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Congestion charge made London's roads safer for cycling, researchers find

Less driving equals fewer crashes, say boffins

As well as thinning out the traffic that was threatening to bring the capital to a halt, London's congestion charge reduced the number of crashes in the city by a whopping 40 percent and also led to a significant decline in the rate of accidents per mile driven, researchers have found.

A paper by Professor Colin Green and colleagues, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2015 annual conference at the University of Manchester later this month found that the benefits extended to cyclists despite fears that faster motor traffic would lead to more crashes involving bike riders.

Professor Green says: "Our results suggest that the congestion charge has broadly changed people’s modes of travel and the number of trips made into Central London, with a beneficial reduction in accident costs and lives lost."

London introduced a £5 charge to drive into the centre of the city in 2003, in an effort to reduce traffic, later raising the charge to £8 and then £11.50. It worked, confirming predictions that the charge would change behaviour.

Reduced congestion meant fewer cars in central London and an expectation of fewer crashes. But it also means higher travel speeds, which could increase the chance of a crash and the severity of crashes that do occur. The increase in speed could have been particularly dangerous in Central London where cars, cyclists and pedestrians share the road.

The researchers say the study provides the first evidence on the effect of the congestion charge on the number of traffic incidents, injuries and fatalities and on the rate of these crashes. The researchers show that introducing the charge led to a substantial reduction in the number of crashes within Central London. Moreover, the charge led to a significant decline in the rate of crashes per mile driven.

The congestion charge was one of the factors in London's increase in bike commuting. It resulted in more cycling into central London, leading to particular concerns that there would be more cyclist crashes. The study found a small initial increase, roughly one and a half a month up to 2005. By the end of 2006 this reversed, and cycling crashes and fatalities fell as result of the charge.

The researchers did not make a simple comparison of before and after as such an analysis might simply show  a decline that would have happened without the charge. Instead, they  adopted a variety of control groups using the most populous 20 cities in Britain outside London. They contrasted the change in accidents in the congestion charge zone to that change over the same period in these other cities.

They found that introducing the congestion charge reduced crashes in Central London by 30 a month, a 40% reduction, and that was matched by similar reductions in those killed or seriously injured. As well as saved travel time, the congestion charge saved lives and the costs associated with crashes.

They also found that the rate of crashes was reduced from 12.4 per million miles driven to 9.8, making the roads safer for those that continued to drive.

The number of crashes also decreased in areas beyond the congestion charge zone as fewer people drove through them to reach Central London. There were also fewer crashes and injuries in non-charged times (before 7am and after 6pm) and for exempt vehicles (largely bicycles, motorcycles, taxis and buses).

John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for Along with founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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Quince | 8 years ago

Can we stop calling people who do research 'boffins'? It's dorky!

wlizhi | 8 years ago

Congestion charge help traffic in city, maybe??

but im sure it does not help just outside the zone, more traffic going thought the surrounding area. all my close encounter came before in cc zone  17  17  17

jollygoodvelo | 8 years ago

Reducing congestion just means that TfL buses and Addison Lee taxis feel they have more space to pull out without looking.

DaveE128 | 8 years ago

People often joke that the c-charge just makes the selection of cars on the streets of London more expensive. I'm just surprised that the increase in proportion of vehicles in London being Audis hasn't lead to an increase in incidents!  3

KirinChris | 8 years ago

I just came to express my admiration for the correct usage of less and fewer in the sub-headline.

hampstead_bandit | 8 years ago


2 things have happened.

Dramatic reduction in road policing. This is a fact.

Rise of internet connected smartphone and tablet devices which has led to distraction of motorists.

I commute 200km a week through central London, and have done for 20 years.

You regularly see large numbers of motorists jumping lights, red light gambling, using hand held cell phones whilst driving, driving into ASL bike boxes after lights have changed, acting aggressively towards pedestrians and cyclists.

You have much more chance of getting a parking ticket than being done for a motoring offence in London  2

Housecathst | 8 years ago

This needs to be the model for the rest of the country, pricing cars off the road will make every body's life better, despite what the daily mail might say.

harman_mogul | 8 years ago

I cannot agree with HB. There is less traffic in Central London than formerly, and on the whole the standard of driving by private individuals has improved—it certainly needed to.

But as has been noted here, there are some specific high risks of vehicles servicing the huge amount of construction work. This is not helped by serious under-achievement by local authority highway engineers.

hampstead_bandit | 8 years ago

Can't say I've noticed any real difference in traffic levels since the CG was introduced?

Traffic is horrendous all the time, apart from very early Saturday morning and early Sunday morning.

What I have noticed is a rapid decline in the state of driving in London, as traffic Police have had their numbers cuts, which motorists have quickly realized means there is little chance of getting caught  2

balmybaldwin | 8 years ago

Stunning bit of insight there.

Let me guess... if there were no cars at all there would be noone knocked off by cars?

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