SWOV Catalogus


The European union’s role in promoting the safety of cycling : proposals for a safety component in a future EU cycling strategy.
20160531 ST [electronic version only]
Townsend, E.
Brussels, European Transport Safety Council ETSC, 2016, 27 p., 67 ref.

Samenvatting This paper builds on recent calls for the European Commission to come forward with a cycling strategy for the European Union. Over the last two years, amongst others: * the Luxembourg EU presidency agreed a ‘Declaration on Cycling’ calling for the European Commission to develop an EU level strategic document on cycling (October 2015); * the European Parliament’s response to the European Commission’s mid-term review of EU transport policy called on the Commission to adopt an EU road map for cycling (September 2015); * the Committee of the Regions issued an opinion on ‘An EU Road Map for Cycling’ (Adoption expected in October 2016); * the Paris Declaration of the Transport, Health and Environment pan-European Programme (PEP) called for ‘a pan-European Master Plan for Cycling Promotion’ (2014). ETSC also supports the need for co-ordinated European action on cycling and would welcome a pan-European strategy. This paper is designed to serve as inspiration for the safety component of such a strategy. Cyclists represent 8% of all road deaths in the European Union but big disparities exist between countries. Cyclists (like pedestrians) are generally unprotected and are vulnerable in traffic. As active travel is being encouraged for health, environmental, congestion and other reasons, the safety of walking and cycling in particular must be addressed urgently. This chapter focuses its recommendations mainly on cycling for commuting or recreation but not for professional sports cycling. An EU cycling strategy should contribute to reaching the EU road safety target to reduce deaths by 50% by 2020. The EU approach to cycling safety should follow the “Safe System Approach” which aims to design the road transport system to accommodate human error and incorporate a full range of strategies for better management of collision forces, addressing infrastructure design, road user behaviours, enforcement and the design of vehicles. This approach is endorsed by the European Commission This paper will look at initiatives within these different areas of action of relevance to cyclist safety. It cannot be fully comprehensive but aims to raise the main priorities for action at EU level. Around 25,000 cyclists were killed between 2004 and 2013 on European roads. In the last ten years all EU countries have seen a reduction in the number of cyclist deaths. However, since 2010 the reduction in the number of cyclist deaths has stagnated with less than a 1% year- to-year reduction in the EU. This slowdown may well be partly related to growing use of bicycles as a form of active travel among EU citizens or possibly related to an active ageing society. An increasing number of EU countries are adopting national strategies to promote cycling, so it is possible that in recent years more people are choosing cycling as a means of transport. However, national cycling strategies should not only encourage cycling, but also promote high safety standards for bicycle users. More than 2,000 cyclist deaths were recorded in traffic collisions in the EU in 2014, many more were seriously injured. More than half of the people seriously injured on the roads are pedestrians or other vulnerable road users involved in a collision in an urban area. ETSC is calling for the setting of an EU-wide serious road injury reduction target and the adoption of measures which would address priority groups including cyclists. A high level of underreporting in the number of nonfatal collisions involving cyclists exists and needs to be addressed so as to have a fuller understanding of the scope of the problem and which measures can be adopted to tackle it. This is noticed when police reporting is compared to hospital records. Moreover, the rate of reporting is much higher for bicycle collisions with motor vehicles involved than for bicycle only collisions. Along with underreporting comes near misses, in London for example, a recent project looked at the number of near misses that regular cyclists encountered. Cycling carries a much greater risk in some EU countries, compared to others. Road deaths per million inhabitants differs by a factor of more than four between the groups of countries with the highest and lowest mortality. Recent analysis from Belgium has evaluated the risk of cycling in comparison to other modes for distance and shows that for all age categories taken together the risk of a serious injury per kilometre travelled is 23 times higher for cyclists than for car drivers. However, this risk drops to around four times when calculated according to time in traffic. This is because, as compared to other road users, cyclists need more time to cover a certain distance.21 The level of cycling deaths could be better evaluated as a function of time or distance taken by bicycle. Risk values provide a better picture of the areas where policies to increase cycle safety should be targeted. However, only The Netherlands, Sweden and Great Britain have reported such data for the last three years, so comparison between all other EU countries on the basis of the risk of cycling by distance travelled was not possible in ETSC’s analysis to date. Although an increase in cycling might, at least at first, lead to an increase in the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured, the advantages of cycling (a healthy life through regular exercise, benefit to the environment and higher quality of life) outweigh their disadvantages (in terms of disability adjusted life years of DALYs). The World Health Organisation (WHO) has published a methodology and user guide for appraising the health economic effects of walking and cycling. Based on this methodology the WHO estimates that anyone cycling 100 minutes or more a week reduces their chance of dying in any year by 10%. Recent research from London also took into account serious injury, however the advantages of cycling outweigh the risks not only for risk of death, but also for morbidity (diseases and injuries). Note though that the net outcome is highest for the oldest age groups, it steadily declines in younger age groups, reaching about zero for the youngest groups in the study. Thus, for younger age groups cycle promotion should also ensure safe cycling conditions. Moreover, cyclists and pedestrians do not endanger other road users as much as car drivers do because of their lower speed and mass. So shifting a substantial proportion of short-distance car trips to walking, cycling and public transport can, if accompanied by measures to reduce the risks of walking and cycling, increase overall road safety. Collisions with passenger cars make up slightly more than half of the total number of cyclist deaths in the EU (52%). Collisions with goods vehicles (including turning) accounted for 7% of all cyclist deaths in 2013. Collisions with buses accounted for 54 cyclists killed in 2013, representing 7% of all deaths in collisions involving a bus/coach. Single bicycle or bicycle with bicycle collisions account on average for 15% of all cyclist deaths in the EU. Due to high levels of underreporting the true figures may be higher. For the EU as a whole, just over half of cyclist deaths occur in urban areas. The highest proportion of cycling deaths in most EU countries are in urban areas. However, in other countries, such as the Netherlands, the location of most non-motorised vehicle bicycle crashes is unknown and not recorded. Fear of traffic is an oft-cited reason for not walking or cycling. UK research has shown that 43% feel that the bicycle is a suitable alternative to the car for short trips of less than two miles, while 54% of Edinburgh residents thought that they should ride a bike more often, and 80% want safer conditions for cyclists. A survey in Transport for London’s Attitudes to Cycling Report in the UK showed that 59% of potential cyclists cite safety concerns as the key barrier to them cycling. Fear of safety risks is a major barrier to the uptake of cycling and introducing safety measures and the fact that cyclist numbers are increasing can help to overcome this fear. Addressing both perceived and objective safety improvements will require slightly different but necessarily coordinated approaches. The European Commission should, in a future EU cycling strategy, stress the importance of providing safe and attractive infrastructure to encourage more cycling. Information about cycle routes can also help in this regard. By providing shorter (direct) or quicker and safer routes for cyclists or by ensuring that the quickest routes are also the safest. Comfort should also be taken into account. Some researchers and observers argue that a motorist is less likely to collide with a person walking and bicycling when there are more people walking or bicycling - the so-called “safety in numbers” effect. The reason for this is not fully understood though possible explanations include: drivers being used to cyclists; cyclists being drivers themselves; or better infrastructure being built in response to an increase in cycling numbers. Wegman suggests “awareness in numbers” to be more fitting. This “safety in numbers” effect has been widely cited and would suggest that the relative risk ratios for cycling are not static but may change in relation to the composition of the different types of road users present in the traffic. However, this may not be so simple and there are different interpretations of the “safety in numbers” effect. The OECD cautions that: care must be taken to not conflate observed correlation with causality when discussing “safety in numbers” as there are numerous different explanations for the observed phenomenon. Wegman, cited in the OECD Report, explains that “If numbers of cyclists are correlated with risks and these numbers are assumed to be the only explanation, we are in error. Large numbers of cyclists in countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany are associated with high densities of bicycle facilities. If not both numbers of cyclists and bicycle facilities are taken into account, the wrong conclusions may be arrived at.” Wegman then questions Jacobsen’s conclusions: “this may be wrong if we simply add numbers of cyclists to the system without adding safety quality, that is to say, risk reducing measures.” The OECD report says that due to the lack of strong evidence on the behavioural or infrastructure-related determinants of “safety in numbers”, it would seem that great care should be taken in using the observed phenomenon as a basis for a bicycle safety policy. And stresses that policies seeking to increase the number of cyclists should be accompanied by robust risk reduction actions within a cycling strategy. Recommendations to the EU: * Promote cycling within the context of health, but with the emphasis on safe use of the roads. Recommendations to member states: * Keep records of the numbers of deaths and serious injuries of cyclists involved in incidents not involving motor vehicles. * Record cycling distance or time travelled exposure data in order to understand cycling risk and assess cycling road safety interventions * Tackle high levels of underreporting in cyclist deaths and injuries. * Develop and use collision maps with cyclists with special focus on turning-accidents between vehicles and cyclists * Include alcohol as collision cause of cyclists, including Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) levels. (Author/publisher)
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