Bradley Wiggins crash: What can be done to make UK roads safer for cyclists?

Chris Parsons

The high-profile accidents involving Olympic hero Bradley Wiggins and cycling coach Shane Sutton have bought the issue cyclist safety sharply back into national focus.

Wiggins, one of Team GB's gold medal-winning stars from the London Games, was hit by a van driver outside a petrol station last night, sustaining broken ribs and a fractured finger.

Team GB coach Sutton, meanwhile, was hit on the A6 near Manchester and is currently in hospital with bruising and bleeding on the brain.

While cyclists are constantly in danger and knocked over on Britain's roads every day, the two incidents in 24 hours have made road safety a national talking point.

Motorists often claim it is cyclists who cause danger for themselves by disobeying road rules and not wearing protective equipment.

Cycling campaign groups, however, say Britain's roads are not designed with their safety in mind, arguing they are often treated as second-class citizens when it comes to methods of transport.

But what is being done to make roads safe for cyclists, and how much real progress is being made?

The timing of the two incidents is particularly relevant for the UK government, after they launched a cycling safety campaign just three days ago.

The initiative, 'Get Britain Cycling', will include a wide-ranging inquiry into safety, with issues such as planning and design, traffic law and enforcement discussed before a final report is published in April.

But for some cycling safety campaigners, the changes cannot come quickly enough.

London Cycling argue that Britain's roads should be more like those in the Netherlands, where 27% of journeys are carried out on bikes compared to the 2% in this country.

They say UK road junctions are designed to "get as many cars through as possible", rather than with cyclists' safety in mind.

Charlie Lloyd, Campaign Manager for London Cycling, told Yahoo! News UK: "Too many of our roads are designed for fast traffic, and if they were designed for slowing things down it would help prevent incidents like this.

"In the Netherlands when there is a lot of heavy traffic they put in separate areas for cyclists.

"Across Britain the government is funding research into junctions, but we are decades behind some of other European countries."

For a government attempting to get the nation thinking about cyclist safety, the statistics make for sobering reading.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents say that last year, 107 cyclists were killed on Britain's roads.

This number may seem relatively low, but when you consider that 3,000 more were seriously injured and 16,000 slightly injured, it clearly becomes an issue which requires immediate action.

Department for Transport figures show that in the first quarter of 2012, cycling casualties were up 13% on the same period in 2011.

Wiggins is himself no stranger to the issue, having been questioned about cyclists' safety just hours after winning a gold medal at the London Games.

The 32-year-old was put on the spot following the tragic death of Dan Harris, an internet consultant who was dragged under an Olympic bus in the shadow of the cycling velodrome in August.

Wiggins said at the time that cycling helmets should be made compulsory, and that roads users should
use some 'give and take'.

Even the Olympic hero's wife, herself a champion cyclist, has vowed never to ride a road bike again after she was knocked down by a motorist in 2009.

Back in August David Cameron said making cyclist helmets compulsory was 'under review'.

The Prime Minister said on August 3: "It’s a difficult issue. There is a strong case for making them compulsory but when this was last looked at the decision was made not to do that because there are some who take a different view, that it would discourage cycling and it wouldn’t reduce the level of accidents."

There appears to be no easy answer to the issue of reducing cycling casualties on the UK's roads.

London Cycling have launched a 'Love London, Go Dutch' campaign intent on 'starting a movement towards installing continental standard cycling infrastructure in the capital'.

They argue that the current cycle lanes in London are of 'poor quality' and 'do little to encourage more journeys by bike'. It is a situation reflected in many other major cities and access roads around the UK.

A petition for London Cycling's 'Love London: Go Dutch' campaign has so far been signed by 40,000 people - a clear indication of the public desire for better cycling provisions.

While some argue for an overhaul of the roads in UK cities, others say motorists and cyclists should simply be more aware of each other.

Guidance on the AA website gives detailed advice for both drivers and cyclists.

As well as the usual guidance on wearing helmets, not jumping red lights and using lights after dark, they say cyclists should look our for drivers' blind spots and try making eye contact with motorists to ensure they've been seen.

Drivers, meanwhile, are urged to hold back if they are unsure of a cyclists' intentions, and expect those on bikes to do unexpected things.

In launching the 'Get Britain Cycling' campaign, Julian Huppert MP said this week: "Every day that goes past without action is another day a rider could be seriously injured or killed.

"This is not a risk any of us wants to take."

Many campaigners will argue that, in the light of what happened just two days later, the government need to fulfil their pledge.