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DfT stats show growth in number of cyclist casualties

Too early to tell whether that reflects reversal of long-term trend to fewer accidents

Preliminary data released by the Department for Transport yesterday suggest that the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads is on the rise, growing by 19% to reach 820 in the quarter ended June 2009 against the comparable period in 2008.

Total cyclist casualty numbers, including those who were slightly injured, rose by 9% to 4,860 over the same period, by far the biggest quarterly increase on the previous year’s casualty numbers in the last three and a half years.

Caution always needs to be taken when interpreting a single quarter’s statistics, and it’s certainly impossible to tell whether these statistics reflect a reversal of the long-term trend towards fewer cyclist casualties, which have fallen by a third from their mid-1990s levels to reach 16,297 in 2008.

That reduction, of course, has taken place during a period when more and more people are taking to their bikes, encouraged by factors including fitness benefits, tax breaks under the cycle to work initiative investment at local and national level in improving cycling infrastructure, and the impact of Team GB’s Olympic success.

Those factors helped achieve 12% growth in the number of cyclists between 2007 and 2008 alone, according to the DfT, and the impact of the recession is likely to have helped promote a further increase this year as people take to their bikes to help save money on motoring costs or fares on public transport.

While it may seem counter-intuitive that a long-term rise in the number of people cycling goes hand-in-hand with a reduction in casualty numbers over the same period, evidence from a study carried out in The Netherlands suggests that the increased visibility that comes from greater numbers of cyclists has a benefical effect.

Further evidence of the positive impact of more people cycling on casualty figures has also come from CTC, the national organisation for cyclists, which earlier this year published its own research on the subject when it launched its Safety In Numbers campaign. 

The latest casualty statistics have been released at a time when the safety of cyclists, and their relationship with other road users, is coming increasingly under the spotlight.

Those issues have been highlighted here on in recent weeks, and include petitions to set a minimum passing distance for drivers overtaking cyclists, the CTC’s Stop SMIDSY campaign, growth in the number of deaths of bike users in London caused by HGVs, police campaigns targeting those riding without lights, and concerns over pedestrian safety arising from cyclists riding on the pavement.

The latter received intense media attention last month after publication of MP David Curry's remarks about cyclists being "irresponsible and arrogant road users" and "dressed like Darth Vader."

In its report on the DfT statistics, the Daily Mail couldn't resist referencing Curry's remarks, saying that "'Lycra lout' cyclists have also been blamed for putting themselves and pedestrians at risk."


Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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jobysp | 14 years ago

From a cyclists point of view, I'd love to see Bobbies on the beat on bikes - undercover of course.

mrchrispy | 14 years ago

more police on the roads...easy!
how often do you pass someone that been pulled over?
hardly ever I'll bet!

People need to see other people getting pulled, they need to know someeone is out there watching them. I've drove between Manchester and London before and I can't remember seeing a police car.

OldRidgeback | 14 years ago

What doesn't seem to have been appreciated in the corridors of power is that by relying on speed cameras rather than traffic cops to carry out road policing, drivers have been able to get away with driving too close, driving without insurance and so on. I see many obviously defective vehicles on my 25km commute to work with problems ranging from very flat tyres (two this morning) to twisted chassis, while I also seem to pass someone smoking cannabis at the wheel about once/day. If I can see 1-2 vehicles/day with visible defects on a 25km journey to work followed by another 25km home, how many other vehciles do I pass with non-visible defects such as faulty brakes?

It's also worth noting when you drill down into the DfT accident statistics how many accidents involve foreign registered vehicles (again, I saw one this week on my commute) and how many of those are of Eastern European origin. The figures for the numbers of defective HGVs stopped at the Port of Dover are also chilling, particularly when you realise that most of the really bad ones originate from Eastern Europe. If you've ever travelled in Eastern Europe, you'll know how different the driving standards are there compared with the UK and this is further backed by looking at the accident statistics for Eastern European countries, which outstrip those of even Greece and Portugal (formerly the two EU nations with the highest crash rates). Is there a correlation between the greater numbers of Eastern Europeans driving in the UK and the increased accident rates for vulnerable road users? You have to figure that out for yourself.

Is there also a correlation between the economic downturn and the poor state of vehicles on the roads?

This is all information that's easily available. There are no secrets in the points I've made above, though some might not find it palatable.

There is some comfort at least in the knowledge that trials of drug testing kits are now underway with police forces in parts of Wales. This is a key issue, given figures on how many people drive under the influence of drugs.

Basically, the speed camera experiment has been a total flop and has allowed bad driving and duff vehicles to proliferate on the UK's roads. It's no surprise that the accident rate for vulnerable road users such as cyclists (and also motorcyclists) is increasing. What's needed is a Minister for Transport who does not toe the party line blindly but actually listens to advice from the police; we did have one but he was reassigned (probably because he did not toe the party line on speed cameras).

amazon22 | 14 years ago

Surely its all interconnected with the 'sod you' society we have - 'its my right to do what I want when I want' and that includes drivers ignoring speed limits, traffic lights and all the other rules of the road. Standards of driving have plummeted, coincidental with a massive number of unlicensed, uninsured drivers, itself not unconnected with Jack Straw's decision to open the doors to tens of thousands of illegal immigrants ... and so it goes on ... the decent, tax paying, law abiding cyclist takes the consequences - Curry could have equally and more truthfully applied the same comments to motorists (perhaps not the Darth Vader bit) - but then doesn't make good copy does it?

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