[This post was updated on 1 August 2017 to include additional section with casualty statistics for 2015]
I see there are lots of commentators on social media complaining that people riding bicycles on the pavement are a risk to pedestrians, with claims that dozens of pedestrians are being killed and injured each year. Equally, cycling advocates are claiming the risks are trivial. So, I thought I’d find some data to support or refute these claims.
The Office for National Statistics publishes each year a rich data set listing in detail the many ways in which people died in the previous 12 months. (The newer data is available from the new NOMIS, the labour market statistics database). The majority of deaths are due to natural causes or illness. But, sadly, many people do die in accidental and preventable deaths, and their reasons are given too. The ONS uses International Classification of Diseases codes published by the World Health Organisation. The many causes of accidental deaths make grim reading, although I’m sure Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie would have been giddy with excitement. The ICD codes are used by many countries, so international comparisons are possible too.
In comparing the numbers of people who die in different types of accidents, I don’t mean to trivialise anyone’s death. Like many others, my family has lost loved ones in random and avoidable accidents, and we mourn their loss every day. I’m trying instead to get a sense of perspective.
Looking at the data for England & Wales for 2007-2014 (the published spreadsheets), on average, 2.75 pedestrians died each year following a collision with a pedal cyclist. (There’s no information in the data to indicate whether the victims were on the pavement, in a cycle path or the main road carriageway). That is the same number of people who died each year from bee & wasp stings. Twice as many people drowned in swimming pools, four times as many died falling off cliffs, and seven times as many died in air accidents. The graphic below shares some other comparisons.
For those of you reading this post this evening, and thinking of going up the stairs, having a bath, and then climbing into bed: please, be careful!
Casualty statistics for 2015
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the 2015 mortality data in late Spring 2017. The data is available from the NOMIS database. (There’s a wizard to guide you through the selection process, and you will need to select the individual causes of death that you’re interested in).
In general, 2015 was a far better year for pedestrians and pedal cyclists compared to most of the years 2007 to 2014. Only two pedestrians died after a collision with a pedal cyclist, 3 with a motorcyclist, 45 with a heavy vehicle (bus or lorry), and 104 with a car or van. The numbers of pedal cyclists and motorcyclists dying in each of the transport categories were down too. Whilst every death was a tragedy for those involved, the numbers of vulnerable road users dying in transport accidents in 2015 were all below the long-term averages.
In contrast, deaths in 2015 due to accidents away from transport were in many cases worse. 780 people died in trips and falls – 100 higher than the average over the prior 8 years. The number of people dying through falling out of bed rose dramatically to 162. There is the possibility that this may be due to more accurate recording, but the ONS has been working with this international data framework for many years, so I’m inclined to believe the data is, sadly, accurate.
So, across the 9 years of data, which killed more people: bee & wasp stings, or collisions with cyclists? It was the bees, but there’s so few deaths from either in England & Wales to be statistically significant. If you’re interested in road safety, you need to focus on the motorised 4-wheeled things and their drivers first.
An updated graph with selected data for 2007 to 2015 is below.