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Was South Yorkshire Police right not to follow West Midlands Police’s ‘close pass’ initiative? We look at the numbers

Force said not enough cyclists were dying on the roads it polices to justify adopting the approach – but including serious injuries paints a different picture

Analysis by of government road casualty statistics has found that the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured on South Yorkshire’s roads each year is higher, per million inhabitants, than it in the West Midlands. The respective areas’ police forces have a markedly different approach, however, to dealing with drivers who endanger people on bikes.

We decided to drill down into the statistics after South Yorkshire Police said in December it does not intend to follow West Midlands Police’s widely praised Operation Close Pass because not enough cyclists are killed on the roads it polices to warrant adopting the approach.

> South Yorkshire Police says no to close-pass initiative – cites low number of cyclist fatalities in the region

Responding to an enquiry from campaign group Cycle Sheffield, South Yorkshire Police said: “Clearly one death per year is one too many, however, deaths involving cyclists in South Yorkshire are nowhere near the levels that they are in the West Midlands or other parts of the country.”

When it comes to fatalities alone, they’re correct. In South Yorkshire, six cyclists lost their lives between 2011 and 2015, an average of just over one a year, while in the West Midlands, there were 20 deaths, with four a year on average.

But looking just at incidents where someone has lost their life can be misleading, not least because of the small sample sizes. It also ignores people who have sustained what can often be life-changing injuries.

So what we focus on instead at when we look at road traffic casualty statistics is the number of people who were killed or seriously injured, which gives a much more meaningful sample size.

For this article, we analysed data for the most recent five years for which statistics, compiled from police STATS19 reports of individual incidents, have been published by the Department for Transport (DfT).

The definition of “serious injury” employed by the DfT is:

... one which does not cause death less than 30 days after the accident, and which is in one (or more) of the following categories:

(a) an injury for which a person is detained in hospital as an in-patient

or (b) any of the following injuries (whether or not the person is detained in hospital): fractures, concussion, internal injuries, crushings, severe cuts and lacerations, severe general shock requiring treatment

or (c) any injury causing death 30 or more days after the accident.

In the West Midlands, there were a total of 500 KSIs during the period 2011-15, giving an average of 100 a year. For South Yorkshire, the figure was 267, equating to just under 56 a year.

It’s impossible to come up with a figure for the aggregate distance collectively cycled in each area, which would allow us to calculate a casualty rate, although we suspect there wouldn’t be a huge variation between them.

What we can do, however, is put those KSI statistics in the context of the respective areas’ populations.

Based on an estimated population in 2014 of 2.81 million, there was an annual average of 36 KSIs per million people in the West Midlands from 2011-15.

For the same period, in South Yorkshire, where the 2014 population is estimated at 1.34 million, cyclist KSIs stood at 42 per million people.

In its response to Cycle Sheffield, South Yorkshire Police said that while Operation Close Pass “has been well received in the West Midlands and is a good approach to tackling a key priority, this needs to be balanced against priorities that are force specific.

“The main cohorts in relation to road deaths or serious injuries in South Yorkshire are centred on pedestrians and car users – drivers or passengers – where SYP have seen a continual rise over the past two years,” they added.

We therefore analysed the data to find out what percentages cyclists account for in total road traffic KSIs in each area, and discovered little difference between them.

In South Yorkshire, cyclists made up 11.6 per cent of total KSIs from 2011-15, while in the West Midlands, the figure was 11.4 per cent, which dismisses any suggestion that reducing cyclist KSIs as a proportion of those of all road users is more of a priority for West Midlands Police.

This Thursday, West Midlands Police is hosting a workshop in Birmingham regarding Operation Close Pass, and South Yorkshire Police said last month that some of its officers “are looking to attend.”

Forces elsewhere including North Wales Police have already replicated the West Midlands initiative, as have Metropolitan Police Officers in Camden, north west London, with Green Party London Assembly Member Sian Berry calling last week for it to be rolled out across the capital.

> Green London Assembly member calls for close-pass initiative to be rolled out London-wide

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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