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   Speech on Cycling Safety. Westminster Hall. Thursday 23 February 2012

Thank you Mr Weir and let me start by thanking my co-chair of the All-Party Cycling Group, the Hon Member for Cambridge for leading this debate and all of the members present

 

And let me thank the Times, whose cycling safety campaign triggered this debate

 

I’ve been cycling all my life

 

It’s a great form of transport, a great pastime and a great sport too

 

It’s a great way of keeping fit and improving health

 

It’s good for the economy, gets cities moving more efficiently and tackles climate change

                         

And that’s all great – but this campaign is important for a much simpler reason:

 

If people want to ride a bike, they should be able to and they should be able to do it safely.

 

When it comes down to it – it is as simple as that.

 

I’ve been a member of British Cycling and the CTC.

 

I’ve tabled PQs, raised issues in the chamber, backed loads of campaigns, attended countless meetings, conferences and seminars

 

But the Times has achieved a breakthrough in a few short weeks for which we’ve been campaigning for years.

 

Triggered by the tragic accident which injured their friend and colleague Mary Bowers so badly, the paper has raised the profile of cycling safety, encouraged readers to lobby their MP, forced it on to the agenda and lobbied ministers for change

 

Already 30,000 people have backed the campaign’s demands --

 

Over 20,000 on Twitter

 

Despite the weather, 2,000 rode to Parliament last night

 

More have lobbied their MPs to sign the EDM and be here this afternoon

 

The editor and his colleagues are personally -- emotionally committed to this campaign – they’re here today as well –showing how important they think this is.

 

And all this should show ministers that this campaign will continue, gathering pace and strength, attracting more supporters in Parliament and the country until its demands are met

 

I want to ensure that everyone who wants to speak is able to, so I’ll move on to the issues raised by the Times and on which we want to hear specific responses from the minister:

 

First, what consideration has he given to requiring by law lorries in city centres to have sensors, audible alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars?

 

As Road Peace points out, HGVs cause more than half cyclists deaths in London, so can I also ask whether he’ll support their proposal that lorries with safety technology qualify for lower premiums?

 

Second, will he ensure the 500 most dangerous junctions are identified, redesigned or fitted with priority traffic lights for cyclists and mirrors so lorry drivers can see them?

 

Third, will he undertake a national audit to find out how many people cycle and how cyclists are killed or injured to underpin cycle safety work?

 

Will he earmark two per cent of the Highways Agency budget for next generation cycle routes – with clear signage so cyclists can safely find their way?

 

On this point, why can’t he his colleagues spend a larger proportion of their department’s budget on cycling?

 

Cycling is booming in Britain – worth around £3 billion to the economy – but where £25 per person is spent on cycling in the Netherlands, Britain spends just a pound.

 

The benefits are clear from what has happened in London where £5 per person has been spent each year for more than ten years, leading to huge growth, compared to the average 79p spent elsewhere in the UK.

 

And given the benefits to economy, and the huge savings cycling could bring to the NHS, it would save huge sums in the long run

 

Next, what plans does he have to improve training for cyclists and drivers – particularly those using bus lanes - and to ensure cycle safety is a core part of the driving test?

 

One of the best ways of improving safety is getting more people cycling, so will he meet ministers in the Department for Education to discuss putting cycling on the curriculum – like swimming – so that every child learns to ride a bike safely and more children take part in cycling?

 

One of the big barriers to getting more people cycling is the fear many people have of cycling, so ensuring more people learn properly would help address this perception too

 

Making cycling safer in local residential streets would also help on this, which is why the Times’ wants 20mph to be the default limit in residential areas without cycle lanes.

 

They want businesses to sponsor cycleways and cycle hire like the Barclays-backed scheme in London.

 

And they want every local authority area to appoint a cycling commissioner to push home reforms.

 

On this, I’d go further.

 

Cycling obviously involves the department for transport, but local roads are run by local councils, so DCLG needs to be focused on cycling

 

We need commitment from the Department for Education if we are going to get more youngsters learning to ride at school

 

And given the health benefits of cycling and the need for dangerous drivers to be caught and then prosecuted properly, the Department of Health, the Home Office and a Ministry of Justice need to take cycling much more seriously too so can I ask the minister whether he will convene a cross-government cycling summit to get the government focused on all these issues?

 

How can we get a minister given the power and authority to get all these departments working together?

 

Failing that – how about having a minister in each department appointed as a cycling champion or a cross-government committee of ministers?

 

We need the Government to ensure cycling provision and safety is properly considered at the outset, during planning and implementation of all major transport issues and urban developments

 

That would mean we would never again see junctions like Vauxhall Cross which can only be put right at huge cost later

 

This is the central point made by British Cycling’s road safety manifesto.

 

It is clear that this is currently not the case.

 

For example, earlier this month, the road safety minister admitted there’d been no specific consideration of cyclists’ safety in the research being carried out on trials of extra long lorry trailers.

 

I also want to speak about the derisory sentences drivers often receive after killing or injuring cyclists.

 

For example, British Cycling employee and well-known cyclist, Rob Jeffries, was killed when hit from behind on an open straight road in daylight by someone who had already been caught for speeding.

 

Unbelievably, he got an 18 month ban, a re-test, 200 hours community service and a small fine.

 

It’s in line with the guidelines so there’s no hope of appeal

 

A lorry driver who killed Eilidh Jake Cairns admitted in court that his eyesight was not good enough for him to be driving … and was fined just £200.

 

When Cath Ward was killed the driver was convicted of careless driving and received a very short driving ban. He’ll be back behind the wheel again soon

 

Her friend Ruth Eyles wrote to me:

 

“What shocks me,” she said, “is that the driver who killed Rob Jefferies will be able to drive again in 18 months. Surely someone who has made such a terrible mistake through careless driving does not deserve to drive again for a very long time, if not for life?”

 

She went on:

 

“If that young man had had a legal firearm and had accidentally shot and killed someone through carelessness, would he be given a new licence 18 months later?

 

“This country’s attitude to driving is that it is perfectly acceptable for a driver who has killed through careless driving to drive again after just 18 months. What does that say about the value of Rob Jefferies’ life compared to a young man’s ‘right’ to drive a car?”

 

We need the sentencing guidelines revised to better reflect the harm caused to the victim, much in the way that the guidelines for assault have been revised, so will he lobby the Department for Justice to change the sentencing guidelines, ensure the punishment fits the crime and – more importantly – deters drivers from the stupid and dangerous driving that puts cyclists at risk?

 

But Mr Weir, my central point is that – as I said earlier and as the CTC’s report “Safety in Numbers” points out - the more people that cycle, the safer it will be.

 

Since 2000 bike use in Britain has quadrupled

 

Cycling in London has soared by 150%, and the number of deaths is down by 60%

 

Between 1985 and 2005 cycling rose  by 45% in the Netherlands and fatalities fell by 58%.

 

This summer gives us a huge opportunity to transform cycling in Britain

 

Britain’s brilliant cyclists – Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins and the rest – look set for huge success here in the Olympics and in some of the world’s biggest races too

 

As a result many more – particularly youngsters – will get on their bikes

 

And with the Summer of Cycling – which I hope the minister will commit today to fund – we’re aiming to double the number of people cycling

 

So let’s get all political parties, cycling organisations and the media working together to transform the number and safety of people cycling

 

There’s lots of things I disagree with the Prime Minister about, but it was absolutely fantastic that one of the ways he showed he was a different sort of Conservative was by getting on his bike

 

It was great as well that he backed the Times’ campaign in PMQs yesterday, but the truth is that he has the power – more than any of us – to act and really get the government focused on improving safety for cyclists

 

This campaign and today’s debate show is that this issue will not go away.

 

The Times is committed to campaigning on these issues for as long as it takes.

 

Whether you’re Sir Chris Hoy or Victoria Pendleton, a club cyclist or commuter, if you ride once a year on holiday or you’re a parent who wants their child to be able to cycle safely - email or write to your MP. Go to their surgeries, persuade them to back this campaign

 

And I want every MP here today to join the All Party Cycling Group, table questions, raise these issues in the chamber and back our campaigns to boost cycling and improve safety for cyclists

 

Because Mr Weir, that is the biggest tribute we could pay to Rob Jeffries, to Eilidh Jake Cairns, to Cath Ward and of course to Mary Bowers and all of those injured or killed whilst cycling

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