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Astonishment at claim made to Transport Select Committee, as Jon Snow calls on government to give lead on cycle safety

Road Safety Minister Mike Penning yesterday astonished and angered cycle campaigners by claiming before the House of Commons Transport Select Committee that Britain's roads are safer for cyclists than those in the Netherlands. Earlier, broadcaster and CTC President Jon Snow yesterday had urged the government to provide leadership on cycle safety as he gave evidence to the committee, but both Mr Penning and Minister for Cycling Norman Baker insisted that it is making progress on the issue.

Mr Penning’s claim was based on deaths per 100,000 population, a measure that takes no account of the huge differences between the numbers of cyclists and levels of cycling in the UK and those in the Netherlands; according to an analysis of the relevant figures on the RadWagon blog, which used the standard measure of deaths per kilometre per 100 million cyclists, people here are nearly three times more likely to be killed while riding a bike than their counterparts across the North Sea.

Afterwards, Roger Geffen, Campaigns and Policy Director at national cyclists’ organisation CTC, told BikeBiz: "It is absurd for the Road Safety Minister to claim that cycling in Britain is safer than the Netherlands. More people cycle in the Netherlands. Per mile cycled the risk of a cycle fatality in Britain is more than twice as high.

He added that the minister “should be taking action to encourage more people to cycle and to improve safety for cyclists, not using misleading statistics to pretend that the problem doesn't exist." 

It’s not clear why Mr Penning chose to highlight deaths per 100,000 population, at least without framing those figures within the context of the different patterns of cycling in each country; it certainly does not seem unreasonable to expect that civil servants within his department helping him prepare for today’s session would be familiar with ways of comparing casualty statistics between different countries, and ensure he had the relevant figures to hand.

What is apparent, however, from today’s hearing is that there is a huge gulf between what cycle campaigners believe needs to be done to help protect cyclists, and what the government claims it is doing to ensure their safety.

At the end of the session, the general feeling among a number of cyclists who had been following proceedings and who were using Twitter to provide their reaction included disappointment and frustration that the ministers - and by extension, the government - did not appear to fully appreciate the issues involved or the suggested solutions.

In a week that on Saturday will see thousands of cyclists take to the streets of the British capital in support of the London Cycling Campaign’s Love London, Go Dutch campaign, which calls for Dutch-style infrastructure, there was also disbelief and hostility at suggestions by both Mr Penning and Mr Baker that authorities in the Netherlands should visit the UK to learn how to improve the cycle safety.

Prior to the two ministers addressing the Transport Select Committee in a session that brings to an end the oral evidence being gathered as part of its inquiry into the government’s road safety policy, MPs had heard from Times editor James Harding, whose newspaper launched the Cities Fit For Cycling campaign last February, Mr Snow, and author, long distance cyclist and cycle campaigner, Josie Dew.

The full session is available to watch online here, while short extracts of some of the evidence provided by Mr Harding and Mr Snow appear below.

Afterwards, in a statement released through CTC, Mr Snow said: “There is no leadership from central government on cycling. Leadership means joined up government with all departments working together to further cycling. There needs to be much more funding for cycling – perhaps £300 million a year from central government, a diminutive sum of money even in an age of austerity. ”

Ms Dew maintained: “I have ridden five hundred thousand miles in fifty countries and in my experience driver behaviour is getting worse. Drivers should have to ride a bicycle before they get behind the wheel – the best way would be to have cycling as part of the driving test.”

The presence of Mr Harding at today’s session reflects the way in which cycle safety has been pushed up the national political agenda as a direct result of his newspaper’s Cities Fit For Cycling campaign, launched after one of its reporters, Mary Bowers, was left in a coma after being struck by a lorry in November.

After today’s hearing, Mr Harding commented: “It has been amazing to us how people have responded to our campaign. Cycling is one area where people are now looking to politics and politicians for answers.”
 

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

34 comments

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northstar [1108 posts] 4 years ago
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Christ, he appears to not have a clue, should just resign now

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djcritchley [181 posts] 4 years ago
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That explains a lot ... if the government thinks that cycling here is safer than the Netherlands I now understand why money tends to be spent on campaigns rather than real infrastructure.

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Coleman [335 posts] 4 years ago
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Prat.

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Edgeley [395 posts] 4 years ago
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By his logic, we can also teach the Swiss about skiing safety, the Australians about avoiding shark attacks, and the French about vineyard accidents. What a berk.

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markyjl [10 posts] 4 years ago
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The good thing is that Penning and Baker were shown up to everyone, including the Transport select committee that they are completely clueless when it comes to cycling.

I would expect the Transport committee to take action to ensure that this changes. I suggest that we remind them of their duty to do so.

Why not send an email (transcom [at] parliament.uk) to them expressing your views on the current lack of understanding for cycling.

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zzgavin [193 posts] 4 years ago
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nicely put Dan

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G-bitch [323 posts] 4 years ago
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You expect any different from a Tory government?

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alex.hondsmerk [2 posts] 4 years ago
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I live in the Netherlands and study in the UK, and I was extremely surprised by this article. Cycling in Holland is far better thought out than in the UK - we have proper cycle lanes which are clearly marked and often set back from roads entirely. The cycle lanes are the first things to be gritted in icy weather, and are maintained to an extremely high standard. I have lived in the Netherlands for my whole life and have never had anything even close to an accident in the 15 years I have been cycling - bear in mind I go over 100 kilometres a week just getting around and shopping and things! In the five years I have been studying in the UK, I have already been sideswiped by two cars at junctions, been verbally abused by drivers and had several close calls with motor vehicles - and this is in a relatively quiet Southern town!
I am frankly disgusted by the manipulation of these statistics to cover up what is an extremely serious lack of provision for cyclists. If the government really wishes to encourage a cycling society, perhaps they should actually visit my home country to see how it is done!

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antonio [1134 posts] 4 years ago
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Car drivers then can kill with impunity in Holland as well?

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Coleman [335 posts] 4 years ago
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G-bitch wrote:

You expect any different from a Tory government?

Were Labour any better?

No.

I don't think this a party political issue. The disdain for cyclists and ignorance of the conditions they experience crosses political persuasions. The exception is the Green Party.

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GrimpeurChris [60 posts] 4 years ago
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They just have no idea about real life, cycling and statistics ... but they are politicians so do we expect any less?

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meehaja [24 posts] 4 years ago
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In a social chat with a local council leader, I invited him to come for a bike ride... the answer? Too dangerous!

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kitkat [395 posts] 4 years ago
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Coleman wrote:

I don't think this a party political issue. The disdain for cyclists and ignorance of the conditions they experience crosses political persuasions.

It took Cycling to unite the parties!

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Hamster [101 posts] 4 years ago
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Halfwit, which is the polite version of what I really think.

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Mask of sanity [5 posts] 4 years ago
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I get so frustrated when people harp on about needing more cycling facilities like cycle lanes! It's just not true! I've cycled in France and Spain and they don't have these facilities yet not once did I encounter poor driving with respect to dealing with cyclists. What we need is tougher punishments for drivers involved in cycling accidents and education. Saying the sun was in your eyes is not good enough and should in fact be further reason to punish for dangerous drivers as they didn't alter their speed to suit the conditions. Also, teach learners why when there's a traffic island you shouldn't try and over take, why you need to give them at least three foot of room when you do pass and why in a lot of the cases there isn't any reason to over take at all! Why over take if the cyclist is going to pass you at the next set of lights! It doesn't need to be expensive but by saying it is it means the government can be lazy about implementing changes.

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wild man [297 posts] 4 years ago
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I can't believe that a politician would ever manipulate statistics in order to make his own department look good.

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ragtag [218 posts] 4 years ago
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Coleman wrote:
G-bitch wrote:

You expect any different from a Tory government?

Were Labour any better?

No.

I don't think this a party political issue. The disdain for cyclists and ignorance of the conditions they experience crosses political persuasions. The exception is the Green Party.

To be fair, it took at least two terms in office for Labour to get this bad. Tories seem to be be losing touch and becoming more corrupt within the first term.

But agree this is across the board. How a minister can come out with this and still keep his job I have no idea.

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Paul M [360 posts] 4 years ago
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I think I should write to my MP, Jeremy Hunt, about this, as I reckon he could soon have lots more time on his hands to attend to constituents' letters!

It is clear that Penning was attempting to misconstrue this comparison, in that he went on to suggest the Dutch should come here to see how it is done, and in doing so it is evident that he must think we are as stupid as he is.

He could have presented the information differently,and it might have carried more weight (except that I htink it is still defeatable on other grounds): if more people cycle, more people will be injured cycling. That is true even if casualties per km decline, because they won't decline faster than kms cycled rises. Of course, fewer people will be injured using the mode of transport they would have used if they didn't cycle - walking has a greater risk, travelling by car a lower one.

He could therefore have said "if you want to travel safely, travel by car" - except of course that travel by bus is safer, by train safer still, by plane safer still. And fewer cyclists/more cars makes for even higher cycle casualties per km, negating part of the advantage.

And every arm of government piously says that cycling is good for us - our own health and fitness, conservation of scarce resource, reduction in harmful pollution, less pressure on the health servce and longer lives - and hen does stuff all practically about it.

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sparrow_h [35 posts] 4 years ago
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Ah yes, obviously Penning is protecting the population from being hurt on our bicycles by encouraging/compelling us all to drive instead, he is saving us from ourselves. Thanks Mike! How thoughtful.

But while we are looking at the stats comparing us to the dutch, how about injury rates for pedestrians and motorists too? Stats on air quality maybe? And have we any comparasons handy showing rates of obesity and diabetes between us and the dutch, for whom the option of active travel has been made pleasant and feasible, something Mike and his chums don't seem interested in doing for us. Or is Mike solely concerned with keeping the motor traffic flowing as quickly as possible for one shrinking segment of society, while impeding freedom of choice for those who would prefer not to contribute to the ever growing congestion on our roads?

Can we get the NHS involved in this debate? What we need is some input from the people who have to deal with the nasty side-effects of our current car-dominated culture, (including but not limited to injuries related to collisions, respiratory illness from air pollution, obesity, diabetes, ...).

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big mick [184 posts] 4 years ago
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With the price of fuel i think cycling will be more popular very soon.That said i think the tories will not be too interested while driving their Bentleys.As for the minister saying Briton is safer than Holland for cycling why do the people of this country give office to such ill informed fools.£10 pound a gallon will be the time things change.

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TiNuts [98 posts] 4 years ago
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G-bitch wrote:

You expect any different from a Tory government?

The last lot were just as bad. I remember signing a petition on epetitions.direct.gov.uk demanding a minimum safe overtaking distance (1m if I recall correctly). I received an email from the then Labour representative claiming that the matter of overtaking distance was dealt with sufficiently in the Highway Code and so no further legislation was necessary.

Anyone who has ever complained to the Police about excessively close overtakes will know full well just out of touch with reality that claim by the Labour idiot really is.

Clearly the Tories are just as adept at denying the problems that exist on our roads with respect to motorist-cyclist relations. I've no doubt that they will, as all politicians do, attempt to talk as much possible about it whilst doing as little as possible.

Exasperating isn't the word.

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don_don [149 posts] 4 years ago
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I imagine chuckles and raised eyebrows in various Dutch government offices, plus comments along the lines of "oh those f**king clueless British idiots" (in Dutch, that is)..

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wyadvd [128 posts] 4 years ago
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Mask of sanity wrote:

I get so frustrated when people harp on about needing more cycling facilities like cycle lanes! It's just not true! I've cycled in France and Spain and they don't have these facilities yet not once did I encounter poor driving with respect to dealing with cyclists. What we need is tougher punishments for drivers involved in cycling accidents and education. Saying the sun was in your eyes is not good enough and should in fact be further reason to punish for dangerous drivers as they didn't alter their speed to suit the conditions. Also, teach learners why when there's a traffic island you shouldn't try and over take, why you need to give them at least three foot of room when you do pass and why in a lot of the cases there isn't any reason to over take at all! Why over take if the cyclist is going to pass you at the next set of lights! It doesn't need to be expensive but by saying it is it means the government can be lazy about implementing changes.

++1

(Although Cycling accidents should definitely be quoted in terms of fatalitiies per cycling km travelled, not per 100000 of popn.)

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don_don [149 posts] 4 years ago
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Mask of sanity wrote:

I get so frustrated when people harp on about needing more cycling facilities like cycle lanes! It's just not true! I've cycled in France and Spain and they don't have these facilities yet not once did I encounter poor driving with respect to dealing with cyclists. What we need is tougher punishments for drivers involved in cycling accidents and education. Saying the sun was in your eyes is not good enough and should in fact be further reason to punish for dangerous drivers as they didn't alter their speed to suit the conditions. Also, teach learners why when there's a traffic island you shouldn't try and over take, why you need to give them at least three foot of room when you do pass and why in a lot of the cases there isn't any reason to over take at all! Why over take if the cyclist is going to pass you at the next set of lights! It doesn't need to be expensive but by saying it is it means the government can be lazy about implementing changes.

I've cycled in France and Spain too, and you will find their cities do indeed have 'these facilities' and are building more of them. However, I will agree with you that French and Spanish drivers are generally more considerate towards cyclists. I'm not sure why, but I do not believe it has anything to do with stricter enforcement of the rules.

We can argue till we are blue in the face about 'tougher punishments' and 'better training'. In fact we have been doing so for 30+ years and where has it got us?

You get frustrated at people harping on about cycling infrastructure? I take it you are fit and confident enough to cycle on the roads as they are now? Me too - bully for us eh! Unfortunately, we account for only 2% or so of the population. The rest simply won't consider cycling as a viable alternative unless its made easy, safe and attractive. The Dutch realised this 40 years ago. Time we took our collective heads out of the sand..

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wyadvd [128 posts] 4 years ago
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I have just watched those videos, and particularly the first one pretty much makes my blood boil.......

The way to appeal to "OUR BETTER ANGELS" IS TO LEGISLATE SO THAT MOTORISTS RESPECT CYCLISTS AND RECEIVE APPROPRIATE PUNISHMENTS WHEN THEY MURDER THEM.

For your information, if Dutch cyclists dare to venture off the toy-town "infrastructure" even for a moment, when it is not suitable, they are abused to a greater extent than cyclists here are on the roads, and unfortunately, the motorists have the law behind them in Holland.

Beware, if we get "infrastructure" we might get compulsion.

I was in Belgium recently and it broke my heart to see a peleton of cyclists crammed onto (teetering along on a) raised pavement area, when there was a perfectly good, wide road with hardly any cars on it to cycle on.

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Matt_S [281 posts] 4 years ago
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 13 13

You don't get to be a minister because you're intelligent.  26

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WolfieSmith [1327 posts] 4 years ago
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zzgavin wrote:

nicely put Dan

Ditto

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WolfieSmith [1327 posts] 4 years ago
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Hear. Hear It warmed my cockles to see two parents on the road with children in rush hour on bikes today. I like to imagine the short line of drivers behind them we're thinking 'and why not? It's a few seconds out of my commute.".

I agree The discussions about a separate cycling infrastructure are just time wasting. The only way forward is slowing motorists so they can react to other road users safely and SHARING the existing road. Twenty is Plenty.

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Gkam84 [9092 posts] 4 years ago
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Just watched it on the parliament player.

LOADS of good points raised.

Paul Maynard MP, get him to get with Jon Snow and start a government group and sort things out.

Jon Snow made some great statements, James Harding also had some good ideas.

Everytime i heard Josie Dew i though....STFU, it was all, i do this and i live here, i cycle this far, i had this experience with a driver, i cycle with my children on my bike, i cycle to school, i've cycled since i was 10. DO ME A FAVOUR, this meeting was not about you. Also just for added effect i'll put my drinks bottle right infront of me.

Don't get my wrong, I like Josie Dew, she's a cycling chef like myself, but i just don't think she was the right person to have there.

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farrell [1950 posts] 4 years ago
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Josie Dew, I'm sure she's a lovely person in real life and probably doesnt care a jot about what some faceless nobody on the internet like me has to say but she does my box right in.

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