How to drive and cycle safely in the city

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We examine the nation's feelings towards cyclists and drivers sharing the road. Can the relationship ever be harmonious?

Cyclist

During the summer, cycling to the office may seem like the perfect way to add a little exercise to your working day but many people are often put off by the high volumes of traffic on UK roads.

There's also the fact the relationship between cyclists and drivers is often a fraught one; with cyclists unhappy that drivers don't give them enough space and drivers annoyed about having to share the road.

Although there are some cities around the world where harmony between cyclists and motorists exists - Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Berlin to name just three - it's unusual to find such harmonious relationships in Britain.

With news stories centred around dashcam footage showing drivers and cyclists alike losing their tempers and causing chaos, it's easy to pick a side and ignore the alternative view.

And with calls for the UK to introduce presumed responsibility laws - meaning drivers would automatically take responsibility for accidents with cyclists - similar to those in force in Denmark, it seems relations are frostier than ever.

In Admiral's Survey of Motorists 2014, only a third of the 2,000 drivers surveyed said they'd consider getting on a bike themselves.

However, because it's impossible (and dangerous) to ignore other road users it's essential for both cyclists and drivers to understand what life is like for their fellow traveller.

Cyclist  

Role reversal on the roads

This is an opinion shared by the Freight Transport Association (FTA) who recently joined forces with the walking and cycling charity, Sustrans, to create a training programme designed to protect vulnerable road users.

Safe Urban Driving is a one-day course in which drivers hop on a bike and experience the road from a cyclist's perspective. The course was trialled in Belfast over the summer.

The FTA says the association is delighted to be involved in an initiative designed to improve road safety.

Spokesman, Seamus Leheny, said: “Our members take road safety awareness very seriously and are working hard to reduce the fatalities involving lorries on the road. “We are pleased to work with Sustrans in developing this training course and are delighted at the uptake to date.”

Karen Mawhinney, Sustrans Cycle Skills unit co-ordinator in Northern Ireland, said: “Sustrans is pleased to work with the FTA on a training programme and awareness campaign to ensure both drivers and cyclists can safely share road space. As the number of cyclists increase, we have seen a rise in casualties, particularly involving lorries.”

The scheme is not the first of its kind either, last year Hackney Community Transport Group teamed up with Bristol bike tour company, Cycle the City, to put a group of bus drivers through their paces.

Cyclist

Top tips for cyclists and drivers to share the road safely

Initiatives such as these serve to remind us just how different life on two wheels is compared to life on four, especially for those who have never ridden a bike on a road before. If you want to know how to stay safe but don't have time to do a swap, just follow our top tips:

How to cycle safely on roads:

  • Stop at red lights - it's safer to do as the traffic does, plus the fact not stopping could land you a £50 fine
  • Stay away from parked cars - it may be a tough thing to avoid on busy streets, but staying a door's width away from a parked car is much safer. It's also better to cycle in a straight line rather than veering between parked cars in order to stay visible to drivers behind you
  • Signal - you'd be annoyed if a car, bus or van didn't indicate, you could be seriously injured if you don't. Make sure to use appropriate hand signals to let other road users know where you're headed
  • Safety gear - falling off your bike could happen anywhere, it doesn't have to be the fault of a driver. If it does happen though, wearing a helmet could be the difference between a sore head plus a slightly dented ego, and something far more serious. As well as head gear, be sure to wear reflective clothing at night and bright colours in the day, and use night lights and reflectors
  • Cycle training - you're never too old to learn some new skills, there are plenty of cycling proficiency courses around the UK, find one near you and learn some important skills

 How to drive safely around cyclists:

  • Leave room at lights - the advanced stop line box is there to keep cyclists safe, not so drivers can get away from the rest of the traffic quickly. Keep your distance and allow cyclists to pull away safely before you do. Entering the box while the red light is on could result in a £100 fixed penalty fine and three points on your licence. Are those extra couple of metres really worth it?
  • Check before you open your door - if you're in a car or van, make sure to check for approaching cyclists before throwing the door open. A door opening into a cyclist's path could cause serious damage to both your car and the person on the bike
  • Double check at junctions - you should be aware of cyclists at all times but especially at junctions. While you're stopped at the lights a cyclist or two could catch up with you and end up alongside you, they could be hidden by a car turning left and cross your path. Make sure you check and then check again before pulling off
  • Check your blind spot - it goes without saying really, but make sure you regularly check your blind spot, especially before pulling off from standstill
  • Give cyclists plenty of space - keep your distance from cyclists. When you're in a rush or in busy commuter traffic, it's easy to forget how vulnerable cyclists are. They are, after all, just a person on a bike, while you're sat inside a metal plated machine weighing a ton. Be considerate and mindful of other road users no matter what mode of transport they're using.

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