Thousands of cyclists gathered on Monday night to take part in a protest ride to Parliament organised by the London Cycling Campaign to align with a debate in the House of Commons on the Get Britain Cycling report produced by an all-party group of MPs earlier this year.

Politicians from all parties are united in saying that they want to encourage cycling. Specific policies to make cycling safer remain however thin on the ground.

With at least one eye on the 2015 election, cycling safety has started to rise up political agendas. And it does so for good reason. Statistics from the Department of Transport (DfT) show that cycle fatalities are the only area where road casualties are rising. The number of deaths rose 10% during 2012 to 118, with serious injuries up by 4%, totalling 3,222.

Rising deaths and injuries would suggest that cycling is on the increase but in fact, outside major cities such as London, the number of cycle journeys remains stubbornly flat at 2% of all journeys nationally (National Travel Survey Statistical Release 2012, DfT). Campaign groups argue that the rise in the number of deaths and injuries is disproportionately greater than those actually getting on their bikes.

The current government has put together £94m to help fund safer cycling in eight cities and four national parks across England and has trialled a commitment to cutting ‘red tape‘ to allow cyclist-friendly planning in new road infrastructure projects and a requirement that councils will deliver cycle-proofed road designs. But that jars with a DfT announcement in the same week that training for those who only drive HGVs over short distances will no longer be compulsory despite statistics showing that HGVs present a particular danger for cyclists, especially in London “where around 20% of cyclist fatalities…involve an HGV” (RoSPA, 2012).

In contrast to the Conservatives laissez faire approach, Romney Tansley from SERA – Labour’s transport campaign – has called for legal underpinning to regulate and restrain the behaviour of non cycling road users, specifically cars and HGVs, commenting that “more cycle facilities would achieve little on their own”. SERA wants radical reallocation of road space to cyclists so that there is sufficient distance between traffic lanes and significantly reduced speed limits where cyclists and motorists travel in close proximity.

In a recent policy paper, the Liberal Democrats have proposed the introduction of ‘presumed liability’ bringing UK law into line with some European countries where responsibility for a crash with a cyclist is automatically put onto the motorist and it is for them to prove otherwise.

Rachel Leach, a solicitor from Thompsons Solicitors who has represented many victims of cycle accidents, said: “Politicians say they want to encourage more people to cycle but the perception remains that it is inherently dangerous and that will always hold the debate back. Efforts to increase cycling will fail if those considering cycling as a substitute for cars or public transport are deterred by a fear of road danger.

Commenting on what needs to be done to improve cycle safety, Rachel said: “One of my clients, a confident cyclist, was badly injured and needed surgery after being knocked from his bike on a roundabout in Lancashire. Two years on from the accident, he hasn’t had the confidence to get back on his bike. In his view, unless cyclists feel that their vulnerability on the roads is recognised by the law, they will continue to see themselves as at risk whenever they get on their bikes.

“For the government to describe compulsory training for drivers of HGVs as ‘red tape’ undermines the real issues around cycling safety. Legal underpinning which regulates the behaviour of other road users to protect vulnerable groups such as cyclists or pedestrians must be strengthened, not watered down.”

Speaking at the debate attended by around 100 MPs, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport Maria Eagle set out an eight point plan for cycling, including a requirement for councils to 'cycle-proof' highway and traffic schemes to high and enforceable design standards, and a review of the road justice system.

She also proposed a cross-party consensus to secure longer-term funding for cycling, and advocated legislation like the Active Travel (Wales) Bill, which will place a duty on local authorities to map routes for cycling and walking.