Bike riders tearing through red lights, wearing dark clothing or riding at night without lights are to blame for less than 7% of accidents that result in a cyclist being seriously injured, according to research commissioned by the Department for Transport.
The study, carried out by the Transport Research Laboratory – which has also published a report on helmet-wearing that we have covered separately today – found that one in four accidents resulting in death or serious injury to a cyclist was due to the bicycle being struck by a vehicle from behind.
Meanwhile, according to police reports studied as part of the research, wearing dark clothing at night was thought to be a possible cause of just 2.5% of accidents resulting in serious injury to the cyclist, with not using lights or jumping red lights each blamed in 2% of cases. Those percentages rose slightly in instances when the cyclist was killed, although in those circumstances police could only rely on evidence from the driver and other witnesses.
The report’s findings show clearly that far from being the danger to other road users that certain elements of the media have portrayed them as in recent months, cyclists are themselves put at risk by the actions of motorists, with the police attributing blame to the driver in up to three quarters of collisions between a bicycle and other vehicle in accidents involving adult bike riders.
Chris Peck of CTC told The Guardian: “The main cause of crashes seems to be 'failed to look properly', whereas very few cyclists are injured or killed acting illegally, such as failing to use lights at night or disobeying traffic signals.
"We believe this report strongly supports our view that the biggest problem for cyclists is bad driving,” he continued. “With that in mind we are greatly concerned that the government still seems fascinated with analysing and promoting cycle helmets, the value of which appears to be inconclusive.
“We believe that the government should now focus on tackling the causes of injury which appears to be mainly inconsiderate and dangerous driving. Reduced speed limits, stronger traffic law enforcement and cycle-friendly road design are the solutions."
The study also found that more than 75% of accidents resulting in children being killed or seriously injured while riding their bicycles results from the child’s behaviour. But the authors of the report, entitled Collisions involving cyclists on Britain’s roads: establishing the causes, said “it is not clear whether this means children are more likely than adults to behave in ways that result in a collision or whether the police are simply more likely to attribute contributory factors to a child.”
The report aims to provide an in-depth review of key risk factors connected with cycling, and research included analysing databases of road traffic accidents involving bicycles as well as casualty data from the DfT (STATS19) and cycling activity data from the National Transport Survey (NTS) to help place casualty statistics in the context of the number of people cycling and how far they travel.
Children made up one quarter of cyclists killed or seriously injured during the period studied, 2005-07, with 10-15-year-olds more at risk than any other age group once NTS data regarding distance cycled had been factored in.
Four in ten accidents involving child cyclists took place between 3pm and 6pm, which might suggest a link to the end of the school day, although analysis by day revealed that the levels of children killed or seriously injured (KSI) was similar on Saturdays to that observed during the week, and “a particularly strong peak” was seen between May and September, a period that takes in the summer holidays. A high proportion of children were reported to have been injured on quiet roads in urban areas.
Among adults, a higher proportion of cyclists were injured during the working week rather than at the weekend, with the key commuting times of 6am-9am and 3pm-6pm from Monday to Friday.
However, researchers said that after comparing exposure data for people commuting by bicycle to work with the number of collisions involving cyclists, the inference was that “there is not a straightforward relationship between levels of cycling to work and collision risk.” They added that some areas – Cumbria, Northumberland, Durham, Lancashire, West and South Yorkshire, parts of Wales and London – experienced more casualties in relation to the number of people using their bikes to get to work, while in other areas that have relatively high levels of bike commuting, casualty rates were lower.
One potential explanation for this, of course, is that in towns and cities where cycling is more prevalent, cyclists are simply more visible to motorists – who may of course be cyclists themselves – and there is also the impact of initiatives such as Cycling England’s demonstration towns which benefit from improved facilities for cyclists and where training may also be provided for people looking to take up cycling.
Over eight in ten accidents resulting in a cyclist being killed or seriously injured involved another vehicle, typically a car or taxi. But while collisions with HGVs resulted in only 4% of serious injuries, they accounted for almost one in five cyclist fatalities, with left-turning lorries the most likely cause, with half of those fatal accidents taking place at road junctions in an urban setting. In one in four accidents involving HGVs, coaches or buses that left a cyclist seriously injured, the cause was attributed to the vehicle being too close.
The report said that this appeared to be a particular problem in London, where this year alone nine cyclists have been killed in collisions with lorries. Eight of those victims were female, but the report appears to shed no light into why female cyclists appear disproportionately at risk of death from HGVs in the capital.
Indeed, researchers found that while males made up over eight in ten cyclists killed or seriously injured in all incidents surveyed by the study, in terms of distance cycled there was little variation between men and women in terms of their likelihood to be involved in an accident.
The full report can be downloaded here, although registration is required.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.