Cycling Safety

Cycling Safety
[Mr Dai Havard in the Chair]
2.30 pm
Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con): I am pleased to open this debate on cycling safety and the wearing of cycle helmets. I know that the topic is incredibly important to many Members and many of our constituents. Rather appropriately, we are in the middle of road safety week, organised by the charity Brake, which is held every November to raise awareness of death and injury on our roads and the steps that can be taken to improve road safety, including for cyclists.
Since the last debate here in February, we have had the Olympics. I want to take a moment to put on record the enormous contributions of our cycling sportsmen and women to cycling and to raising its profile internationally. The Olympics showcased the best of British. Some of our cycling Olympians, such as Sir Chris Hoy, were already household names, but others have joined the sporting pantheon. In addition, individual gold medals were won by Jason Kenny, Laura Trott, Victoria Pendleton and Bradley Wiggins. In the Paralympics, Sarah Storey won a sensational four individual gold medals, and David Stone, Anthony Kappes, Mark Colbourne and Neil Fachie also won individual Paralympic golds. Team gold and silver medals and individual silver and bronze medals were won as well, adding up to a record medal haul. Also, the incomparable Bradley Wiggins kicked off our summer sporting celebrations by winning the Tour de France, a truly magnificent achievement.
For those of us glued to the television or lucky enough to be in the velodrome, each British win was a memorable moment. It was a golden summer for British cycling. Undoubtedly, when a country does well in a particular sport, as we did in cycling, and produces new sporting heroes, it inspires a new generation to take up that sporting discipline, or at least think seriously about taking it up. Sometimes, it even inspires those of us who are a bit longer in the tooth to take up an activity once again. I am sure that all Members will agree that that is a thoroughly good thing.
Cycling obviously has positive benefits for individual health and the environment. The organisation CTC has cited studies showing that the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks by a factor of 20 to 1. Estimates from the Department for Transport—perhaps the Minister will give us more detailed figures if he has them—suggest that 11% of adults in England now cycle for at least 30 minutes once a month. However, that is still some way behind numerous other European nations.
One key thing that holds people back from cycling is concerns about road safety. In the past few weeks, there have been a number of road accidents involving high-profile individuals, which has brought the issue of road safety for cyclists to the top of the national agenda once again. Early this month, Bradley Wiggins was knocked off his mountain bike by a van coming out of a petrol station near his home in Lancashire. He was taken to hospital with bruises to his right hand and ribs. The next day, Shane Sutton, head coach for the GB cycling team, was knocked off his bike by a car while cycling along the
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Stockport road near a junction. He suffered a concussion and small bleeding on the brain, but thankfully, his condition soon stabilised.
As we all know, those accidents made the national news. They even took the US presidential election out of the top news spot for a while. “Newsround”, the BBC children’s news programme, asked its viewers whether they felt safe on their bikes. Many did not. One caller said:
“Although it helps you to keep fit, I think riding a bike on roads is dangerous and unsafe because vehicles may not be able to see you.”
Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. On the point about road safety, does he also accept that the Government recently made available an additional £30 million to tackle dangerous junctions and £15 million for infrastructure, including cycle routes and facilities at stations and across the country?
Alok Sharma: Of course. I agree with my hon. Friend. The Government have made additional moneys available to the £600 million sustainability fund, to which I will return. Funding is right, and it is one aspect of ensuring that we have a road infrastructure that works for everyone.
To return to the issue of children and cycling safety, if there is a perception among the young as well as adults that being on a road is dangerous, it is a serious deterrent to cycling, which is particularly bad news. The latest statistics from the Department for Transport are concerning. In the year ending June 2012, the number of pedal cyclists killed or seriously injured on our roads increased by 9% compared with the previous year, and so far this calendar year, 108 cyclists have been tragically killed in the UK. The total for 2011 was 107. More than 3,000 people were seriously injured on UK roads while riding a bike last year, a 16% increase in the number of reported serious injuries to cyclists.
It is absolutely clear that more must be done to improve conditions for cyclists on our roads. Cycling organisations such as British Cycling have been calling on the Government to put cycling at the heart of transport policy to ensure that cycle safety is built into the design of all new roads, junctions and transport projects. I absolutely endorse that view. In the 21st century, we must plan for and ultimately have a transport infrastructure that is safe and fit for purpose for all users: drivers, pedestrians, commuters and cyclists.
In recent years, there have been a number of campaigns to improve safety for cyclists. One of the latest, launched in February this year, is The Times newspaper’s Cities Fit for Cycling campaign, which involved the publication of an eight-point manifesto. The campaign, which has attracted cross-party support, was launched by The Times after one of its reporters, Mary Bowers, sustained serious injuries in a collision with a lorry while cycling to work. It is an excellent campaign that has provided an impetus for a continued focus on road safety for cyclists. It is also helping provide funding for the all-party group’s report, which will be published next year.
I know that Members present will be familiar with the eight-point manifesto, but I will set it out again for the record. The Cities Fit for Cycling campaign calls for heavy goods vehicles entering city centres to be fitted with sensors, audible turning alarms, extra mirrors and
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safety bars; identification of the 500 most dangerous road junctions, and their redesign or fitting with priority traffic lights and Trixi mirrors; a national audit of cycling; the earmarking of 2% of the Highways Agency’s annual budget for next-generation cycle routes; improved training of cyclists and drivers, including making cycle safety a core part of the driving test; a mandatory default speed limit of 20 mph in residential areas where there are no cycle lanes; invitations to businesses to sponsor cycle schemes, as has happened in London; and the appointment of a cycling commissioner in every city.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on cycling, who unfortunately could not be here, secured a debate in February relating to the campaign. It was incredibly well attended, and I know that some Members present today also contributed to that debate. In his response to that debate, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) set out the Government’s thoughts at the time on the campaign’s manifesto points. On the first point, my hon. Friend responded that his Department was involved in discussions at European level about improving standards for heavy goods vehicles to help reduce accidents. I would be grateful if the Minister responding to this debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), updated us on any progress in those European discussions.
On the second manifesto point, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes noted that he had already given all local authorities in England the authority to install Trixi mirrors as and where they deem it appropriate. Again, it would be useful if the Minister provided us with any statistics his Department may have on the number of Trixi mirrors installed by local authorities over the past six months.
On the third point, relating to a national audit of cycling, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes explained that his Department had commissioned a new question in the Sport England active people survey, to provide more detailed information on cycling at local level. I was pleased that in August the Department published for the first time ever local authority data on cycling, based on responses to the active people survey. I hope that the Minister will tell us how often he expects these data to be published, so that we can start to gauge the trend in cycling across individual local authorities. This should, over time, prove to be a powerful tool in helping to focus on which authorities are good at encouraging cycling and which need to try harder.
Regarding the earmarking of 2% of the Highway Agency’s annual budget for next generation cycle routes, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes was understandably hesitant about adopting a specific figure, but mentioned that the Department was undertaking a stocktake of Highway Agency routes to consider what might be possible in future. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister has an update on that stocktake and what this may mean for improved cycle routes.
Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman might know that I am chairman of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety. Will he include in that stocktake the fact that we must go back to having targets for accident reduction, whether
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in respect of cyclists or other category of road user, including pedestrians? We have in the past two years renounced targets, but we know that if there are no targets across Europe casualties start to increase. Will he make a plea in his speech for getting back to targets, so that we can get accident reduction for cyclists and other road users?
Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con): The hon. Gentleman has eloquently put on the record his views on targets. I am sure that the Minister will give us his thoughts, and those of his Department, on that point.
On improving training for cyclists and motorists, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes also talked about the work of the Department’s Bikeability initiative, among other matters, as well as noting that he had established a cycle safety sub-committee of the stakeholder forum. I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister has in recent weeks led his Department’s THINK! Cyclist campaign. I am grateful for the work that he is doing to improve road safety, but it would be useful to have some feedback on, and his view of, the work of the new safety sub-committee.
With regard to sixth issue in The Times’ campaign—the 20 mph speed limit— my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes noted in February that he had already taken action to make it easier for local authorities to introduce 20 mph zones and a 20 mph limit. Does my hon. Friend the Minister have any update on the number of new 20 mph zones introduced in the past 12 months by local authorities? If he has, I hope that he will provide that in his response.
The Times’ campaign’s seventh manifesto point relates to encouraging businesses to follow the lead of Barclays in London and back cycling schemes and initiatives. There is universal support in the House for this idea. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes said that his Department would send out the message to encourage this. Will the Minister update us on whether the Department has had any traction in this respect with other potential business sponsors?
The manifesto’s final point calls on every city to appoint a cycling commissioner to champion cycling-friendly reforms. Clearly, this is a matter for local authorities, but I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes wrote earlier in the year to the leaders and chief executives of each council across England, encouraging them to consider whether someone in their organisation should take a lead role on cycling. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister provides some feedback on the responses that he has received and on the number of local authorities that have appointed a cycling champion.
I have asked my hon. Friend to respond to a range of issues, but I also want to put on the record that I know, having talked to him, that he is committed to improving road safety for cyclists. His Department has provided £600 million through the local sustainable transport fund to support local authorities in their use of transport to lever growth and cut carbon locally. Many of the 96 projects have a cycling element. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) mentioned a number of other funding streams that have come on line from the Department and I am sure that
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the Minister will give us a full view on everything that his Department is doing to provide further funding to help cycling and cyclists.
Rehman Chishti: On road safety and cycling safety, the figures that I have from the DFT say that in 2011, 111 people were killed in cycling incidents and 3,085 were seriously injured. Does my hon. Friend have any evidence showing how many of those incidents, whether fatality or serious injury, could have been avoided if those persons were wearing a cycling helmet?
Alok Sharma: I will talk about an independent report produced for the Department for Transport in 2009, which demonstrated that the use of cycling helmets absolutely makes a difference in reducing fatalities and injuries. Let me come on to that later.
Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Is not it absurd that Members of Parliament still pretend that wearing a cycle helmet increases the risk?
Alok Sharma: My hon. Friend, as ever, makes a good point. There is clear evidence that using a cycling helmet, whether as an adult or a child, reduces the risk of injury. I will talk about cycle helmets, but in this debate there is almost a gulf between those hon. Members who believe that cycle helmets should be made compulsory and others who do not. Organisations out there have similar or differing views, as well. My hon. Friend is right—it has been concluded in independent reports and reports produced by the Department—that wearing a cycle helmet makes a difference in terms of improving safety.
I was talking about the contribution that the Minister and the Department have made. He is also committed to supporting Bikeability cycle training for the remainder of this Parliament, which is welcome. I am pleased about that good news. However, I shall return to my central theme. All hon. Members who are supporters of cycling want cycling to be put at the very heart of transport policy. I hope that the Minister will tell us—apart from all the funding streams and all the work that is going on—how cycling will be, or is already, a central part of his Department’s policy.
Proper provision for cyclists on the road is not just something that cyclists want. Hon. Members will know that the AA recently undertook a survey of its members, and 62% of the 20,261 AA members who responded to it said that there are not enough cycle lanes. An increased number of cyclists on busy roads is leaving many motorists feeling insecure about how to interact with cyclists. The majority view is that clearly defined cycle lanes would be good news for both motorists and cyclists. That means a lot more than slapping down a few white lines intermittently along the pavement, as happens, unfortunately, in my home town of Reading.
Ahead of this debate the Mayor of London’s office was in touch with me—I am sure that it was in touch with other colleagues as well—setting out the Mayor’s commitment to making London even more of a cycling city. The aim of the Mayor’s cycling strategy is to increase cycling by 400% by 2026, from 2001 1evels. I understand that record levels of investment in cycling over the past four years have supported the cycling strategy, with investment levels now approaching those of other leading European cycling cities. A number of
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European cities have significantly higher per capita spending on cycling than we do in many of our cities. It will be interesting to hear the Department’s view on that, and on how the situation can be rectified. Alongside the Mayor’s flagship schemes of Barclays cycle hire, cycle superhighways and biking boroughs, a range of complementary activities has led to a 70% increase in cycling in the capital over the past four years. Many of our cities, towns and local authorities can learn from the example of London and, no doubt, Members will have other best practice from their own areas to share.
The second part of the debate relates to the wearing of cycle helmets, which can be a controversial subject, but I have no wish for a particularly emotional debate. We need to be dispassionate in discussion, and to debate on the basis of evidence rather than emotion. I asked for the debate today because I was prompted by a recent meeting with the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust, a national, award-winning charity based in Reading. The trust is committed to saving young people’s lives by promoting safer cycling and, in particular, the use of cycle helmets. The organisation was founded in 1988 by a paediatric nurse who, through her work, saw the devastation that head injury can cause, not only to the child but to the whole family. Since the charity’s conception, it has grown in drive and commitment to be an advocate for the child and young person. It also provides a community service by highlighting the need for safer cycling practices that incorporate the distinctive needs of children and young people. The charity is a national resource working with parents, teachers, police, road safety officers, Departments and health care professionals by promoting and providing educational programmes in schools on the need for helmet use and safer cycling practice throughout the United Kingdom.
The trust has worked successfully with the Department for Transport in the past and it recently submitted another proposal, for a project that aims to complement the Bikeability programme. It would engage with areas in need, which may not be part of training programmes due to social challenges, and work with young people to develop their understanding of road safety and self-safety. As part of its proposal, the trust wants to work in local communities to develop partnerships and to draw on local private sector organisations to provide safety packs to children who, because of the cost, might be without helmets, lights and reflector bands, or without access to training. I hope that the Minister will agree to meet representatives of the trust and me, so that we can explain to him in detail the objectives of the latest proposal, and that we will secure his personal support for the project.
The Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust is absolutely committed in its advocacy for children and young people to wear cycle helmets. I very much share that view, and the statistics on serious injuries to cyclists bear out why wearing a cycle helmet is so important, especially for children. In 2011, just over 3,000 seriously injured road casualties involving pedal cyclists were recorded by police. In addition, almost 16,000 incidents of pedal cyclists being casualties in slight accidents were recorded. Of the 3,000 serious injuries, 349 casualties—or 12% of the total—were children aged nought to 15. However, according to NHS statistics, almost 9,000 emergency road traffic hospital admissions last year involved pedal
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cyclists, so there is a threefold understatement in police-recorded injuries compared with NHS admissions. One reason for that is that not every injury or incident takes place on a road—it can be off road, in particular for children, and I will focus on that as I progress. Furthermore, of the 9,000 emergency road traffic hospital admissions, more than 3,000 were of children aged nought to 15—35% of the total. The understatement in police-recorded injuries compared with NHS admissions for children in connection with cycling injuries was therefore tenfold. That demonstrates that, when children are involved in accidents, a lot of the time, they do not happen on the road or the highway, but off road. Children may be cycling with friends in the playground or in woods, and we must bear that clear distinction in mind when we discuss cycle helmet usage as potentially compulsory for children as opposed to adults.
Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing the debate. I am sure that anything we can do to make cycling safer would receive broad support, although I draw to his attention the attempt by the former Member for Carlisle, Eric Martlew, to introduce a private Member’s Bill. The manner in which he and the Bill’s supporters were attacked was absolutely unbelievable, yet beneath it all were people with a genuine desire to see children cycling safely, whether on roads, on footways as toddlers, in playgrounds or elsewhere. We need to do something to tackle that, to see a definitive decrease in the number of injuries.
Alok Sharma: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point and he makes it passionately. It is vital that we see a reduction in injuries and fatalities not only for children but for adults. I will come to the 2004 private Member’s Bill, but we have moved on since then, because there is more evidence. As I said at the start of the debate, however, there is clearly a chasm between those who believe that wearing helmets should be mandatory and those who do not.
Members might remember a few weeks ago when Bradley Wiggins tweeted on the subject. In my view, he is an absolute god, but even Bradley Wiggins came in for quite a lot of stick, and he of course then made further statements about his views on the compulsory wearing of helmets. Yet we cannot get away from the fact that wearing helmets saves lives and cuts down on injuries.
Mr Sheerman: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that when we organised the seat belt legislation some 28 years ago, a passionate group attacked us for undermining individual liberty? Many made the argument that wearing seat belts would make people drive faster and therefore kill more people. The proud record is that we have saved many lives over that 25 years.
Alok Sharma: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, and I will come on to that. That Bill eventually became law because of the courage of Members in the House at the time, and it is now second nature for us to wear seat belts. There is no question but that wearing seat belts saves lives, and there is no kind of negative impact.
 Mr Bone: My hon. Friend is generous in giving way. I wanted to reinforce his point. According to emergency departments that see children, 90% receive injuries from non-vehicle-related accidents. We always hear, “Oh, it’s because you are going to be knocked over by a car”, but most accidents do not involve a vehicle and are cycling accidents alone.
Alok Sharma: I thank my hon. Friend for making that point and for reinforcing the fact that we are discussing wearing helmets not only on roads but off road.
We were discussing the understatement in police records compared with NHS records of injuries and why that could be. One of the key reasons, for children, is that many such injuries take place off road, as my hon. Friend has just pointed out. The total figure for cycle-related hospital admissions, however, includes only patients who occupy a bed. Those who attend A and E are not included in that 9,000. That, of course, does not include any gap between unreported and reported incidents involving only slight accidents, so the total number of cycle-related injuries receiving hospital treatment is likely to be much higher than any of the statistics that I outlined suggest. It is appropriate that the debate about cost includes not just the human and social cost, but the financial cost of cycling injuries and fatalities. We must look at the broader picture, and the larger figures.
Head injuries ranging from fatal skull fractures and brain damage to minor concussion and cuts are common in cyclists. I understand from the information published by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents that hospital data show that an estimated 45% of child cyclists admitted to hospitals have suffered head injuries. That is a high percentage indeed. Undoubtedly, some of those injuries would have been reduced or may not have occurred if a cycle helmet had been worn.
A recent Transport Research Laboratory report, which was published in 2009 and commissioned by the Department for Transport, reached several conclusions about the efficacy of wearing cycle helmets. It concluded that helmets, assuming that they are a good fit and properly worn, are effective in reducing the risk of head injuries. They are expected to be effective in a range of accidents, particularly the most common accidents that do not involve a collision with another vehicle but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough said, are falls or tumbles over handlebars.
The report concluded that a specialist biomechanical assessment of more than 100 police forensic cyclist fatality reports predicted that between 10% and 16% of fatalities could have been prevented if the cyclists had worn an appropriate helmet. Those who do not believe that we should have compulsory wearing of cycle helmets say that, at the end of the day, helmets will not save lives. It has been shown conclusively in an independent report produced by the Department that in some cases they do.
Most interestingly, the report concluded that cycle helmets would be particularly effective for children. I could go into the reasons for that, but I am sure the Minister, if he has time, will explain them. Yet a 2008 Transport Research Laboratory report, commissioned by the Department for Transport, estimated that only 18% of children and 35% of adults wear helmets on the road.
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Apart from the terrible human and social cost of cycling fatalities and serious injuries, there is a financial cost to the country and to society. According to the Department for Transport’s own report, the total value of preventing reported road accidents in 2010 was estimated to be £15 billion. Let me put that in context. The entire transport budget for 2010-11 was just over £12 billion, and The Times manifesto calling for 2% of the Highways Agency’s budget to go towards cycle routes would amount to around £80 million. The average value of preventing every reported road accident was almost £1.8 million for a fatality, over £200,000 for a serious accident and over £20,000 for a slight accident.
One clear way of cutting down on the human, social and financial cost of cycling accidents, particularly those involving children, is through wearing cycle helmets. I am pleased that all hon. Members who have contributed to this debate so far agree. The time has come for the Government to consider very seriously the case for introducing the mandatory wearing of cycle helmets for children. I know that this is a controversial issue, and the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) shakes his head, so I presume that he does not agree.
The hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Brown) said that a private Member’s Bill in 2004 did not make progress, but it was supported by a wide range of organisations including the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the safety charity Brake, the Child Accident Prevention Trust, the Child Brain Injury Trust, and the brain injury association Headway. Last year, the British Medical Association welcomed a Bill in the Northern Ireland Assembly to make wearing helmets compulsory, but unfortunately it did not make progress. The World Health Organisation has also stated that laws mandating helmet use can be effective in reducing road traffic accident injuries.
Many countries in Europe have laws on wearing cycle helmets, and we would not be the first to introduce such a law. In Europe, it is mandatory in Finland, where all cyclists are required to wear cycle helmets; in Spain, it is mandatory outside built-up areas; in the Czech Republic, it is mandatory for children under 16, in Iceland, for children under 15, in Sweden, for children under 15, and in 2010, it became mandatory in Austria for children under 10. Outside Europe, helmets are mandatory in Australia, New Zealand, 20 states of the USA and some Canadian provinces. We would not break new ground by at least considering the introduction of such a law.
Introducing a cycle helmet law will not suddenly solve the problem of road safety, and many hon. Members in previous debates have made that point. That is why I started this debate by talking about other measures that need to be introduced to make our roads safer. They include segregated and dedicated cycle paths and routes.
Returning to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough made, we can make our roads safer, but that may not reduce cycling injuries in children, because many of their injuries occur off road. The argument that we would drive people off the roads and discourage them from cycling does not hold water.
Wearing cycle helmets saves lives and reduces injuries, and even the most hardened opponents of cycle helmets acknowledge that. A key argument by anti-helmet campaigners is that making them compulsory will put people off cycling, will therefore not help in reducing
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carbon emissions and will discourage a healthier lifestyle. Some organisations have produced statistics showing that the mandatory wearing of helmets might save tens of lives, but that a reduction in the number people cycling would result in people perishing earlier than expected because of obesity. I am not sure that that is a serious contribution to the debate.
International evidence suggests that mandatory helmet wearing, particularly for children, does not result in a long-term drop in cycling. Some studies have concluded—one in Australia is often cited, but it was about 20 years ago—that introducing compulsory helmet wearing may result in a temporary decline, but that the medium to long-term effect is likely to be negligible. Other studies have concluded from experience in the States and elsewhere, particularly where laws were introduced only for child cyclists, that there has been no reduction in cycling following the introduction of such laws. International experience suggests that the wearing of helmets can be introduced successfully without resulting in a long-term decline in cycling.
Logically, a rule affecting only children should not discourage adult cyclists. The right hon. Member for Exeter has in previous debates made the point that the more people cycle on roads, the safer it will be. Children of five, six, seven, eight, nine or 10 are not part of a group that consistently cycles on roads, so introducing a cycle helmet law for them will not deter adults from cycling.
One thing that puts children off wearing cycle helmets, of course, is peer pressure, especially as they enter secondary school. It is not always considered cool to wear a helmet, but if we can change attitudes by introducing a law, so that it becomes the norm—almost second nature—to wear cycle helmets from a young age, that will stick with children in adolescence and adulthood. I have two young daughters; we go out cycling fairly often, and they were brought up wearing cycle helmets. I must admit that I do not always wear one, but when I cycle with my daughters, the peer pressure works the other way, and they absolutely insist that I wear a cycle helmet, too. If we can get children into a mindset whereby they think it is absolutely the norm to wear cycle helmets, we will see a change in attitudes, and they will wear cycle helmets into adolescence and adulthood. That change will mean that we see significantly fewer fatalities and injuries, not only on the roads, but off them.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), who has left his place, made a good point about wearing car seat belts. I was a teenager when the law was introduced, and wearing seat belts certainly was not the norm. I was not a particularly rebellious teenager, but I did not always follow the rules. However, after a few months, when everybody else is doing it, we do it too, and it absolutely becomes the norm. Thinking back, people will say, “Wasn’t it astonishing that people railed against the introduction of a law on seat belts?” If we get to the point where we can introduce a law making it compulsory for children to wear helmets, I hope we will look back after a few years and wonder what the fuss was all about.
The Department for Transport’s report concluded that wearing helmets is beneficial, especially for children. I am asking the Department to commission a definitive, independent report on the benefits and costs of introducing
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a law requiring children to wear a cycle helmet. In particular, I want it to look at whether such a law would deter cycling in the longer term and whether parents would support it. I am a parent; I cycle, and my children cycle. I am not part of any lobby or group. There are millions of people like me and my children, and they are the ones we should be listening to and whose views we should be getting, before we decide whether it is right to introduce such a law.
The Department could make a pretty easy start by introducing a few extra questions in the Sport England Active People survey. It could ask cyclists whether they regularly wear helmets or ask their children to wear helmets. It could ask them whether they would support a law making it mandatory for children to wear helmets.
The Horses (Protected Headgear for Young Riders) Act 1990 made it mandatory for young children riding a horse on the public highway to wear protective headgear. If such a law makes sense for young horse riders, surely it should make sense for children on bicycles. We are talking about a measure that will save lives, and prevent injuries and unnecessary cost. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Several hon. Members rose —
Mr Dai Havard (in the Chair): Order. Before Members start, I should point out that it is 3.13 pm, and four Members have indicated that they wish to speak. To help you manage your time, I should say that that is roughly five or six minutes each, if we are going to have interventions. If Members could bear that in mind and help one another, it would be appreciated.
3.13 pm
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Havard. Let me say at the outset that, given the time the hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) has taken for his speech, I do not intend to take interventions.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman very much on securing the debate, which is one of a number we have had recently on cycle safety. This is a very important issue, not least given the worrying news that this year, for the first time in many years, there has been an increase not only in deaths and serious injuries on the road, but in cycle deaths and injuries. The hon. Gentleman made a brilliant speech about a whole range of measures that could be introduced to help take those figures back in the right direction, and I was absolutely with him until he came to cycle helmets. I was even with him, to start with, when he talked about encouragement and exhortation, but I am afraid that as soon as he used the term “compulsion”, he lost me, and I will outline briefly the reasons for that.
I urge those hon. Members who press for compulsory cycle helmets, and the organisations that have lobbied them, to study the evidence. The hon. Gentleman said he wanted a policy that was based on evidence, and we should study not only the evidence, but the myriad debates we have had in the House since I came here in 1997. We should also talk to the organisations that represent cyclists. I speak as a lifelong cyclist, a former chairman of the all-party group on cycling, a former Health Minister and someone who cares deeply about the safety of cyclists and young cyclists in particular.
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The reason why the House has repeatedly rejected the idea of compulsory cycle helmets is that, overall, it would create a public health disaster, and I will explain why. Wherever cycle helmets have been made compulsory —whether in Canada, New Zealand or Australia—that has had such a detrimental impact on cycling rates that the overall impact on children’s health and the health of society as a whole has been deeply negative. The hon. Gentleman used an important statistic, which is essential to the whole subject of cycle safety, when he said that the benefits of cycling outweigh the risks by 20 to one.
In Western Australia, which has had a lot of experience of this issue because it has had a law on it for more than 20 years, cycling decreased by more than 30%, and it decreased faster among young people. That has been the experience in every country that has made cycle helmets compulsory. By all means encourage, by all means exhort and by all means have campaigns, but please do not, based on the best intentions, pursue a policy that is deeply counter-productive and that will cause more premature death, more obesity and more ill health among young people.
This is completely different from the seat belt issue. The last time the British Medical Journal was asked for its opinion on this issue, its board of education and science concluded:
“Cyclists are advised to wear helmets but legislation to make them compulsory is likely to reduce the number of people choosing to cycle and would not be in the interests of health”.
The BMJ added that research suggested that
“non-cyclists tended to be most in favour of helmets. In fact, a much greater number of lives would be saved if pedestrians and car occupants were encouraged to wear helmets.”
An analysis of the experience in Western Australia, which was the first place in the world to impose uniform mandatory cycle helmet legislation, showed that the legislation increased hospital admissions per cyclist on the road, reduced the popularity of cycling, damaged public health and increased all road casualties.
I therefore urge the hon. Gentleman to go back to the evidence and the debates that we have had in this House, and to pursue with all his energy and time the many measures that will help to protect children and improve child health and cycling safety. He himself cited the excellent campaign by The Times and its eight-point wish list. I gently suggest that The Times took great care in assessing the most important things that needed to happen to save the lives of cyclists and young cyclists. Compulsory cycle helmets were not among them, and there is a reason for that.
3.18 pm
Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), although I am afraid I agreed with virtually nothing that he said. I welcome the new Minister, for whom we have great hopes. He is following on from an excellent Minister, who is now in the Northern Ireland Office, and whose work on cycle helmets we certainly appreciate.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) on being brave enough to introduce this really important debate. By the time he leaves this
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room, the Twittersphere will be filled with hate mail for him. It is extraordinary how members of the public and cycling groups can object to anyone who suggests that we recommend wearing a helmet; that is so wrong.
There is a simple statistic that always amazes me: 15% to 21% of young people wear a helmet and 35% to 40% of adults wear one. So parents are happy to go out and put a helmet on their heads to protect themselves, but will not do it for their children. I do not think anyone would regard me as a pinko lefty liberal. That is not the view of me in the House. Yet it is clear to me that the right thing to do is to bring in the mandatory wearing of cycle helmets for young people. I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill to that effect. The reason for that is simple. Children’s skulls are not developed, so the protection of a helmet is even more important for them than for an adult. Children cannot assess the dangers as an adult can. If adults freely decide to wear helmets it is absurd not to tell children that they must wear them.
My hon. Friend talked about horse riding. We now require children to wear helmets on the cricket field when they are batting and if they are keeping wicket. That has worked well, and now more adult players wear helmets, both when they keep and when they bat. If I had been wearing a helmet when I tried to hook this guy for four off a bouncer, I would not have lost most of the sight in my right eye. I was old enough to make that decision, but when it comes to cycling, surely we should protect children by law.
I know that that is not the Government’s view, and I entirely understand their point of view. The previous Minister made it clear; but he also made it clear that he would do anything outside legislation to promote the wearing of cycle helmets, and in the past few months I am afraid that things have gone backwards from that. I want to read from a letter to the Prime Minister, from the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust, which is a splendid organisation. I deal with many charities in my role as a Member of Parliament, and there are those that do something at grass roots, and care about something, and those that just talk about things and are worried about their next grant. The trust is a small charity that cares and does something about it. Angie Lee is a feisty lady who has been fighting on this question for a long time. She is a trauma nurse and sees the results of dreadful injuries. I think she needs to be supported. She has written a powerful letter to the Prime Minister, which is dated 16 October, and which unfortunately has not been replied to or even acknowledged by him, but she puts the case much better than I can. She says:
“When we last communicated back in March this year, you conveyed to me that the Government and the DfT encouraged the use of cycle helmets, especially for children. This offered me some assurance along with the confidence we had in the then Roads Safety minister, Mike Penning. I have not had the opportunity to meet his replacement, Stephen Hammond, as yet.
However, what you conveyed to me is in reality not the case. There is a fundamental conflict between sectors of the DfT, the road safety sector and the sustainable transport unit, with helmets being the ‘sell off’. Over the last two years we have seen a systematic move to undermine helmet use and its benefits and to exclude stakeholders, like ourselves, from being included on forums where cycling and helmets are discussed. It was only through the commitment of Mike that helmets remained high on the agenda.
Your coalition minister, Norman Baker, has publicly voiced his negative views on helmets and their use. Mr Baker’s personal choice and opinion have been widely used by cycling trainers and organisations to legitimise opposition to helmets. The attached
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document used by the UK’s largest provider of Bikeability training, Cycle Training UK, demonstrates this. This organisation also uses your picture to support its stance. We understand that Mr Baker has set up and leads a forum of selected cycle stakeholders. This is not open to all, but only a selected few who appear to us to be of a similar opinion. Mr Baker appears to be using his ministerial position to support his personal preference not to wear a helmet.
This is not the only conflict to be of concern to us. Last month the DfT launched a new Think! Campaign. The poster design is dreadful. It depicts a ‘green man’ cyclist without helmet, bike lights or reflector band. The ‘green man’ car driver has no seat belt on. These fundamental safety actions were all identified by a group of ten year olds whom I showed the poster to. I also understand that the DfT had discussed using Olympic cyclist, Bradley Wiggins, to launch this campaign but the CTC objected and Mr Wiggins was excluded because of his positive views on cycle helmets. If this is the case, then there is a serious strength of bias that is undermining the independence and impartiality within the department.
These conflicts, bias and segregation are damaging the work of organisations like ourselves, who have little or no access to DfT funding. We had drawn up a business case following a meeting we had with Mike Penning but since his departure, this, not surprisingly, has not progressed as we were expecting. We have invested vast amounts of energy, conviction and hard earned funds in the attempt to protect child and youth cyclists and support the road safety agenda. We have the skills and knowledge to take child cycle safety forward. However, we are not able to overcome constructed obstacles, bias and use of poor science.
Both adult and child cycling casualties are increasing. This is down to poor guidance, personal obstruction and a failure to be open and objective to all views in the interest of a holistic approach to this issue.
I have had the support of the DfT for 20 years, working with changing Governments and numerous ministers over this period. It is, however, the first time that I truly believe that children and young people are being ‘sold off’ in the interest of sustainable transport. Who are the winners? Who is gaining the most and what checks and balances are in place to evaluate this?
You know how hard our charity works. We have been held up as the true ‘big society’. Child cycle safety needs people who are in tune with child and youth needs, who are not financially driven and who are determined to lead on this issue despite external negative extremists.”
Mr Dai Havard (in the Chair): Order. This is a very long quotation. Quotations are meant to be quotations rather than essays.
Mr Bone: I am conscious that I may be running over time, so I will not complete it, but I think the Minister has got the flavour of what Angie says. The issue is important; if possible would he nudge the Prime Minister to reply on that vital issue? I know that the Minister’s sympathies are with people wearing helmets, but I think that there has been a movement away from that in his Department in the past few weeks.
3.28 pm
Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Havard, on the first of two occasions. I congratulate the hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) on securing the debate, which comes after some high-profile cycling incidents, and today’s report in The Times.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Bradley Wiggins being knocked off his bike on 7 November in Wrightington in my constituency. For obvious reasons the case received significant national media coverage and highlighted the
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dangers for cyclists on the roads. Prior to the incident Bradley Wiggins had often spoken about the need to improve road safety for cyclists. Our roads grow ever busier, and there is an absolute need for all road users, whether cyclists or motorists, to take individual responsibility for being as safe as possible on the roads. That responsibility means not behaving in a way that endangers other road users, but for cyclists it also means taking the appropriate precautions to keep their bikes and themselves safe, including always wearing a helmet. For motorists it would include not speeding, and being cautious when passing cyclists.
Today The Times not only showed the serious dangers that cyclists face, but referred to the fact that this year, which is unparalleled in terms of the success and popularity of cycling, the number of cyclists killed on British roads is sadly on course to reach a five-year high. According to analysis by Transport for London, which was quoted in the article, 56% of cyclists’ deaths are caused by motorists’ “unlawful and anti-social” manner, yet only 6% of collisions are caused by cyclists behaving in the same way. Some people argue that we need to consider how properly to integrate cycling into the modern transport network. I would not, however, encourage anybody to follow the example of West Lancashire borough council, which has invested section 106 money building a cycle path to junction 4 on the M58. We certainly do not need to encourage cyclists towards the motorway network.
It is important to discuss whether making cycling helmets compulsory can improve cyclists’ safety. It does improve it, but the reality is that there are times when a helmet does not offer enough protection from dangerous driving. In such cases, we need to consider how motorists who cause fatal collisions are dealt with through the judicial process. At present, a view is that the inconsistencies in the charging and sentencing of motorists involved in collisions with cyclists is very worrying.
Everybody knows of Bradley Wiggins, but people will not know of Christine Favager, who was another cyclist involved in a collision in my constituency. Tragically, this time it was a fatal accident. Sixty-nine year old Christine was cycling along a rural road, Asmall lane, in Scarisbrick. The accident happened at about 7.40 pm on a July evening in 2011—not on a dark, wintery night. The 19-year-old driver was travelling between 59 and 63 mph as he raced into a bend. He was travelling too fast and too close to another car as he entered that bend, and witnesses saw the car swerve right across two lanes. In over-correcting, the driver was forced across the road to avoid hitting the car in front, which meant that Christine was hit head on. She had been cycling in the opposite direction. Initially, the driver was reported as being arrested under suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving. He subsequently pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving. A 20-month custodial sentence in a young offenders’ institute and a three-year driving ban were handed down to him. Christine’s family lost a very dear member.
That case highlights one of the complaints from cycling groups, which is that often the lesser charge of death by careless driving is pursued, as opposed to the charge of death by dangerous driving.
Mr Bradshaw: My hon. Friend gives an example of someone receiving a custodial sentence. I am sure she is aware that in a great many cases, drivers who kill cyclists and pedestrians do not even get that.
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Rosie Cooper: I appreciate my right hon. Friend’s point. The case I described happened in my constituency, which is why I referred to it, but there truly is great outrage out there at the sentences being handed down to motorists who kill in such circumstances.
If we are to improve the safety of cyclists on our roads, there has to be an extensive range of measures that will offer protection and act as a deterrent to erratic and dangerous behaviour on our roads. All road users, whether they are cyclists, pedestrians or motorists, depend on us getting the law right.
3.34 pm
Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I will move fairly quickly over some of the issues that have been raised, and I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) on securing the debate. He comprehensively covered the whole range of measures that we need to take to improve cycling safety. With cycling, there must be a package of measures, right through to dealing with those important instances highlighted by the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper), when we are all concerned about sentences perhaps not matching the incident in question. I understand the points that she made.
For a long time, I have been involved, in a fairly small way, in promoting cycling. It is so important—environmentally, for transport purposes, for health and leisure, as well as for family activities. In the early 1990s, I was chair of planning and highways at Poole borough council, where we introduced a big network of cycleways. We are moving forward; how exciting it was this year with the Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins, the Olympic success, and then seeing all those youngsters out on their bikes. It was absolutely amazing. I am still staggered walking the streets in London to see the number of people on bikes. It is all absolutely fantastic. I wholeheartedly support The Times campaign, which has driven this issue much further forward than we could have hoped to do by ourselves as parliamentarians.
I want to touch briefly, however, on the issue of cycle helmets. I, too, have worked with the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust, and I have also worked with local organisations. I am a patron of Headway Dorset and in Dorset, we have an organisation called Streetwise. It is a safety centre that covers all aspects of safety education, but it and the volunteers who work there are very concerned about cycling safety. A competition has recently been promoted among schools to design cycle helmets to raise awareness of how important it is to wear them. Raising awareness of that issue is crucial, and if we could achieve all that was needed to be achieved by doing that, we would not have to look any further.
I sometimes wonder why we need to go further. I look at BMX cycling on the television, and they are all wearing helmets, as, for the most part, are the children at the local skate parks. However, there does seem to be a common issue that it is not quite cool enough to wear one. It is certainly not good for a young person’s hairstyle at the age of 12 or 13, and it does not help if their friend is not wearing one. I have spoken to so many parents who say, “If only there was a law about this, I would feel happier about my child cycling.” When I raise such issues—I am thinking of this from the children’s standpoint—I have only ever looked at the possibility of
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a law for 14-year-olds and under. There is an issue of freedom of choice, but it is a vulnerable age group, and are we doing everything that we can?
It is suggested that my comments will result in the next generation of children being obese, but I find that difficult to believe. I would like to join the call made by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West, not for the setting up of the law, but for a review of the evidence. I have heard the Australian evidence quoted to me so many times, but we need to know whether we would be deterring children in large numbers from cycling. There must be a lot of evidence out there; we should look at it and at the end of the day, ensure that we put our children first.
3.38 pm
Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) on securing the debate, which comes at a time when cycle safety is so high on the public agenda, and on the compelling case that he made for improving cycling safety.
The work of campaigning organisations, coupled with high-profile accidents, has raised awareness and led to demands for better protection for cyclists. It is heartening to see Members on both sides of the House here today, and I hope that anyone watching the debate will be left in no doubt that MPs are taking cycling safety seriously. Politicians have a duty to promote cycling and to help create environments in which cycling can flourish. The health benefits of cycling are well known, and we now have a better understanding of how high levels of cycling can lead to cleaner and stronger communities. However, safety concerns are a serious barrier, especially for those people considering making the switch to cycling. It is imperative that those barriers be lifted. I pay tribute to the cyclists’ organisations that have lobbied for higher standards for many years, as well as to the Cities Fit for Cycling campaign by The Times.
Although cycling is generally a safe activity, there are still issues to be tackled. There are many areas where cyclists’ safety can be improved, but it is equally important that we do not undo the progress that has been made. Cycling casualties rose by 12% last year, with serious injuries rising by 16%, as we have heard. The Times reports today that fatalities are now set to outstrip last year’s toll, making this year the worst for cycling deaths since 2007. Although that tragic rise may not have a single cause, the abolition of national safety targets was condemned by many in the cycling community, and my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) was right to raise that issue today.
National targets had been in place in one form or another since 1987 and had enjoyed cross-party support. Although there is scope for reform of national targets, I wanted to highlight their importance early in this debate, because I hope that this is an area where a new cross-party consensus can be achieved. Indeed, the need for national safety standards is a theme that should be emphasised. Better training for both cyclists and drivers would cut accidents and fatalities, but local programmes are too often dependent on bids for central Government funding. Labour has called for long-term dedicated funding for cycling proficiency training under the Bikeability
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programme to be restored, along with the restoration of school travel plans to raise awareness of walking and cycling among children. Cycle safety should also become an integral part of the driving test.
Cyclists would also benefit from dedicated funding for improvements to existing infrastructure. That is why Labour has called for a portion of the roads budget to be ring-fenced—so that communities can build up networks of cycleways. Too many junctions are dangerous for cyclists and need to be redesigned. That approach has been highly successful in northern Europe, and we should seek to replicate that success. Those improvements can be delivered, but planners need to know that funding will be available.
We also back the call by The Times for cycling commissioners in every city, to encourage local initiatives. They would benefit from a cycle audit, which would help to map out danger spots, as well as a new planning toolkit that drew on the lessons of the successful cycling city and towns programme, which was axed by the current Government. A new test—a cycling safety assessment—should be met before new road and major transport schemes are granted planning approval. Our existing roads were not designed with the needs of cyclists in mind, but we can at least correct that historical imbalance in the future. The “Manual for Streets” guidelines, which placed pedestrians and cyclists at the top of the user hierarchy, represented a good start. We should look to build on that principle.
Everyone agrees that reducing speed will improve road safety and save lives. Real progress has been made on lowering speed limits in residential areas, with a city-wide 20-mph limit being introduced in Portsmouth and many additional schemes in other towns and cities. We are looking at ways to support more local authorities to make the switch to 20 mph, but the removal of funding for speed cameras and the possible raising of the motorway speed limit mean that we have had mixed signals on road safety from this Government.
We also need to see action on one of the major safety hazards for cyclists—heavy goods vehicles. They account for a disproportionate number of deaths and serious injuries on the roads—a risk that was brought home to us last year when Mary Bowers, the young Times reporter, almost lost her life after being crushed by a lorry. A collaboration by Queen Mary, university of London and Barts and The London NHS Trust looked at the effect of heavy goods vehicles on cyclists’ safety. The conclusions that they reached are startling. Of patients brought to the Royal London hospital, cyclists hit by a car suffered a mortality rate of 6%. For those hit by HGVs, the rate was 21%. Of the most seriously injured cyclists, 82% had been hit by some form of motorised vehicle, but the overwhelming majority—73%—had been hit by a heavy goods vehicle. According to Transport for London, goods vehicles now account for half of all cyclist fatalities in the capital.
There is a clear need for action, and we have set out our support for reform. We would work with the industry to equip lorries with safety equipment, including blind-spot mirrors and side protection to help to stop cyclists falling under their wheels. Those upgrades could be funded through the proposed HGV road-charging scheme. We would invest in on-street infrastructure, including Trixi mirrors at junctions. More rigorous and comprehensive training is needed for lorry drivers, and we would work with the industry to achieve that as a priority.
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According to the Department for Transport’s own figures, rail freight use would have gone up by 732% by 2025 if the decision had not been made to allow longer HGVs. Rail freight is now projected to go up by 262% instead. I hope that, in the interests of tackling congestion and improving road safety, the Government will look again at the issue, with a view to reversing that change.
All the measures that I have described would have safety benefits in their own right, but the overall impact is of vital importance as well. The wider effect would be to normalise cycling. I have seen for myself how cycling is a way of life for a striking number of people in Copenhagen and Malmö, where the long-standing determination of national and local politicians to deliver investment has reaped dividends. We need the same quality of leadership on cycling in the UK. We should not accept the Government’s retreat from promoting national standards.
That leads me to the issue of helmets and the case that some people have made for them to be compulsory. I have no doubt that helmets can effectively protect cyclists, particularly in low-impact collisions, and I would encourage their use, particularly by children, but I do not believe that compulsion is the answer. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) explained, where compulsory helmet laws have been introduced, they have been associated with a decline in bicycle use, including by children. After helmets became mandatory in Australia in 1991, cycle use in Perth dropped by up to 40%. In New Zealand, cycling levels halved between 1994 and 2006. Compulsory helmet laws in both Israel and New Mexico were deemed to be unsuccessful, with cycling levels dropping to the point at which the viability of bicycle-sharing facilities was put at risk.
Any substantial drop in cycle usage can in itself have a serious impact on safety. The safety-in-numbers effect means that when cycling levels increase, so does driver awareness and demand for infrastructure investment; conversely, when levels fall, individual cyclists may be at greater risk. An example of the safety-in-numbers effect can be found in the Netherlands, where cycling levels are high and relatively few people wear helmets. British cyclists are three times more likely to be killed on the roads than their Dutch counterparts.
There is simply no quick fix for these issues. If we want more people to take up cycling, we need sustained investment and a more supportive attitude to cycling in general. British Cycling has said:
“Helmets can help save lives in many incidents and we recommend they are worn…What would contribute much, much more to making cycling safer is better road infrastructure.”
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) noted that there have been some unhelpful comments in the media about the causes of accidents, and I would like to deal with that point. Everyone on the roads has a duty to act responsibly. For cyclists, that of course includes using lights at night and cycling in a safe and law-abiding way. However, the truth is that cyclists are at fault only in a minority of collisions. That is why alongside training for cyclists, we urgently need better training for motorists and lorry drivers in particular. As I said, we need dedicated funding for infrastructure improvements. We need the Times Cities Fit for Cycling manifesto to be implemented in full and we need national standards to be upheld.
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As a regular cyclist myself, I appreciate the importance of cycle safety standards. If we are serious about modal shift and tackling inactivity levels, we must make our roads safer and more attractive for cyclists and pedestrians. This debate has provided another vital opportunity to highlight the work that has been done and the work that we still need to do. Labour will continue to advance proposals to make our roads safer, and we will keep the pressure on the Government to strengthen their position on cycling safety.
Mr Dai Havard (in the Chair): Mr Hammond, would you like to give all those answers to Mr Bone’s 10-year-olds and on behalf of the Prime Minister?
3.49 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Stephen Hammond): I am delighted to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Havard. I think that it would be presumptuous of me to provide an answer on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but I certainly listened to what my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) said and I will come to his comments in a moment.
I particularly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) and congratulate him on the debate. He made an excellent speech—a serious speech. A number of questions came up, and I will try to tackle as many of them as I can in the short time available. I am sure that if I do not respond to them all, he will want to write to me, and I will be happy to put the replies on the record. I particularly welcome the debate.
I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) said, and yes, of course there is more to do, but I hope that she recognises the great deal that the Government are doing. We take the promotion of cycling, the ability to cycle safely and our responsibilities seriously. Cycling is not just a convenient, healthy and green way to travel, as hon. Members have said, but relatively inexpensive, and therefore accessible to many. There has never been a better time for people to get on their bikes, and that is exactly what we are seeing.
The trend started after Beijing 2008, which reignited the passion for cycling for many people. As my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West pointed out, after the heroics of the Olympics, Paralympics and Tour de France, not only have we seen thousands more people cycling, but we expect hundreds of thousands more people to take to two wheels. In some parts of London, cyclists already seem to outnumber other vehicles.
I commend The Times’sexcellent cycling campaign; we have taken much of it on board. The hon. Member for Nottingham South was right to commend also British Cycling, Sustrans, the Bicycle Association of Great Britain, London Cycling Campaign and C2C, all of which lobby heavily, carefully and thoughtfully for cycling. It is distressing that, although the number of cycling fatalities has been falling—fatalities decreased between 2010 and 2011—the number of serious injuries has increased. As road safety Minister, I am determined to ensure that our roads are as safe they can be for everyone who uses them, whatever the mode of transport.
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The Government have invested substantially in road infrastructure and other safety angles, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) pointed out. The local sustainable transport fund is targeting £600 million of investment over four years to look at local networks. Almost all the projects funded so far include infrastructure improvements for cycling. I could give examples, but will not due to the time. Improvements include landscaping, resurfacing, repainting, new lighting and adding new parts to junctions to improve the safety of cycle routes.
The Department is working on other ways to reduce risk. We have made it considerably simpler for councils to install Trixi mirrors to improve the visibility of cyclists at junctions and to put in place 20 mph limits and zones. I strongly encourage councils to consider the greater use of such 20 mph zones in residential areas, because they clearly have an impact on the safety of cyclists and pedestrians. We have also made it easier for councils to introduce contraflow cycling by changing signage laws, so fewer signs need to be used. I am working closely with cycle safety stakeholder groups on other issues and infrastructure measures that the local sustainable transport fund can bring forward. We have made £30 million available to local councils up and down the country to tackle the most difficult and dangerous junctions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reading West mentioned HGVs. The hon. Member for Nottingham South is right that training is crucial for HGV drivers, operators, transport managers and employers. That is why I am pleased that the Freight Transport Association, with Government support and backing, introduced a cycling code last year. I was delighted to be at the launch of the Mineral Products Association’s new drivers’ awareness campaign. It targeted young cyclists at Hyde park, where a number of them stopped to see how difficult it is for even the most well trained drivers to spot cyclists, even in the most well equipped lorries with a blind-side mirror and other safety implements. The Government are behind that awareness campaign, and I support the investment from the MPA and the FTA.
All EU member states have implemented the European legislation, which applies to almost all HGVs used in domestic and foreign trade. We continue to drive that agenda in Europe, to ensure that mirrors are required for new vehicles. We have provided £30 million to make potentially hazardous junctions across England safer for cyclists. Of that, £15 million is going to London, because we recognise that in London in particular there has been a huge increase in cycling and in the number of people wishing to access the roads more safely.
We are working with partners, through the Department for Transport cycling stakeholder forum, on a wide range of issues, including safety. I will meet the group in the near future. It is inclusive: it includes cyclists, motorists and representatives from local authorities and the Freight Transport Association, because not having all those people on such a body would mean missing out on opportunities. We strongly encourage local authorities to follow the example of some of the schemes that we have set up and those set up previously to consider actions to improve safety for cyclists
In the short time available, I shall touch on helmets, because the issue has come up a number of times today. In 2009, the Government commissioned and published
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a report entitled, “The potential for cycle helmets to prevent injury”. It concluded that helmets could be expected to reduce fatalities and injuries in the event of an accident, particularly if a vehicle was not involved. No evidence was found of helmets adding any additional injury risk. Let me make it clear that the Department for Transport supports the promotion of cycle helmets, through measures such as Highway Code rule 59. I was also pleased to initiate the recent THINK! campaign in September. The Government are putting more money into Bikeability cycle training and have committed more money to it over the next three years. The Department also makes its support clear on its webpage and through other schemes.
We equally accept that helmets are a matter of exhortation rather than compulsion. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough made a powerful speech. He is right that the former Minister was excellent and showed strength on this matter—I am not sure that I will live up to my hon. Friend’s hopes. I entirely agree with him; anything outside legislation to promote and exhort the wearing of cycle helmets, I will do in my role as road safety Minister. I am happy, first, to nudge the Prime Minister to ensure that he answers my hon. Friend, and, secondly, to accept his invitation to a meeting. I am sure that he will write to my officials about that.
One of my first acts as road safety Minister was to announce the first THINK! Cyclist campaign. Many will know that we have used the THINK! label for a number of road safety campaigns, but we have not had a campaign dedicated to cycling for 10 years. It concentrates on the behaviour of cyclists and motorists, by getting those who cycle, who are often motorists as well, to think about how they behave on the road as motorists and how they want people to behave towards them as cyclists. I would like to go into more detail on that campaign, but I accept the comment that the little green man should have been wearing his helmet. A number of cities have taken up the campaign and I continue to spend time promoting it. I am convinced that THINK! Cyclist can have a beneficial effect on road safety.
I am acutely aware that we are coming to the end of our debate. Cycling offers huge benefits to both the individual and society. The challenge, which remains a challenge for the Government, is to continue to ensure that our roads are as safe as we can make them. Investment is therefore going into infrastructure and the training of young people, and we exhort people to wear cycle helmets. I hope that when we have a debate on this subject in a years’ time, as I am sure we will, the trends will not only seem to be downwards, but be proven to be downwards.
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