Safety in Numbers

Government backs key CTC demand on road safety for cyclists  21/04/2009

CTC - the UK's national cyclists’ organisation, has strongly welcomed the inclusion of a new target to reduce the risk of cycling in the Government’s draft Road Safety Strategy, published today.

The strategy backs CTC’s call for a target to halve the risks of cycling within 10 years, and that this target should be based on reducing the actual risks faced by cyclists, not simply on reducing the number of cyclists injured.

Safety in numbers

There are many examples from Britain and elsewhere to indicate a strong link between increasing cycle use and reducing the risk of cycling.  For instance, a 91% increase in cycle use on London’s main roads since 2001 has been accompanied by a 33% reduction in cyclist casualties over roughly the same period.  This and other international evidence strongly suggests that reducing the risks of cycling is best achieved through substantial increases in cycle use. CTC’s recently published 'New Vision for Cycling' called for a doubling of cycling within 10 years as well as a halving of the risks of cycling.

CTC Campaigns and Policy Manager Roger Geffen said: “There is good evidence that cycling gets safer the more cycling there is.  Yet despite this, local councils are often reluctant to encourage cycle use for fear of increasing casualty numbers, contrary to existing government targets.  We’re therefore delighted that the Government has decided to adopt our new proposed approach, and set targets for improved cyclists’ safety measured in terms of casualties per mile cycled, not just simple casualty numbers.  We hope this will encourage local authorities to aim for ‘more’ as well as ‘safer’ cycling, to maximise its benefits not just for road safety but for our health, quality of life and the environment as well.”

Achieving ‘more’ as well as ‘safer’ cycling will require the Road Safety Strategy to address the fears which deter people from cycling: the speed of traffic, irresponsible driving, hostile roads and junctions and lorries.

 20 mph on all urban roads

One of the major deterrents to increasing cycle use is the speed of traffic.  CTC has also welcomed proposals in the draft Road Safety Strategy to increase the number of streets with 20 mph zones and speed limits, but urges Ministers to act more decisively on making 20 mph speed limits the norm for most urban streets.

Roger Geffen added: “It’s very good news that the Government is recognising the benefits of lowering speed limits. But if they want people to cycle more we need to go beyond having little oases of traffic calming and have a default urban speed limit of 20 mph with higher speeds only on the more major through roads.” 

Tackling bad driving

One of the weaker areas of the strategy is the lack of clear proposals to tackle bad driving, and particularly its claim that “compliance with road traffic law is high”.  Nearly half of all drivers exceed 30mph speed limits when not prevented from doing so by congestion, and mobile phone use is also widespread.

The Strategy puts forward ideas to improve driver training, and proposals for new road safety penalties are still awaited, and CTC will call for these to place strong emphasis on raising awareness of issues affecting cyclists’ safety.  A large culture shift is needed to reduce the deterrent effect on cycle use caused by widespread experiences of bad driving.

We are particularly concerned the number of bad driving offences which cause real danger, or even death, which are still treated in law as merely “careless driving”.  We will be calling for a fundamental rethink legal framework of bad driving offences, and the resources devoted to enforcing them. There is good evidence from countries like France and Australia that increased investment in traffic policing can substantially increase compliance with road traffic law and achieve significant road safety benefits.

 Hostile roads and junctions

Another area where the Strategy could do more is on tackling hostile roads and junctions. The Department for Transport published new guidance on Cycle Infrastructure Design last autumn, but has done little to promote it or ensure local authorities are aware of it and follow its advice.  The Government needs to sponsor professional training for planners and engineers involved in designing streets and highways, and its scrutiny of local authority performance needs to include an assessment of whether they are following best practice advice.


HGVs typically account for around 20-25% of cyclists’ fatalities in any given year, and over 50% in London.  Last year, 10 out of 13 cyclists’ deaths in London resulted from collisions with lorries, and two women cyclists were killed by lorries only last week.

The Road Safety Strategy lacks any proposals for tackling this threat to cyclists’ safety.  Action is needed to improve goods vehicle driver awareness of cycling issues, the design of lorries (in particular the fitting of mirrors) and the management of HGV vehicle fleets.

Cycle training

Another measure to encourage “more” as well as “safer” cycling would be to increase the provision of quality cycle training for people of all ages.  The Government-backed “Bikeability” cycle training scheme was initiated by CTC and has now replaced the old cycle proficiency scheme. Evidence suggests it is highly effective in encouraging more people to cycle more often, and to feel more confident when doing so.

Cycle training also has a role to play in helping young people learn to drive, and to ensure they have a good understanding of the safety needs of cyclists.  Police and local authorities are starting to report that people who have done cycle training learn to drive more quickly and become safer drivers, with a better understanding of the needs of cyclists and other road users.  This point has been entirely overlooked by the Driving Standards Agency in its report, also published today, on improving the training and testing of novice drivers, despite strong representations from CTC during earlier consultation.  We will continue to press the Department to give far more serious consideration to the role of cycle training in promoting safe driving.


For more information, interviews or photographs contact CTC’s Press Office on 0844 736 8453 or 07786 320713.

 Notes to editors: 

  • CTC - the UK’s national cyclists' organisation, with 70,000 members and affiliates in 250 clubs across the UK, is the oldest and largest cycling body in the UK, established in 1878. We provide a comprehensive range of services, advice, events, and protection for our members and work to promote cycling by raising public and political awareness of its health, social and environmental benefits. For more information see 
  • CTC’s ‘New Vision for Cycling’, sets out the economic, environmental, health, safety and quality of life benefits of cycling, and describes the measures needed to double cycle use in 10 years while halving the risks of cycling, in order to maximise these benefits.  See 
  • CTC’s ‘Safety in Numbers’ research indicates that cities in England with the highest levels of cycle use are also the safest to cycle in. 
  • There is good evidence that cyclists’ safety improves as cycling levels rise. This effect has been calculated as a 34% decrease in the risk of cycling as cycling doubles ( However there is strong evidence that many places can achieve increases in cycling AND absolute reductions in casualties:  
    1. London has seen a 91% increase in cycling since 2000 and a 33% fall in cycle casualties since 1994-98. This means that cycling is 2.9 times safer than it was previously. 
    2. The Netherlands has witnessed a 45% increase in cycling from 1980-2005 and a 58% decrease in cyclist fatalities.  
  • 20 mph speed limits create a more harmonious balance between motorised and non-motorised road users on our streets. Not only do they create a more attractive and a safer-feeling environment for cycling, studies also show that they make a pronounced contribution to casualty reduction.  
    1. 20 mph zones in Hull, for example, have reduced the number of people killed and seriously injured by 90%.
    2. 20 mph limits also contribute significantly to improving the quality of life. A survey of European best practice by the Commission for Integrated Transport found that where cities have extensive 20 mph or 30 kmh limits — covering between 65 to 85% of the urban road network — they are transformed “from being noisy, polluted places into vibrant, people-centred environments, with significant levels of walking, cycling and public transport.” 
    3. When 30 kmh zones were introduced in Germany, car drivers on average had to change gear 12% less often, use their brakes 14% less often and require 12% less fuel. 
    4. 20 mph limits are also highly popular: in the 2005 British Social Attitudes survey, three-quarters of people said they favoured 20 mph limits in residential areas, including 72% of drivers.