Is cycling getting more dangerous?

Shane Sutton (left) and Bradley Wiggins Shane Sutton (left) and Bradley Wiggins were both involved in collisions that left them injured

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After cycling champion Bradley Wiggins and British cycling head coach Shane Sutton were caught up in collisions with cars within hours of each other, how sure can cyclists be that they are safe on Britain's roads? And what can they do to protect themselves?

Just hours apart, two high-profile cyclists experienced first hand the dangerous side of the sport they love.

Reports came in on Wednesday night that Bradley Wiggins, the Olympic gold medallist and Tour de France winner, had been involved in a crash near a petrol station near Wigan, Lancashire. He suffered bruising.

And on Thursday came the news that Shane Sutton, the GB cycling head coach, had bleeding on the brain after a bike crash in the Manchester suburb of Levenshulme. He is still in hospital.

BBC sports news correspondent Dan Roan says it is "astonishing" that the pair suffered the same fate in separate incidents within hours of each other.

And cycling fans agree - many have taken to Twitter in the past 24 hours to describe their shock that two cyclists at the top of their game could be left in hospital.

Although this was undoubtedly an unfortunate coincidence, the incidents suggest that even the most experienced cyclists are not immune to the dangers of Britain's roads.

But just how dangerous is cycling? And is it becoming less safe?

'Not pleasant'

John Meudell, South East representative for CTC, the national cycling charity, says: "Cycling has become more dangerous because of the number of vehicles on the road - it has become more intimidating because motorists give you less and less room.

"One thing it isn't these days is pleasant."

'Life-threatening injuries'

Nigel Barclay, 45, from Banstead, Surrey, suffered life-threatening injuries when he was knocked off his bike by a car in March this year.

"I sustained two broken legs, my pelvis was broken in two places, my arm was broken, my elbow was smashed and I had multiple skull fractures," he says.

Mr Barclay suffered brain damage and is now deaf in one ear and partially sighted in one eye.

"I spent 12 days on life support. They were saying to my wife that they didn't know if I would survive or not," he says.

The teenage driver's punishment was four points on his licence, and Mr Barclay says the magistrates "let us down horrendously".

He adds: "The message it puts out is that it's OK to knock a cyclist off."

Figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) show that last year 107 cyclists were killed on British roads. In 2010, that figure was 111. It is likely most were male, the DfT says.

But since 2004, the figures show a gradual decline in the number of fatalities, which would suggest that the roads are becoming a safer place for those on two wheels.

However, a look at the figures for deaths and injuries combined paints a slightly different picture.

Although that figure hovered at about 16,000 between 2004 and 2008, since then it has steadily risen. Last year it was 19,215 - 2,030 more than in 2010.

And, according to figures collated by the Times - which has run a high-profile cycle safety campaign since one of its reporters was hit by a lorry and left in a coma - 104 cyclists have been killed so far this year. It is a figure the DfT cannot confirm but the newspaper says that this year's death toll looks set to overtake last year's.

Mr Meudell, who lives in Dorking, Surrey, and has been cycling for 50 years, says he believes a lack of interest "at all levels of government" has caused the roads to become increasingly dangerous.

"It is complacency on the part of the highways establishment," he says.

"Despite all the statements that they are improving, they are doing the opposite. The only way we are going to have progress is to have an independent inspectorate of roads like they have in America."

'Sorry, I didn't see you'

Roger Geffen, campaigns and policies director at the same charity, is concerned about a different type of complacency - among drivers.

"We see this sort of attitude that when drivers hit cyclists or indeed pedestrians... that it's just somehow an accident, it's somehow carelessness," he says.


  • 2011: 107
  • 2010: 111
  • 2009: 104
  • 2008: 115
  • 2007: 136
  • 2006: 146
  • 2005: 148
  • 2004: 134

Source: Department of Transport

"The legal system doesn't adequately respond. I know so many cases - whether it's eight-year-olds, 80-year-olds, champions, children, whatever - cyclists of all ages and backgrounds and all levels of skill, being hit by drivers who then sort of say, 'Sorry mate, I didn't see you'."

He says the courts treat it as such and drivers "get slapped wrists".

"We shouldn't be accepting that sort of attitude," he says.

However, cyclists can also be to blame, sometimes by breaking the law.

The Institute of Advanced Motorists found that 57% of cyclists had jumped a red light at least once, with 14% doing it regularly or sometimes, in an online poll of 1,600 people earlier this year.

It found the main reason given was because it was safer to get ahead of other traffic but more than half of those polled (54%) also felt cyclists needed to improve their behaviour.

Brian MacDowall, spokesman for the Association of British Drivers, says safety depends on respect and responsibility on the part of all road users.

"Putting blame on one type of road user will not help make the roads safer," says Mr MacDowall, himself an avid cycling fan.

Former British cyclist Michael Hutchinson, now a journalist at Cycling Weekly, highlights a different approach.

"There have been suggestions that perhaps the driving test could include not only more instruction on cyclists but perhaps even a cycling module where new drivers have to pass a cycling test before they're allowed to drive a car," he says.

Cycling safety

  • Make eye contact with drivers so you are sure they have seen you
  • Fit a bell or horn to your bicycle, and use it to alert other road users
  • Show motorists what you plan to do in plenty of time - always look and signal before you start, stop or turn
  • Don't cycle too close to the kerb - further into the road you will avoid drain covers and roadside debris, and on narrow roads it can prevent dangerous overtaking by drivers
  • Be aware there are blind spots all around large vehicles - it's often safer to hang back
  • Do not use headphones or a mobile phone while cycling
  • Always wear bright clothing in the day, and reflective gear at night. It is against the law not to use lights in the dark
  • Road safety charity Brake advises wearing a helmet

Sources: NHS Choices, Transport for London, Brake

According to CTC, the national cycling charity, which quotes figures from the 2001 census, 43% of the population own or have access to a bicycle, while about 750,000 use a bike to get to work. However, these figures are no doubt much higher now.

Kaya Burgess, who is leading the Times's Cities Fit for Cycling campaign, is in no doubt that much more needs to be done to keep cyclists safe.

"It's awful that it takes such high-profile accidents for cycling safety to be so high up the agenda, but what we are calling for is that the roads in Britain just need to be improved for cyclists," he says.

He says that until this happens we will only see more incidents.

Road Safety Minister Stephen Hammond says cycle safety is "very much at the heart of transport policy".

"The government is fully committed to encouraging cycling and improving safety and recently launched the first THINK! cyclist campaign," he says.

"We have also invested £30m to tackle dangerous junctions for cyclists and are giving more than £1bn to councils to design solutions appropriate to their local transport challenges, including improving their road infrastructure to encourage cycling.

"We have also made it simpler for councils to put in place 20mph limits and install mirrors to improve the visibility of cyclists at junctions. We will continue to work with our partners, including British Cycling, to do everything possible to encourage cycling and improve safety."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    I would love to cycle to work, It is only 6 miles and I need the exercise. Petrol costs only ever go up and my employer even offers incentives to cycle. This is still not enough to convince me after seeing how motorists treat cyclists these days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    I'm depressed at how much *actively* anti-cyclist sentiment there is in these comments.

    I both drive and cycle every week. Some drivers are inconsiderate. Some cyclists are inconsiderate. The key difference is that an inconsiderate cyclist is less likely to kill or seriously injure a motorist.

    It is this difference in perspective that makes cyclists react aggressively to near misses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    I don't think so. There'll be more cyclists injured by car drivers as cycling becomes more popular. The number of car drivers injured by cyclists will stay about the same though.

    I'd like to see the max unladen weight for vehicles around built-up areas lowered well below the half-tonne so that drivers can't carry as much armour. They won't look until they're at risk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    The first question is was Bradleys Wiggins bike lawfully on the road, There are laws relating to Cyclists (which most seem to ignore) Did he have a red reflector to the rear a white one at the front did his pedals have reflectors did his wheels spokes have white reflectors and the big one was he on the road or LIKE many cyclists now on the Public Footpath. Was he speeding ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    I'm 16. I can't drive. I live in a rural area. My bike is how I get places that are too far to walk. I've been almost hit almost every time I go out. People driving just don't pay attention to cyclists. My nearest miss was a horse box which decided to overtake with a car coming the other way.The only people that overtake properly just don't want to break their cars. This has happened once (an AM)

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Cycling is not dangerous. Crashing is dangerous. But very many of the cycling population lack road sense and are utterly ignorant about the Highway Code. We provide cycle lanes, they still ride on the pavement. They ignore red lights, pedestrian crossings & one-way signs. They're a danger to themselves and other road users - including the responsible cyclists who obey the rules. So they crash.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    While we're bashing two wheelers, we must not forget the idiot motorcyclists on the motorways zipping between lanes to overtake. And at motorway speeds, that really is dangerous. I've seen quite a few near misses involving these clowns. Its bad enough that someone could get hurt, but if I hit one, I get screwed on insurance for 5 years and could even get charged with manslaughter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Is the BBC capable of being any more simplistic?

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Of course cycling is getting more dangerous.
    They aren't encased in two tons of metal and plastic, when they speed. do red lights, undertake, tailgate and ignore pedestrian crossings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Force cyclists to take out compulsory insurance, just like every other road user

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    Anyone who has driven a lorry knows that there are idiotic adult cyclists (you know, the ones that insist upon sidling up the nearside of a lorry indicating left at the lights when there clearly isn't room).

    Anyone who is a regular cyclist will have been cut up by drivers pulling out of a side road - many will have had very close scrapes where drivers overtake with insufficient room.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    There is already a sufficiently safe measure in place - it is called 'The Highway Code'. There are bad drivers out there who do now make allowances for cyclists. However, there are an equal number of bad cyclists who ignore red lights and pedestrians on crossings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Most are fine but there is a growing group of cyclists who use their ride to and from work as a 'training ride'. They're too busy concentrating on themselves. All road users have a duty to avoid accidents. Assuming you are fine because you have right of way is a death sentence. Car drivers need to 'Think Bike'. Cyclists need to Think Car. ALL road users need to use defensive driving techniques.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    If someone was getting angry or threatening with a firearm or knife, that person would be risking a lengthy prison sentence.

    The same should be true for someone behind the wheel. Driving is not a right, its a priviledge for those who are able to drive properly and control their temprement

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Post 50 - cycling is a mode of transport invented before the modern day car.

    Rubbing sticks together was a means of making fire before matches.

    Time moves on....

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Black humour but it was reported on the radio that the person who knocked BW off his bike was a 'Lady' driver, that half of the Lancashire Constabulary turned out (never turn up when there is real trouble), that the distressed 'lady' driver was asked by the police 'do you know who you hit ?

    Seriously, as a car driver you couldn't pay me to ride a bike on UK's roads today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    To use my car I had to pass a driving test. I must pay Road Tax and also be insured. My car has to display a number plate so that its owner can be easily identified. Cyclists need do none of these things. Most cyclists are responsible but it only takes a few to run red lights or use the pavement to sour relationships with motorists (and pedestrians). They have rights but few responsibilities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    It's just so annoying for drivers following these Sunday morning cyclists riding in full Peloton mode. Show some regard to those on the way to work at weekends. Riding 4 abreast on B Roads because your not going to work is just selfish and not very safe. Shame on you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    My partner and I carefully cycle to work each day in Lancashire, partly on the A6. We've both been knocked off our bikes on the A6 by drivers pulling directly into our path, and were lucky to escape with minor injuries each time. Provision of a proper bike lane would help prevent these accidents in the future. If more people cycled as a result it would ease the traffic jams. Glad Shane&Bradley OK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Cyclists have a right to use the roads as much as motorists. However, motorists are made to carry a licence, have insurance and a vehicle that is safe (MOT). Cyclists use a mechanical device to get around. They should be insured, bikes inspected and have some form of ID so that if they ride recklessly they can be identified as easily as a car with a number plate. Lights should be mandatory to.


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