Road safety and cycling: Overview

Briefing
'More' as well as 'safer' cycling can and should go hand-in-hand

Road safety and cycling: Overview

Headline Message 
  • Cycling is essentially a safe activity, causing little risk either to cyclists themselves or to other road users. Moreover, there is good evidence that cyclists gain from ‘safety in numbers’, with cycling becoming safer as cycle use increases.
  • However, fear of road traffic is a major deterrent, despite the health, environmental and other benefits of cycling.
  • Actual cycle safety in the UK lags behind many of our continental neighbours, because of poorly designed roads and junctions, traffic volumes and speeds, irresponsible driving, and a legal system that fails to respond adequately to road danger.
  • National and local government should therefore aim for more as well as safer cycling. These two aims can and should go hand-in-hand.
Policy Key Facts 
  • The life years gained due to the health and fitness benefits of cycling in Britain outweigh the life-years lost through injuries by a factor of around 20:1.
  • From 2012-2016, one cyclist was killed on Britain’s roads for every 30 million miles travelled by cycle - the equivalent to well over 1,000 times around the world.
  • Figures for the last three years suggest that, per billion miles travelled, pedestrians were more likely than cyclists to be killed.
  • However, around 59% of non-cyclists in Britain feel that it is too dangerous for them to cycle on the roads.
  • Overall, the UK has a good road safety record - but for cycle safety in particular, it is one of the poorer performing countries in Europe.
  • From 2006, for every one billion miles cycled, the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured (KSI) increased at least until 2012 (in 2006, there were 868 cyclist KSI per billion miles, and 1,070 in 2012). Most of the following years witnessed a drop, but the 2016 figure (1,011 KSI per billion miles) is still higher than that for 2006. In contrast, the KSI rates for people in motor vehicles were all higher in 2006 than they were ten years on.
Cycling UK View 
  • Road safety strategies, nationally and locally, should recognise that:
    • Cycling is a safe activity, posing little risk either to cyclists themselves or to other road users
    • The health benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks involved 
    • Combined with good provision, cycling gets safer the more cyclists there are: the ‘safety in numbers’ effect 
    • The aim of cycle safety policies and initiatives should be to encourage more as well as safer cycling, in order to maximise its health, environmental and other benefits, and to improve overall safety for all road users
  • Encouraging more as well as safer cycling involves tackling factors that deter cycle use. These include high traffic volumes and speeds; irresponsible driver behaviour; the unfriendly design of many roads and junctions; and lorries. 
  • The provision of cycle training to the national standard can also help people to cycle more, to ride more safely, and to feel safer and more confident while doing so. It can also help parents feel more confident about allowing their children to cycle. 
  • Increases in cyclist casualties may still mean cycle safety is improving if cycle use is increasing more steeply than cyclist casualties. Therefore targets and indicators for the effectiveness of road safety strategies should adopt ‘rate-based’ measures for improvements in cycle safety, e.g. cycle casualties (or fatal and serious injuries) per million km cycled, or per million trips. Simple casualty reduction targets should be avoided. 
  • ‘Perception-based’ indicators, which show whether public perceptions of cycle safety in a given area are getting better, can be used alongside ‘rate-based’ indicators, or as an interim substitute for the latter if necessary. 
  • Care should be taken to avoid cycle safety awareness campaigns that ‘dangerise’ cycling. These deter people from cycling or allowing their children to cycle and are counter-productive because they erode the ‘safety in numbers’ effect, as well as undermining the activity’s wider health and other benefits.
Download the full detailed campaign briefing 
'More' as well as 'safer' cycling can and should go hand-in-hand.