Anecdotal evidence is a weird one. It seems to impact us more strongly than actual data yet we know that it is usually far less reflective of reality. Back in March one of my best friends, Grace, was hit by a car and broke her back while out training on her TT bike. After surgery and lots of physio, she managed a successful racing season winning time trials from ten miles to twelve hours and finishing 9th at the British Middle Distance triathlon championships (despite being an awful swimmer). In November, Grace got hit by a car again, this time cycling along a bike path. She broke her leg and has since undergone surgery. Both incidents were unambiguous. Both times the driver was clearly at fault from simply not looking. She is not a risk taker on the bike, she is particularly risk averse in fact. This has led me to ask myself, is it safe to ride on the roads? Is cycling becoming more dangerous?
In this article, we will have a dive into some data supplied by Brake, a road safety charity that advocates for safe roads for cyclists.
How likely am I to get injured or killed?
Every year more than 100 cyclists die on UK roads
This is quite a scary number. Two deaths a week sounds like quite a lot, however when you put it into the context of road deaths, accidental deaths and all deaths it’s actually not that much. That said, anecdotal evidence is powerful here. I knew someone that was killed by a car, and many readers will know someone killed or seriously injured by one too. On the course of any ride, I will normally get at least one close pass and a misjudgement of just a few centimetres from the driver could easily add me to that statistic.
Cyclists make up roughly 6% of road deaths
One in sixteen road deaths are people on bicycles. A far greater proportion of road deaths are drivers and passengers in cars. The reality is, heading out on the roads always carries risk. The faster you go, the greater the chance that someone is going to die in the event of a collision. Being in a car gives you the perception of safety as you’re surrounded by metal and the perception of speed is so much lower but you are at significant risk when driving too.
The vast majority of cyclist casualties are from incidents on roads with 30mph speed limits.
Junctions are where most accidents occur and T-junctions are particularly bad culprits. These are most prevalent in built up areas where the speed limit tends to be 30mph. If you are hit by a car going 30mph, when on a bike or on foot, you have around a 20% chance of dying.
That sounds bad, is it getting better or worse?
During the pandemic year of 2020, the government talked a good game in terms of active travel infrastructure. Money was made available for councils to apply for schemes that promoted walking and cycling with the introduction of many new cycle lanes and low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs). I live in Southampton and some of these were fantastic, some segregated cycle paths were put up around some of the busiest junctions and areas and it has really improved riding around the city. In other cases, the council has painted a very expensive white line on the floor and simply declared it safer. The variation in infrastructure quality is an issue across the UK, not all cycling infrastructure is created equally.
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On this issue, Brake UK says, “The safest routes for cyclists are where cyclists are physically separated from motor traffic.” The key is physical segregation, white lines aren’t sufficient.
Brake UK explains on their website that the more cyclists there are, the safer cycling is for everyone. This is because drivers become more aware of cyclists on the road, and are more likely to ride a bike themself. As someone who started riding after I learned to drive, I can speak from experience that I pay more attention to giving cyclists enough space now than I did before I got into riding a bike (I also drive far less now, usually only when travelling with my bike).
If cycling is safer as more people cycle, we should see the increase in injuries and deaths going up much more slowly than the increase of cyclists. In September 2021, the Government reported data on this exact phenomenon. The following was found…
Between 2004 and 2020 pedal cycle traffic increased by 96%
Serious injuries increased by 26%
Fatalities increased by 5%
We see serious injuries and fatalities increasing much more slowly than the number of cyclists. As a result, the probability of getting injured per cyclist is now much lower, despite the number of injuries and deaths increasing. Brake UK appears to be correct and, while the number of cyclists on our roads rises as it tends to year on year, cycling becomes safer for everyone.
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It does seem to me that Grace has been particularly unlucky this year. The way to improve safety on British roads for cyclists is more cycling. Write to your MP, vote in council elections for cycling friendly councillors, give money to charities like Cycling UK and Brake UK and ride your bike as much as you possibly can. If you know of a piece of road near you that is dangerous, perhaps a junction that feels like a ticking time bomb, raise attention to it. Tweet, post and email the authorities responsible. Road deaths are usually the fault of drivers but we can all make the roads safer for everyone by taking action.
5 Top tips for a safer journey
Our partners at Cycling UK have produced a series of easily accessible video guides which include road safety. In this video guide, they share five top tips for staying safe whilst on your bike. The below video covers:
- Checking your surroundings
- Brake sense
- Observe and anticipate
- road positioning
- finishing your journey
Cycling is getting safer, but it’s never risk free. If you want to make sure that you and your bike are covered for public liability, accidental damage and personal accident cover, click here to check out Yellow Jersey bicycle insurance to make sure that you’re covered if you find yourself in an unfortunate incident. For any other questions of queries, give our friendly support staff a call on 0333 003 0046