Serious injuries among Britain's cyclists rising three times faster than distance ridden

DfT says casualty data reveal "increasing problem" - but road.cc analysis suggests issue is worse than government admits...

The number of cyclists seriously injured on Great Britain’s roads is rising faster than the total distance people are cycling each year, the Department for Transport (DfT) has admitted – and our own analysis suggests it is growing three times as quickly.

According to the Reported Road Casualties in Great Britain Annual Report 2014, published today by the DfT, 3,401 cyclists were seriously injured in road traffic collisions last year, an 8.2 per cent increase on 2013’s figures.

But the total distance travelled by cyclists rose by less than half that during the 12-month period, up 3.8 per cent in 2014 to stand at 3.2 billion vehicle miles – and the longer-term picture is even more concerning.

Analysis by road.cc of DfT statistics reveal that the annual distance ridden in 2014 was 14.4 per cent higher than the average during 2005-09.

And with the DfT saying that serious injuries reported to the police last year were 42 per cent higher than the 2005-09 average, that means they are rising three times faster than the distance cyclists cover each year.

“With the exception of 2012 to 2013, the number of seriously injured pedal cyclists has increased every year since the low of 2,174 in 2004,” the report says.

“This long term rise indicates that there is an ever increasing problem with pedal cyclist casualties.”

The picture is different when it comes to deaths, however. The number of cyclists killed last year was 113, which was 13 per cent down on that 2005-09 average, says the DfT, which was 13 per cent down on that 2005-09 average.

Since 2008, the number of fatalities each year has stood between 104 and 118, and while last year’s figure was four higher than in 2013, the DfT maintains that “This change is not part of a meaningful trend and is not statistically significant.”

In terms of total reported casualties among bike riders – including slight injuries – there was a 9.5 per cent increase to 21,287 last year, says the DfT, which it says is 31 per cent higher than the low recorded in 2007.

“Pedal cyclists are the only road user group with casualty numbers of most severities above the 2005-09 average,” says the DfT, which adds, “Some of the explanation behind the rising number of pedal cyclist casualties is in the volume of cycle traffic.

“On-road pedal cycle traffic rose by 3.8 per cent to 3.25 billion vehicle miles in 2014. This means that cycle traffic has risen by 27 per cent since 2007, not far short of the 31 per cent rise in casualties over that period.

“It is likely that the increase in cycling has resulted in more accidents as cyclist become more exposed to motor vehicle traffic,” it added.

Looking at individual years in isolation does not reflect long-term trends however, and during the past two decades only 2004 and 2007 saw a drop in distance travelled compared to the previous year.

In fact, 2007 had the lowest recorded mileage during that 2005-09 period, at 2.6 billion vehicle miles – which is why we calculated the average for those same years, which came out at 2.8 billion.

Indeed, apart from 2004, over the past two decades only 2007 has seen a drop in distance travelled.

Among all road users, there were 1,775 fatalities last year – 446 of those pedestrians – with the total up 4 per cent on 2013, while serious injuries rose 5 per cent to stand at 22,807.

Meanwhile, Sustrans says that road traffic casualties are “an avoidable tragedy” and has urged the government to do more to protect vulnerable road users.

Claire Francis, campaigns manager at the sustainable transport charity, said: "Seeing these figures climb is distressing. Every death and injury on the roads is an avoidable tragedy and Government has a duty to protect the most vulnerable.

“Government has pledged to reduce the number of cyclists and other road users killed and seriously injured every year, which they are currently failing to do.

“They have also pledged to double cycling levels by 2025 and make it 'the natural choice for short journeys' but many people feel unsafe riding without the protection afforded by high-quality infrastructure," she continued.

"This is being provided in some places but sadly lacking in others.

"Government must invest consistent, long-term funding to make cycling and walking a realistic option for all.”

She added: “The upcoming Spending Review is the perfect opportunity to pledge support for an ambitious commitment to the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy."

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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