An otherwise glorious September weekend was marred yesterday by the news of the death of another cyclist – an as yet unnamed woman – on Scotland’s roads, bringing the year’s total up to 12 Coming on top of the failure of the appeal in the Gary McCourt case, it means a week that had started well for cycling has ended desperately badly.

These deaths seem to happen disproportionately on rural roads (something that’s a problem for all road users), both quiet back roads and faster rural trunk roads. So far, we’ve not learnt any more details about any of these fatal crashes, so we don’t know exactly what caused these deaths, although the higher speed of traffic may be a factor. However, it’s clear that there is something very wrong with our rural roads, if even experienced cyclists (as many of those killed have been) cannot use them safely.

We can speculate about the causes – higher speed limits, narrow single carriageways, sweeping junctions that encourage driver to take them at speed (many of these deaths have happened at junctions) – but the fact is we don’t know the factors that led to any of these crashes. Although the police investigate, we almost never hear the outcome of these investigations except in the rare case when there is a prosecution, and even then the focus is on the actions of the driver and the cyclist, rather than on the road design that might have compounded any human errors. When a helicopter crashes, there is a thorough investigation until the cause is discovered and then mitigation is put in place. When there are unnecessary deaths in hospitals, the health service’s ‘zero harm’ approach means that they are investigated and steps taken to improve procedures so they don’t happen again. In the Netherlands, when cyclists are killed the investigation is extremely thorough and often results in changes to the road layout to improve safety. Here in Scotland, it seems we just shrug our shoulders, say it’s a tragedy, and continue as we were until the next death.

Our mainifesto already calls for lower speed limits on unclassified rural roads – but we need more. We need to bring a ‘zero harm’ approach to unnecessary deaths on our roads as well as our hospitals. We need to change things so that when the families of those killed say ‘never again’, it actually happens. Let’s find out what is wrong with our rural roads and let’s fix it. Let’s make 2013 the year that deaths among cyclists stopped rising. Let’s make Scotland a cycle-friendly country once more.

What is Wrong with our Rural Roads?