A new EU-wide comparison of cyclists' safety shows that Britain is among the top countries for measuring cycling . Now we need to make much better use of this information to substantially boost cycle use and improve cyclists' safety.
Cycle counter on the Camel Trail, Cornwall (photo CTC, © Dep't for Transport)

A few days ago I was welcoming [2] new figures [3] now being collected by the Government, through Sport England's Active People Survey [3], which shows levels of regular and occasional cycle use at a local level.

Previously, this survey explicitly omitted all cycle use that wasn’t recreational or sports cycling, i.e. all the journeys to school, to work, to the shops and other “utility” cycling.  However this has now been included, thanks to CTC's campaigning. (And incidentally, the Guardian data website has produced a map [4], where you can see the figures for cycle use in different areas - however they have used the figures for all kinds of cycling, not those explicitly for “utility” cycling).

No sooner had we put out our press release, when along came a new EU-wide comparison of cyclists' safety [5] from around the EU. The report from the European Transport Safety Council compares the cyclists’ fatality data, showing how countries vary in terms of the ages of the cyclists involved, whether they are male or female, the urban-rural spilt, and the proportion of fatalities which involve motor vehicles (and specifically involving buses or lorries). All of this is really useful information.

ETSC rightly recognises though that you cannot measure cycle safety simply by looking at casualty numbers. Comparisons should be based on the risk of a casualty per mile cycled (or per trip, or per hour – but at any rate, it should be relative to some measure of cycle use). Otherwise you fall into the trap of claiming that Dudley and St Helens are far safer for cycling than Cambridge [6](!), or, even more absurdly, that Britain is far safer than the Netherlands (as Road Safety Minister Mike Penning claimed in Parliament [7]), simply because places with low cycle use obviously have fewer cyclist casualties. That doesn't mean they are "safer" - indeed, CTC's "Safety in numbers" [8] evidence shows the exact opposite.

ETSC then shows that Britain is one of only 3 EU countries to measure cycle use at the national level on an annual basis – the others being (you guessed it!) Denmark and the Netherlands. Two others, Sweden and Norway, also measure it reasonably frequently. ETSC compares cycle use and cycle safety in these five countries and, once again, finds clear evidence of the “safety in numbers” effect: cycling is safest in the places with highest cycle use.

CTC has documented this relationship [9] in the past, based both on a comparison of EU-wide data from a wider range of dates, and of figures from within Britain. However, until now our only source of comparable data on local cycle use within Britain was the national census, which only comes out every 10 years and covers cycle commuting only. It was good enough to show the “safety in numbers” relationship exists, but not to compare how local authorities are actually performing.

Unsurprisingly, ETSC’s report shows that Britain is performing worst of the 5 countries in their comparison, in terms of both cycle use and cyclists’ safety. But hey, at least we are measuring this!

What's more, from now on we will have some really good data to measure cycle use (and therefore the safety of cyclists) at the local level too. The data will prove invaluable in future years, as it will show which local authorities' efforts to increase cycle use are proving most successful, so that lessons can then be learnt about what measures to prioritise.

So, “credit where credit is due” to the Department for collecting these new figures. The challenge now for both local and national Government is to really start making good use of them!"