Sharp rise in UK cycling casualties

But there are many more bikes on the roads

New statistics from the Department for Transport (DfT) show a worrying rise in the number of cyclists injured on Britain's roads.

But taken in the context of a significant rise in the number of riders – people are ditching their cars and turning to bikes because of the recession, environmental fears and schemes like Cycle to Work – the figures aren't as alarming as they first appear.

In the second quarter of this year, the number of riders killed or seriously injured rose by 19 percent compared to the same period last year, from 688 to 820, while the overall number of reported cyclist casualties rose by nine percent to 4,860.

Looking at the full year to June 2009, the number of riders killed or seriously injured rose by four percent to 2,680, while the overall number of cyclist casualties rose by two percent to 16,580.

In contrast, the number of pedestrian, motorcyclist and car driver casualties fell by eight, six and eight percent respectively – although overall numbers were still much higher at 27,420/21,260/143,510 – and road traffic was two percent lower.

However, a spokeswoman for the DfT told BikeRadar that last year's rise in cyclist casualties should be seen in the context of an overall fall since the Nineties.

She said: “Provisional estimates for a single three-month period should not be taken in isolation and the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured on the roads each year has fallen by 31 percent since the mid-1990s.

“However, we take road safety extremely seriously and are working to improve safety for cyclists in a number of ways, including investing in the provision of cycle training and planning to encourage local authorities to introduce more 20mph zones in residential areas and around schools.

“The number of people cycling is increasing – cycle traffic rose by 12 percent between 2007 and 2008 – and this is likely to be a factor in the estimated number of casualties for the beginning of this year.”

Carl Christopher, spokesman for RoSPA (the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents), told BikeRadar it was too early to say how significant the 19 percent rise was because it was only a quarterly figure.

He said: "It could be a temporary thing, or it could be because of a longer-term trend of people swapping their cars for bikes due to the recession. Also, heavy goods traffic has decreased, and if there's less congestion the traffic can travel faster, and that puts the two-wheeled community at risk.

"It concerns us because it's such a high rise – almost 20 percent. A lot of people are put off cycling because of concerns about their safety. It would be a shame for people to hear these figures and be dissuaded.

"We'd advise people who are new to cycling to get some short rides in first, some practice in the park, before braving the roads. The key thing at this time of year is to make yourself visible by wearing reflective clothing and using lights."

Chris Peck from UK cyclists' organisation CTC told The Guardian newspaper that the rise could be due partly to more inexperienced riders taking to the road and a "deterioration" in riding behaviour, particularly in London.

Noting that Transport for London figures showed that in recent years around five percent of cyclists killed in the capital had been jumping a traffic signal at the time, he told the paper: "It's not a big factor, but it could be something. It is fair to say that particularly in London, riding behaviour has deteriorated in recent years."

The CTC could not provide BikeRadar with further proof to back up this claim, but a spokeswoman said anecdotal evidence from their SMIDSY campaign ('Sorry mate, I didn't see you") suggested it could be a factor.

Mr Peck said: "I expect that the increase in casualties 2009 is probably a consequence of a substantial increase in cycling. Nevertheless, much more needs to be done to improve the safety of cycling – especially by reducing speed limits and improving both driver and cycle training.”

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