Monday, 30 July 2012

The rise of interest in cycling gives employers the chance to promote pedalling to work as a cleaner, greener option

Here is an article I wrote for HR Magazine, which you can read here:

Over the last weeks, the world has watched Bradley Wiggins lead the Tour de France on his way to victory, and he has become Britain’s first ever yellow jersey winner when only a few years ago a British winner of the Tour would have been unthinkable. And yesterday, Lizzie Armitstead won Team GB's first medal of London 2012 when she took silver in the cycling road race.

For a few years now, cycling has been riding a wave of popularity which shows no signs of stopping, and cycling is no longer an outsider activity but a valid mode of transport for all. With the Olympics this month, many more will be taking to bicycles as it will undoubtedly represent the fastest, most convenient way to get around London, even as Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton are speeding round the track.

Despite the country's success at the sport, and the ever increasing number of cyclists, there is still a negative perception of cycling in Britain. This is hard to explain as cycling represents a cleaner, greener, cheaper and healthier form of transport.

The hatred of some motorists towards cyclists is plainly evident and is the least pleasant part of cycling for many, myself included. Road rage between drivers is one thing, but when a car driver's anger is directed at you when you are on a bike it can be very frightening and, of course, potentially life-threatening. Cycling safety requires a greater tolerance of cyclists by motorists, and greater punishment of dangerous drivers.

Cyclists are also marginalised by the view that cycling is dangerous. Of course, cyclists have their share of accidents like any other road user. However, if you regularly cycle you are actually adding a few years to your life expectancy. Labeling cycling as a dangerous pursuit is particularly frustrating as it impedes a safer and more pleasant cycling experience. It is common sense that you improve the safety of cycling by increasing the number of cyclists. London has seen a great rise in cycling over the last 15 years and cycle casualties have fallen by a third. It stands to reason that drivers who regularly interact with cyclists on the road will be better educated in how to deal with them and are more alert to their presence.

One great way to increase the number of cyclists is to convert the estimated 25% of employees who could commute to work by bicycle but currently do not. HR directors have a big role to play in encouraging their employees to cycle to work, which will also shift attitudes towards normalising cycling as a method of commuting, even for those who do not choose to cycle to work. Naturally, cycling has clear benefits to both the environment and the employee, and it can also benefit the employer. Business benefits include having fitter staff and a happier, healthier working environment. Employees who cycle to work statistically have one less sick day per year. Also, an employer's national insurance payments will reduce for employees who participate in the Cycling to Work scheme. Commuting by car is also cited by many as the most stressful aspect of their working day. These are clear incentives for employers to promote greater levels of cycling participation to work.

Inexperienced cyclists may well lack confidence on the roads, but cycle training can give them the confidence to cycle in an assertive way. Employers can arrange for cycle training for their staff through their local authority, or an organisation such as Cycle Training UK, who can often provide low cost training for those who do not have the experience or confidence to cycle on busy roads. Given that cyclists are often more difficult to spot, it is important that they are well informed as to how to protect themselves and minimise risk. Examples include educating them regarding the blind spots of lorries and large vehicles so that they can remain visible at all times. Following such procedures, even the uninitiated can travel to work in an environmentally friendly way without fear of accident or injury. The Cycle to Work Alliance schemes also help to educate cyclists with up-to-date safety advice and support on issues such as implementing a Cycle To Work bike purchase scheme, best practice cycling and bike maintenance.

With the support of HR departments in encouraging employees to commute by bike, the numbers of cyclists will increase, as will the healthiness of the workforce, and hopefully the attitude to cyclists will also improve. This may also help make the roads safer and more pleasant for everyone, including the nation's future Olympic cyclists and Tour De France winners.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

"See Me Save Me" Press Release

Important press release regarding the dangers of HGVs to cyclists, and the failings of the criminal justice system:

Jail is not the justice we want 

On 5th February 2009 lorry driver Joao Lopes ran over and killed fit, strong and experienced cyclist, Eilidh Cairns as she rode ahead of him on her daily 10 mile commute through Notting Hill Gate.  

Just days after what would had been her 32nd birthday in June 2011 he again ran over bright and active holocaust survivor 97 year old Nora Guttman at a pedestrian crossing. This week at Isleworth Crown Court Joao Lopes pleaded guilty to causing the death of Ms Guttman by dangerous driving and also to falsifying data on his tachograph.

Whilst Lopes is remanded in custody there are others who may be feeling uncomfortable at the avoidable heartbreak of three broken families.

At Eilidh’s death the police failed to check Lopes’ eyesight, and did so only at the family’s request and then three months after the crash. His eyesight was so bad that it did not meet the standard to drive a car let alone an HGV. The police failed to find witnesses as they turned away vehicles without taking details. Eilidh’s sister Kate, after a personal public appeal, found two witnesses who gave key evidence at the inquest clarifying that Eilidh had been in front of lorry and not coming up alongside as assumed by the police.

Coroner, Dr Shirely Radcliffe, failed to use her powers under Rule 43 to make recommendations to prevent further similar deaths and concluded that it was just an ‘tragic accident’. Kate challenged her and won permission to apply for judicial review. But at High Court, Judge Silber accepted Radcliffe’s argument that there were ‘no practicable preventative measures’ which could be applied to prevent further similar deaths.

The police eventually acknowledging that the original investigation report was inadequate have only in recent weeks finished a complete review of the investigation into Eilidh’s death. But the CPS this month rejected any proposed charge and will be taking no further action. Following Eilidh’s death Lopes was charged with driving with uncorrected defective vision and given three points and a £200 fine. He did not have his licence revoked.

Kate Cairns said:

'For three years I have battled the whole way through an inadequate system which assumes the guilt of the cyclist, and which is rife with incompetence and complacency and which has failed us all on so many levels. There was no interest in carrying out a proper investigation nor in finding witnesses. The police report was riddled with assumptions, omissions and conclusions contrary to evidence, obvious even to a layperson but there was no interest from the CPS in questioning it. Only after the death of someone else, three years later, have the police acknowledge the report was inadequate and reviewed the case of Eilidh’s death.' 

Then there is an absolute failure of the coronial process to be meaningful in anyway when the coroner refuses to put her mind to ways to avoid similar deaths.

Nora Gutman did not have to die, Lopes did not have to loose his freedom, if the  professionals had done their jobs.

All I wanted was the truth so that other deaths could be avoided and other families did not have to suffer. We have not had justice today, clearly there are many more drivers like Lopes on our streets. Their employers need to take responsibility and train them and incentive them, and comply with legislation and provide the tools and equipment to protect everyone from their business activities. These trucks are lethal killers, not designed for our urban streets. Those presenting the most risk must manage that risk. Whilst they profit, innocent people die.

The President of the Institution of Highways Engineers yesterday called for a ban on HGVs on motorways on Sundays. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers last month called for a ban of HGVs in urban areas until they are made safe (Intelligent Transport Intelligent Society). The BMJ called for a ban on HGVs in 1992 following the deaths of vulnerable road users. A report ten years later also called for a ban on HGVs until the risk they posed could be reduced.

The original press release can be found here: