Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Is Cycling Too Dangerous?

Many people wont take to their bikes as they consider it's far too dangerous to ride on today's roads.  But is it really?

You will often hear or read a city cyclist say that they wouldn't want to ride in the country where there are fast roads and dangerously narrow lanes with cars speeding past.  That they would rather be riding in the city streets any day where traffic stops and starts and can barely get out of 2nd gear before hitting another traffic light.

Here in the country we toodle merrily along our lanes with the odd car passing us, happily cycle along the fast roads with cars whizzing past and swear that we could never cycle in a city with all of that heavy traffic including buses and lorries.

So is cycling really that dangerous?

In 2010 in the UK 111 cyclists were killed on our roads.

But let's take a look at the main reasons why cyclists are being killed and the times it can be said that they have contributed to the fact.

1)  Cyclists are continually undertaking lorries and buses at traffic lights and are killed because the driver can't see the cyclist in his blind spot and mows them down on a left turn.  The vast majority of cyclist deaths are caused this way.

2)  Cyclists weave in and out of traffic and are sandwiched between two motorised vehicles.

3)  Cyclists position themselves wrong in the road on a right hand turn, do not give a hand signal and cross in front of traffic turning left or going forward.

4)  Cyclists do not give themselves the required 3ft space between them and a parked vehicle who's door might open suddenly.

5)  Cyclists travel at night with no lights and no reflective clothing.

6)  Cyclists jump traffic lights.

7)  Cyclists do not follow the Look, Signal, Maneuver.

If you don't believe me then go to Youtube and look up "Silly Cyclists" and watch a few of those videos posted by Gaz, who is himself an avid cyclist.

Motorists, however much so many of them hate cyclists and don't believe we should share "their" roads, they do not want to kill or maim us.  The majority of motorists are very respectful of our entitlement to use the roads and very careful around us.  The majority of cyclists are motorists themselves.

In the four years since I took up cycling as my only mode of personal transport I have only had two scares.  One, if I am honest, I could say that I could take 50% of the blame, and the other was a motorist passing me so close I could almost smell his breath.   Scary but no harm came to me.

Things that you can do to bring the chances of an accident or danger to yourself down to the barest minimum and make cycling always a pleasure. 

Read the New Edition of the Highway Code -  Even if you have been a driver for more than 50 years the Highway Code should, in my opinion, be re-read every 5 years anyway.  If you have never or not for a long time cycled you need to know the "Musts" and the "Should" of cycling today.  There are also many new cycling signs that one needs to know if one isn't going to inadvertently break the law and get an on the spot fine.  Know the law and cycle to the law. 

Don't get caught in the "Them and Us" - There is no "Them" (the motorist) nor "Us" (the cyclist).  Each one of us is a person first and foremost and there are pleasant and nasty, safe and dangerous, knowledgeable and ignorant, people on the roads regardless of whether they drive or ride.  If a motorist is rude to you, shouting for you to "get off the road" or "get in the cycle lane" then treat him/her with the contempt they deserve and ignore them.  Don't get into a battle of your rights.  You will never convince that person and they simply aren't worth your time or trouble.

Don't even attempt to cycle through a large junction or traffic lights if you are unsure - Get off your bike and walk it and yourself onto the pavement and walk across with pedestrians.  Very importantly if you do this make sure you get off your bike whilst still on the road.  Do not cycle it up onto the pavement before dismounting or some over enthusiastic official could give you an on the spot fine for cycling on the pavement.   Both feet must be on the pavement when pushing a cycle along.

Do not undertake vehicles when approaching a junction - fall in behind the cars and position yourself as if you were a car about to make the same maneuver.  Make sure you turn around and make eye contact with the driver behind you so that both of you know what the other is about to do.

Do not jump red traffic lights however safe it looks - If you are nervous that on the traffic moving again you might be knocked off your bike by a vehicle turning left and you don't want to rely on the 5 second head start motorists are recommended to give a cyclist, then get off your bike and walk it across the pedestrian crossing. 

On very dull days and after dusk make sure you are well lit up and wearing reflective clothing - Be seen to be safe.  There is no excuse not to. 

Be polite and have good road manners - If you are cycling on a shared pedestrian/cycle path cycle and need to pass a pedestrian cycle at their walking speed until they see you or you say a polite "excuse me" and pass them slowly when they move over for you.  I personally never on any account ring my bell to say "get out of my way".  As far as pedestrians are concerned I feel because they are the more vulnerable then they should have right of way.  I have never yet come across a nasty pedestrian, in fact I have had some very pleasant conversations with some when I have been out cycling.

If you are cycling on a narrow lane or road and are holding up traffic, then at the first chance stop and pull your bike to one side to let the traffic hold up pass you.  Just because you have as much right to be on the road as a car doesn't mean you have to be rude enough to hold them up if you don't need to. 

Stick to the left hand side of the road - (unless crossing a junction or traffic lights) but don't ride right in the gutter.  Make sure that you give yourself a few inches on the left of yourself in case of any car passing you too close.  You will then have a few inches to turn your wheel and avoid him/her.   Claim your part of the road with confidence. 

Look behind you, Signal, Maneuver - Just as you would when driving a car.  You should for safeties sake keep looking behind you anyway when riding.  You could even have an outside mirror attached to your handlebars if you wanted to.  Giving good signals is paramount when cycling.  Motorists can't be expected to read our minds.

Use cycle lanes and paths where provided - The only reason I can see for not using these are when we come across a cycle lane that motorists have parked in, therefore making it more dangerous to a cyclist to keep pulling in and out of the lane and into fast moving traffic.  If a cycle lane is intermittently blocked then come out onto the road and stay out until the cycle lane is clear again.

Watch out for pot holes and sudden lumps and bumps in your pathway - If you are going too fast you could be sent head over heels by going through these.  Try to watch the road in front so that if you have to move around a hole, lump or bump, you will have time to signal you are pulling out and around.  Motorists tend to forget that there may be times when a cycle will need to make a sudden detour around something and this is why it's so dangerous for vehicles to overtake too closely,  so do try to give yourself time to literally read the road ahead.

To sum up:

If we know the law and cycle to the law, carefully and considerately, giving good hand signals, and where we feel it unsafe to cycle we get off our bike and walk, there is no reason, unless a vehicle deliberately aims for us, that cycling should be a dangerous way to travel.

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