Are drivers and cyclists just as dangerous to pedestrians?

The Times thinks so, but there's another way of looking at it

by John Stevenson   January 27, 2014  

Bikes and pedestrians (CC licensed image by samsaundersleeds:Flickr)

Cyclists are just as dangerous to pedestrians as drivers. That’s the claim made by an article on The Times website today.

According to transport correspondent Phillip Pank, analysis of the 2012 road accident figures published by the Department for Transport reveals: “When serious injuries are measured as a proportion of distance travelled, cyclists injured 21 pedestrians per billion km travelled in 2012 compared with 24 pedestrians injured by drivers.”

To steal a phrase from debunker of Bad Science Ben Goldacre, we think you’ll find it’s more complicated than that.

What you really want to know here is how much of a risk different road users pose to pedestrians. It could be therefore misleading to take as your starting point the distances travelled by the those road users. You want the distances travelled by pedestrians.

road.cc doesn’t have an in-house statistician (applications are open, but be warned: the pay is lousy), so no doubt there are serious flaws in what follows and we expect smarter people than us to point them out in the comments.

The national travel survey says the average person travelled 6,691 miles in 2012. There 60 million people in the UK, so that's just over 400 billion miles.

Of that distance, 3 percent is walked so that's 12 billion miles of walking. For the sake of argument, let’s say that half of that is in the kind of urban environments The Times is talking about.

That’s 6 billion miles of walking which would get you out to Pluto’s orbit, if the frigid outer reaches of the solar system are your thing.

There were 79 pedestrians killed or seriously injured (KSI) by bikes in urban areas in 2012, so that’s one KSI per 75 million miles walked.

By contrast, there were 4,679 pedestrian KSIs involving motor vehicles - one KSI per 1.25 million miles walked.

That means for every mile you walk, you are 60 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured by a driver than a cyclist.

Another criticism of The Times’ analysis, and one that the paper touches on, is that the injuries sustained by pedestrians who are hit by cyclists are likely to be less severe than injuries to those who are hit by drivers.

The DfT’s classification of serious injury is:

Serious injury: An injury for which a person is detained in hospital as an “in-patient”, or any of the following injuries whether or not they are detained in hospital: fractures, concussion, internal injuries, crushings, burns (excluding friction burns), severe cuts, severe general shock requiring medical treatment and injuries causing death 30 or more days after the accident.

An injured casualty is recorded as seriously or slightly injured by the police on the basis of information available within a short time of the accident. This generally will not reflect the results of a medical examination, but may be influenced according to whether the casualty is hospitalised or not. Hospitalisation procedures will vary regionally.

So a broken collarbone or mild concussion comes under the same heading as multiple broken bones and severe brain damage.

On the basis of its pedestrian-injuries-per-billion-vehicle-miles analysis, The Times concedes that “drivers are five times more likely than cyclists to kill a pedestrian.” It doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect that they are also far more likely to inflict the most severe injuries.

After all, what would you rather be hit by, a Mondeo doing 30mph, or a skinny cyclist doing 20mph?

58 user comments

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Strange fact. I have a very fast car that my wife normally drives. Yet the more I cycle - 4x as much as last year, at least so far this year Wink - the less I care about Top Gear and Clarkson.

Bring on my Tacx trainer and Strava goals!

Extra bike? What extra bike dear?

goggy's picture

posted by goggy [112 posts]
27th January 2014 - 21:33

23 Likes

sfichele wrote:
65% of traffic volume was on motorways. Assuming pedestrians were not injured in these roads, the figure of 24 becomes 37

I think this point deserves more attention, because, as you essentially say, _if_ that 65% figure is correct then the stats as presented by the Times are badly flawed, to the point of being dishonest.

You can't compare the two if 2/3 of the distance travelled by one group is on a highway where pedestrian collisions are impossible due to there being no pedestrians to collide with due to them being barred by law.

Its nonsense-on-stilts to compare the raw figures like that, you have to at least start with confining it to travel on roads where pedestrians are legally allowed.

In fact the underlying issue goes beyond motorways - doing it by 'distance travelled' across the whole country gives hugely inflated weighting to long inter-city journeys along roads where there _are_ no pedestrians - and those journeys are precisely the ones far more likely to be taken by car.

Seems like the usual poor journalism we get in this country whenever any story involves statistics, science, or logical thinking. Why do professional journalists (at least any of them not called Ben Goldacre or Tim Harford) have such trouble with these topics? No wonder we do badly in those international tests.

(This is all assuming the data is as the Times describes, simple 'KSI per billion miles travelled' and have not in fact only about urban areas or something)

I guess what you need is some sort of 'proportion of all close interactions with pedestrians that end badly for the vulnerable party'. Per billion miles travelled is the wrong metric to use.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [700 posts]
27th January 2014 - 21:58

21 Likes

MercuryOne wrote:
northstar wrote:
And this is a newspaper that was once supportive of cycling or they have moved on to the next bandwagon?

Yep. Is that poor girl still in a coma? Last year's news it seems.

Not a clue tbh, last I read about her was she is : (

I hope she comes around.

posted by northstar [1109 posts]
27th January 2014 - 22:08

17 Likes

Couple of references to daft pedestrian behaviour - long may it last, I say, in urban areas, as it helps to slow cars and enforce the correct priority of feet, then bikes mingling in with care, then motorised vehicles going at a crawl to limit the danger the vehicles introduce. Blame-shifting talk of lemmings is misjudged, I think. Anyone going too quick in town needs to swap their long drop cantis for some disc brakes - an excuse for a new Croix de Fer maybe? Party

posted by vbvb [259 posts]
27th January 2014 - 22:18

24 Likes

from the Times article
"Analysis of the past ten years of road casualty data by CTC showed that cyclists killed 23 pedestrians in the decade to 2012 and seriously injured 585.

In the same period, 3,330 pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles and 46,081 were seriously injured. "

ok so simple maths assuming a linear relationship to kms travelled (not proper stats Wink )
so if you doubled the number of cycle-kms ridden
then the number of people killed per year by pedal bikes could be as many as 5 give or take with around 120 people seriously injured
if you halved the vehicle-kms driven then that would be 150 pedestrians killed per year by vehicles and 2300 seriously injured per year

that seems a pretty big gap to me think I know where effort to improve skills and change attitudes needs focussing

antigee's picture

posted by antigee [166 posts]
28th January 2014 - 3:23

19 Likes

Saw the Times today which had half a page celebrating Top Gear's 21st birthday and the fact that Clarkson has no plans to "grow up". Go figure as the Americans say.

posted by arfa [516 posts]
28th January 2014 - 9:26

15 Likes

No one is impressed by data analysis alone. The question is "what can be done?", The answer is "improve the design of streets so that the most vulnerable get the most help".

Cycling will do very well from such a plan, and so will walking. Driving will have to take quite a lot of restriction, but can continue to be useful and convenient where necessary.

The problem of bad behaviour will have to wait for Judgement Day.

posted by Sam Saunders [20 posts]
28th January 2014 - 9:48

16 Likes

To be fair, if the pedestrian is already crossing the road, they may well have right of way over you. This is certainly the case if you turned onto the road they were crossing. When a pedestrian has right of way, it is incumbent on you to not impede them (e.g. stop, or go behind them).

posted by Paul J [650 posts]
28th January 2014 - 9:53

15 Likes

Per minute spent travelling should be used as the measure rather than per unit distance.
Typically motor vehicles travel much faster than bicycles. If, for example you assume a steady rate of pedestrians crossing the road, a cyclist will be exposed to more pedestrians per km than a driver.
Additionally, as mentioned already, shared use foot/cycle paths increase exposure for cyclists.

posted by DNAse [22 posts]
28th January 2014 - 10:13

18 Likes

vbvb wrote:
Couple of references to daft pedestrian behaviour - long may it last, I say, in urban areas, as it helps to slow cars and enforce the correct priority of feet, then bikes mingling in with care, then motorised vehicles going at a crawl to limit the danger the vehicles introduce. Blame-shifting talk of lemmings is misjudged, I think. Anyone going too quick in town needs to swap their long drop cantis for some disc brakes - an excuse for a new Croix de Fer maybe? Party

bring back the "red flag" for motorised vehicles? Make it compulsorary for all motorised vehicles to be dayglo yellow? After all they keep trying to get high-viz mandated for cyclists...

posted by Paul_C [201 posts]
28th January 2014 - 13:08

23 Likes

Let's put this in perspective.

In the 10 years to 1997, guess how many people were killed on London's pavements by cars? = 37.

By bikes? = Zero.

Clearly there's infinitely much more danger of being killed by a car on the pavement than on the road.

Data source:
http://www.ctc.org.uk/news/goodwill-reiterates-footway-cycling-guidance

drmatthewhardy's picture

posted by drmatthewhardy [359 posts]
28th January 2014 - 14:28

20 Likes

I'm a pedestrian, a cyclist, a passenger on public transport and a motorist.

Fortunately, I have appropriate insurance and have written a will. Sounds like I could be needing one or other soon!

Ticktock

posted by Michael5 [121 posts]
28th January 2014 - 14:38

11 Likes

Whoops: I wrote:

1. A tiny proportion of pedestrian KSIs involve cyclists. When walking you are far, far, far more likely to be hospitalised (let alone killed) in a collision involving a cyclist than a motorist.

One of you spotted that ti shoudl read "less" rather than "more".

I was just testing you.

Honest.

posted by ChairRDRF [142 posts]
28th January 2014 - 15:11

10 Likes

Over the last few years I've had exactly the same problems as (it seems) everyone else with pedestrians not looking before stepping out, but over this winter (mainly for a laugh) I've been running the bike with Schwalbe ice spikers. It sounds like a half track and I've never failed to attract the attention of all pedestrians (even with headphones). Everyone gets out of my way and I'm thinking of running them into the summer as well.

I love finding a technology solution to problems.

posted by johndonnelly [26 posts]
28th January 2014 - 15:55

15 Likes

I hope you guys realise that the prevalence of hybrid vehicles is only going to increase the number of accidents. >10 tonnes of metal going down the road silently is very scary. Pedestrians in London don't look when they cross the road already (is this some kind of Islamic fatalism at work?) - it won't be long until deaths and serious injuries from hybrids exceed those from 'cycles

If cycling is indeed a sport of self-abuse why aren't more cyclists sectioned under the mental health act?

posted by hairyairey [291 posts]
28th January 2014 - 19:05

11 Likes

exceed? maybe you should check the stats first, hilarious.

posted by northstar [1109 posts]
28th January 2014 - 19:22

12 Likes

Has RoadCC approached The Times for a comment having had its science discredited?

posted by TimC340 [42 posts]
28th January 2014 - 20:44

15 Likes

I find it incredible that anything in a News International paper is taken seriously. We know that often their stories are simply a means of self promotion, write something outrageous and watch the interest grow. Treat them with the contempt they deserve, just ignore them, they don't deserve serious debate.

StevieG

posted by stevengoodfellow [42 posts]
28th January 2014 - 22:40

12 Likes

stevengoodfellow wrote:
I find it incredible that anything in a News International paper is taken seriously.

So we should dismiss the entire Cities Fit For Cycling campaign from The Times, which raised the profile of cycling on the political agenda, secured a parliamentary debate, and helped pay for the Get Britain Cycling inquiry, then?

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8284 posts]
29th January 2014 - 0:30

9 Likes

"What you really want to know here is how much of a risk different road users pose to pedestrians."

Why?

I don't think that's what you want. At least I don't want that. I'd be much more interested in whether encouraging cycling is likely to make roads safer, whereas your question is about what's likely to have happened if I find myself lying in the middle of the road with a broken bone. I want to know whether a given trip is more dangerous to some group of people (e.g. pedestrians) depending on whether it's made by car or by bike, because the answer leads to a difference in policy--either individual ("I want to kill someone today. Should I drive or bike?") or societal ("Should we subsidise parking and petrol as they do in the USA?"). So the article you criticise is asking the important question: What's Pr(hurt | hit by bike), whereas the question you're asking is What's Pr(hit by bike | hurt)?, which is only interesting for storytelling purposes.

Since far more miles are driven by cars than by bikes, obviously cars will kill more people. That's not interesting because it doesn't answer the question "Would encouraging cycling lead to safer roads?"

On the other hand, your criticism of "serious injury" is correct and important--even if hospitalisable injuries are similar, Pr(death | hit by car) > Pr(death | hit by bike).

Another way of looking at it is this: what you really want to know is which form of transportation kills more _people_, regardless of how they choose to transport themselves on any given trip. (You could maybe argue that people driving cars are knowingly choosing to put the lives of others at high risk and thus deserve to die, and so we don't care if people in cars kill people in cars, but actually let's not do that.) Bikes are more dangerous to other people than pedestrians are, but nobody on a bike ever kills anyone in a car (AFAIK), and people in cars kill people in cars all the time.

(And then there are the personal health benefits of cycling and the personal and societal health drawbacks of driving...)

If the original article shows something that you wish it didn't show (and who likes to hear that cycling hurts others?), perhaps we should be arguing for better integration of cycling infrastructure and better civic planning, rather than trying to ask misleading questions.

If you must question the statistics, perhaps you could argue that "per distance" is flawed, since cycling trips tend to be much shorter than driving trips, and more urban, resulting in higher exposure of pedestrians. The analysis in the Times may merely show that long-distance highways are efficient, pedestrian-death-wise: cars can rack up many billions of kilometers without coming anywhere near pedestrians (no kinetic endangerment, at least, although endangering them through toxins and political instability and climate change still occurs). Normalising _per_trip_ rather than _per_distance_ would arguably make more sense. This would also take into account the behaviour change caused by cycling: cyclists presumably tend to travel less distance per year, but to go out at roughly as often.

Cheers!

posted by bwpearre [6 posts]
29th January 2014 - 1:09

10 Likes

I totally agree with goggy's last statement. I try to give as much warning to pedestrian as they walk out onto my path without looking and the worst case is when they walk 2 to 3 abreast on the path in the park on won't budge!
On the other side, I see some cyclist who still thinks they can cycle across red lights or won't stop for pedestrains when it's the pedestrains right of way!
Let's ALL just be courteous and aware of other road users!

posted by MarinaLim [27 posts]
29th January 2014 - 9:10

8 Likes

I am delighted that cyclists agree with me that stats are crap after all Laughing

But you miss two vital points. Accident records show that with drivers involved 75% are the pedestrians fault.

And of course,because drivers keep us all alive and provide basic essentials, they save far more people than they kill or injure. Yes it can't all be perfect.

Road safety 'experts' are often folk who's CV doesn't cut the mustard.

posted by Sedgepeat [64 posts]
29th January 2014 - 12:12

7 Likes

Northernbike wrote:
stumps wrote:
In the north east the difference in the figures would be massive as we get very few reported collisions between cyclists and pedestrians whereas there seems to be a lot more numptie cyclists and car drivers in London who all seem to be in a hurry.

Is that a sign of a capital city where everything seems to be at a greater pace or is it that people in the north east are more careful ?????? I honestly dont know.

I wonder if someone had the figures in London to hand ?

I think many statistics presented as national would be much more useful broken down between London and everywhere else, the disparity between the two in so many things you might want to measure and cook up stats for being so great as to make lumping the two sets of data together as good as meaningless.

Stumps - pretty sure it's to do with concentration of people and traffic density , there's no shortage of numpties - as you well know - but maybe there's more space and less likelihood of numpties conflict. Newcastle, for example, does not even come close to London or some other medium / big cities by for the number of riders on the road. This kind of data is almost certainly skewed by big clusters like that so it doesn't make a lot of sense to present it averaged out nationally.

joemmo's picture

posted by joemmo [861 posts]
29th January 2014 - 13:36

8 Likes

ronyrash wrote:
Jjkuvbgd36788&£

+1

joemmo's picture

posted by joemmo [861 posts]
29th January 2014 - 15:28

7 Likes

Jjkuvbgd36788&£

ronyrash

posted by ronyrash [3 posts]
29th January 2014 - 15:28

7 Likes

Paul J wrote:
To be fair, if the pedestrian is already crossing the road, they may well have right of way over you. This is certainly the case if you turned onto the road they were crossing. When a pedestrian has right of way, it is incumbent on you to not impede them (e.g. stop, or go behind them).

[[[[[ Really? And do road-crossing pedestrians also have right of way over cars, buses, trucks, etc? If so, it must be in the Highway Code, and every time a pedestrian is KSI'd by a motor vehicle it must be the driver's fault. N'est pas?
P.R.

PhilRuss

posted by PhilRuss [296 posts]
29th January 2014 - 15:45

8 Likes

"(he actually chased me in his converted golf cart)."

Lol, so you cycled slow and waited for him too catch up right? Laughing

posted by kie7077 [508 posts]
29th January 2014 - 15:49

7 Likes

hairyairey wrote:
I hope you guys realise that the prevalence of hybrid vehicles is only going to increase the number of accidents. >10 tonnes of metal going down the road silently is very scary. Pedestrians in London don't look when they cross the road already (is this some kind of Islamic fatalism at work?) - it won't be long until deaths and serious injuries from hybrids exceed those from 'cycles

[[[[[ Yup, silently-approaching hybrid motors may well cause more collisions in the short term, but perhaps other road-users will therefore begin to use their eyes instead of their ears.....surely a plus for them, and a boon to us cyclists?
P.R.

PhilRuss

posted by PhilRuss [296 posts]
29th January 2014 - 16:03

6 Likes

Hi it's me again using the word Save is a code word for Send (previous post) must remember that.
23 pedis killed by cyclist? If you believe that you'll. believe anything.when I returned from a 2 year cycle tour abroad a few year ago I was shocked to learn of 20,000 cycle accidents,3000 fatally,in the previous year.
It turned out that these figures were entirely fictitious.theres a good few loonies round cycling but these will be eventually sorted out in the fullness of time by the shear weight of of numbers in the coming flood of cyclist who are going to bring this planet back to its senses.
You lucky young people, enjoy the ride!

ronyrash

posted by ronyrash [3 posts]
29th January 2014 - 16:17

6 Likes

PhilRuss wrote:
hairyairey wrote:
I hope you guys realise that the prevalence of hybrid vehicles is only going to increase the number of accidents. >10 tonnes of metal going down the road silently is very scary. Pedestrians in London don't look when they cross the road already (is this some kind of Islamic fatalism at work?) - it won't be long until deaths and serious injuries from hybrids exceed those from 'cycles

[[[[[ Yup, silently-approaching hybrid motors may well cause more collisions in the short term, but perhaps other road-users will therefore begin to use their eyes instead of their ears.....surely a plus for them, and a boon to us cyclists?
P.R.

or this:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-13416020

joemmo's picture

posted by joemmo [861 posts]
29th January 2014 - 16:19

9 Likes