It’s obvious how to make cycling safer, isn’t it?

Surely it’s easy to make cyclists safer. Just dress them in high vis clothing, make them wear a helmet, give them free bike lights and “Bob’s your uncle”! “bleedin’ obvious” really.

Unfortunately, following the “bleedin’ obvious” is a bad way to devise a road safety strategy. It tends to ignore the single biggest factor in all road crashes - human behaviour.

The response of the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership (SSRP) to the rise in reported injuries to people cycling in Brighton is to give away free bike lights, high visibility aids and advice.

No matter how well meaning, this sadly falls into the category of doing the “bleedin’ obvious”.

Before embarking upon this, has anyone actually asked “will it work?”. Will it make it safer for people choosing to cycle in Brighton or the rest of Sussex? It can’t hurt surely, can it?

To be fair, SSRP are only copying what many other road safety partnerships are doing. It’s a kind of peer group pressure based on an approach that looks at which groups make up the casualties and then does stuff to or for them.

As Becky Reynolds of Bricycles points out, the SSRP message is aimed at cyclists and that’s “not right”. A more effective approach shouldn’t just focus on the victims but rather look first at who is hitting them and why.

In reality, it’s now pretty well-established that what actually works in road safety is often counter-intuitive - the opposite of the “bleedin’ obvious”.

For example at Seven Dials Brighton and Hove City Council has reduced visibility and made the corners tighter, forcing drivers to stop and look properly before pulling out.

Bikeability training, based more on Advanced Driver training, now advises people to cycle in the middle of the lane (the “primary position”) on narrow roads, at pinch points, at the head of junctions and when passing side roads.

This may feel uncomfortable to more timid cyclists but increases their visibility and prevents overtaking where there just isn’t enough room.

Some impatient drivers may get annoyed, thinking they’re being held up, but in reality it’s just a few seconds, if that, and anyway they’ll only catch up with the back of the queue ahead.

But this highlights a major issue. The UK media (and many commenters to articles) seem fixated in discussing cycling in the context of the “war between cyclists and motorists”. This is very unhelpful, almost giving a green light to aggression against vulnerable road users (including pedestrians as well).

Most people riding bikes also own and drive a car. If they’re scared off the road into their car, this means more queues and delay for everyone.

People who do have to drive should strongly support getting more people on bikes as it’ll help to reduce congestion and make their own journey easier. Most journeys in Brighton are under 5km (3 miles).

Imagine what would happen if the 7,000 cycling commuters in Brighton and Hove all drove (let alone the 24,000 who walk to work). It’d be like doubling the traffic caused by the school run, every day.

But let’s get back to that question about bike lights and high visibility clothing. The truth is that studies show that improved cycle lighting and riders wearing high vis makes no difference to cycle casualty rates.

Indeed, despite the myths, the vast majority of cyclists use lights at night and yet crashes still happen. Basically the SSRP campaign won’t make any difference. But could it actually be harmful?

If drivers expect every cyclist (and pedestrian) to be lit up like a Christmas tree then over time they learn not to look so hard. It’s a bit like those junctions. If you make it easier to see then drivers become less careful. Giving things away to potential victims reduces the responsibility of drivers to take adequate care.

And you may have noticed a bit of an “arms race” in cycle lighting - riders with numerous lights front and back, the brightest visible from up on the Downs. If you’ve been dazzled perhaps you had less chance of seeing another cyclist with dimmer lighting or the pedestrian with no lighting at all?

Victim focussed “cycle safety” campaigns give out a negative message that “cycling is dangerous”.

This makes it even more difficult to achieve the one thing that will definitely make cycling safer – more people cycling.

A Canadian study published only this week in the British Medical Journal is the latest to show that where levels of cycling are high, the rate of cycling injuries is much lower.

What’s needed in the UK is a mature cycling culture like those in Denmark and Holland, where excellent cycle infrastructure like the cycle lanes on Lewes Road and Old Shoreham Road are the rule rather than isolated exceptions.

This is the result of substantial investment in coherent cycling infrastructure sustained over decades.

Even Robert Goodwill, Conservative minister of transport, said after his visit to Copenhagen last month “I’ve been blown away by what I’ve seen in Copenhagen, and that’s given me an additional feeling of wanting to redouble our efforts back home to ensure that we can do more for cyclists.”

These countries (and others like France and Germany too) take cycling seriously. There are no “cyclists” there – only normal people who just, well, cycle. When “them” are also “us”, any suggestion of conflict seems ridiculous.

And remember, the next person on a bike that you see might be your wife, father, daughter or brother.