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You can take the most proficient road cyclist in the world, but put him next to a bad driver and the chances of an accident still remain high. The fact remains that however well protected or proficient you are as a cyclist, you still remain vulnerable on the road.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for cyclists. The risks of riding a bike have changed dramatically over the past 80 years, and statistically, it is now much safer to ride a bike than it was thanks to a huge fall in the number of deaths among cyclists.
In 1934, the amount of cyclists dying on the roads every year reached its peak when 1,536 cyclists died in Great Britain. If you compare this to statistics from the Department for Transport (DfT) in 2013, there were only 109 fatalities. We must also be mindful of the fact there were far fewer people living in the country 80 years ago.
So, statistically, was it a death trap to ride a bike in the 1930s? Not entirely, we must remember that 80 years ago there is likely to have been far more cyclists on the roads in the first place. Owning a motor vehicle was a rare luxury spared only for the rich, thus cycling as a primary means of transport was very common.
Put this into perspective even further, the number of licensed cars on the road in 1934 was fewer than 2 million cars, while today there is in excess of 28 million licensed cars on the roads. It is also more common for a cyclist to be a car driver and share their journeys between the two modes of transport.
In comparison, evidence presented at parliament in the 1930s suggested there were between 10 and 12 million cyclists, who would have done more journeys than an equivalent 12 million cyclists in 2013.
So how safe is it to cycle on Britain’s roads today? Statistics taken from a 2013 DfT report reveal that a cyclist travelling one mile in the UK is 15 times more likely to have a fatal accident than a car driver going the same distance.
In addition, in 2013 there was one death for every 29 million miles cycled. However, cycling a distance generally takes longer than it would take in a car, so over the same trip there is greater exposure to an accident for a cyclist. Based on the time spent travelling, a cyclist is actually only five times more likely to have a fatal accident than a car driver.
Furthermore, cyclist fatalities are falling despite the rise in cyclists on the roads. Road traffic estimates put cycle traffic in 2013 around 13 per cent higher than the average over 2005-09, with deaths at 16 per cent lower.
So, cyclists DO still have a greater risk of death than car drivers, but taking all of the above into account, the overall risk of death is low, and continues to diminish over the years.