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I declare an interest; I am an executive member of the Scottish Accident Prevention Council.
I welcome the debate and endorse the comments about the health and environmental benefits of cycling. I will talk mainly about safety. I have no doubt that if we want to make cycling in Scotland safer, we must ensure that cycling informs and is integrated into transport planning. I welcome what Alison Johnstone said about the need to consider what safety measures can be implemented when we are digging up roads and therefore already incurring costs.
In 2005, the Scottish Government commissioned the comprehensive report, “Extent and Severity of Cycle Accident Casualties”, which tried to get to grips with why there had been so many accidents in Scotland. The research exposed interesting facts about gender. Many more males than females were involved in cycling accidents—the ratio of males to females presenting at hospital accident and emergency departments as a result of such accidents was 3:1. That gender imbalance was observed across all age groups, although it was least obvious in children under 10. Staggeringly, among 16 to 18-year-olds, 91 per cent of the casualties were males. I suggest that that follows a pattern of risk taking among young male drivers that is well recognised by the insurance industry. If we are to tackle such issues through education, we must examine risk taking. That might improve some of the accident statistics.
The pattern of accidents does not reflect cycling participation rates, as the study showed that 55 per cent of cyclists were males and 45 per cent were females. John Lamont mentioned night-time cycling. The study also showed that males tended to cycle more in the evening and that women tended to cycle more during the day, which might be a reason for the imbalance in the accident rate. We must fully understand what is happening on the roads if we are to make progress.
People are more likely to become casualties as a result of cycling accidents in childhood—in the study, 54 per cent of all casualties were under the age of 16. When it comes to such accidents, our children and young adults are extremely vulnerable. Safety is paramount and improvements can still be made. Much can be done to improve safety for cyclists, especially our children.
I am still a member of North Lanarkshire Council, which used to have a very poor record on general road safety. I commend the council’s leadership, which, over the years, has made a determined effort to reduce the number of road accidents. The council has achieved the national road safety targets and has reduced the number of fatalities and serious casualties by 74 per cent—information published by Strathclyde Police shows that it fell from 276 in 1999 to just 72 in 2010. At the same time, the total number of people who were injured reduced significantly.
I put those reductions down to the council taking some key steps. Notably, it introduced a 20mph speed limit not just outside schools in North Lanarkshire—that was done as a pilot—but in all residential areas. That is a significant step that can greatly reduce the number of accidents on our roads.