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Motorcyclists are most vulnerable users, but pedestrians and cyclists also exposed to vastly greater risk than car drivers

Figures released last week by the Department for Transport in its annual report on reported road casulaties for 2011 reveal the risk of death or serious injury to different classes of road users by distance travelled and highlight the vulnerability of pedestrians, cyclists and motorcycle riders compared to drivers.

For each billion miles travelled by the separate modes of transport, more than ten times as many pedestrians and cyclists than car drivers lost their lives on Great Britain’s roads in 2011. For motorcyclists, the rate was around 40 times higher.

The gap is even wider when it comes to looking at the risk of death or serious injury by billion vehicle miles. More than 20 times as many pedestrians and around 40 times as many cyclists were killed or suffered a serious injury for each car driver. Once again, however, it was motorcyclists who were exposed to the greatest risk – they were 75 times more likely to be killed or seriously injured than a car driver. 

Relative risk of different forms of transport, Great Britain: 2011    
Casualty rate per billion vehicle miles  

                Killed   Killed or seriously injured  

Car driver           3               26  
Pedestrian *        42              542  
Pedal cyclist       35            1,035  
Motorcycle rider   122            1,868  

* 2010 National Travel Survey data were used to calculate 2011 pedestrian rates    

Source: Table RAS30070, DfT Reported road accidents and casualties, Great Britain

It’s unsurprising that car drivers are at a reduced risk of being killed or seriously injured in a road traffic incident than pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists; the protection the vehicle affords means a cyclist or pedestrian will always come off worse than the motorist when they are hit by a car, and manufacturers invest heavily in safety features such as airbags.It’s true that in absolute terms, more car occupants were killed on Britain’s roads in 2011 than other classes of road user – 883, compared to 453 pedestrians, 362 motorbike riders and 107 cyclists.

Moreover, when it comes to road casualty statistics, there are difficulties in directly comparing data, because for example even those who walk and cycle a lot cover a lot fewer miles over the course of a year than someone spending the same amount of time driving.

And while casualty rates per billion miles travelled is the closest we have to being able to compare different types of road user, there are problems involved in collating reliable data regarding distance travelled for cyclists and pedestrians.

Even so, the data do suggest that more needs to be done to protect the vulnerable.

Existing road infrastructure is designed around the car, often exposing cyclists and pedestrians in particular to unnecessary risk – negotiating a busy urban junction on a bicycle, for instance, or trying to access an edge of town retail park on foot, can be very different experiences to those enjoyed by motorists cocooned in their cars and for whom the road layout has been designed.

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.