Changing Britain’s Car Dependent Culture – Lessons From Europe


Nick O’Neill, head of Lees Bike Claims, speaks out about the UK trend and the risks to cyclists:

“Cyclists have been using the roads in this country for a lot longer than car drivers; yet in the UK we persist in seeing cyclists as the interlopers.  More courteous and aware driving would help to avoid a lot of accidents involving cyclists. 

In the UK we are in love with our cars.  We are dependant on them.  We cannot imagine life without them – or that there was ever a time before our total reliance on motor vehicles.  It is hard for our generation to imagine a landscape without motorways, before pedestrian crossings and without traffic noise providing a constant background to the scripts of our lives. 

Yet it is only in the last 50 years or so that the car has become king.  Before that we had smaller, quieter roads. We had communities where people got around on foot or by bike – and stopped to chat with one another.  Streets that were not lined with cars parked bumper to bumper.  Cars are a symptom of a society in a rush. Learning to drive is a rite of passage; cars are a status symbol. 

The result of this is a society designed with the car in mind. Decades of pro-car policies have resulted in town planning where car access and parking have been put ahead of the needs of pedestrians and cyclists alike.  

The sharp increase in car use from the 1960s onwards was not only experienced in Britain; all industrialised countries across Europe experienced the same phenomenon – and as car usage increased, bicycle usage fell. The difference between the UK and countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany is that these countries viewed the fall in cycling as a problem – and did something about it. 

In all three countries the main reason for a successful return to cycle usage was due to policy.  From the 1970s onwards, policy makers reversed their previous focus of vastly expanding road capacity and parking supply to improving their cycling infrastructures and imposing restrictions on car use and making it more expensive. 

In the Netherlands, town planners have addressed the issue of a car-centric society by building people centred districts.  The best example of this is a small town called Houten which was named Bicycle Town 2008.  In Houten, cyclists and pedestrians have priority – and this has encouraged a massive growth in the town’s population from around 9,000 in the 1980s to 50,000 and still growing in the present day.  Houten is simply a pleasant place to live. 

Countries such as Spain also have a superior cycling infrastructure to that in the UK.  All Spanish highways have wide shoulders for cyclists, separated from the traffic with a white line, and the drivers are courteous and cyclist aware. Switzerland also has a large number of highways that provide cycle shoulders and there are also numerous cycle trail networks. 

The standard of cycle infrastructure in the UK remains low and there appears to be no policy to roll out bike paths en masse.  Some of the issues of over usage of cars have started to be addressed by a small number of town planners who have been introducing more traffic calmed areas. Until this is a national policy however, we are unlikely to enjoy the same safe cycling culture that is enjoyed by many of our European cousins. 

At Lees Bike Claims it is our mission to show cyclists that we are on their side and help them get back in the saddle when they have been injured in an accident that is not their fault.”

For help and advice on all bike accidents, please Contact Us or call 0151 647 9381.

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