Cycling Safety - Transport Committee Contents

2  How safe is cycling?

4. Our starting point was to consider one question: how safe is it to cycle on our roads? In 2012 the number of cyclist fatalities in Great Britain reached its highest level for five years, and the number of cyclists experiencing serious injuries also increased for the eighth successive year.[8] The figures for 2013, released in June this year, set out a small decrease from the 2012 figures, but still reported 109 cyclists killed and 3,143 seriously injured; figures higher than that of 2011. The Minister stressed his view that "any death on our roads is one too many".[9]

5. The raw numbers for deaths and serious injuries do not, we heard, take into account the proportion of journeys by bike, and thus the likelihood of being injured or killed on the roads. There has been a substantial increase in the number of journeys by bike: the Department for Transport highlighted road traffic estimates demonstrating a 12% rise in the distance cycled in Great Britain between the 2005-2009 average and 2012, and noted that the National Traffic Survey suggested that the growth in pedal cycle traffic in this period could be closer to 23%.[10] More than 2.1 million adults in England cycle at least once a week, compared to 1.6 million in 2005-06.[11] The Department for Transport argued that, per mile travelled in 2012, a cyclist in Great Britain was "no more likely to be killed than a pedestrian".[12] The previous Government's February 2010 Active Travel Strategy stated that:

    The actual risk of cycling is tiny. There is one cyclist death per 33 million kilometres of cycling, while being sedentary presents a much greater risk. Over 50,000 people die in the UK each year due to coronary heart disease related to insufficient physical activity, compared to around 100 cyclists killed on the road.[13]

6. We heard from Dr McNally, Head of the Structural Integrity, Dynamics and Bioengineering Research Group at the University of Nottingham, that in 2011 one cyclist was killed or seriously injured per million miles, and that while this risk appeared to be small, it corresponded "to a 5% chance of being killed or seriously injured whilst cycle commuting 10 miles each way for 10 years."[14]

7. In London the deaths of six cyclists in a period of just a fortnight in November 2013 brought an additional focus to this inquiry. Fourteen cyclists were killed in total in London in 2013, the same number as in 2012.[15] The Greater London Authority (GLA) sought to place the reports of fatalities in London against the context of the city's population, stating that "fourteen deaths in eleven months in a city of 8.3 million people—even when six of the deaths come close together—is not carnage".[16] The Mayor's Commissioner for Cycling, Andrew Gilligan, added further context of a rising number of cyclists and cycle journeys on the road. He told us:

    In 2002 there were 118 million cycle journeys in London, of which 20 ended in death. Last year there were 209 million cycle journeys, of which 14 ended in death, so the death rate per journey has more than halved. Serious injuries have come down as well. One journey in every 299,000 ended in serious injury in 2002; it was one in every 320,000 last year.[17]

It was therefore safe to cycle in London, Mr Gilligan argued, citing "a dramatic fall in the number and the proportion of cyclists dying on the roads in the last 10 years". [18]

8. British Cycling, the national governing body for cycling, stressed that cycling was safe but needed "to be made safer and look safer" if the Government was to achieve its ambitions of increased cycling levels, and tap into the 2.75 million people in this country who wished to cycle more, but were concerned at a perceived lack of safety on the road.[19] A BBC poll in July 2014 reinforced concerns over the lack of safety on the roads: 52% of adults questioned agreed with the statement that it was too dangerous to cycle on the roads in their local area.[20] Val Shawcross AM, the then Chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee, argued that improving safety was the only way to achieve "a cycling revolution", as this would encourage a broader demographic of cyclists onto the road.[21]

9. We share the Minister's view that one death on the roads is one too many, and wish to express our sympathies with the families and friends of all the cyclists killed on our roads. We accept that a focus solely on the number of casualties may not reflect a reduction in the proportion of cyclists killed or seriously injured, but believe that road safety measures should seek to reduce the overall number of casualties at the same time as increasing the number of cyclists on the road. Achieving both of these will require steps to increase not only the actual levels of safety for cyclists on the road, but also the perceived levels of safety. This can be achieved through measures that promote the safer sharing of the road between cyclists and drivers; increase understanding of safe cycling among cyclists and drivers, and reduce the risks from poorly-designed or maintained cycling infrastructure.

8   Department for Transport (CYS 104) appendix A Back

9   Q 73 Back

10   Department for Transport (CYS 40) paras 10-11 Back

11   Sport England, Active People Survey APS8 (April 2014) Back

12   Department for Transport (CYS 104) appendix A Back

13   Department of Health and Department for Transport, Active Travel Strategy, February 2010, p 41 Back

14   Dr Donal Mcnally (CYS 119) para 8 Back

15   Greater London Authority, Pedal cycle casualties, killed or seriously injured (May 2014) Back

16   Greater London Authority (CYS 60)  Back

17   Q 52 Back

18   Q 52 Back

19   British Cycling (CYS 143) paras 1-2 Back

20   "Roads 'too dangerous' for cyclists BBC poll suggests", BBC News, 1 July 2014 Back

21   Q 16 Back

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Prepared 18 July 2014