FOR many years cycling casualty numbers and rates declined, and using a bike in a town is now far safer than it was.

However, the downward trend has recently reversed and the nine deaths by July in 2013 already equal the total for 2012 ("New call to protect cyclists as death toll rises", The Herald, July 23). Transport Minister Keith Brown's recently-issued Cycle Action Plan for Scotland (Caps) is wrong to say that the UK is "clearly reducing fatalities in cyclists" – and he is even more wrong in Scotland, with deaths now rising consistently over the last four years.

Sadly, this is not the only way in which the Scottish Government is getting it wrong on cycling. It is failing on funding, it is failing on research, and it is failing in the cycling messages which it presents to motorists and to cyclists. Yet Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon recently told Parliament that the Government has "commit­ment and determination" to reach its target of 10% of all trips to be by bike by 2020.

On funding, experience from the English Cycle Demonstration Towns and from Europe suggests that to have any hope of reaching 10% (whilst preserving safety) the Scottish Government should now be investing £20 per person per year, not the current £4.

We are told cash is short. Yet there is £3bn to dual the A9, and £1.5bn for the Forth Bridge, to name only the more costly planned trunk road projects. Is there another Caps – a secret Car Action Plan for Scotland with a target to multiply car use by 2020?

Even if the Government were to invest at a realistic level, it would be years before Scotland reached the cycling infrastructure of European countries.

It may be more than ironic that cycling casualties are rising over the same period that cyclist safety equipment is being used more and more. Given the mixed evidence on its effects it is little surprise that casualties are rising at the same time as the use of such equipment has been growing.

In contrast, the evidence on safety in relation to road type is shockingly clear. There is fewer than one death for every 100 million kilometres cycled on urban minor roads (a similar rate to the Netherlands), but four deaths on urban A roads, and 17 on rural A roads (UK figures).

Sadly we see this reflected in recent death reports – most cycling is not on A roads, but that is where the deaths are happening, and it matters little if the cyclist is or is not using safety equipment.

Indeed, there is evidence that motorists will keep further away from a cyclist who appears to be vulnerable. Conversely, cyclists who feel safe because they are fully equipped may choose a faster road than they otherwise would. Whilst safety equipment can reduce injury where a cyclist falls off their bike, it is of little help in a high-speed crash (helmets are designed for 10-12mph impact) and for the aforementioned reasons it may even contribute to that crash happening.

Government and the safety industry refuse to research these possibilities. Indeed, they give motorists and cyclists the message that a high-visibility helmeted cyclist is safe, and they fail to tackle or even to make clear the huge safety differences for cyclists between fast and slower roads.

If the Scottish Government is serious about raising cycle use whilst reducing casualties, it should:

l Use a small fraction of its roads budget to invest in cycling at European levels, and to incentivise local authorities to do the same;

l Prioritise high quality segregated infrastructure on urban roads. Rural roads, particularly where there is no realistic alternative, need to be individually assessed for priority infrastructure or other measures;

l Commission truly independent research into the reasons why the long-term trend in cycling safety is reversing;

l Reappraise safety campaigns and retail advertising so that motorists and cyclists are aware that safety equipment does not mean safety, and that road danger depends more on the nature of a road and its traffic; and

l Bring Scotland into line with Europe on strict liability, so that motorists take more care of cyclists and of pedestrians – with the added benefit that cyclists also take more care of pedestrians.

Dave du Feu,

Spokes, the Lothian Cycle Campaign,

2 Greenpark Cottages,


I NOTE with interest Ian Mackay's concerns about strict liability and how the public would be better protected if cyclists simply obeyed the law as it stands (Letters, 
July 23).

Strict liability is about protecting vulnerable road users. It would apply to cyclists in relation to pedestrians, in the same way as it would apply to motorists in relation to cyclists.

The campaign about strict liability is designed to improve driver awareness about vulnerable road users, an issue raised as recently as last month by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA). It said: "There is a continuing need to focus on improving the safety of vulnerable road users as provisional road casualty figures for Scotland reveal an increase in cyclist and pedestrian deaths.

"The figures, published by Transport Scotland, show that 898 cyclists were injured on Scotland's roads in 2012 – 9% more than in 2011. Of these cyclist casualties, nine were killed (two more than in 2011) and 167 were seriously injured (11 more than in 2011)."

Nine cyclists have already been killed on Scotland's roads this year,so clearly action is needed. Interestingly, there are no statistics for the number of pedestrians killed or injured in collision with cyclists.

RoSPA research across the UK has found that in 57% of serious collisions, the car driver failed to look properly. In 25% of fatal accidents involving a car and a bike, the bike was hit from behind by the front of the car.

My support for the principle of strict liability is that a legal sanction carries more weight than the oft-quoted platitude from drivers, "Sorry mate, I didn't see you". Motorists aren't killed in collisions with cyclists. Adult cyclists shouldn't be on pavements but they might have more confidence about riding on the roads if there wasn't a growing toll of fatalities linked to driver inattention.

Dave McLavin,

34 Burnbank Road,


I RECOGNISE that measures must be taken to reduce the carnage of cyclists killed on Scottish roads.

The Pedal on Parliament campaign group has called on the Scottish Parliament to provide £100m to make roads safer for cyclists and a Transport Scotland spokesman reports that almost £58m is being invested on cycling infrastructure, training and road safety projects.

There are around 2.7m cars registered in Scotland and a modest £15 increase in vehicle road tax earmarked for cycling safety and a small levy on cyclists over 18 and on bicycle sales would make up this shortfall.

R Russell Smith,

96 Milton Road,


I WOULD like to take issue with Ian Mackay over his stereotypical letter about cyclists. While I of course agree with his plea to the two-wheel brigade to obey the law and be visible and audible, is he seriously suggesting they should pay road tax? As a pensioner who could probably afford to use the road, I would be willing, but only if the tax is proportional to the vehicle's killing power, sorry, weight and speed.

William Campbell,

59 Woodhead Avenue,