As a society, it is vital that we should be doing everything we can to encourage children to exercise and stay fit. Shocking recent research by sustainable transport charity, Sustrans, shows that children spend 45% longer than their parents’ generation travelling to school in cars. Surely then, a good way to encourage children to form a (hopefully lifelong) exercise habit and reduce this figure would be to encourage more children to cycle to school.
But as both a lawyer specialising in cycling claims, and a keen cyclist, I am all too aware of the dangers cyclists can face when getting on their bikes. These dangers only increase during this time of year, as the days grow shorter (and therefore commuting takes place partly or wholly in the dark), whether conditions grow more extreme and temperatures dip, with those on bikes being affected by the reduced visibility and changeable conditions facing both themselves and other road users.
With this in mind, ensuring that cycling to school is an activity that can be undertaken as safely as possible is vital, and I believe it is something that requires a multi-faceted approach.
Whilst it is important to recognise that it should always the motorist’s responsibility to keep a careful look out for other, more vulnerable, road users the Child Brain Injury Trust’s “Be Seen, Not Hurt” campaign is a really good way of introducing the concept of encouraging children to understand how to become more visible on the roads and forming safe cycling habits at an early age.
A good start is encouraging children to wear reflective clothing when cycling, particularly in the hours of dusk and reduced light levels. Reflective clothing has greater benefits than high visibility clothing, something proven by research from the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL). Taking Bikeability training will also help, and if a young person is looking to develop their cycling skills, then they should get booked onto a course. Although reflective clothing can be helpful, a cyclist’s visibility is ultimately helped by their position on the road, and learning how best to position yourself to stay safe from other road users is a skill everyone who rides a bike needs to develop. If we’re trying to encourage more children to cycle to school, teaching them how to read other road users will help them to stay safer in the long term.
Shockingly, in 2013, 1,640 children were involved in serious or fatal accidents with cars whilst cycling or walking, representing 83% of all child deaths and injuries. This is according to figures from the DfT and it is something that needs to be urgently addressed by government if they are truly serious about encouraging young people onto bikes. I cycled to school as a child and I believe it is a great way of building exercise into a child’s daily routine. But recent RoSPA studies show that 90% of children’s cycling accidents occur between 8.00am – 9.00am, and 3.00pm – 6.00pm; the times when children will be cycling to and from school. That figure needs to be drastically reduced not only to protect children, but also to demonstrate to parents that it is reasonable for them to be encouraging children to ride their bikes without the significant safety fears that presently surround cycling.
I advocate equipping people with the ability to keep themselves safe on the roads, but people on bikes are vulnerable road users, and need to be given more support, as is the case in other countries, such as Denmark and Norway.
I am proud that JMW is supporting the Child Brain Injury Trust’s “Be Seen, Not Hurt” campaign, and contributing to encouraging cycle safety from an early age. To learn more about us and our work with cyclists injured through no fault of their own, you can visit our website; www.jmw.co.uk/services-for-you/bicycle-accidents/