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.
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.