After a quiet summer, September has begun with some terrible news. Two cyclists were killed in separate incidents last weekend: on Saturday Anna Roots, 34, was killed on the A836 in Sutherland while completing a Lands End to John O’Groats charity ride to raise money for leukemia and lymphoma research, while on Sunday Neil Jaffery, a father of three – including 7-week-old twins – was killed on Aberdeen’s North Anderson Drive. Our thoughts are with their families and friends; we know all too well how devastating these deaths are.
It’s natural after a fatality for people to look for someone to blame. Much attention has been placed – rightly – on the lack of justice that can often follow a death on the road, particularly the death of a cyclist. All too often, even if the driver is convicted, the sentences handed down seem bafflingly light. The recent sentencing of the driver who killed two other LEJOG cyclists to 8.5 years was notable for the severity of the sentence handed down; in contrast, the driver who killed Audrey Fyfe in Edinburgh got just 300 hours community service and a five year driving ban. We, along with other cycling organisations in Scotland, will be pressing hard for a full and proper investigation of these recent deaths, and if warranted, the prosecution of the drivers involved to the full extent of the law; the death of someone just going about their life by bike must never be seen as ‘one of those things’, a terrible but unavoidable tragedy that could happen to any any driver.
However, there is more to this than just the justice system. Neil Jaffrey died on a road in Aberdeen that also saw the death just two years ago of Michael Robertson on his bike. It has taken the Aberdeen Cycle Forum 18 months to get a meeting with Aberdeen City Council about conditions on this road – and even then it is clear from their note of the meeting that maintaining traffic flow by keeping the road 40mph is more important to the council than the safety of vulnerable road users. And almost a year ago to the day, we were marking the death of another female cyclist on another rural road in Scotland – and noting that our rural roads are disproportionately lethal not just to those on bikes but to everyone. While dangerous drivers should and must be held to account – so too should those who create the conditions where a moment’s inattention on the part of driver OR cyclist can have fatal consequences. This is what we mean when we call on our government to design cycling into – rather than out of – Scotland’s roads.
Next week, Scots make a momentous decision about their nation’s future. And whatever the outcome, we have to start to talk about what kind of Scotland we want to be. Social justice, defence, currency – all these are important matters that have dominated the debate. But we also have to ask ourselves: will Scotland be the sort of country where seven-week-old twins are left fatherless because it’s more important to keep traffic moving? Or will we be able to work together to make Scotland a truly cycle friendly nation?