Safety concerns are barrier to delivering walking and cycling benefits, says charity

Tuesday 10 February 2015

Brake, the road safety charity 

A guidance report released today (10 February 2015) by road safety charity Brake suggests that fears over safety by young people and their parents are posing a serious barrier to young people walking and cycling, preventing great benefits being delivered to health and wellbeing.

Brake surveyed 1,301 11-17 year olds in secondary schools and colleges across the UK, finding almost half (47%) said parental worries were preventing them from starting cycling or cycling more.

Increased walking and cycling promise huge economic and public health benefits, with recent research claiming that hitting ambitious cycling targets could net the nation £248 billion by 2050 [1].

However, fears over safety act as a persistent barrier to cycling take-up in the UK and to promoting more active lifestyles (see facts below). Brake’s report also found:

  • two in five (38%) 11-17 year olds cite a lack of safe routes as a barrier to cycling
  • four in 10 (41%) think traffic in their area is too fast for the safety of people on foot and bike
  • nearly four in 10 (37%) think their area needs more pavements, paths and cycle paths

With 504 12-15 year olds killed or seriously injured while walking, and 186 while cycling, in the UK in 2013 [2], these concerns are understandable and must be addressed.

The findings reinforce the urgent need for a cycling and walking investment strategy, as proposed by the government as part of the Infrastructure Bill making its way through parliament. The proposal has been welcomed by Brake and many other road safety, sustainable transport and public health organisations. Brake believes it is critical that the Infrastructure Bill includes a long term commitment to investing in more segregated routes to improve the safety – and perceived safety – of walking and cycling.

The widespread adoption of 20mph limits in cities, towns and villages is also critical to creating safe and inviting walking and cycling environments. 20mph limits are a tried and tested way to cut pedestrian and cyclist casualties [3], and increase levels of walking and cycling [4]. In the run-up to the general election, through its GO 20 campaign, Brake is calling on all parties to include a commitment to 20mph as the default urban speed limit as a key manifesto pledge.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, said: “All parents want their children to be healthy and happy, and many would love to see them walking and cycling more to achieve that. Young people want this too: it’s crucial to their health, wellbeing, and social and economic lives that they can get around easily and cheaply. That so many teenagers are being held back from walking and cycling by safety fears, in spite of its great benefits, is a shocking indictment of our road infrastructure. With the car as king in transport planning, walkers and cyclists have been for too long treated as second-class citizens. The safety of people on foot and bike is hugely important, as is enabling more people to make sustainable, active travel choices without fear of traffic danger. It is vital that the government builds this into long term transport planning, through the Infrastructure Bill, investment in safe walking and cycling routes, and making 20mph limits the norm in towns, cities and villages.”

Educators, youth workers and road safety professionals can recieve a free copy of the report from this form.

About Brake’s GO 20 campaign

Brake is part of a broad coalition of organisations calling for more local authorities to adopt widespread 20mph limits, and for the government to make 20mph the national urban default, through its GO 20 campaign. Tweet us: @Brakecharity, hashtag #GO20.

Why GO 20?

  • Fewer casualties: at 20, drivers have far more time to react in an emergency. Studies show when 20 limits replace 30, there are fewer casualties among pedestrians and cyclists [5].
  • More walking and cycling: danger from traffic is a major barrier in enabling more people to walk and cycle. Town and city-wide 20 limits have resulted in more people walking and cycling [6].
  • Healthier, happier people: More walking and cycling means healthier people, and more enjoyable outdoors activity for kids and adults. It helps communities interact and be communities.
  • Less pollution: GOing 20 means lower emissions from vehicle journeys [7]. Plus if more people can switch their commute or school run to foot or bike, it means less polluting traffic.
  • Lower costs: Poor health from inactivity costs society dearly [8]. Road casualties cost even more, due to the suffering and burden on health and emergency services [9]. Preventing casualties and improving health means GOing 20 pays for itself many times over [10]. It also helps people save money by choosing the cheapest ways to get about: foot and bike.

The facts: sustainable and active travel

For the population of England, in 2013, 64% of all trips were by car as a driver or passenger, 22% of all trips were on foot, and 1% by bike. Trips made on foot have declined by 30% since 1995 [11].

Two-thirds of British adults are overweight or obese, as are a third of students in year six (ages 10-11). Obese children tend to become obese adults. Safe walking and cycling is a key component of the government’s scheme to combat obesity [12].

Road danger is a major barrier in encouraging more people to walk and cycle. Eight in 10 people (79%) say they would walk and cycle more if local roads were safer [13].

Case studies

Steven Atkinson, 12, from Sunderland, was pushing his bike across Chester Road in 2009 when he was hit by a speeding driver. He was rushed to hospital, where he died from his injuries. Find out more.

Violet Atkinson, Steven’s mother, says: “After everything Steven went through, I am so proud of him. He never looked at his health as a problem and lived every day to the full. No words can describe the grief our family has gone through since his death. There’s a piece of us missing and there’s no way to escape that. My son is gone. I will never see him again, and it will never get easier. I don’t want another mother to experience the pain of seeing her child die. I’m appealing to drivers to slow down to 20mph in communities and look out for pedestrians and cyclists. And I’m backing Brake’s calls for government to invest in safer streets for walking and cycling, for children, families and people of all ages.’’

Guy Preston, 18, from Beverley was knocked from his bike in 2010 by a car travelling along the A1079. He spent three weeks in hospital suffering terrible pain and lost the majority of his childhood memories, alongside the ability to run or play football. Find out more.

Guy says: “Those three weeks after the crash were some of my darkest moments. Going from being so independent to needing support with every activity is a crushing blow to an individual’s self-esteem. My family was my rock, but every day was an immense struggle, and I felt lonely and isolated. Throughout my three years at university, my injuries were still a burden. To this day, I experience constant pain and aching in my left leg. On a good day, I can tolerate the aching, but on a bad day, I am unable to walk and confined to my bed. Despite my disabilities, I am hopeful for the future. I will never be able to run again. I will never be able to dance at my wedding, or play football with my children. I have lost almost all my memories from my childhood, and I still struggle to remember things in my day-to-day life. But I realise I am lucky to be alive. I’m fully behind Brake’s campaign to stop people being injured and killed while walking and cycling. We all should be able to get around without fearing for our lives.’’

Notes to editors

About the report

These figures come from the Brake guidance report: ‘safer walking and cycling for secondary students’, released today (10 February 2015). It is based on a survey of 1,301 11-17 year-olds, created and promoted by Brake and carried out by secondary schools and colleges across the UK in 2013-14 through ‘hands-up’ surveys in 61 lessons, assemblies and workshops.


Brake is a national road safety charity that exists to stop the needless deaths and serious injuries that happen on roads every day, make streets and communities safer for everyone, and care for families bereaved and injured in road crashes. Brake promotes road safety awareness, safe and sustainable road use, and effective road safety policies. We do this through national campaignscommunity education, services for road safety professionals and employers, and by coordinating the UK's flagship road safety event every November, Road Safety Week. Brake is a national, government-funded provider of support to families and individuals devastated by road death and serious injury, including through a helpline and support packs.

Brake was founded in the UK in 1995, and now has domestic operations in the UK and New Zealand, and works globally to promote action on road safety.

Road crashes are not accidents; they are devastating and preventable events, not chance mishaps. Calling them accidents undermines work to make roads safer, and can cause insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by needless casualties.

End notes

[1] Research shows growth in cycling could be worth £1/4 trillion, CTC, 2015
[2] Reported road casualties Great Britain 2013, Department for Transport, 2014
[3] For example, 20mph speed reduction initiative, Scottish Executive Central Research Unit, 2001;  20mph Speed Limit Pilots Evaluation Report, Warrington Borough Council, 2010
[4] Where widespread 20 limits have been introduced levels of walking and cycling increased by 20% Citywide Rollout of 20mph speed limits, Bristol City Council Cabinet, 2012
[5] For example, 20mph speed reduction initiative, Scottish Executive Central Research Unit, 2001;  20mph Speed Limit Pilots Evaluation Report, Warrington Borough Council, 2010
[6] Where widespread 20 limits have been introduced levels of walking and cycling increased by 20% Citywide Rollout of 20mph speed limits, Bristol City Council Cabinet, 2012
[7] Environmental effects of 30 km/h in urban areas – with regard to exhaust emissions and noise, The Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute, 1999
[8] The annual costs of physical inactivity in England are estimated at £8.2 billion. At least five a week - evidence on the impact of physical activity and its relationship to health - a report from the Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health, 2004
[9] Road casualties in Britain cost an estimated £34.8billion in 2011, due to the burden on health and emergency services, criminal justice costs, insurance payouts, and human costs. Reported road casualties Great Britain annual reports 2011, Department for Transport, 2012
[10] In Bristol, 20mph resulted in a massive return on investment because of cost savings to the health service through increased physical activity. They used the World Health Organisation’s Health Economic Assessment Tool to estimate the changes in costs. They found for every £1 spent they saw a return of £24.72 through increased walking and £7.47 through increased in cycling. Citywide Rollout of 20mph speed limits, Bristol City Council Cabinet, 2012.  Reducing speeds in urban environments reduces casualties. For each 1mph speed reduction, casualties decrease by 5%, The effects of drivers’ speed on the frequency of road accidents, Transport Research Laboratory, 2000, fewer crashes reduces the burden on the NHS, emergency services and local economy.  Each death on roads costs £1.7 million and each serious injury costs £190,000, Reported road casualties Great Britain 2011, Department for Transport, 2012
[11] Travel Survey: England 2013, Department for Transport, 2014
[12] Obesity and the environment: increasing physical activity and active travel, Public Health England, 2013
[13] Eight in 10 back 20mph limits as charity takes campaign to parliament, Brake, 2014,

Tags: school cycling traffic children walk serious injury health