How Dangerous Is Cycling?

Despite the media's efforts to paint cyclists as the Antichrist of Britain's roads and the consensus amongst drivers that all cyclists should be banned from them, cycling has consistently been on the rise since the 1990's.

In contrast to the danger presented by motorbikes, bicycles are relatively safe—cycling poses little risk to cyclists, pedestrians, and other road users despite UK cycle safety falling behind many European countries due to our poor road infrastructure.

Let's look at some of the statistics from the Department for Transport to understand the risks involved for cyclists in Britain.

Likelihood of Getting in a Bicycle Accident

In 2016, there were 18,477 reported pedal cycle casualties in Britain. Of those 18,477 casualties, 3,397 were "serious" and 102 culminated in a fatality.

In contrast to 1979 figures—23,645 reported casualties where 4,920 were "serious" and 320 were fatalities—casualties have fallen despite consistent growth in cyclist numbers.

Number of Reported Pedal Cycle CasualtiesKilledSeriousSlightAll
19793204,92018,40523,645
20161023,39714,97818,477

In fact, according to figures, bicycles have gotten drastically safer per mile ridden—the number of cyclists killed per billion pedal cycle miles has fallen whilst traffic per billion pedal cycle miles has risen.

chart showing bicycle deaths per billion miles ridden

Cycle Accident Figures by Collision Type

Despite making up 78% of traffic on Britain's roads and being involved in 86% of cycle casualties, cars only account for 0.3% of fatal collisions. In fact, vans, motorcycles, and pedal cycles all account for under one percent of cycling-related fatalities.

It is buses and HGVs that are the biggest culprits; cyclists accidents involving buses and HGVs are 1.2% and 5.7% likely to result in a fatality, respectively.

The Most Dangerous Motor Vehicles for Bicyclists% of GB Traffic% of cycle deaths involving% of cycle casualties involving% of cycle collision casualties that are fatal
HGV5%23%2%5.7%
Van14%7%7%0.4%
Bus1%5%2%1.2%
Car78%58%86%0.3%
Motorcyclist1%1%2%0.4%
Pedal Cyclist1%1%1%0.6%
chart showing which vehicles cause the most bicycle casualties

Which Vehicles Are Most Dangerous for Cyclists?

Although collisions involving buses and HGVs are most likely to be fatal, they are not the most dangerous vehicles for cyclists on Britain's roads.

chart showing which vehicles cause the most bicycle casualties

This comes down to numbers—there are far more cars on the road than HGVs and cyclists are unlikely to come across an HGV unless they are cycling on major roads such as dual carriageways and A-roads.

What Causes Bicycle Accidents?

According to the Department for Transport, most fatal collisions occur not at a junction or within 20 meters of one.

chart showing bicycle deaths per billion miles ridden

It is at T-junctions and staggered junctions, however, where most casualties occur. This location alone accounts for 41.1% of all cycle casualties. The inference that can be drawn here is that accidents are caused by road users, both cyclists and drivers, not paying attention.

Making the Roads Safer for Cyclists

Whilst relatively safe, cycling, particularly on busy roads and in busy cities, carries an inherent level of risk. To catch up with our continental neighbours, the government, at both a national and local level, must take steps to ensure and promote safer cycling.

Some major cities have already began to implement measures, a notable example being the so-called £7.9 million "cycle superhighway" in Leeds City Centre and Manchester's £1.5 billion masterplan to create the UK's "biggest cycling and walking network".

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