CyclingEdinburgh.info

Cycling IS Safe

Posted by chdot on November 1, 2007

“Lies, damned lies, and statistics” is a well know phrase usually used to imply that statistics can’t be trusted. Certainly it’s wise to look at how statistics are interpreted – and why..

For instance, pro and anti helmet campaigners love/hate statistics. There are so many variables it’s hard to compare like with like. Overall it is probable that the ‘statistically average’ person will live longer if they cycle without a helmet than if they don’t cycle. Helmet use is usually low in countries with high cycle use. It’s sometimes assumed that cycling is more popular because drivers are ‘nicer’ in ‘other countries’ – perhaps it’s because statistically they are more likely to be cyclists too…

Seattle based writer Alan Durning has a fascinating entry on his blog – Safe Streets (Bicycle Neglect #9) looking at some of the issues and interpreting the statistics.

He begins: “My youngest son had a bike wreck this summer: a driver cut him off on a steep downhill. Peter managed to avoid the car by tumbling over the curb, but the fall inflicted some nasty road rash. It also inspired me to dig into the question of bicycle safety more rigorously than before: Is it safe for Peter to be biking so much?”

He continues: “Here’s what I learned: Biking is safer than it used to be. It’s safer than you might think. It does incur the risk of collision, but its other health benefits massively outweigh these risks. And it can be made much safer.”

Durning reproduces statistics that were compiled on the basis of time involved, not distance travelled – the more conventional way used to show that ‘cycling is dangerous’.

Cycling advocates’ favorite comparison of cycling’s collision risks.


Activity Fatalities per million hours activity
Skydiving 128.7
On-road motorcycling 8.8
Scuba diving 2.0
Living (all causes of death) 1.5
Snowmobiling 0.9
Passenger cars 0.5
Water skiing 0.3
Bicycling 0.3
Flying (scheduled domestic airlines) 0.2
Passenger car post-collision fire 0.0


From Charles R. Murray, “The Real Story: Overdesign Prevents Cars from Exploding,” Design News, October 4, 1993.

One section of his article is headed: “Making cycling safer is a main chance for healthy, lasting prosperity.” Highly relevant in the UK where obesity is high on the news agenda – ‘solution’ seems to be ‘more PE in schools’…

Having looked at ‘accident’ statistics he reckons: “What this means is that if you’re a cautious, law-abiding, risk-averse cyclist, biking is far safer than you’d think from the aggregate statistics, which are inflated by the proliferation of two-wheeling daredevils.”

Clearly this isn’t saying that crashes involving bicycles are always the riders fault. However it’s a strong argument to counter the reason that many people give for not cycling – ‘it’s too dangerous’.

It also reinforces the case for Cycle Training to be given to all young people in school time. Adults seem reluctant to pay for Cycle Training, perhaps cycling competence should be the first stage of the driving test! In Edinburgh one proven method of increasing cyclists’ confidence is taking part in the TryCycling in Edinburgh Rides. As a result of these, over the past three years, a significant number of ‘nervous and novice’ riders are now cycling to work.

3 Responses to “Cycling IS Safe”

  1. […] And Cycling Edinburgh blog has an item addressing safety concerns which is worth a read – Cycling IS safe. […]

  2. Jon Greenwood said

    I have been actively trying to organise some cycling proficiency training in Hexham for my son 14 and some of his friends. I tried through the school through Northumberland County Council, only to be told eventually after having sorted most of the logistics that it is only available for Year 6 pupils. I then tried to organise it for a group of Scouts, only for the provider to call it off with little notice before he retired into hibernation for the winter. I have also tried to contact professional trainers in Co Durham and Cumbria and had no responses – even when offering to pay for their services.
    I whole heartedly agree that youngsters should be cycling on the roads, but that they should be fully aware of how the traffic behaves and how they need to behave on the roads. Having seen some of the scouts riding on the roads has only reinforced this view.
    I am consequently disillusioned & frustrated by the political hot air, and therfore reluctant to let my son cycle freely on the roads.
    Anyone know of any reputable cycling trainers in NE England?

  3. John Holiday said

    Try Company of Cyclists in York who organise training sessions nationally & have a number of experienced trainers in Newcastle area.

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