Did you know that there have been 8 cyclist deaths so far this year in London? Or that the number of daily bike journeys have more than doubled over the last 20 years? One thing's for sure: as bus and Underground fares continue to rise in the capital, and with the Congestion Charge in place in many parts of the city, more and more commuters are travelling by bike. By the end of this article, I hope you will have learned more about the simple steps you can take to keep safe on London's streets.
How bad is it?
Bike safety is becoming a real concern in London, with statistics on the number of serious accidents in the capital providing shocking reading. According to City A.M, Elephant & Castle (and in particular, it's famous roundabout) is one of the most dangerous locations for cyclists, with 15 incidents being reported in 2013 alone. In fact, there were 475 serious injuries across London in total during 2013, with 14 fatalities. A good deal of these happened close to roundabouts and junctions, although the time of day also had an impact on the number of casualties. According to Transport For London, cyclists comprise of a quarter of all traffic during the rush hour, and commuters wanting to get home can often be tired, less alert, and more likely to have a crash at this time.
The most dangerous vehicles
Larger vehicles that are on the roads during rush hour can pose a significant safety hazard to cyclists, especially when they have impaired visibility. The huge weight of these trucks has led to some disturbing statistics from TFL, who state that 35% of all cyclists seriously injured in an accident had collided with a minibus or HGV vehicle. This was significantly more than other types of vehicles, such as cars, taxis, and light goods vehicles.
Safety when cycling in London
So, what can be done about it? Cyclists who take more care and attention when on the road could reduce their chances of having a serious accident significantly. Yes, a lot of this you've probably heard before, but you'll be surprised as to how many cyclists in London still don't take basic safety precautions.
+ Firstly, make sure you're up-to-speed with the Highway Code. In short, don't jump any red lights, refrain from cycling on the pavement unless there's a designated cycle path, and steer clear of the kerb. Your safety should be your prime concern every time you use your bike, regardless of the weather conditions or part of the city you are travelling through.
+ Wear a helmet. This one can't be stressed enough. There's a plethora of helmets that will not only keep you safe, but headgear that will actually look great too.
+ Make sure your bike is "roadworthy" - essentially, it should be in a good state of repair. Older bikes that have broken components could be extremely dangerous, so make sure you maintain your vehicle on a regular basis.
+ Watch your speed when it's raining or when road surfaces or wet, as it can take you longer to stop if it's slippery.
Safety when cycling close to larger vehicles
As the statistics from TFL already suggest, it's larger vehicles that can cause so many accidents on London's roads - especially if you are riding in a position where you can't be seen by the driver.
+ Never pass on the inside of a heavy vehicle or bus if the space is too small, or if you can't see the traffic that is about to start moving.
+ If you've approached a left turn, stop behind a heavy vehicle rather than beside it. You may want to get home after a hard day at work, by taking a few extra seconds for the vehicle to pass in front of you could make all the difference between life and death. If you've stopped in front of a heavy vehicle, move forward until the driver can see you (though make sure you are not in danger of any other moving traffic).
+ Consider using reflectors or wearing bright clothing - especially at night and in bad weather. Light coloured clothing can be worn during the day.
+ If you have a bell - use it. Remember - not all pedestrians can see you, so you'll want to make sure you alert them if they pass too close to your vehicle. The same thing can be applied when riding close to larger minibuses and HGV vehicles.
Keeping a positive attitude
You don't have to go to any extremes to keep yourself safe when on the road. It's most down to common sense and taking a more cautious approach when cycling. Signal clearly at all times, make contact with other drivers, and remember that motorists are entitled to use the same road space as you are. Having a mutual respect for everyone on the road (including passengers) will benefit everyone.
The cyclist-driver relationship should be a mutual one, and drivers will also need to take additional precautions to ensure the safety of everyone when on the road. For example, a driver should always check for cyclists when they open the door of their vehicle and give cyclists plenty of space when overtaking them - especially in busy parts of the city.
If you lack confidence when cycling, or haven't used your bike for a while, you can also enrol on a cycle training course. These programs will help you to develop new skills and get you up-to-speed on bike safety - especially if you plan on using your bike on a regular basis.
So many collisions happen when a cyclist is on the inside of a vehicle which is about to turn left. You should never just assume that the vehicle is going ahead because they haven't signalled, and in this situation, it's best to wait a few seconds until the vehicle has passed forward. Also, steer clear of passing heavy vehicles such as minibuses and HGVs, especially at junctions where an accident can occur. More cyclists taking these precautions will hopefully lead to less grim reading about the number of casualties on London's streets in the future.