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Vulnerable Road Users – Are We Heading For a Crisis?

12 August 2021

Catastrophic injury specialist, Ian Slater, reviews the recently published provisional statistics from 2020 on Reported Road Casualties in Great Britain and provides commentary on key statistics. Read the article for more information.

The DfT have recently published provisional statistics from 2020 on Reported Road Casualties in Great Britain.

Clearly the picture has been impacted heavily as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the various periods of lockdown which have resulted in an overall decrease in the number of casualties (of all severities) of 25% when compared between 2019 and 2020.

For the purpose of this article, however, I am going to focus on vulnerable road users as the publication contains quite a lot of information in relation to cyclists and I have previously written about the dangers surrounding the use of e-scooters.
The headline within the report is that cyclist casualty rates saw the greatest percentage decrease (34%) as compared to all other road user types. As a headline I was surprised by that as anecdotally my impression is that far more people have been cycling during lockdown than had previously been the case.
Delving further into the statistics, therefore, it becomes apparent that cyclist traffic increased by 46% in 2020 as compared to 2019 (whereas motor vehicle traffic decreased by 21%). The actual number of pedal cyclists casualties was very similar between 2019 and 2020 (16,884 in 2019 as compared with 16,230 in 2020) and fatalities amongst pedal cyclist increased to 140 in 2020 as compared with 100 in 2019.
It is, therefore, only against that 46% increase in cyclist traffic that the decrease in casualty rates is to be measured: the number of cyclist casualties remained broadly flat notwithstanding the fact that 21% fewer motor vehicles were on the road.
So what does all this mean going forward?
If the trend towards increased cycling traffic is maintained then it would seem that there is every possibility that there will be an increase in the number of cyclist casualties. I say that because the number of accidents remained flat between 2019 and 2020 whilst there was a reduced number of vehicles on the road. If the number of vehicles returns close to previous levels with an increased number of cyclists then it could well spell dangers for cyclists being in close proximity to motor vehicles.
Quite whether it is possible to translate the statistics in such a stark fashion as to suggest that the 2020 levels of cycling will be maintained is open to debate. As I stare out at the rain pouring down I suspect that many of the 'lockdown' cyclists will, to some extent, return to their vehicles and, therefore, there will be a reduction in cyclist traffic when comparing 2020 to 2021. 
Having said that, given the Government's strategy to encourage more active commuting (allied of course to changes to the Highway Code) then it seems to me that there is still a very real prospect that we will see an increase in the numbers of vulnerable road users who are travelling (at least in the short to medium term) in close proximity with motor vehicles.
There is only ever going to be one winner when a cyclist or e-scooter rider comes into contact with a motor vehicle. Having cyclists and e-scooter riders in close proximity to motor vehicles is, in my opinion, a recipe for disaster.
We need more in the way of the compulsory wearing of helmets (and not all helmets are made equal) and, rather than proposals for the future, an urgent recalibration of road / transport design to keep the vulnerable away from those cocooned in their metal boxes.
If you require any further information, please contact Ian Slater or your usual DWF contact.

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