The Guardian: Sharp rise in number of cyclists killed on roads
Jump in quarterly figures could be explained by a rush of inexperienced riders, according to cycling groups
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 5 November 2009 14.02 GMT
The number of cyclists killed or seriously hurt on Britain’s roads rose sharply this spring, a phenomenon cycling campaigners warn could be caused in part by a rush of inexperienced riders taking to the streets, or even an increase in risky cycling behaviour such as red-light jumping.
Department for Transport figures released today show that 820 cyclists were killed or seriously injured in the three months to June this year, a 19% increase on the same period of 2008. More minor injuries rose 7% over the same period.
During the same three months pedestrian deaths and serious injuries dropped 8% year-on-year, while those for car drivers and passengers fell 4%. Motorbike users saw a 5% rise, however.
Cycling campaigners stress that such quarterly figures can become skewed by variations in accident reporting, particularly given the relatively small overall numbers involved, and that annual figures are a better guide. For the 12 months to June there was a far smaller 4% increase in cycling deaths and serious injuries as against the equivalent figure a year before, and the total remains almost 30% down on the 1994-98 average.
“It’s a difficult one for us,” said Chris Peck from the CTC, the UK’s biggest cycling organisation. “It’s important that we continue to campaign on safety issues but we don’t want to lose sight of the issue that cycling remains a fundamentally safe thing to do, particularly when you weigh up the health benefits it brings. One study showed that these outweigh the risks on average by a factor of 20 to one.”
Peck also warned that casualty figures needed to be put in the context of figures for cyclist numbers over the period, not yet available, which are expected to see a significant rise.
Over the past few years a mixture of health and environmental concerns, coupled with factors such as Britain’s Olympic cycling success, the popular ride to work bike purchase scheme and even the prominence of cycling celebrities such as Boris Johnson, have seen cyclist numbers soar, particularly in cities.
Research shows that as more cyclists take to a country’s roads, rider safety levels improve – for example, the average cyclist in Denmark rides over 10 times further than his or her British peer every year but runs only 20% of the risk of being killed.
However, Peck warned, this “safety in numbers” effect can see a time lag, particularly as relatively inexperienced riders begin cycling.
“This could have some effect on the figures,” he said. “It is clear that less experienced riders can be less safe in areas such as road sense.”
Another possible – if most likely marginal – factor could be rider behaviour such as jumping red lights, something that cycling campaigners fear is on the increase, particularly in London.
Peck notes that statistics gathered by Transport for London showed that in recent years around 5% of cyclists killed in the capital had been jumping a traffic signal at the time.
“It’s not a big factor, but it could be something. It is fair to say that particularly in London, riding behaviour has deteriorated in recent years.”