Bleak autumn on Britain's roads sees 2012 cycling death toll climb past 2011 total

Casualty figures moving in wrong direction as 38 cyclists killed on UK roads since 22 August, same as in previous three months

by Simon_MacMichael   November 22, 2012  

Broken bike (CC licensed image by garryknight, www.flickr.com)

With nine days of the month left, road.cc can reveal that this is already the worst November for cyclist fatalities in Great Britain since 2008, with 10 deaths in the last three weeks. While deaths usually peak in the summer, this also looks like being the second year running in which September will be the worst month. Also of major concern to anyone with an interest in cycle safety is that during the past three months, since 22 August, 38 people have died in Britain while riding their bike.

In the past week alone, there have been five fatalities. One of those, an unnamed 41-year-old man who fell ill while riding on Pantmawr Mountain near Newbridge in Gwent, with no vehicle involved.

The vast majority of cyclist deaths do involve other vehicles, including those of the other four riders to have lot their lives in recent days. A 47-year old man died near Grantham in a collision involving a van on Tuesday.

Lorries were involved in the death the same day of a 40-year-old man in Aberdeen, and that of 35-year-old Brian Florey on the A13 in Barking on Monday. At the weekend, Matt Collings, aged 35, died when he was hit by a car near Bodmin – the second fatality in Cornwall inside a week. 

According to The Times newspaper, which has been keeping a running total of fatalities during 2012 as part of its Cities fit for Cycling campaign, that happened in 97 of the 110 deaths it has recorded (the newspaper includes one fatality in Northern Ireland that would not be recorded in official statistics, but its list does not yet include the death of the cyclist in Wales).

Those 110 deaths already put this year ahead of 2011 in the number of cycling fatalities, with 107 recorded last year.

Official statistics published each year by the Department for Transport (DfT) in its Reported Road Casualties Great Britain Annual Report make no distinction when analysing data by month as to whether other vehicles were involved.

What’s also noticeable looking at the cases compiled by The Times is that by and large recent fatalities have involved older cyclists who in many cases have decades of riding experience – of the 19 deaths since the start of October, all but one have been of riders aged in their 30s and older. Indeed, more than half were over 50 years of age.

It’s impossible to accurately assess what lie behind the figures. Levels of cycling do of course play a part. Good weather in the summer plus the school holidays generally results in more casualties. Seasonal weather fluctuations also play a role, according to the DfT – poor winters with prolonged periods of snow means fewer cyclists and a drop in casualties, for example.

It’s also dangerous to read too much into one month’s figures – the numbers do vary from year to year, for example November 2008 saw a dozen cyclists killed, following 16 deaths in October. The current quarterly running total is worrying, however.

That rolling three-month figure of 38 deaths since 22 August, however, is identical to the death toll recorded by The Times in the preceding three months, including July and August, which are the months we would typically expect to see most casualties.

Something, it seems, is very wrong. It could be that in the period prior to the Olympics, cycling levels were lower than in a typical year due to the heavy rain we experienced throughout July. Fewer cyclists means fewer casualties.

Anecdotal evidence around the time of the Olympic Games, where Great Britain’s success followed on the heels of Bradley Wiggins’ victory in the Tour de France, was that many cyclists saw a change of attitudes from motorists – they were given more room, their presence on the road was acknowledged.

A survey even found that motorists’ views of cyclists had improved as a result of the Olympics.

So those two factors, the weather and a potential Olympic effect – albeit a short-lived one – of improved awareness of cyclists among drivers, could mean that in 2012, the summer months saw an unusually low number of deaths of cyclists in Great Britain.

One possible reason for that, and the number of deaths in the past three months, is that the situation on the roads is actually getting worse, and that without those exceptional factors of the Olympics and the summer downpours, the toll to date in 2012 could have been even higher.

The unknown factor at the moment is what has been happening in terms of the number of cyclists seriously injured, which has been seeing some alarming rises of late. Should the official quarterly figures how another sharp jump in those once they are published, that will only add to the concern.

The safety of cyclists is central to the Parliamentary Inquiry launched earlier this month under the name Get Britain Cycling which is backed by The Times. Among the issues that the inquiry is likely to analyse are barriers to cycling, of which the perception of danger is regularly found to be the most significant.

Cycling isn’t inherently dangerous, but it’s clear that in Great Britain measures to ensure cyclists’ safety fall way below those seen in other northern European countries.

There are plenty of people who want to change that – from cycle campaigners to the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group which is leading that inquiry, as well as the London Assembly’s Transport Committee which published a report urging Mayor Boris Johnson to take action to improve the safety of the capital’s cyclists.

It’s time for the mayor, and for those who make decisions at national level, to listen.

11 user comments

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Crying

posted by mrchrispy [285 posts]
22nd November 2012 - 12:08

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The numbers of deaths is sickening! Sick

Tripod16

posted by Tripod16 [110 posts]
22nd November 2012 - 12:26

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To put this into perspective, in 2011, compared to 107 cyclists being killed, 175 people drowned, 210 people choked on food, 381 died of alcohol poisening, 329 died of assault, 453 pedestrians killed, 362 motorcyclists. Granted, figures should be viewed as a percentage of those in 'participation'. I would agree any death is terrible whatever the cause. I know you have a duty to report on cycling issues, but stories like these should be put into perspective as stated above, as it does nothing more than to create fear and potentially put people off from cycling, or worse, giving up. Any measures to create safer cycling must surely be granted by Government; after all, they impose regulations on car manufacturers to make vehicles as safe as possible, ABS, air bags etc, so they must follow their own lead. But we all know with them it is a case of do as I say and not as I do.

posted by Andyd64 [13 posts]
22nd November 2012 - 13:11

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Does the rise in casualties bear any relation to the rise in the number of cyclists, or miles cycled?

Not inferring, just asking....

neildmoss's picture

posted by neildmoss [188 posts]
22nd November 2012 - 13:36

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Records state there are now 2 million more cyclists in 2011 (according to BBC!), so presumably the increase is relative to the increase in cyclists, although not making an assumption here. And yes, factor in more cyclists cycling more miles

posted by Andyd64 [13 posts]
22nd November 2012 - 13:51

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More people riding means higher risk of larger numbers involved in accidents. It's also a fact that with increased numbers you get a more mixed bag of riding abilities and attitudes to being on the road. I've been off the bike for last two months with injury and illness and so walking/taking the bus. I've been staggered from the non-cyclist perspective by some of the cycling behaviour that takes place. Most striking has been the lack of lights on bikes during dusk and night. In London, I reckon that nearly half of the bikes I see in central London don't have lights. During November and the winter months, it's asking for trouble.

dullard's picture

posted by dullard [140 posts]
22nd November 2012 - 14:20

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dullard wrote:
... nearly half of the bikes I see in central London don't have lights. During November and the winter months, it's asking for trouble.

Besides being - unlike wearing helmets & hi-vis - a legal requirement

If cyclists want to be taken seriously as road users, we should (in my opinion) follow those rules that are enforced for ALL road users

posted by mad_scot_rider [546 posts]
22nd November 2012 - 14:36

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There's just not enough to deter bad drivers. Loss of (all) points should lead to a minimum 3-year ban and drivers should then have to re-take their driving test.

License holders should be health-checked at least every 10 years and more often for pensioners.

Points deduction should be mandatory, stopping cars for bad driving should not be some ego-boost game for police, it should result in points loss - every time, without fail. And a public awareness campaign to make it clear that The rules of the road will be enforced.

And drivers need to be educated about what the safe distance is to put between their vehicle and a bicycle because many of them seem to think a foot is 'plenty of space' and that we deserve it because we're not cycling 3 inches from the curb. And the door-zone needs to be explained to everyone because both drivers and cyclists are not getting it.

As for bike lights, there needs to be a law preventing lights of under a certain brightness from being sold as there are some really pathetic lights out there.

The Tories can't even stick up for their own cycling MP having to take crap from the police, and the transport minister was convicted of careless driving after hitting a cyclist with his SUV, so I don't think Cameron or any of the rest of them care one iota about cycling Sad - actions speak louder than words.

/rant over

posted by kie7077 [452 posts]
22nd November 2012 - 15:08

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I remember the public information films from the 70's ? Surely a blitz of these sort of messages which address both cyclists and drivers responsibilities would help ?

Just wish I knew what more I could do other than driving sensibly and moaning on here !

Argon18 E-112 - Scott Spark 910 - Boardman Team Carbon - Planet X XLS

posted by colinth [183 posts]
22nd November 2012 - 17:38

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kie7077...
you sound like one of those extremist 'war on motorists' people. (Sarcastic icon)

+1 on what you say.
And I think a mandatory cycling awareness module should be on the test.

After another recent near miss with a driver ignorant of the rules of the road, a thought occurred to me.
If a random sample of drivers were sent a written driving test in the post and given a week to do it (even with a copy of the Highway code).
How many would still manage not to pass?

Joselito's picture

posted by Joselito [133 posts]
22nd November 2012 - 18:50

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I don't want to be taken seriously as a road user. I want to not be run over. And I don't see what someone else not having lights or running a red light should have to do with that.

posted by SpamSpamSpam [20 posts]
23rd November 2012 - 14:38

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