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Also cited poor British weather and bike maintenance worries as reasons not to cycle

Innumerable would-be cyclists are put off riding on the roads due to safety concerns, the Transport Minister Norman Baker has said.

Lib Dem MP Baker, who is responsible for cycling, has pointed out that although 43 per cent of people have a bike, only 2 per cent ride with any regularity.

Speaking to The Times, he said: “There are a number of complicated reasons for that. Partly it is about people not feeling safe on the roads out there where they want to cycle.”

Safety was the main concern he said, followed by lack of bike maintenance knowledge and the British weather.

He said: “I think the answer is a delicate balance to try to make sure that we do address genuine safety issues … and at the same time as identifying serious safety problems not putting people off but encouraging them to be out there cycling and to recognise that statistically it is quite safe to be out on the road cycling,” Mr Baker said.

“I don’t think it is a dangerous activity, particularly if they have good training.”

Yesterday at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, the party called for a dramatic expansion of a 20mph speed limit in the UK.

Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party Committee on Transport, Julian Huppert said: “Liberal Democrats have been leading the way on road safety. In Lib Dem-led councils, local speed limits of 20mph have proven successful in reducing the number of pedestrian deaths on our roads.

“Moving towards a national 20mph limit in residential areas is the right thing to do to further lower our road fatality rate and it is clear the public are backing this approach.”

Reason cited for the move included:

- Among member states of the EU, the UK has the highest proportion of pedestrian road fatalities, and half of road deaths and serious injuries in Britain occur on roads with 30 mph limits.

- Among member states of the EU, the UK has one of the poorest levels of children walking or cycling to school and many parents cite danger from fast traffic as a reason for not allowing their children to travel to school on foot or by bike.

- Lowering the normal residential speed limit from 30 mph to 20 mph would make roads safer; in particular a study by the Transport Research Laboratory has found 20 mph limits decrease child pedestrian accidents by 70%.

- The greater safety of 20 mph is well demonstrated in insurance premiums being less in areas with a significant number of 20 mph limits.

- Road injuries are hugely expensive: the Department for Transport estimates that the average cost per seriously injured casualty on the roads is £178,160 and the average cost per fatality is £1,585,510.

- The relatively small cost of changing speed limits (e.g. new signage) pays for itself many times over by preventing costly accidents.

After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.