Spike in rural cyclist deaths post-lockdown prompts AA to urge careful driving
With numbers of cyclists surging over the past year, the AA has recently urged drivers to take more care, particularly in the countryside. The announcement comes after sombre news from the Department of Transport that the number of cyclists who died on rural roads in 2020 was up on the previous two years, with 89 people having lost their lives on country lanes – an increase of 50% from 2019. This was despite fewer vehicles using the road and a sharp drop in the amount of traffic thanks to the Covid lockdowns. In response to this rise in road deaths, the AA is recommending drivers treat cyclists as they would any other vehicle when manoeuvring round them.
The announcement comes soon after a recent update made to the Highway Code, which reaffirmed the priority of cyclists and pedestrians as road users. For motorists, this means that the rules of the road that apply to other drivers also apply to bike riders. For example, if a cyclist is approaching from the right on a roundabout or a junction, then they must be given way to. Similarly, if a cyclist is attempting to turn right, then they must be allowed to make the turn rather than be pushed past at speed by impatient traffic behind them. Almost half of the 20,000+ cyclists killed or injured between 2011 and 2016 were involved in collisions at or near to a junction, so that is why such care at stops and junctions must be taken.
Bike boxes were introduced to tackle this problem, to allow cyclists more distance between them and rear-approaching traffic - remember that stopping in a bike box when pulling up to red lights could incur a three point penalty and a £100 fine (the only exception is if the lights suddenly change and it is safer to stop in the bike box than to continue and keep going through the junction.)
There are other instances when a tolerance is allowed. For example, when driving with cyclists in front, the Highway Code allows an overtake of a cyclist even when there’s a solid white line in the middle as long as the cyclist is travelling at 10 mph or less, but it must be done with at least 1.5 metres distance and with the utmost care.
Indeed, being wary of cyclists extends to when the car is stationary – drivers have been guilty of harming cyclists through ‘dooring’ them, i.e. opening car doors without looking and causing a collision with a passing cyclist. The way to combat this is to open the door with the far hand, forcing the driver to turn around and look back towards traffic and check if a cyclist is coming.
To make road deaths less likely and turn this trend, motorists must respect other road users and understand their needs. Meanwhile, cyclists can take their own precautions, including knowing their rights to the road, being as visible as possible while remaining wary and ensuring their wear a helmet.