Fatalities halve in 15 years when measured by distance travelled

New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have thrown fresh light on cycling’s role in Britain’s changing travel patterns in recent years, and has also revealed that the number of cyclists killed on the country’s roads over the past 15 years has halved when measured by distance travelled.

The updated Transport chapter of the ONS’s Social Trends report reveals that in 2008, 24.2 cyclists died for every billion kilometres ridden, compared to 49.8 million in 1995, a larger proportionate decline than was observed in motorcycling, walking or being in a car as a driver or passenger, although death rates in all three of those also declined.

The drop in the number of cyclists killed when measured by total distance travelled, which itself will have been driven by increases in the number of people cycling over the period, underlines what cyclists’ organisation CTC has termed the Safety In Numbers effect, the title of one of its campaigns highlighting that the more people there are cycling, the more visible cyclists become to other road users, resulting in improved safety.

Although the report does not provide data of the number of kilometres covered in 2008 and 1995 to allow a direct comparison to be made, it did reveal that in 2008, people made an average of 16 trips by bicycle during the year, and while this made up just 2% of the total number of trips made, that reflected a 17% increase on the previous year, the biggest gain made by any form of transport.

Meanwhile, the number of pedal cyclists killed in Great Britain fell by 15% between 2007 and 2008, although the same period saw the number of bike riders seriously injured rise by 1%.

However, despite the increased popularity of cycling in recent years, the report also highlights how the bicycle’s importance as a mode of transport has diminished over the past six decades, chiefly as a result of cars becoming more affordable with ownership becoming the norm rather than the exception.

In 1952, Britain’s bike riders pedalled some 23 billion kilometres, equivalent to 11% of all travel, but in 2007, the distance travelled by cyclists had plummeted to 4 million kilometres, making up just 0.5% of all travel.

The ONS press release for the updated Social Trends chapter highlighted the fact that fewer than half of schoolchildren now walk to school, which has been the focus of coverage in the mainstream media, with travel increasingly likely to be made by car, both findings reflecting long-term trends. Figures for travelling to school by bicycle were not available.

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.