Is Dangerous Cycling a Problem? A Look at the Stats.

Cylists are awful. They run red lights, they take up too much space, and they kill pedestrians. Cyclists are so awful that a Private Member’s Bill has been introduced to make dangerous cycling a crime.
So how much of a problem is dangerous cycling? We’ve collated the statistics on pedestrian deaths between 1998-2007 and created a visualisation, showing the relative number of deaths caused by types of vehicle. You can find it here, and play around with it, looking at the total, or the individual years.
I’m not sure the problem is so endemic that it requires a new law, or as much media attention as it’s garnered, and I’m not sure laws that are lobbied for by the families of a lone victim are the best way forward. But the data’s there, in case you fancy some stats to back up your argument.

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18 responses to “Is Dangerous Cycling a Problem? A Look at the Stats.

  1. Never in the field of human deception has the rhetoric been so detached from the reality.

    BTW, I’ve created a shortened URL:
    http://tiny.cc/HowDangerousIsCycling

  2. Well these are very good figures to have at hand. However they would be more useful accompanied by some figures for the approximate total numbers of motor vehicles and bicycles on the pavements or roads because, while I’m certain there are a lot less bikes around, I really don’t know how small the ratio is. I suppose accurate figures for the numbers of bikes in use are pretty damn hard to come by, though.

  3. If a cyclist kills a pedestrian, they should receive an appropriate punishment. Considering how rare these events are, and that the existing legislation allows for this, I don’t see the need for any further legislation on the matter. All road users can also be charged with general offences too, which is useful for truly exceptional incidents.

    The real issue I take with this is the frequent reports of motorists who kill pedestrians or cyclists receiving fines only in the hundreds of pounds, despite the maximum penalties being much higher. These people are then being permitted to continue driving. If I were to become the victim of a negligent motorist, if nothing else I would want them to be prevented from driving again, ever.

    As long as this situation continues to exist, legislation directed only at cyclists seems to be hugely perverse.

  4. The Leadsom bill is a classic case of “hard cases make bad law” – there are no doubt grounds for bringing cycling traffic law into line with motoring on this particular point, even if the real threat is minuscule in comparison.

    BUT it also requires that a consistent law across all vehicles should be applied consistently. How much chance is there of that? Had Rhiannon Bennett been on the footway when she was hit (in the absence of independent witnesses it can’t be proved or disproved that she was tanked on Stella, and was playing “chicken” with the cyclist, but I certainly have had a number of occasions where a pedestrian has taken an insane risk with my ability to stop in time, which they would never have taken with a car, presumably on the basis that the cyclist will blink first) the cyclist would likely have gone to prison. What the Hansard stats conceal within themselves is that there were about 70 pedestrians killed over that period, by vehicles, on footways. Of those 70, two were cyclists. Both were imprisoned. I wonder how many drivers were?

    • Paul,
      ‘What the Hansard stats conceal within themselves is that there were about 70 pedestrians killed over that period, by vehicles, on footways. Of those 70, two were cyclists. Both were imprisoned. I wonder how many drivers were?’

      Could you elaborate on the comment about ’70 pedestrians killed over that period, by vehicles, on footways’. Where did you get those figures?

      • I wish I was more assiduous about saving the various citations so I could repeat them later – I certainly have the Hansard reply on the 10 year figures saved – I have seen this one a handful of times, most recently referred to in a CTC news item on their website, but I no longer recall the official source – sorry!

      • The CTC has collated the figures of pedestrian deaths.
        Link: http://www.ctc.org.uk/DesktopModules/Art
        icles/ArticlesView.aspx?TabID=0&ItemID=6
        38&mid=13641
        http://tinyurl.com/65hdv4u

        In the five years from 2005-09, there were 3,051 pedestrians killed in collisions with motor vehicles: 2,118 involving cars, 933 involving other vehicles. That’s an average of 610 a year. By contrast, there were 11 pedestrians fatalities in cycle collisions during this period, an average of 2.2 per year.

        If we look at pedestrians killed on the footway or verge, the figures still show that the threat to pedestrians comes overwhelmingly from motor vehicles, not pedal cycles.

        There were 226 pedestrians killed by motor vehicles on footways and verges in that five-year period: 161 by cars, 65 by other vehicles. That’s an average of 45 a year, almost one a week. Even if we double the period to a whole decade (2000-09), the total number of pedestrians killed by cycles on pavements or verges was just three.

        That’s a ratio of pedestrian killed on the footway by motor-vehicles to cyclists of 151 to 1. I believe it’s important to emphasise that at these rates, pedal cyclists would take 151 years to equal a single year’s motor-vehicle footway carnage.

        I suspect the annual mileage of cyclists is somewhat hard to measure, so I rather suspect the reliance that can be placed on that figure is not great.
        ——————–
        There can be little doubt of the huge disparity in the outcome of a collision between a motor-vehicle & pedestrian, versus a collision between a pedal cycle & pedestrian.
        The differences between a motor-vehicle and a pedal cycle are huge and numerous.
        Let’s assume the driver and motorist are identical in mass. The difference is the vehicle: a car has a mass broadly between 900-2000 kg or whereas a bicycle has a mass of 10-20 kg.
        Then there’s the engine versus muscle-power. A car can easily sustain ~50 to ~200+ horsepower [~37 kWatts to ~150 kWatts] indefinitely. For clarification, that’s between ~370 and ~1,500 times the maximum sustained power output of a typical cyclist who can produce only ~ 0.1 kWatt (figure from Bicycling Science) for extended periods. This means that a pedal cycle is inherently limited in speed, whereas a motor vehicle speed is effectively only constrained by speed limits and the driver’s adherence to them.

        There’s no doubt that some motorists feel entitled in a mediaevalesque revival of ‘might is right’ to use their overwhelming power excess to bully and sometimes murder cyclists.

        Note: I’ve excluded the larger vehicles because cars are by some margin the commonest and the buses and lorries are even larger and more powerful.

  5. As I suspected, cyclists are the safety experts. A shame this isn’t more widely recognized.

  6. Sorry guys, I have a problem with the visualisation. Does all motor vehicles include cars? In which case should the cars bubble not be inside the all motor vehicles bubble?
    I have replotted the data as a bar chart (sorry, doesn’t seem to be any way to upload it) and, while there is a downward trend in the number of motor vehicle related deaths, the average change is a decrease of 29 ( -3.46%) per year. At this rate, in another 28 years cars won’t kill anybody. Isn’t that great? Except for the 16,000 or so who have been killed meanwhile I suppose.
    It does surprise me that there are nearly 3 people per year killed by bicycles. It makes me wonder if there is a common link between these deaths, something such as cyclists riding on pavements, that could be improved by separating cyclists and pedestrians?
    Do you have any links to the data for the number of cyclists killed by motor vehicles and pedestrians over the same period?

  7. I read that just three pedestrians were killed in collisions with cyclists riding on the pavement during the last 10 or so years. So is ‘jaywalking’ a problem we should address?

    An interesting blog entry on the Bill: http://ukcyclerules.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/dangerous-reckless-cycling-bill/

  8. if a car reaches a left turn (and is properly indicating) a motorcyle (behind the car – travelling in the same direction) would stop and allow the car to make the turn. cyclist, however, continue to ride through on the inside. why is this, and do you think it’s right?

    • The scenario that you describe is not common. I ride and drive in the US (replace left turn with right turn in your example) and I do not see cyclists do this. I DO see motorists turning right (left, in your case) without leaving adequate clearance for the cyclist that they just passed. I saw this happen just this morning.

      If a cyclist were to behave in the manner you described, it would be unsafe for the cyclist and hence unwise on his part. It would probably be a violation of the traffic code, though I hesitate to use words like “right” or “wrong”.

      Is it “right” to drive a car in the first place? Look how much more dangerous they are for other people.

  9. @Thelonius Bostik

    A fellow cyclist who does this is an idiot, with neither consideration for other road users nor a sufficiently well-developed sense of self-preservation. No right-thinking cyclist would try to claim otherwise.

    That’s assuming, of course, that the car hasn’t only just overtaken the cyclist and is cutting them up by turning across their path.

  10. Here’s some figures for earlier years for you:

    1992 – 3
    1993 – 4
    1994 – 4
    1995 – 4
    1996 – 2
    1997 – 2

    Regarding the motor vehicles on pavements issue, how many pedestrians are killed by cars manouvering to access, or accessing/exiting off-street parking (perfectly legal), parking on pavements (also perfectly legal except for HGVs, and other vehicles where that particular stretch of pavement has a specific by-law preventing parking on it).

    Note also the Highway Code Rule in the Pedestrians section about not passing behind a vehicle reversing, showing reversing lights, or giving any other indication it is about to reverse.

    And all the figures should be viewed in light of the fact that motor vehicles cover 350 BILLION miles a year, cycles are only claimed to do around 1 billion.

  11. Few days back I was struck at very low impact speed, probably less than 5mph at collision, by an illegal and lightless pavement cyclist. My hand is still healing, having been bruised and gashed. I think this blows away the cyclists’ argument that cycles are less dangerous to pedestrians than cars, speed for speed. On the contrary, a cycle frame is more akin to a 4×4 bullbar in terms of its unyielding nature and numerous sharp projections. In particular, some designs of brake lever are not far short of daggers in terms of their injury potential. The question arises as to whether vehicles with such abysmally poor collision-safety standards should be operating anywhere at all near to people.

    • Sorry to hear about your accident, Ian. I would like to think the cyclist was at least fined for riding on the pavement, but I’m sure there were no consequences for him/her.

      However, the idea that your incident “blows away” any such argument about the relative safety of bikes vs cars is false. Apart from the fact that this is one case, I don’t see why you should be so confident that you would not have suffered at least equally bad injuries had you been hit by a car at the same speed. Furthermore, while a bike probably does have a few more awkward protruberances to cause certain minor injuries, the fact remains that a cyclist has an order of magnitude less momentum than a typical car, in fact it’s likely to be about 1/20th the mass. The potential for brute-force blunt trauma is therefore substantially less. I don’t think there are grounds to state that bikes have “abysmally poor collision-safety standards”.

    • Ian M. I’m uncertain whether your comment was made tongue in cheek or not. I detest use without lights of any vehicle whether motorised or not after lighting-up time. It is clear that quite a few motorists are incapable of finding or operating light switches and adhering to the rules of the road like speeding, insurance, driving licence etc. It is clear that the primary danger on the footway is derived from motor-vehicles. As the fatalities detailed above attest. Furthermore. the very nature of the vehicle and their power means that the danger and likelihood of being stuck by a wide speeding motor-vehicle, vastly exceed that from any cyclist. Footways are so rough and cluttered with obstacles that cycling along them at speed is most unlikely. I base my experience upon occasional cycling on shared paths.

      I would like to see five yearly driving licence renewal tests and life driving bans for injuring or killing VRUs.

    • Here on the other side of the Atlantic, we’ve had a (British) tourist lose her foot to a cab driven legally on the sidewalk/pavement, and five children run down by an SUV driven legally on the sidewalk/pavement, one with a broken hip and other bones, another dead from a subsequent asthma attack. “Legally”, means that no tickets were issued, no charges filed. The cab driver was off the street for a month because of some unrelated issue, but now he’s driving again.

      You’ll be pleased to learn that a paparazzi riding a bicycle illegally on the sidewalk knocked down a Famous Actress (no injury worth remarking on) received three summonses for his offenses, so you are relatively safe from those deadly cyclists on the sidewalks of NYC.

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