It’s easy to find potential dangers for cyclists on the United Kingdom’s busy roads. Yet despite this, it can be extremely difficult to gauge just how safe it is to go for a bike ride in the UK.
Perhaps the most reliable figures are those issued by the Department for Transport, but those relate to reported road accidents only and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents estimates that between 60% and 90% of cyclist injuries are not reported.
When reporting accident statistics, much prominence tends to be given to fatalities and so an increase of 10% in cyclists killed between 2004 and 2005 received a lot of attention.
In fact, this was not too significant, because the total number of fatalities was low and so the figure was subject to fluctuation from year to year.
There is a widely-held view that cycling has become more dangerous because there is so much more traffic on the UK’s roads, but that theory is not backed up by the figures. In 1950, one cyclist died for every 25 million kilometres travelled, whereas in 2005 the figure was one for every 30 million.
While the improvement may seem modest, it is worth remembering that the road system – excluding motorways – carries over seven times as much motor traffic compared to 1950.
To keep the cyclist fatalities in context, it is worth noting that within the same time frame, the fatality rate for motor vehicle users dropped from one in 27 million kilometres to one in 206 million. Another relevant factor is the advancement in medical treatment.
In terms of where and when cycling accidents take place, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents found that 90 per cent occur in urban areas (where 77% of all cycling takes place), 75% occur at or near a road junction and 80% occur in daylight. Also, 80% of cyclist casualties are male.
Research by Transport for London into cyclist fatalities found that a quarter of cyclists killed are hit by a vehicle turning left, 17 per cent are hit by vehicle travelling alongside and 10% are run into from behind.
Meanwhile, the London Accident Analysis Unit has identified the main contributory factors for cyclists killed and seriously injured. It found that 29% of the time another vehicle turns across or into the path of a cyclist, 10% of cyclists are hit by, or swerve to avoid, an open door, 9% ride into the path of another vehicle and in 7% of cases no-one else is involved.
A very telling statistic is that, although only two per cent of cyclist injuries occur in collisions with heavy goods vehicles, these collisions result in 22% of all cyclist deaths. This is a particular issue in London, where between eight and 12 cyclists a year die in these circumstances.