Analysis from the UK Department for Transport compares the risk of being injured when you are cycling, driving or walking. Motorcyclists have an especially high risk of death, followed by pedestrians and cyclists. Those in vans, buses or lorries are safest. But this is only half the story. Our research found that while motorcyclists themselves have a high risk of being killed, motorbikes also pose a startlingly high risk to others. Per kilometre, motorcycling kills twice as many other people as car driving. In addition, the majority – more than eight out of ten – of cyclist fatalities occurred when the cyclist was hit by a motor vehicle. In most cases, it’s not cycling itself that kills: it’s colliding with heavy, powered vehicles. Our new research shows how many deaths to other people different types of vehicles cause. We’ve also examined how the gender of the person driving or riding affects the amount of other-party deaths.
The missing picture
Our analysis calculates fatalities to other road users per billion vehicle kilometres in England. This works out how many deaths to other people result from a given amount of travel by a particular type of vehicle. It does not include deaths to passengers in crashes involving only one vehicle. Just under a fifth (18%) of kilometres travelled by car come from trips under five miles. Imagine that we were able to shift around half those trips to cycling. If we shifted 9% of the distance currently travelled by car on non-motorway roads, this adds up to 14 billion km annually. Our data shows 619 other-party deaths each year linked to cars. So a 9% fall in car kilometres might mean 56 fewer other-party deaths, annually. The average car occupancy is 1.6 people, so this implies 22 billion km more cycled annually. This is a fivefold increase from currently low levels. The Dutch, with a population a third that of England’s, managed to rack up 15.5 billion bicycle kilometres in 2016. Based on the rates calculated above, we would expect 22 billion kilometres cycled to lead to an extra 27 other-party fatalities annually. In total, this shift from cars to cycling would mean 29 fewer other-party deaths each year. There are many reasons to support a shift from driving to cycling. A substantial rise in cycling would have major physical activity benefits. The impacts of cycling tool, which calculates health benefits from physical activity, suggests a five-fold increase in cycling might prevent over a thousand premature deaths annually in England.