Local newspapers across Britain are this week highlighting the low numbers of cyclists fined for cycling on the pavement while the number of pedestrians injured in collisions with people on bikes is said to be at a “record high” – we take a closer look at the figures, which Cycling UK says are reflective of cuts in police numbers that affect road safety generally.
The story, based on a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, has been covered by outlets including Devon Live, Birmingham Live and Cambridgeshire Live, with the latter’s headline of “No one is being fined for cycling on pavements, but number of pedestrians injured by bikes at record levels” reflecting the general tone of the coverage.
The titles are owned by Reach plc, known until last year as Trinity Mirror, which bought more than 80 local newspaper operations from Daily Mail & General Trust in 2015.
We’ve seen similar coverage before from them, where a single FOI request gets tailored to individual local or regional titles – and with pavement cycling being one of those issues that seems to push readers’ buttons across the country, it’s an obvious topic to choose.
Responses to the FOI request show that the number of fines issued for cycling on the footway has decreased dramatically in recent years, falling steadily from 11,577 in 2010/11 to 443 in 2017/18, a drop of 96 per cent. In some police force areas, none at all were issued in the most recent year.
While that downwards progression is consistent over the period, it’s less easy to identify a clear trend when it comes to pedestrian casualties following collisions involving cyclists.
But while there were no fatalities in 2017, the latest year for which records are available, the number of serious or slight injuries, at 30 and 78 respectively, were the highest they had been in at least a decade – hence the talk of “record levels.”
That combined figure of 108 – there were no fatalities in that year – does seem to be an outlier, however, with pedestrian casualties averaging 61 a year during the previous decade, the figures fluctuating from year to year.
It’s worth noting that the mainstream media often conflates pedestrians being involved in collisions with bike riders as being due to people cycling on the pavement when often – as in the high-profile case of Kim Briggs – the incident actually happened on the road.
The comparative rarity of collisions between pedestrians and cyclists is what makes them newsworthy, yet the numbers are a fraction of those involving motorists in which someone is killed or seriously injured – go onto any of those local news websites on any day, and one or more of the top stories will almost certainly relate to a road traffic collision.
Roger Geffen, policy director at Cycling UK, which is calling on people to support its campaign for more investment in cycling and walking, said: “Pedestrians, as well as cyclists, are more likely to be the victims in road accidents.
“Numbers of road casualties have stopped declining, after declines from the mid-60s onwards to a few years ago, and have started to go up.
“The decline in road policing may be a factor that has contributed to that. It’s something we’re concerned about more generally," he continued.
“Awareness and enforcement need to go hand in hand. [As seen with] drink driving, there’s that need for awareness to get people on side with the tougher enforcement, which is needed to ensure that the minority isn’t seen to get away with it.
“That’s the problem of lack of road policing. I don’t think it’s a change in how they exercise discretion, it’s been in place since 2000, 2001. I don’t think there’s been a great turning of blind eyes, just that there’s less eyes.”
He added: “There needs to be a willingness to reduce road space, rather than putting cyclist on the pavement. Policies that put cyclists and pedestrians in conflict are not good policies.”
While cycling on the footway, other than designated shared use paths, is illegal, official guidance issued by then Home Office minister Paul Boateng in 1999 and reissued by former transport minister Robert Goodwill five years ago makes clear it should not automatically result in a fine.
The guidance originally outlined by Boateng says: “The introduction of the fixed penalty is not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of traffic and who show consideration to other pavement users when doing so.
“Chief police officers, who are responsible for enforcement, acknowledge that many cyclists, particularly children and young people, are afraid to cycle on the road, sensitivity and careful use of police discretion is required.”
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.