Cycling Accident Statistics 2019 - UK vs Europe

Cycling Accident Statistics 2019 - UK vs Europe

In this article, we'll take a deep dive at the data around cycling accidents in the UK and EU.

We'll focus on how the UK compares to the EU in terms of cyclist safety, I’ll look at contributory factors to accidents in the UK to see if there are any actionable tips that you can take forward into your own cycling to help you stay safe on the roads.  

UK Road Accident Data By Region

To start off, I have pooled together statistics from a few different sources to put together a heatmap of cyclist fatalities in Great Britain by region. The English data comes from the Department For Transport (here), the figures for Scotland come from a separate report by the Scottish government. Both the English and Scottish data cover 2017, the Welsh data is for 2016 from a Welsh government report into cycling safety.  

 


What we see here is a concentration of cyclist casualties in London and South East. In fact, London is by far the largest number, with over 4500 cyclist casualties in 2017. This fits with anecdotal evidence about the dangers of riding a bike in London and other big urban centres. At the other end of the scale, Wales recorded almost 10 times fewer cycling casualties, with only 446.

The mean average for the data is 1666 casualties. This means that South England saw 83% more than the average amount of casualties, and London over 170% of the national average.

However, there are some problems with drawing conclusions from this data. The fact that the Welsh data is for a different period to that of the rest of the data should be kept in mind if we are trying to draw comparisons between regions. Also, this data does not control for population, so the fact that we see high numbers in London and the South East could simply be because these are the most populated regions of Great Britain.

To account for this, the next infographic plots cycling casualties per 100,000 inhabitants of a region.


What we see here is that actually there is still a high concentration of cyclist casualties in London and South England compared to everywhere else. However, when taking population into account, we also see that Yorkshire and The Humber has the third highest casualty rate with over 31 cyclist casualties per 100,000 inhabitants. This could be due to the presence of many large urban centres in these regions. Alternatively, it could be that cycling is more popular in these regions - this could certainly be true for Yorkshire and The Humber where there is a long cultural history of cycling, and the Yorkshire Dales are a popular spot for cycling tourism.  

This raises an important point about this data. Although it controls for population, it does not control for the amount of the population that cycles - something that may well vary from region to region. For example, it is plausible that one of the reasons that casualties in London are higher is simply because more people in London cycle compared to elsewhere. Unfortunately, finding accurate data for each region is difficult, overall in the UK it is predicted that just over 5% of adults cycle three times a week.

Still, even taking these considerations into account, this data suggests that cities, in particular, London, have more to do to improve cyclist’s safety.

To put the UK bicycle data in perspective, it is useful to zoom out and take a look at the picture across the EU. So in the next section, we dive into the EU wide data on cyclist fatalities.

European Cycling Accident Data By Country

To understand the GB data, it is helpful to take a look at how the UK compares to broader trends in cyclist safety across the EU. To do this, I have taken an EU report on cycling safety published in 2018. This report contains a huge amount of data, in the heatmap below I have included the rate of fatalities for cyclists per one million inhabitants of a country.


On first viewing, you see that the UK has a lower level of cyclist fatalities than many of its European neighbours. In fact, the EU average is 4.0, while the UK comes in considerably lower at 1.6.

One thing that is worth considering when you look at this is that this data does not control for how popular cycling is as a mode of transport in a given country. So, while it does adjust for population, some of the variation between countries can be explained by the fact there is a higher percentage of cycle traffic in certain countries. This could possible explain the higher than average fatality rate in Belgium, Denmark and Holland, where cycling is a more prevalent form of transport than elsewhere in Europe (for example, cycling accounts for 17% of all trips in Denmark).

Romania is the only country that is more than 100% above the EU average, with 8.9 cyclist fatalities per one million inhabitants. At the other end of the spectrum, both Iceland and Cyprus had no cyclist fatalities at all recorded for 2016.

In general, the average amount of cyclist fatalities has fallen since 2007 in the EU, but recent years have seen these improvements stalling around the 4.0 mark.  

One area where the UK bucks the EU trend is on the type of road where cyclist fatalities have occurred. The EU average is that more fatalities occur on urban roads than on country (non-urban) roads. However, in the UK the opposite is true, with more fatalities occurring on non-urban roads than on urban roads. The UK is the only northern European country for which this is true.

Contributory Accident Factors In England

Finally, to build a more complete picture of cycle safety, I have taken a look at the data in England regarding contributory factors to accidents. This data gives a good picture of the kinds . of things that have caused accidents involving cyclists in 2017. However, there are some limitations to this data that should be kept in mind:

First, it is subjective data based on the report of the police officers who attend the accident. As such, it may well contain inaccuracies and inconsistencies due to different interpretations of situations.

Secondly, for many accidents (almost fifty percent of all accidents) there were no contributory factors recorded. This means that this data is by no means a complete picture.

That said, there are still many valuable insights to gain from this data.

 

As the bar graph shows, by far the largest cause of accidents involving cyclists is Rider Error Or Reaction. Within this category, the vast majority of accidents come from “driver/rider failed to look properly” - recorded as a contributory factor for over 2100 accidents. It is a little difficult to know how to interpret this. Although the contributory factors are supposed to relate to the cyclist in these particular cases, it is hard to unpack whether this means that the cyclist failed to look or whether it came from a driver not looking.

This highlights what is a major issue with this data - it doesn’t do a good job of showing the errors made by drivers that lead to accidents involving cyclists. Rather, it focuses on the errors made by cyclists that cause accidents.

Although this data is a little flawed, there are some key takeaway points here.

  • Cyclists not being visible enough is a major contributing factor to serious accidents, with both “rider wearing dark clothing” and “not displaying lights at night or in poor visibility” accounting for a total of 533 accidents combined. This illustrates just how important it is that cyclists have good lights and bright or high visibility clothing, especially when riding in the dark.
  • By far the leading contributory factor under the banner of injudicious actions is cyclists entering the road from the pavement - accounting for over 600 accidents. This shows how important it is that cyclists follow the rules of the road and stick to marked cycle paths wherever possible.   
  • Under “behaviour or inexperience” the leading contributing factor by far is careless, reckless or traveling too fast, accounting for almost 700 accidents. This highlights how important it is to be calm and careful when riding and to respect speed limits and ride at a pace appropriate to the road.
  • Finally, by far the largest contributing factors in the vehicle defects is malfunctioning brakes (114) and lights not working (59). These both highlight the importance of caring for your bike with regular maintenance. We strongly advise you to regularly invest in high-quality bike parts.

For our own complete guide to cycle safety, check out this blog post.   

Conclusion

Although much of the data seen here suggests that cycling in the UK is safe, there is also clearly more work to be done in this area. In particular, the stats for London and the South East of England show that more needs to be done in these areas to protect cyclists. The data about contributory factors is useful in taking away actionable advice to help make your own cycling safer, although more still needs to be said about how drivers and other road users can adapt their own behaviour to make cycling safer.

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