New national road casualty figures hide the potholes in cyclist safety

It's virtually a daily occurrence in the UK that there is a road collision involving a cyclists and a motor vehicle. In the latest Brake blog, Hugh Potter, partner and personal injury specialist at Potter Rees Dolan, explains why cyclist safety is a ticking time bomb that needs to be disarmed.

Ask cyclists if they feel entirely safe cycling on our cities’ main roads and I bet the large majority will respond with a resounding “no”. Yet new road collision figures released by Department for Transport provide the seemingly comforting news that road casualties involving all types of road users (from pedestrians to HGV drivers) in Great Britain dropped by 8% over the past five years, from 203,950 in 2011 to 186,189 in 2015.

However, research carried out by my firm, Potter Rees Dolan, uncovered that this general, headline figure masks the fact that injuries to cyclists are quietly increasing each year.

Deaths and serious injuries involving cyclists increased by 5% from 3,192 in 2011 to 3,339 in 2015, while deaths and serious injuries to car occupants decreased by 6% from 9,225 in 2011 to 8,642 in 2015. Even allowing for the increased numbers of cyclists on the road my suspicion is that while the majority of our nation’s drivers are benefiting from improvements to road safety, cyclists are not. This is something I urge the Department for Transport to address immediately.

Cyclists, a vulnerable yet growing road user type

Cycling is a much more ‘exposed’ mode of transport than travelling by car; there is no seat belt, windscreen, dashboard or airbags to protect a cyclist. In any collision a cyclist is much more likely to suffer serious injuries than other road users.

At a time when the government is encouraging motorists to leave their vehicles at home for environmental reasons, and choose to walk or cycle instead, it is desperately worrying to see cyclists experience an increase in injuries. These stats are hardly an incentive to start cycling.

Listen to the cyclist community

I believe a great deal can be done to reverse this worrying trend if local councils are willing to take advice more generally from the cyclists themselves. Manchester City Council has done some admirable work already but more should be done to encourage cyclists’ feedback to their local council, via text tweets or survey or similar. The easier to use and more informal the better. Cyclists know what improvements need to be made based on their experience on the roads, and highlight any particularly problematic locations or ‘black spots’.

From what I have experienced in my local area (Greater Manchester), cyclists are well aware of problematic, unsafe areas and would be more than willing to suggest how to improve aspects of road safety for fellow cyclists.

I am sure this would be mirrored in towns and cities across Britain. This would allow councils to dedicate resource to aspects and locations that keep cropping up in the cyclists’ feedback.

Hit the message home

Rewind five years, and motorcyclists were in a very similar position to that which cyclists are in now. Since then, there have been various awareness campaigns designed to make other road users aware of motorcyclists’ presence on the roads and urging them to take care when overtaking and watch out for them at junctions. There was a terrific campaign north of the border which should have received more coverage likening cyclists to horses and the accommodation that drivers needed to make. Let us have more similar messages!

To support this approach, the dataset also revealed that motorcyclist deaths and serious injuries dropped by 4% from 5,609 in 2011 to 5,407 in 2015. While the reduction may be small, the outlook seems much more positive for motorcyclists and that may well reflect greater awareness of the need for their safety.

As a partner and personal injury specialist at a legal firm that specialises in representing those who have catastrophic, life-changing injuries, I have seen first-hand the devastating effect road collisions have on all road users and pedestrians. This is why I push for improved road safety, particularly if standards are slipping for one particular type of road user. In many instances, collisions and consequent injuries are avoidable just by tightening up road safety and encouraging vigilance among the motoring community.