Tuesday 12 June 2012

A Further Inconvinient (Cycling) Truth

My previous post has, according to my google statistics thingymygig been quite a popular read. I'm not surprised as the statistics made for depressing reading. There were a couple of proviso's of course, in that I don't have figures for cycling modal share in Strathclyde, I've made an educated guess. I also don't know how cycling rates have changed over time, or what the circumstances were for the accidents in the report. However, at face value it suggests that things are not great for cyclists in Strathclyde.

It was, though pointed out to me via Facebook, that individually cycling is incredibly safe. This is true. In 2009 statistics for the whole of Scotland were produced that showed that you can expect 0.57 deaths for every million kilometres that you cycle. That's a lot of cycling. I probably cycle about 5000 miles a year (a smidgen over 8000 kilometres.) Therefore I would be expected to die after having cycled for about 219 years. I've only cycled commuted for about 7 years so far, so I've a way to go yet.

There is no doubt that individually the risk is very small.

However, at the moment I am looking only at my personal risk. I am not the only cyclist out on the streets. The numbers may be small, but there are other cyclists on the roads of Scotland. So if, for illustration purposes we have 100 cyclists in Scotland who were all cycling similar distances to me (admittedly I do cycle an above average amount). How long would it take for one of those cyclists to be killed?

Just over 2 years..... statistically speaking.

Individually our risks are low, but with increasing numbers of cyclists, comes increasing deaths.

Ok, so this calculation is a little simplistic. There is research that suggests that with increasing numbers of cyclists on the roads comes reduced individual risk, however, it still remains shockingly high. I'm sure I know more than 100 cyclists through my campaigning work and my cycling. The thought that statistically one of them will be killed cycling over the next 2 years is shocking.

What about drivers though, what is their risk? In 2009 it was about 0.07 deaths per million kilometres. It's about 8 time better (I think this ratio may be worse in Strathclyde). So knowing 100 drivers, one of them is likely, statistically, to get killed every 10 years.

That's a big difference. Do we need to accept this?

Looking a the Netherlands, in 2009 there were 0.02 deaths per million kilometres. That figure, amazingly is not the car occupant figure, but the cyclists figure. You are safer cycling in the Netherlands than you are driving in the Scotland. 

If I knew 100 cyclists in the Netherlands one of them is likely to get killed in 35 years. Much better!

So what is so different in the Netherlands compared to here. Yes there are more cyclists (more because of infrastucture?). That is certainly part of the answer. There are slight differences in the law as well. However, the most striking difference is the infrastructure. Cyclists are properly catered for and protected.

It seems quite clear if politicians, local and national are serious about getting more people cycling with all the many social, health, environmental and economic benefits that come from that, that soft measures aren't enough.  Asking drivers to be nicer to us hasn't made much difference so far. They must be willing to accept that to not only encourage more people to cycling, but to also reduce their risk of injury and death, that they need to invest in decent cycle infrastructure.

The time has come for our politicians to make the move, wasting time talking will only result in more needless deaths.


  1. Interestingly, elsewhere, using the official DfT figures for 2010 on the number of fatalities and the distance travelled, I calculated that it would take 2314 years for a cyclist to have a 50% chance of death - IF they cycled a rate that would lead them to cover 6000 miles/year, every year.

    By implication, the # of years for a 1% chance is 46 years. So for 100 cyclists you'd expect 1 to be killed after 46 years, where each of those cyclists is doing 6k miles / annum, every year.

    My figures are in a comment on road.cc: http://road.cc/content/forum/59789-helmet-debate#comment-104571

    There is a pretty big disparity between the 2 year figure you have calculated for Scotland and the 46 year figure I've got for the UK overall. So either:

    - the DfT sampling for cycling distances produced non-representative results


    - Similarly, the figures you're relying on for distance cycled in Scotland are wrong somehow.


    - Cycling distances or cycling safety is radically different in Scotland compared to the overall UK norms


    - your calculations have a mistake


    - my calculations have a mistake.


    - Some combination of the above ;)

    I wonder which it is...

  2. Paul,

    The figures I based this on were from here. The basis for the calculations is in my blog. Happy to correct it if someone can find an error! :-)

  3. Mags, the Modal share for every area of Scotland are available on the SCROL database (scrol dot gov dot uk), you can filter it down to quite small areas. The data is based on the 2001 census still, so its a bit out of date; we're still waiting on the results of the 2011 census; it might be up soon but there more chance of Ranger's shares going up ;-)

  4. Thanks HLaB. I'll have a look. The problem is that it is quite out of date. I started cycling in 2001, and I know for sure there are more cyclists in Glasgow now. :-)