Updated: 2009 road casualty stats show UK cycling deaths continuing to fall

Number of cycling fatalities drops 10 per cent to 104 but rates of serious injury are up

by Mark Appleton   September 26, 2010  

London accidents

It’s not easy to look positively on a figure of 2,222 mostly sudden, violent deaths in Britain in a single year. But that bald statistic for the number of fatalities on British roads in 2009, contained within theDepartment for Transport's just-released Reported Road Casualties Great Britain 2009, represents an all-time low since such statistics were first compiled.

However, together with the 222,146 people injured on the roads in the same year, 24,690 of whom were seriously injured, the numbers still look like the level of carnage you might expect to see in a war zone. (Indeed during the same period in Afghanistan 2412 civilians were killed according to UN figures and 108 UK soldiers lost their lives.)

On average just over six people per day died on Britain's roads in the best year for reported casualties on record. And while there are grounds for optimism in the 2009 reported casualty figures, not least for cyclists, there are also good reasons to treat them with a degree of caution. Road traffic accidents are known to follow economic cycles and their decline in the past two years can in part be attributed to less traffic on the roads due to the recession although the DfT report does make clear that in the author's opinion this cannot be taken to be the whole reason..

The report shows that despite the increased popularity of cycling over the past 15 years, cyclist fatalities continue to fall. The figure of 104 cyclist deaths last year is a 10% drop on the previous year and a 44% drop on the average for the period from 1994–98 compared with a 22% increase in the number of miles cycled annually since that period – in 2009 the number of miles cycled went up 4 per cent on 2008 levels. These statistics tend to support the theory that the greater the number of cyclists in a community, the safer cycling becomes for all, although worryingly the figure for cycling casualties per billion miles travelled rose by 1 per cent in 2009.. 

In total there were 17,064 reported cycling casualties last year, the majority were slightly injured, but as well as the 104 killed another 2606 were seriously injured a six per cent rise on the 2008 figure. More than 80% of cyclists killed or seriously injured (KSI) last year were male, compared with around 60% of pedestrians and car occupants and 90% of motorcyclists. The headline results from the report relating to cycling are:

• 81% of reported cycle casualties were male, as were 80% of cycle fatalities.
• 58 % of all pedal cycle casualties were 16 – 59 year old male cyclists, compared to 47% for cycle fatalities.
• 20% of cycle casualties were children (0-15 years old). However, only 13% of  cycle fatalities were children.
• The number of reported child cycle casualties has fallen by 59% from the 1994-98 average, from 7,851 to 3,204 in 2009. The number of female child casualties has fallen more than for male casualties (65% compared to a 58% reduction).

While the latter statistics appear encouraging, they could also suggest that children do not cycle anything like as much as they used to. As for the timing of cycling accidents the report finds that 61% of casualties occurred during the hours of 7am – 10am and 4pm – 7pm. This proportion was slightly higher for accidents on Monday to Thursday (66%t) and lower at the weekend (44% on both Saturday and Sunday), and is likely to be related to school and work travel.

25 cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders were killed by drivers passing too close to them and a further 310 were seriously injured figures which may lead to renewed calls for the introduction of a minimum passing distance along the lines of those in force in other European countries.

In terms of the factors which cause road traffic accidents, the report states that four of the five most frequently reported contributory factors were some kind of driver/rider error or reaction, which includes ‘failed to look properly’ and ‘failed to judge other person’s path or speed’. Indeed ‘failed to look properly’ (commonly known as SMIDSY - Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You - amongst cyclists) was the most frequently reported contributory factor and was involved in 38% of all reported accidents and 24 per cent of fatal accidents.

Speed was the other big contributor to death on the roads - while exceeding the speed limit was cited as a contributory factor in only five per cent of reported accidents it was a contributory factor in 17 per cent of fatal ones. The report also points out that exceeding the speed limit and driving too fast for the road conditions between them were cited as contributory factors in 30 per cent of all fatal accidents. Loss of control of which excessive speed could also be deemed a component was a factor in a further 36 per cent of fatal accidents.

The DfT report also includes a valuation of the cost to the British economy of all the death, misery and destruction that occurred on Britain's roads in 2009. That figure is £15.82bn the cost of quite a big war, by comparison the financial cost to Britain of fighting in Afghanistan from 2001 until now is put at £10bn.
 

23 user comments

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"While the latter statistics appears particulalrly encouraging, they could also suggest that children do not cycle anything like as much as they used to"
I don't think there is any question that this is the case - you simply rarely see children cycling now.

While there is some optimism in the figures I wonder how much is related to improvements in emergency medical treatment and if the same level of collisions is happening but now people are permantly disabled rather than killed.

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posted by TheHatter [808 posts]
25th September 2010 - 11:11

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'Particularly pleasing' if these figures were coming out of Afghanistan the houses of parliament would be under siege. The media in general, television in particular read these 'statistics' without batting an eyelid, casualties from a warzone though continually make the headlines. All deaths and cusualties deserve the same degree of sympathy and sorrow. Newsreaders should afford the same amount of respect for those killed and injured on our roads, perhaps then justice, or lack of it, can better be addressed.

antonio

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posted by antonio [887 posts]
25th September 2010 - 18:32

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And does anyone know why UK road accident rates are falling? Err, no.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [1898 posts]
25th September 2010 - 20:33

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I think we can make a pretty good guess OldRidgeback.

Better car design is one big factor in fewer motorists and their passengers dying, a drop in average speeds is probably another which helps cyclists too. Plus the last government did make cutting the numbers of road deaths particularly of children a major priority - and while they may well have had the trend working in their favour anyway they did spend plenty of money on stuff like re-designing road layouts and street furniture mainly but not exclusively it's got to be said to protect motorists who make up the largest proportion of the casualty count. Plus there has been a greater emphasis on reducing inappropriate driver speeds in urban areas with all sorts of measures being used including 20mph zones (we could do with plenty more of those IMO).

And I can't help feeling that the trend also maps pretty closely to the introduction of speed cameras - which along with nicking a lot of speeding motorists have certainly helped to underline the view that speeding should be seen as an anti-social activity rather than a matter of personal freedom.

Now that they look to be on their way out we'll find out what difference speed cameras made when we see the final quarter provisional figures for 2010 but we'll probably have to wait until 2012 and the final report on the 2011 figures to really know. Of course nobody will die if the pro camera lobby is proved wrong sadly that won't be the case if they are proved right.

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4102 posts]
26th September 2010 - 22:38

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Tony - I think the stuff about controlling speed did little or nothing to reduce the accident statistics. In fact i think if the previous government has tackled SMIDSY instead, we'd have a far bigger reduction in accidents. The DFT data says that speed is a factor in 14% of accidents (that's a factor, not the cause). SMIDSY on the other hand is THE CAUSE of 37% of accidents. Accident levels are reducing all across the developed nations. No one knows why. Yes, improved car design is a factor but it's just a factor. The effects of controlling speed, well I'd say the benefits to road safety have been so minimal as to be neglibile.

Have a look at this link, which I think you may find interesting. A lot of material on road safety comes across my desk and it's interesting how low in the safety stakes speed is seen as a factor by most experts in the field - it was however a cheap fix by the previous government if you ask me:

http://www.etsc.eu/documents/ETSC%20Response%20to%20EC%20Communication_%...

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [1898 posts]
27th September 2010 - 9:01

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Hold on, here's the summary from the section on contributory factors

4. Contributory factors to reported road accidents
Christopher Waite, Road Safety Research and Statistics, Department for Transport
Summary

This article describes the scope and limitations of the information on contributory factors collected as part of the national road accident reporting system, and presents results from the fifth year of collection.

• Failed to look properly was again the most frequently reported contributory factor and was reported in 38 per cent of all accidents reported to the police in 2009. Four of the five most frequently reported contributory factors involved driver or rider error or reaction. For fatal accidents the most frequently reported contributory factor was loss of control, which was involved in 36 per cent of fatal accidents.

• Exceeding the speed limit was reported as a factor in 5 per cent of accidents, but these accidents involved 17 per cent of fatalities. At least one of exceeding the speed limit and travelling too fast for the conditions was reported in 13 per cent of all accidents and these accidents accounted for 27 per cent of all fatalities.

No doubt about it 'failed to look properly' is a big contributor, but when it comes to fatal accidents the biggest contributory factor is 'loss of control' I'd say speed is probably a factor in a fair number of those combine that with inappropriate speed for the conditions and exceeding the speed limit and you're up to excessive speed being a factor in 57 per cent of deaths (it's actually 60 per cent if you use the figures in the published table for exceeding the speed limit and inappropriate speed - which are higher than those quoted in the summary).

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4102 posts]
27th September 2010 - 9:02

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OldRidgeback wrote:
And does anyone know why UK road accident rates are falling? Err, no.

In a nut shell, rates have been reduced over the past 40 years by getting as many journeys made by car and by making cars as safe as possible.

Now many are realising, with congestion, emissions, obesity etc, that the car can no longer be the default mode of transport.

There is a worry amongst some that encouraging more cycling and walking will result in an increase in accident rates. However the benefits are from more cycling and walking are clearly huge.

We just need to make sure road safety is focused on the people outside of the vehicles. And it is maintained by controlling the danger (motor vehicles) rather than curtailing the movement of vulnerable road users.

posted by DNAse [22 posts]
27th September 2010 - 10:19

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In terms of speed, basic physics demonstrates that is it a factor in all collisions. If everyone travelled at ->0mph then there would be hardly any collsions and collisions that did happen would have low energy and not be harmful. As speed increases the energy dissapated in a collision will rise leading to an increased likely hood of a fatality. Also, crucially, as speed increases the time available to correct a mistake decreases and the distance travelled unsighted, if you are not paying attention, increases.

The question as to whether speed is the *key* factor in an accident is much harder to determine. However to state, as some do, that speed is not a contributary factor in most accidents, is poppycock. It is not helpful to think of a cut-off point at which speed is a factor, it is a sliding scale.

posted by DNAse [22 posts]
27th September 2010 - 10:39

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Failure to look properly is the major cause of accidents in the UK and across Europe. This is the problem that should be dealt with.

Accident rates have been falling right across the developed world. There are some reasons why this can be explained by contribtory factors. However the exact balance for this fall in accident levels has not been understood.

Yes speed is a factor, but it is not the single most important factor in the cause of accidents. Safety campaigners have been looking in the wrong direction (SMIDSY) to suggest so.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [1898 posts]
27th September 2010 - 11:03

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Tony & OldRidgeback,

Thanks for dissecting the information, it's always useful to have someone who can dig through the wordage and make sense of it for the rest of us.

We all know children don't cycle as much as they used to, and the school run is a significant factor in creating extra traffic at busy times.

However, until cycling is considered normal for children (and adults) instead of a 'risky' activity then participation numbers will remain pathetically low.

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posted by Simon E [1738 posts]
27th September 2010 - 11:48

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OldRidgeback, depends on whether you want to cut the number of accidents or the number of deaths. I'd say cutting the numbers of deaths should be the first focus and the number of serious injuries the second. Taking that as a starting point, inappropriate speed on its own accounts for 30 per cent of fatalities, add in "loss of control" in which I'd argue inappropriate speed is more than likely a major factor and you are up to 60 per cent of all deaths on the road. That seems like quite a lot of death - on last year's figures it amounts to 1333 people. I'd say that's a number well worth trying to reduce.

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4102 posts]
27th September 2010 - 11:51

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What about "Exposure to Risk", as Freewheeler keeps banging on about on Crap Waltham Forest?

In other words: crashes where no-one is injured are not included in the stats, yet they contribute to whether a particular piece of road environment is a risky one to travel on or not, whether for pedestrians, cyclists or motor vehicle occupants.

Conscientious Objector in the War on Vulnerable Road Users

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posted by t1mmyb [86 posts]
27th September 2010 - 13:16

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I thought speed was a factor in 24% of fatal accidents according to the stats I've seen. And that is a contributing factor, not the cause. SMIDSY is still public enemy no 1.

My kids walk to school Simon. When they go to secondary school, they'll take the bus.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [1898 posts]
27th September 2010 - 13:52

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Despite all the juggling with numbers, percentages, probable cause, areas most at risk, the hard fact is it would seem to be safer as a British soldier in Aghanistan than a commuter on the roads of Britain.

antonio

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posted by antonio [887 posts]
27th September 2010 - 15:22

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t1mmyb you mean like riding up the Wellsway since the latest council "improvements"? I totally agree with Freewheeler about that, but does he suggest a way that it can be managed other than by scrolling through helmet cam footage?

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4102 posts]
27th September 2010 - 15:39

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OldRidgeback wrote:
My kids walk to school Simon. When they go to secondary school, they'll take the bus.

My two kids are fortunate to have a 10 minute walk to school, though they love riding their bikes. The estate, built in the 70s & 80s, has good walking and cycling access though some parents drive surprisingly short distances to drop their children off, causing additional congestion around the front gate and along the narrow lane at the front of the school.

Despite being included in the Sustrans Bike It scheme the school has shown very little enthusiasm for the activities or interest in boosting the numbers on bikes. The response in some of the other primary schools around Shrewsbury has been excellent, with many more children riding regularly.

OK, enough axe grinding...

We live less than 3 miles from the two catchment secondary schools so there is no bus provision (routes go into town, not round the periphery). The children have to make their own way there.

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posted by Simon E [1738 posts]
27th September 2010 - 15:55

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Simon E wrote:

However, until cycling is considered normal for children (and adults) instead of a 'risky' activity then participation numbers will remain pathetically low.

Very true - it all comes back to the good old 'critical mass' or as I think of it, the chicken and the egg problem. The majority of women who won't cycle cite safety as the prime reason they dont want to hop on two wheels. I hate to generalise, but as women are the ones who traditionally decide upon how children get to school, their perception of road safety carries over to the decision to either ferry the kids in the car or let them cycle/walk to school. Of course we all know until more people cycle, this excellent form of transport will not be accepted by other road users as legitimate and so our old friend SMIDSY will linger. On rolls the cycle..

The way to break the deadlock is simple; teach parents that they can ride safely and that their kids can ride safely, even on the road. Reduce urban speed limits and alter the road layout so that the driver is uncertain and therefore more alert. And perhaps ban the Daily Mail from reporting pathetic stories about how unsafe/anti-social/ineffective cycling is. Oh, and as I'm here, slap those people in the council who send open minded parents letters for letting their kids walk to school/the bus stop on their own.

posted by Myriadgreen [89 posts]
27th September 2010 - 15:56

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Antonio - I've been commuting in London by bicycle and motorcycle for 20 years and never yet been shot at. I have been shot at in the past, but not in London. And I live in a part of London where the threat of illegal firearms is perhaps greater than most. I wouldn't for a moment think that you were being facetious.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [1898 posts]
27th September 2010 - 20:45

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I feel uneasy making it, but a more apt analogy at least in terms of numbers and risk might be with the Afghan civilian population, last year according to the UN 2412 Afghans were killed in the war out of a population of 33,000,000 while in Britain 2222 people were killed on the roads out of a total road using population of what? 30-40million?

I don't doubt that it's riskier being an Afghan and I'd much rather be living here, but let's not kid ourselves- we accept a level of death and mayhem on the roads which if they occurred in any other areas of our lives would be deemed totally unacceptable. Almost every time your hear a traffic bulletin on the radio, the bit they never mention is that the reason the traffic is delayed is because somebody has died, or been injured - even news radio doesn't tell us that crucial bit of news.

Imagine how differently we'd all react if we heard a traffic bulletin on the radio that said "traffic on the A39 has been held up by a mortar round landing on the eastbound carriageway" even though the end result would probably be the same as if they just used the word "accident" we wouldn't tolearate that going on for very long.

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4102 posts]
27th September 2010 - 21:51

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t1mmyb you mean like riding up the Wellsway since the latest council "improvements"?

I hadn't thought of that, but yep: the new pedestrian cattle pen got hit, didn't it?

I totally agree with Freewheeler about that, but does he suggest a way that it can be managed other than by scrolling through helmet cam footage?

Yes: include in the stats crashes where there were no injuries.

Conscientious Objector in the War on Vulnerable Road Users

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posted by t1mmyb [86 posts]
28th September 2010 - 7:22

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@t1mmyb, yes, the pen got hit - the problem there is they've created a choke point at a point where traffic has started to speed up on the flat but with nothing to slow drivers down before they go in to the choke point - so they treat it like a chicane on a race track.

From a cyclists point of view, the bits worse up are nastier though - the central reservation has moved slightly narrowing the southbound lane as it goes up the hill - not enough to slow down the traffic, but enough to constrict space for a cyclist who is stuck between the traffic (none of which is doing 30mph) and the parked cars from the Entry Hill turn off up. I've been shoved to the side of the road twice by lorries on that bit and by the buses diving in to the bus stop - one forced me in to the kerb the other day. The little island further they've built further up is bad too cos traffic on the inner lane is funneled in to the outer at the choke point - I claim my lane, but some drivers who are putting their foot down to go through the gap still aren't going to give it to you. Funnily enough they had one of those signs there which flashed drivers speeds at them and told them to slow down - that worked + must have cost a fraction of the price… but they took it away.

Re the stats - are crashes where there were no injuries notifiable though? Who has those figures?

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4102 posts]
28th September 2010 - 7:59

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@tony_farrelly

A colleague on the Cycling Campaign committee always rides on the pavement up there: it's barely used by pedestrians, and the speed differential is much greater on the uphill side, especially (as you say) as hardly anyone sticks to the 30 limit; this isn't helped by giving the road the appearance of a much faster dual-carriageway. There's no need for it up there, and there could be a protected bike lane instead.

Crashes with no injuries aren't notifiable, which is part of the problem. Not sure how you'd get around that, but it gives a lie to the use of stats to "prove" safety or otherwise of a given piece of road. For one thing: the "hidden road violence" means that the stats are an under-reporting of the real situation; secondly: most people trust their perceptions over statistics anyway; thirdly: you know this, but you can make a road appear safe by discouraging/preventing VRUs from using them. Motorways are statistically very safe for pedestrians, for example.

Conscientious Objector in the War on Vulnerable Road Users

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posted by t1mmyb [86 posts]
28th September 2010 - 9:08

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Myriadgreen wrote:
The majority of women who won't cycle cite safety as the prime reason they dont want to hop on two wheels.

Spot on. Lots of people I have spoken to would ride more but are scared of riding on the road. Off-road cyclepath provision is patchy and disjointed so wholly inadequate.

Tony, I'm comfortable with your comparison with Afghanistan. You're talking about the way avoidable deaths are treated, which is entirely fair.

The thing I'd like to ask those averting their eyes or refusing to admit this is a problem is: who do you want to be killed? Please nominate the 2,222 people you want to die. And then explain to their families why you think it's acceptable.

What interests me more is how the serious injuries category is considered even less than the fatalities. 24,690 people. That's TWENTY FOUR THOUSAND PEOPLE.

Is that not a HUGE number of people hospitalised and maybe disabled, disfigured or maimed for life?

My best friend's brother nearly died in an accident, he had a smashed pelvis, multiple other bones broken and a serious brain injury. He was in ITU for weeks (or was it months?) and took years in rehab learning to talk and recover some basic motor skills. He is in a wheelchair and the last time I saw him still required carer support to get in and out of bed and so on. The lives of a fit, athletic young man's life and his family have been turned upside down simply because some jerk decided to overtake a lorry while he and his friend were travelling in the opposite direction.

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posted by Simon E [1738 posts]
28th September 2010 - 9:47

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