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[VACC] Female cyclists and transport trucks More thoughts on the London experience

[VACC] Female cyclists and transport trucks More thoughts on the London experience

James Daley: The Cycling Column
from The Independent

Why breaking the law can save your life

A debate has been raging on cycle internet forums over the past week, following the recent revelation that 85 per cent of female cyclist fatalities in London are due to incidents involving heavy goods vehicles. Two tragic deaths in the past month alone have reinforced the fact that
this is not simply a statistical obscurity.

And, of course, it is not only women who are killed by HGVs. Some 50 per cent of male cyclist fatalities also involve lorries. Action needs to be taken to try to put an end to this.

In Benelux countries, HGVs must be fitted with special mirrors that make it much easier to see cyclists trying to over- or undertake them. As a result, their drivers tend to be much more vigilant. In the UK, however, there is no such stipulation.

While I've seen a few larger vehicles with stickers on their nearside rears that warn cyclists not to undertake, these are in a small minority. Surely, it would not take a huge effort to compel all longer vehicles to display similar warnings, or to force HGVs to have the necessary mirrors fitted. At the very least, lorry drivers could have some element of cyclist awareness
integrated into their training.

Cyclists, too, need to be educated. I very rarely undertake an HGV, unless I'm certain I can clear it (ie, it's stationary and stuck in a traffic jam). But I do see other riders do all sorts of suicidal manoeuvres.

A revamped version of Cycling Proficiency Tests, now called Bikeability, was launched last week. Most urban cyclists could probably do with taking this. But until it catches on, perhaps the Government should invest some money in public safety campaigns for cyclists - as it does with
drink-driving and motorcycle awareness.

But what interested me more than the statistic about female fatalities and HGVs, was the rather controversial suggestion on the forum that female cyclists are more likely to get in accidents than men.

According to statistics from Transport for London, 37 per cent of cycling fatalities in the capital in 2003 involved women. This, argued several of the forum members, was well in excess of the 20 per cent of London cyclists who are female.

I was instantly sceptical. Women cyclists in London tend to ride more conservatively than men. And though a less aggressive approach to city cycling could be behind the fact that, proportionally, more women are killed by HGVs, it seemed nonsensical that female cyclists would be involved in proportionally more accidents. I decided to investigate.

In fact, the male-female split of cyclists in the capital has evened out over the past few years. While it was about 73:27 at the start of the decade, statistics from TfL show that it had moved to about 60:40 by 2005. And while this is roughly in line with the split of male to female cyclist
fatalities, women have a much better record on the whole.

Only 20 per cent of serious (but not fatal) cycling accidents involved women in 2003, and only 21 per cent of lesser accidents. It is men who have proportionally more incidents on London's roads.

Striking the right balance between caution and aggression when riding through cities is the key to staying on your bike. If you always assume that the car/lorry/motorbike in front or behind of you is going to do the worst possible thing, you give yourself a much better chance of staying
alive. However, knowing when to step up the pace to get yourself out of trouble is also an important skill.

The forum members concluded that fewer women would die if more of them jumped red lights (keeping themselves out of the paths of HGVs). A controversial solution, but one I found myself sympathising with. Jumping red lights has got me out of far more sticky situations than it's got me into.

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