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Number of cyclists killed in Britain has halved in last 15 years

Fatalities halve in 15 years when measured by distance travelled

New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have thrown fresh light on cycling’s role in Britain’s changing travel patterns in recent years, and has also revealed that the number of cyclists killed on the country’s roads over the past 15 years has halved when measured by distance travelled.

The updated Transport chapter of the ONS’s Social Trends report reveals that in 2008, 24.2 cyclists died for every billion kilometres ridden, compared to 49.8 million in 1995, a larger proportionate decline than was observed in motorcycling, walking or being in a car as a driver or passenger, although death rates in all three of those also declined.

The drop in the number of cyclists killed when measured by total distance travelled, which itself will have been driven by increases in the number of people cycling over the period, underlines what cyclists’ organisation CTC has termed the Safety In Numbers effect, the title of one of its campaigns highlighting that the more people there are cycling, the more visible cyclists become to other road users, resulting in improved safety.

Although the report does not provide data of the number of kilometres covered in 2008 and 1995 to allow a direct comparison to be made, it did reveal that in 2008, people made an average of 16 trips by bicycle during the year, and while this made up just 2% of the total number of trips made, that reflected a 17% increase on the previous year, the biggest gain made by any form of transport.

Meanwhile, the number of pedal cyclists killed in Great Britain fell by 15% between 2007 and 2008, although the same period saw the number of bike riders seriously injured rise by 1%.

However, despite the increased popularity of cycling in recent years, the report also highlights how the bicycle’s importance as a mode of transport has diminished over the past six decades, chiefly as a result of cars becoming more affordable with ownership becoming the norm rather than the exception.

In 1952, Britain’s bike riders pedalled some 23 billion kilometres, equivalent to 11% of all travel, but in 2007, the distance travelled by cyclists had plummeted to 4 million kilometres, making up just 0.5% of all travel.

The ONS press release for the updated Social Trends chapter highlighted the fact that fewer than half of schoolchildren now walk to school, which has been the focus of coverage in the mainstream media, with travel increasingly likely to be made by car, both findings reflecting long-term trends. Figures for travelling to school by bicycle were not available.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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Milky88 | 14 years ago

The decrease in cyclist fatalities is great news.

However, your reporting of the statistics in this report is fairly misleading. Between 2007 and 2008 the mean annual number of trips by bike did increase from 14 to 16, but they decreased from 16 to 14 between 2006 and 2007! There is not much of a meaningful trend in these data.

I also can't see how you have concluded from this report that 'the drop in the number of cyclists killed when measured by total distance travelled' is driven by 'increases in the number of people cycling over the period'. I understand that this is a core concept of the CTC's 'safety in numbers' campaign - but misusing this ONS report to support it doesn't lend the campaign any credibility.

Please don't detract from the news that fatalities have been reduced with these seemingly groundless comments.

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