Coffee House

How dangerous is cycling?

3 February 2012

Am I dicing with death every morning and evening? The Times would say so. I cycle to
work, and, for the past two days, the Times has given over its front page to a campaign on cycling safety. The campaign is in most
respects commendable — I like the specific proposals — but it emphasises the urgency of the issue by giving a very grim impression of the risks that cyclists face.
‘Britain’s riders are paying with their lives when they take to the roads,’ we are told. In fact, a bicycle is far from being the most dangerous way to get around.

On the measure the Times uses — death rate by distance travelled — pedestrians are more likely to pay with their lives than cyclists are. In 2008, there were 31 deaths for every billion kilometres walked, as
against 24 per billion km cycled. You’re much safer in a car, it’s true — two deaths per billion km — but very much less safe on a motorbike: 89 deaths per billion km.

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Such distance-based figures, however, can be misleading when the people under consideration don’t travel very far. The Times estimates that an average ‘regular’ cyclist does 16
miles a week, and then gives death rates per billion miles: that is, per 1.2 million years of averagely regular cycling.

For a better-proportioned sense of the risks of walking and cycling, it might make sense to look by number of trips, or by time on the road. Fortunately, someone has done this. Someone at the Times, in fact, which a few years ago sent the Department for Transport an FoI request on the subject. The
results were given as a ten-year average of the decade from 1996 to 2005:
all modes of transport have become a little safer since, but the relative positions are still fairly similar.

On a per-trip basis, cycling does look quite a bit riskier than walking: there are 3.7 deaths per 100 million journeys walked, against 13 per 100 million cycling journeys. But the gap with
car-driving closes: I am only four times more likely to die than the drivers who overtake me, as against a dozen times on the distance figures. And motorcycling looks vastly more dangerous: 153
deaths per 100 million journeys. The pattern is similar if you look per 100 million hours of travel: 15 deaths on foot, ten in a car, 40 by bicycle, 402 by motorbike.

The risks of getting about on a bike could and should be reduced. But hyping them will only further increase the bizarre levels of resentment that exist between cyclists and non-cyclists, and encourage people who would enjoy and
benefit from cycling to leave their bikes in the garage.

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Show comments
  • Amrita Khanna

    I don`t think so that cycling is dangerous.

  • Amoeba

    Russell – February 3rd, 2012 5:15pm
    “I think it’s about time cyclists had to pay a contribution to a Road Fund Licence, say £5 per year”

    You really should find out the facts before posting bigotry as fact.

    Road-tax was abolished in 1937, that’s before WW2. Even then ‘road-tax’ didn’t pay for the roads, it was topped-up from general taxation. Roads are paid for out of general taxation.

  • inigo jones

    I cycled to work between Guildford and Aldershot for 3 years in the 1970s, mainly to keep fit. I remember having a few near misses and actually came off a couple of times due to inconsiderate driving by HGVs, but cyclists have the great advantage of being able to react quickly to danger and stay out of trouble. However, I decided it was becoming too dangerous and very reluctantly sold the bike. Now, I just watch the Tour de France.

  • daniel maris

    Austin Barry –

    You are not mistaken about the garb – including the simian-like enhancement of the posterior in some outfits. LOL

    We need a technological solution to pavement cycling.

  • studiju darbi

    It can be dangerous even going on street just by walking because of different left/right roadside thinking for tourists :) cycling could be tougher :)

  • Jeremy

    Cycling will remain a dangerous activity for so long as I continue to ride my bike.

  • Laurence

    @Austin Barry
    Well said Austin. Cyclists should have to apply for a licence and demonstrate their proficiency to a suitably qualified examiner before they are permitted on the road. Cycling on the pavement should incur an enormous fine.

  • Charlie the Chump

    In these times when hard choices have to be made we need a cycle tax to help to pay for all the cycle lanes and other “protective measures”.
    £50.00 per bike per annume seems very fair. And the tax disc should be 60 cm wide and bright orange so we can avoid’em.

  • Anne Wotana Kaye 1

    Pedro is correct, I have nearly been injured or killed by cyclists on the pavement or suddenly cycling past on pedestrian crossings. I’d like to outlaw cyclists, all Green agendas including global warming warnings, recycling (unless its squashing and binning cyclists), rubbishy talk about carbon footsteps, and for good measure, breast implants.

  • In2minds

    As a pedestrian, cyclist, motorcyclist and driver I see from the comments above I have upset all of you. Well too bad I say as I’m not about to repent.

    @Marcher Baron – “when I hack out (on a horse)” Are there other ways of hacking out then? Just asking, for I sometimes find myself in the country; but fear not as my bicycle has a ping bell.

    Actually you would not get me on a horse as they have no brakes, but then neither do grasstrack racing motorcycles and I happily rode one of those.

  • WIlliam Blakes Ghost

    Having witnessed how cyclists abuse the Highway coide at times they should be licenced just like all other road users.

    Cyclists (as a group) are as much their own worst enemies as bad drivers are.

  • Malfleur


    Re-cycling an opinion held by many could be dangerous.

  • Nicholas

    Not as dangerous, apparently, as openly writing your opinion on a forum inviting you to do so, as that has all the cowardly wets in the Speccie office squealing in dismay and running around in a panic to close it down.

    I’m glad that most of my father’s generation are dead, so that they never had to witness what a spineless, mutually hugging, hand flapping, girly and terrified wooserie inherited the country they fought so hard to defend.

  • Mr Danger 1

    “I think it’s about time cyclists had to pay a contribution to a Road Fund Licence…
    At least they would then be contributing directly to the additional cost of cycleways.”

    But drivers don’t contribute either. Roads haven’t been funded with road taxes since 1937. Your Road Fund License doesn’t pay for roads.

    But I agree with the other commentary, those cyclists, especially the immigrant ones, with 10 babies living in council houses, they’re all crazy they are, why in my day we’d just…. cough cough. Sorry, where was I? Oh right cyclists, they’re all bad they are, why I remember once…

  • Rob C

    I’d say three things make cycling dangerous:-
    1) Attitude of cyclists
    2) Poor planning/location of cycle lanes by local authorities
    3) Poor observation by drivers

    2 & 3 can be fixed with education, but I fear 1 is a lost cause!

    I live on a main road with an ill-conceived cycle lane across my drive which is partially ‘obstructed’ when waiting to pull out in order to see. The abuse from cyclists has to be witnessed to be believed! Delivery drivers and bin-men etc get similar treatment. Thus I have little sympathy/respect for the cycling fraternity until that large minority with the ‘chip’ on their shoulder a) respect the highway code, red lights, zebra crossings etc like the rest of us b) are insured and c) are accountable rather than anonymous – like the rest of road users!

  • Frothy


    You do know Road tax isn’t hypothecated don’t you?

    Depressing that the usual cliches are trotted out about cyclists. The writer is right though. If you’re sensible, cycling in London is pretty safe. Ten years cycling here for me, with barely a scrape.

  • Paul Hughes

    Hello there

    Did you ever watch the video “The invisible gorilla?” If not, google it and watch.

    We don’t see things which we don’t expect to see. Accidents involving cyclists are far less frequent on roads and in countries where cyclists are more frequently encountered. We simply learn to expect them and are thus more attuned to their presence.

    So, the way to increase cycle-safety is to have more cyclists.

  • Cynic

    My main complaint about cyclists where I live is that they will insist on riding on the pavement, even though there is a pefectly good cycle track either side of the road (thus restricting the area available to cars). I long for a local bobby to nab the wrong-doers and apply the statutary fine. Needless to say, I long in vain!

  • Mirtha Tidville

    Was parked at traffic lights this morning when a cyclist came through the lights on red,which are controlled by a greed camera to catch motorists, and was within an inch of being wiped out by a car travelling correctly…

    If cyclists want to feel safe, then leave their damn contraptions at home. Usually more smug than Volvo drivers anyway..

  • Jon Stack

    Expensive too….all those deserted cycle lanes. What a waste.

  • TrevorsDen

    Mr Barry and Harriet are correct. Cyclists are a menace. To drivers and pedestrians.

  • Charlie the Chump

    Charlie doesnt like bikes
    Charlie doesnt like trains
    Charlie likes Cars
    Fast Cars
    You have been warned

  • EC

    escaped Roger,

    Where, exactly?

  • Frank P

    How dangerous is cycling? How long is a piece of fucking stringer? Who commissions these eye-glazing essays is a better question. JHC wept.

  • escapedRoger

    There were bicycles on the roads before cars, then it was horses we had to watch out for.
    An excellent form of transport that needs better legal help.

  • Russell

    I think it’s about time cyclists had to pay a contribution to a Road Fund Licence, say £5 per year and had to have fully comprehensive insurance.
    At least they would then be contributing directly to the additional cost of cycleways.
    The damage done to car paintwork as they tear up the inside of you at traffic lights (which a lot ignore)and the risk to pedestrians as they ride on pavements make compulsory insurance obvious.
    The cyclists who do ignore traffic lights and ride wherever they like tend to be particularly nasty types, full of anger and more likely to be subject to ‘road rage’ than the majority of vehicle drivers.


    I’m all for stamping out lycra louts and enforcing road traffic rules for them, not just in town but also on country lanes and walkways where these arrogant, garishly-dressed riff-raff pose a considerable menace to innocent walkers.

    If cyclists could learn to behave themselves on pavements and in areas where they share space with pedestrians, the issue of their safety on the roads might get a little more sympathy.

    As it is they have few supporters, for well-understood reasons.

  • John Staples

    As a cyclist myself in London I tend to agree that we cyclists can be a reckless bunch. Being on a bike you can enjoy the sense of freedom too much.

    But you have a situation where the authorities are seeming to encourage cycling (through creating cycle lanes etc.) without doing nearly enough to make it reasonably safe to cycle. I’m pleased the Times is taking this up as a cause.

  • EC

    The spandex clad SturmRadfahrer of Surrey display an arrogant disregard for the highway code. They area a danger to themselves and all other road users.

    Austin Barry, Yes.

  • Stepney

    Those stats would plummet if cyclists stopped regarding red lights as optional.

    Used to be the case that the Rozzers would stop a cyclist for not having functional bike lights. Some chance nowadays – they’d be that busy they’d never get back to the cop shop.

    Cycling is as dangerous as the attitude of the cyclist.

    And stop cycling two abreast on A-roads too. Your cozy chat is likely to get you clipped by a wing mirror. Complete lunacy.

  • RichardH

    Austin Barry

    Congratulations on making the first comment, and making it the stereotypical anti-cyclist rant that follows EVERY cycling-related news story that appears on the web.
    And people wonder why cyclists feel threatened on the road when they have to share it with people with your attitude!

  • Kingstonian

    The cyclists who are really dicing with death are the ones who cut across me as I cross the road on a Pedestrian Crossing or a controlled junction. Or at least, the ones who are slow enough are.

  • Maggie

    How right you are. I’ve just got home from a round trip – Hammersmith/Sloane Square/Hammersmith – along traffic filled main roads and the only people who put my life in any danger were other cyclists. If anyone wants to improve the life chances of cyclists then they should mount a campaign to educate these Johnny-Head-in-the Airs about how to cycle properly. A great many of the deaths in London can be attributed to the mad habit of cycling level with, and along the inside of, large vehicles who are stopped at traffic lights.
    Half an hour ago I was in the process of turning left into a side road when one of these loons undertook me cycling straight on into my path at great speed. If I’d been a lorry he would have been dead.
    A couple of weeks ago a cyclist complained in the Evening Standard about being “nearly hit on the head” by a bus barrier at Barnes Bridge. He was considering making a complaint. There are clear marks on the road directling cyclists onto and off the pavement at either side of the barrier but he was arrogant enough to assume that the Council was in the wrong, not him.
    Its not cycling that’s dangerous, its cyclists.

  • RichardH

    You say you ride to work. So do a little survey yourself.
    How many rides do you complete where you have at least one of what you’d call a close shave?
    Now do the same for each car journey you make.
    I seldom (in fact, never) finish a car journey grateful to be alive but every bike ride I make I know I’ve had some narrow escapes.

  • Ctesibius

    I am a private pilot and glider pilot. I gave up cycling because I found it too dangerous.

  • Austin Barry

    Pedestrians are in rather more danger of maniac, pavement-speeding, light-jumping, abusive, sociopathic, preternaturally stupid, Chris Hoy-manqué-cyclists – and does anyone else suspect that there’s a weird, slightly sinister, auto-erotic aspect to their garb?

  • Marcher Baron

    I shouldn’t like to cycle in London, but for risk, maybe rural roads are even riskier because they’re narrower, often have blind bends and people go faster. Certainly I take my life in my hands when I hack out (on a horse) in the country. For those cyclists reading this – please speak or whistle before you pass a rider; otherwise the horse tends to think you are a predator come out of nowhere!

  • Andrew Fletcher

    This Times campaign is health & safety gone mad

    An attempted distraction from the Leveson humiliation

  • Pedro

    Never mind driving or cycling.

    It’s being a pedestrian that’s the real danger, what with all the drivers who can’t indicate and all the self righteous cyclists on the bloody pavement.

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