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Do Cyclists Really Pose as Much Danger to Pedestrians as Motorists?

The Times recently reported official statistics suggesting that cyclists in the UK are almost as likely as drivers to cause serious injury to pedestrians. Slater and Gordon Solicitor Richard Moon, who specialises in cycling accident injury claims; comments on The Times article.

The Times reported that whilst drivers were involved in the deaths of, proportionately, five times more pedestrian deaths than cyclists, the figures for serious injury were roughly equal at 21 and 24 casualties per billion km travelled by cycles and motor vehicles respectively.

However, at the same time the figures show that in 2012, one pedestrian was killed by a cyclist and 253 by motor vehicles, with 78 serious injuries from bikes, 4,426 serious injuries from vehicles. That is over 50 times the number of serious injuries from cars, lorries and motorbikes compared to bicycles. So what’s going on?

Is it simply that there are so many more drivers than cyclists? If so, how is it that a 15kg bike is apparently doing damage to people at the same rate as a one-and-a-quarter tonne Ford Focus?

The answer is that there are lies, damned lies and statistics, and I suspect these figures may be a pack of bare-faced statistics. It’s not that they aren’t accurate; it’s more that they tell you the wrong thing.

>Expressing the rate of injuries per billion kilometres travelled is a way of taking account of the fact that there are more journeys taken by motor vehicle than by bike, both in terms of number of journeys and the distance travelled. That being so, you would expect there to be a greater number of injuries caused by motor vehicles. To get an idea of how dangerous each type of transport is, the rate of injury per kilometre seems like a reasonable estimate.

But is that a good way of expressing it? According to the Department of Transport’s most recent Quarterly Road Traffic Estimates (July – September 2013), 21% of motor vehicle traffic miles are travelled on motorways, where both pedestrians and cyclists are banned. One might also expect both pedestrian and cycle traffic to be lighter than average on rural A roads (31% of vehicle miles) and perhaps rural minor roads (15% of vehicle miles), where the roads in question may have a higher proportion of fast dual carriageways and trunk roads, or connect destinations too far apart for most cyclists and walkers.

So if you discount the kilometres travelled on roads like motorways where relatively few pedestrians are in harm’s way, you discount perhaps well over 50% of motor vehicle miles, more than doubling the rate of injury claimed in the Times article. Accepting that some cyclists do cycle fast on A roads and long rural roads, but assuming they are in a minority, applying the same consideration to cycling kilometres would barely make a difference to the rate of cycling accident injuries.

So if common sense told you that bicycles can’t possibly pose a greater risk than cars, vans and lorries, congratulations! Your common sense was, as ever, correct. But of course to the pedestrian knocked over by a cyclist, the statistical rarity of it hardly matters. The red-light-running Lycra lout may be unrepresentative of cyclists as a whole, but they still hurt when they hit you.

Richard Moon is a Personal Injury Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers.

For a free consultation call Slater and Gordon on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we'll be happy to help you.