During Road Safety Week, thousands of organisations, schools and communities across the UK are carrying out events to support the UK's biggest annual road safety awareness campaign. This campaign is promoted by the road safety charity, Brake. The theme for this year’s campaign is 'Road Safety for All' and one its aims is to raise road safety awareness.
Many schools use this week as an opportunity to discuss road safety with children. Sadly, every day six children are killed or seriously injured on roads in the UK. Road crashes remain the leading cause of death for young people aged 5 to 29 with someone being killed on a road every 24 seconds and someone being injured every four minutes. These are shocking statistics, especially when most of these deaths are entirely preventable.
Last week, a video was posted on social media, which can be viewed on the following twitter post, showed a 5-year-old boy cycling to school. The video was taken by his father, who was cycling behind him. There is a ‘heart in your mouth’ moment when the boy is shown cycling on the road, which has parked cars on both sides of the street, and there is vehicle coming towards him. The vehicle doesn’t stop or slow, despite the boy clearly being young and visible in a bright orange jacket. Many took to social media to criticise the father for putting his child in danger, including former Home Secretary, Sajid Javid.
In my view, this video highlights that a lot more needs to be done to create safer environments for children, and all cyclists.
The changes to the Highway Code, which took effect from 29 January 2022, introduced a hierarchy of road users. This means that those road users who can cause the most harm, now have a greater responsibility to reduce the danger they pose to others. Therefore, drivers are responsible for cyclists' safety, and, in turn, cyclists are responsible for pedestrians' safety.
This is in stark contrast to the previous situation where all road users, from children to lorry drivers, were equally responsible for their own safety. Following these changes, pedestrians and cyclists now have more priority over drivers. Whilst previously motorists only had to give way to pedestrians once they stepped on to a zebra crossing, the updated Code strengthens pedestrians' priority when on pavements and when crossing or waiting to cross the road. Motorists and cyclists also now required to give way to pedestrians when turning at junctions if they are crossing or waiting to cross the road. Cyclists have also been provided with additional protection as guidance is included on safe passing distances and speeds. The guidance for people driving or riding motorbikes is that they should leave at least 1.5m when overtaking people cycling at speeds of up to 30mph, and more space when overtaking at higher speeds. The guidance also confirms that when travelling straight ahead at junctions, cyclists have priority over traffic waiting to turn into or out of side roads.
It is important that all road users take the time to understand these new rules and adapt their habits to comply with the Code. In the event that a crash occurs, and the road user is found not to be compliant with the Code, they would likely be held liable.
Whilst these changes should increase safety for all road users, more change is needed. Amongst other things, as is illustrated in the video, roads need to be adapted to provide safe spaces for cyclists which allow them sufficient space to lower the risk of colliding with traffic. Only when that danger is minimised will individuals and families be able to walk and cycle safely in their community, which is so valuable given the benefits for health and wellbeing.
Brake’s website has a section specifically for children - Brake Zebras - which has lots of fun activities, stories and activities children can engage with, along with their families, carers or teachers. Whilst the recent changes to the Highway Code do increase the safety of more vulnerable road users, education will always be crucial to ensuring little ones stay safe, particularly until more is done to protect them.
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