many hon. Members had more hair and it was perhaps somewhat darker, most of them would have taken their driving test at a time when the highway code suggested: All drivers should give a pedal cyclist a wide berth of at least six feet. I wonder how many Members have been able to do that when driving recently. The highway code has now dropped that advice.

As further evidence of increasing intimidation on our roads, one might look no further than the House of Commons Cycling Club, which I am told used to have upwards of 50 members. The club folded in 1983, largely due to the increasing danger on our roads.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

No, it was because they did not get enough free trips.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan , Blaby

It may also have been because they were intimidated by the hon. Member for Bolsover.

The increasing volume and speed of traffic leads to drivers cutting up cyclists, cutting in front, squeezing past, trying to nip through where there is insufficient space. It is depressing to note that more and more cyclists are being hit from behind—a sign that drivers are not giving them enough room. That is an example of drivers showing lack of due care and attention, for which they are now likely to be charged with careless driving.

However, any motorist who has already struck a cyclist has endangered life—if it was the motorist's fault. As a parallel, any driver who has drunk a certain amount automatically loses his or her licence, if caught. Although I applaud that, the driver may not even have seen another road user and may not have been able to endanger life.

I propose that a special measure should be introduced so that, after any accident in which a driver, through his or her bad driving, hits a cyclist, he or she will be charged with dangerous driving. If found guilty, the driver would automatically be disqualified from driving.

The purpose of the Bill is to change attitudes on our increasingly crowded roads. The current attitude was illustrated this morning by one hon. Member who told me that he would ban all cyclists from the streets of London. That is not a constructive policy or one that is shared by any political party as far as I know. We need to change that negative attitude, of which we are all guilty when we hide behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. That attitude usually means that any vulnerable road user—be he pedestrian, equestrian or cyclist—is judged an obstruction, a nuisance or a problem, whereas, on the contrary, the problem is that there are too many cars being driven badly and too fast. Very few motorists are killed by cyclists, but the converse, sadly, is not the case.

The Bill recognises the need to encourage cycling and to encourage people to get on their bikes, and to discourage selfish driving by motorists. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Andrew Robathan, Mr. Peter Bottomley, Mr. Harry Greenway, Mr. Simon Hughes, Mr. Keith Mans, Mr. David Nicholson, Mr. Anthony Steen, Mr. Gary Waller and Ms. Joan Walley.