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Helmets, hi-vis and "showing some love" the key to safe cycling in London, says Britain's biggest insurer

Aviva ignores role of infrastructure, while its list of capital's most dangerous junctions leaves out Bow Roundabout...

Aviva, Britain’s biggest general insurance company, says London’s cyclists should wear helmets and high-visibility clothing to avoid falling victim to ‘accidents.’ In a video accompanying the findings of research published by the company, one rider featured says “showing some love” is the key to keeping safe.

The company analysed sources including Department for Transport figures for 2009-13 and claims during that period 80 cyclists in the area encompassed by the M25 were killed, with bike riders involved in 22,988 road traffic incidents reported to or attended by the police.

That area differs from Greater London, including parts of counties such as Kent and Surrey, and according to data from Transport for London (TfL), which has disputed Aviva’s interpretation of the figures, 67 cyclists were killed in the capital from 2009-13, with total casualties standing at 21,409.

The insurance company also produced a list of what it says are London’s 10 most dangerous junctions for bike riders, based again mainly on DfT data, the list topped by Elephant & Castle, with 80 recorded incidents.

Junction and number of incidents

Elephant and Castle roundabout - 80
Trafalgar Square - 46
Waterloo Road roundabout - 45
Lambeth Bridge/Millbank roundabout - 38
Upper Tooting Road/Lessingham Ave, Ansell Road/Derinton Road - 34
Grove Road/Mile End Road - 32
Vauxhall Bridge/ Wandsworth Road - 31
Monument Tube station junction - 29
Camberwell New Road/Brixton Road - 28
Camberwell New Road/Kennington Road/Harleyford Street - 28

While it’s noticeable that most of the locations are south of the River Thames, even more striking is the absence from the list of junctions such as Bow Roundabout, where since October 2011 three cyclists have lost their lives.

That’s most likely because the figures appear to be based on casualties of all severities, not just incidents in which cyclists have been killed or seriously injured – although it is the latter that provide a more accurate picture of the relative danger of different locations.

In a statement quoted on BBC News London, a TfL spokesman said: ‎"While we don't recognise the interpretation of these figures, we entirely agree that any accident on London's roads is one too many.

"That is why we are investing nearly £1bn in upgrading the existing Cycle Superhighways with greater segregation, introducing major new segregated cycle routes and backstreet Quietways, and overhauling dozens of junctions on both our roads and on borough roads."

The video accompanying Aviva’s press release features three cyclists – all white, middle-aged men – speaking about their experience of riding in the city and how people can stay safe.

One warns cyclists not to undertake or go up the inside of vehicles, saying “remember, you are in someone’s blind spot there” – curiously, the footage that accompanies those words is of a motorist pulling out of a side road right into a cyclist’s path.

Another urges bike riders not to get angry, that they should apologise for things “even if I didn’t think it’s my fault,” and that they should “show a bit of love” to other road users, “be a bit more gracious, and don’t get so angry.”

If any of the cyclists did mention the danger posed to people on bikes by careless or dangerous driving, it was edited out.

The video also highlights some statistics derived from claims handled by Aviva itself, although as Peter Walker on the Guardian Bike Blog points out, the sample size is too small to be meaningful and the issue of infrastructure such as the forthcoming East-West and North-South Cycle Superhighways is not discussed at all in the video or the press release.

That’s despite the film showing a number of instances of cyclists having near misses not because of anything they have done but due to poor and sometimes dangerous driving, such as passing too closely or pulling out without looking.

The company’s chief underwriting officer, Simon Warsop – speaking on a street that passing buses reveal to be in Norwich, rather than London – said “a number of these accidents are preventable.”

He then focused specifically on bike riders, adding, “for instance if you’re a cyclist, please make sure you wear a helmet, please make sure you’re wearing high-visibility clothing, protect yourself while out there on these busy roads.”

Last year, British Cycling policy adviser Chris Boardman said: “I think the helmet issue is a massive red herring. It’s not even in the top 10 of things you need to do to keep cycling safe or more widely, save the most lives.”

He added that the debate over wearing helmets and hi-viz gear distracted from issues he believes would make a greater difference to the safety of cyclists such as segregated infrastructure and lower speed limits.

Rosie Downes, campaigns manager at the London Cycling Campaign, said: “It’s frustrating to see this missed opportunity to highlight the real measures that will reduce road danger, and instead yet more guidance issued to cyclists on how they should ‘protect themselves’ on our roads.

"Of course people cycling at night should be using lights, but Aviva’s ‘headline finding’ – based on claims rather than police data, and a sample size too small to be meaningful - suggests an assumption that the cyclists’ lack of lights was the cause of the incident, rather than considering any unlawful behaviour by the driver.

"More instructions about helmets and high-viz clothing are an unhelpful distraction from the concrete measures needed to tackle road danger: redesigning our streets to provide safe and inviting space for cycling, reducing risk from lorries, and improving road user behaviour.

"In the majority of cycle casualties, the fault lies with the driver, so law enforcement and preventing bad driving occurring in the first place must be the priority."

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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