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Urgent change needed to create safer roads for everyone


Serious injuries and deaths on our roads are unacceptable and preventable says Cycling Scotland’s Denise Hamilton

On average, four people cycling suffer a serious crash every week. Rather than accepting a rise in deaths and serious injuries being inevitable as more people cycle, we need to prioritise safety interventions in order to prevent them, as many European countries successfully have.

Organisations working in cycling road safety agree that building dedicated cycling networks, separated from vehicle traffic and pedestrians, is critical to creating a safer environment for cycling. Many other actions are needed in parallel, including a focus on vehicle speeds, road design, traffic levels and training. These actions support road safety for everyone using our roads – whether that’s walking, wheeling, driving, cycling or taking public transport.

Scotland’s Road Safety Framework to 2030 describes the road safety environment it aims to deliver, using the Safe System approach and focusing on five outcomes: Safe Road Use; Safe Vehicles; Safe Speeds; Safe Roads and Roadsides; and Post-crash Response.

Unfortunately, after good progress on road safety in Scotland for several years, fatalities and serious injuries on our roads have increased again. The overall number of fatalities on our roads increased from 141 in 2021 to 173 in 2022 and the increase was significantly higher in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK. People cycling continue to be disproportionately represented in road safety data. They account for only one per cent of traffic but 10% of serious casualties.

People of all ages and from all backgrounds are passionate about how cycling has improved their lives - feeling healthy and happy, the convenience of cycling, saving money and reducing their impact on the environment are just some of the benefits people enjoy.

As safe cycle networks are built, we can see more people travelling by bike, for example 13% of journeys on Victoria Road in Glasgow were made by bike, along the South City Way, in September 2023

To reduce climate emissions, a greater proportion of our journeys need to be cycled. And, as consistently evidenced, including in our research with 1,000 people across Scotland, more people would consider cycling but road safety is the biggest barrier.

The top priority for safety is a network of cycle routes, separated from traffic, like Glasgow’s South City Way and associated plans, and the City Centre West to East Link, as part of a wider Edinburgh network. 

Long term, improving road safety starts in primary school where Bikeability Scotland, the national standard cycle training teaches young people essential road safety awareness. Even countries with high cycling levels, like the Netherlands, provide cycle training to teach the next generation about road safety.

We need to address the high proportion of serious collisions with people cycling and walking involving lorries and vans. The number of large vehicles moving goods across the country is increasing and there is a disproportionate numbers of crashes involving people driving for work. We urgently need to take steps to minimise when people on bikes have to share road space with large vehicles and improve the safety standards of these vehicles and their operations. This includes requirements for additional safety measures such as improved visibility, blind spot mirrors and sensors, alongside training which raises drivers’ awareness of safety around people walking or cycling.

Public procurement and planning processes should incentivise fleet operators to invest in raising standards, by stipulating minimum safety requirements when awarding public supply chain and construction contracts and approving planning applications. These policies have been successfully introduced in London and we must make similar changes in Scotland.

Reducing speed limits and tackling speeding make our roads safer for everyone, as a recent Edinburgh 20mph evaluation demonstrated. And evidence shows the risk of serious injury or death for people cycling and walking increases disproportionately as speed increases.

Enforcement is crucial to reduce dangerous driving. Evidence shows that the majority of serious crashes, between a vehicle and an adult cycling are caused by the actions of the driver. Three quarters of the main contributory factors are assigned to the driver of the vehicle in collision with the person cycling. Greater enforcement activity, both by cameras and police, has a proven impact on improving driver behaviour. As has happened in Wales and across England, Scotland will need an online third party reporting system so dashcam and other footage can be used to take action against dangerous driving. The police can’t be everywhere but the public can – and organisations from Cycling UK to Roadpeace rightly continue to campaign on this issue.

Changes made to the Highway Code including a new Hierarchy of Road Users, which “places those road users most at risk in the event of a collision at the top of the hierarchy”, came into force in January 2022. These rules need continued communication and enforcement. Our independent research shows that three in four drivers say they know the Highway Code well but only half are aware of changes introduced in 2022.

As has been done effectively with drink driving in Scotland, we need people to understand dangerous driving as criminal behaviour, with stronger driving bans or sentencing to match.

Reducing overall traffic levels on residential and shopping streets, where people are walking and cycling most. Smartphone routing apps directing drivers to rat runs has led to an increase in traffic on residential streets. Given the rise in the number of vehicles on our roads (3.04 million vehicles registered in Scotland in 2020, compared to 2.66m in 2008), the increasing size of vehicles and traffic growth, a key part of making roads safer for vulnerable road users is ensuring emerging technologies are properly regulated.

Our priority is to enable people to cycle more safely in Scotland and see Vision Zero realised – zero fatalities and injuries on Scotland’s roads by 2050.

The Scottish Government’s Climate Change Plan includes a welcome aspiration to reduce traffic levels by 20% by 2030. With road transport the largest single source of carbon emissions in Scotland, it will be impossible to reduce our climate impact and improve public health without cutting traffic levels and enabling everyone to walk, cycle and wheel more easily.

Creating safer roads for cycling means a safer – and healthier - environment for everyone.

Denise Hamilton is head of communication at Cycling Scotland.



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