Thursday, 4 October 2012

London Cycling Accident Statistics

Recently, London mayor Boris Johnson has had to backpedal (no pun intended) on cycling statistics.

The article is well worth reading, I think. Some highlights:

"London mayor's claim that two-thirds of bad cycling accidents were due to cyclist law-breaking is proved to be utterly false. Where's the apology?"

"TfL... figures show that in accidents were a cyclist was killed or badly hurt the cyclist was presumed to have committed an offence in just 6% of cases. The vehicle driver was assumed to have done so 56% of the time while 39% of the time it wasn't clear."

"Not only are cyclists an outgroup, they're also a minority outgroup. Moreover, they are engaging in an activity that is deemed slightly inappropriate in a culture that... views cycling as anti-conventional and possibly even infantile.... It's easy to identify other minority outgroups whose behaviour similarly challenges social norms but who do not get verbally and physically attacked... : vegetarians, for example."

To see a statistic that shows cyclists are almost 1/10th as much to blame for serious crashes as motorists - well, it's a shocking statistic to say the least.

What can we in the US learn from this? Well, unless London cyclists are incredibly careful and law-abiding, unless London drivers are unusually bad, or unless London's police are biased towards cyclists (none of which I believe for a second because, having lived and cycled in London, I've had experience with all three), it suggests to me that the general consensus among cyclists here in the US - that fault in collisions is split pretty much evenly between cyclists and motorists - might need closer scrutiny.

For a while now, it's seemed quite clear to me that there's a lot of 'outgroup'-fueled anti-cyclist and pro-motorist bias in the US legal system and even in the system that produces crash studies, but until now I hadn't seen any evidence to suggest that my opinion might have some validity. I think perhaps the difference in the statistics between the US and the UK might have to do with the fact that, in the UK, 'SMIDSY' (Sorry Mate I Didn't See You) is much more likely to be regarded as evidence of motorist fault than it is here in the US. I think that needs to change in the US - when a motorist hits another road user and then claims he didn't see him, that is not an excuse - it's an admission of guilt.


  1. Just had another "Single Witness Suicide Swerve" fatal in Albuquerque. Like Ian says.....

    1. Yeah. I wish I knew the trick to avoiding those. I mean, all of a sudden, my bike lurches 4ft sideways (must be some sort of mechanical problem), or I feel a sudden uncontrollable urge to do an emergency instant turn to the left from the right lane. Luckily there's been no car behind me when it has happened.

      Seriously though, the idea that a cyclist will suddenly swerve over 3 feet (the lateral distance that motorists are urged to leave cyclists as they overtake) is ridiculous. I think probably the most I've ever wobbled or swerved is two feet, when avoiding a manhole cover, but even then I'm not sure it was technically a sudden 'swerve' - more like a slow meander left, and if motorists get surprised by that, they have issues. One time, my rear wheel seized up and I managed to retain control with less than a foot of wobble. The idea that a cyclist will suddenly swerve over 3ft to the left is ridiculous, and shows a complete ignorance of how cycling even works - heck, it's hard to just suddenly force the bike that far off course. The most ridiculous aspect of it is that police and courts still buy that excuse. It's the motorist's version of the 'Twinkie Defense'.

  2. I must share that poster. It speaks to some comments I made on another forum a few minutes ago, that there are exactly two reasons why a motorist cannot see me when I'm riding my bike (given that I am a "take the lane" guy, and I usually wear lighter colors regardless of whether I'm on the bike): That motorist either didn't look or has a vision impairment such that s/he has no business at the wheel of a motor vehicle. Neither are my fault, although I do what I can to help others see me. Both are the fault of the motorist. The only other reasons imply dishonesty on the motorist's part.

    1. Yeah. I think there's a third option - that the motorists looks, sees, but somehow the information doesn't trigger any conscious reaction in the brain. It kind of reminds me of a saying my mum used to use, "There's none so blind as those that won't see". This is why I argue against cyclists who suggest that getting eye contact with motorists is important at intersections. I learned very quickly that eye contact means nothing in 1986, when a driver looked right at me for a few seconds as I approached an intersection she was waiting at, then pulled right into my path as I was passing her - that was one of three REALLY close calls I've had in my life. Since then, I don't bother to find out where drivers are looking.

      I think one of the most interesting things about the general attitude of non-cyclists towards cyclists is the way they tend to deride colorful cycling clothing and urge cyclists to ride far right or off the road altogether. Following both of these pieces of advice would tend to decrease cyclist visibility in a situation in which visibility is most important in preventing collisions. I often wonder if there's an ulterior motive lurking somewhere in these folks' subconscious. On the other hand, I'm not sure the average person's subconscious is complex enough to be that Machiavellian.

      I'm not big into wearing bright colors, but I recognize their usefulness in situations when visibility is reduced, which is why I carry a reflective vest for low-visibility conditions.

    2. Good point regarding the lack of trigger. Like the two I mentioned, it is the fault of the driver in question, rather than my error. I still have to watch for it, of course, but watching for not being seen as standard operating procedure happens to cover all three options (I'm wont to wear gloves from in busy areas or in low-light situations, and can wave one hand to help get attention).

      It took me a moment to see what you meant about derision of colorful clothing and visibility, but, yes, I agree with you. I wasn't parsing the sentence correctly at first read. I have gotten away from the team replica jerseys, in the main--indeed, I've usually preferred single-color jerseys or bold patters without advertising, save for jerseys from events I've ridden. My most common cycling shirts were bought from discount stores' athletic departments, simply because they are easy enough to see and cheaper than cycling-specific wear.