Like this site? Help us to make it better.

No evidence lack of assertiveness a factor in female cycling lorry fatalities

Lorry-cycle safety expert responds to Anna Glowinski comments that women need to be more assertive to avoid lorry deaths

There is no evidence women are at greater risk from lorries because of lack of assertiveness, a cycle-lorry safety expert has said in response to comments made by cycle fashion designer and Cycle Show presenter, Anna Glowinski - but he says the vehicles themselves are "insanely unfit" for city streets.

The London Cycling Campaign's Charlie Lloyd was responding to comments made to the Evening Standard by Glowinski ahead of the final stage of the Street Velodrome Series in Broadgate, in the City of London, yesterday. She has since clarified her comments to (see below).

While Lloyd agreed with Glowinski that cycling in London is much safer than many make out, he said no-one knows why more women are killed by lorries in the capital and why, a lesser-quoted statistic, more men are killed by cars.

However, a study reportedly commissioned by TfL in 2007 suggests women obeying traffic lights was a contributing factor in the relatively high numbers of women killed by lorries in the capital.

Bike racer, TV presenter and founder of the Ana Nichoola clothing brand, which she left last year, Glowinski  told the Evening Standard: “I think it can be quite damaging to talk about how ‘dangerous’ cycling is. I really don’t think it is that dangerous. The reason I think women are getting hit by lorries is because it’s an assertiveness thing.

“When you are on the inside of a lorry, you are hidden. They will turn left and not see you. In order to put yourself in the safest position, you want to get right in front of it and make sure you are visible. Maybe women can be a little bit less assertive in doing that.”

“I think it’s good that cycle safety is taken seriously and highlighted so it’s high on the political agenda, and people care about road safety and think about how to make certain junctions safer,” Glowinski said.

“But constant highlighting of cyclist accidents can be a bit misleading. I get told all the time: ‘You are taking your life in your own hands, you are crazy.’ It’s misleading. It’s putting people off.”

A report, attributed to TfL from 2007, tends to agree with Glowinski. It says: ‘Women may be overrepresented in [collisions with heavy goods vehicles] because they are less likely than men to disobey red lights.’ Conversely, by jumping red lights, men are less likely to be caught in a lorry driver’s blind spot. 

Peter Wright, vehicle safety expert for an international motorsport safety commission and father of Rosie Wright, who was killed by a lorry accelerating away from traffic lights in 2007, said at the time: "‘Rosie was reasonably cautious, which seems to be the problem. It seems that you need to be aggressive and assertive to survive as a cyclist."

However, at the time TfL said there was no direct evidence that women were more at risk because they obeyed traffic lights.

The LCC's lorries expert, and former HGV driver, Charlie Lloyd, told although more women than men are killed by lorries, over ten years male and female cycling fatalities are proportionate to the relative numbers cycling when you remove lorries from the equation. However, he feels the focus should be on the vehicles causing the harm, and the infrastructure.

"I think it is right to say the streets aren't as dangerous as some people make out," he said, "and the important thing isn't if it is a man or woman, it is about the vehicles which are insanely unfit for city streets."

Lloyd cited statistics showing 17 men were killed in collision with cars in the capital since January 2009, but only one woman. In the same period 27 women were killed in collisions with lorries, and 22 men.

He said: "We don't know why women are more at risk from HGVs than men are, no-one knows that."

The most dangerous place to be in relation to a lorry, he points out, is 2-3m in front and to the left of the driver's cab.

"The crucial thing is that the danger comes from lorries rather than getting into specifics about the difference between men and women. We think it is important to focus on the source of danger, which is the design of lorries and the poor infrastructure."

He said although more of the growth in cycling over 12 years has been among men, reducing from an estimated 30 per cent to around a quarter London's proportion of female cyclists, the same thing happened in the Netherlands in the 1980s when cycling infrastructure started to be introduced.

"Our hope is that this is a blip," he said.

Clarification from Anna Glowinski:

"My Es was taken out of context and twisted; we had a conversation about racing Street Velodrome and they made a headline out of a small comment.

The rest of the article and what I said after is along the lines of my true opinion, after 15 years of cycling in London,  as a qualified National Standards Cycling Instructor with experience teaching adults and children  on-road cycling.

My belief is that in order to be safe on the roads the key is to see and be seen. Make eye contact!  That way you know you have been acknowledged.

The gender discussion with ES was very much a side topic in our conversation about The StreetVelodrome finals in Broadgate, when I was asked the direct question "why do you think more women get killed by hgvs than men?"

The truth is, we don't know why,  the numbers are so small it's hard to make a generalisation. The best we can hope for at the moment is to have open discussion, explore all avenues, answer questions and rule out red herrings, so we can find solutions to avoiding ALL cycling deaths on the roads.

The other point I was happy to make is that I truly think cycling in London is safe and should be encouraged. It's so enjoyable and I get frustrated when people say I am risking my life doing it. To me, it's  no more risky than stepping out of my house and facing all the potential dangers of the world!

Whilst I'm pleased that cycling deaths are taken seriously as this means solutions will be pushed high up the political agenda and roads will be made even safer, I think the drama surrounding headlines can create a misleading and largely unwarranted fear.

Ensure you are visible and that other road users have seen you and I can confidently say that cycling in London is safe and enjoyable."

Latest Comments