Lorries ARE dangerous, but there’s a lot more to consider!

Currently a vivid discussion about HGV’s threat to bicycle safety is going on. A major reason for this is a series of fatal accidents in London internet.twitter_capture
In the wake of this discussion, the European Cyclist’s Federation (ECF) published a blog post internet by the organization’s Safety Policy Officer, Ceri Woolsgrove. He investigated the ratio between distance travelled and number of fatal accidents within London for HGVs and buses respectively. The results, although based on “lukewarm data”, interestingly show that HGVs are at least three times more often involved in fatal bicycle accidents than buses. The following points have become (once again) important to me:

  • Data availability is critical! Political and technical decisions – such as a general ban of HGVs in city centers, safer road design or technical standards and safety regulations for vehicles – are being made on a rather weak data basis. This looks pretty bad from a scientific point of view, but apart from this, it’s about human lives!
  • Safety concerns are valid. A major argument for people against using their bicycle for utilitarian trips is a widely adopted fear of being involved in an accident. If cities want to increase the bicycle’s modal split – and there are numerous good reasons for it! – a safe environment is a key factor.
  • A multi disciplinary collaboration is required. I’m totally convinced that enough technology and methodology has been developed in various fields which could/should be utilized for a better understanding of bicycle safety and for better decisions in this context. In a recent book chapter I’ve provided a collection of spatial applications, which could help to improve bicycle safety (pre-print can be found here internet). I’m sure designers, statisticians, programmers, psychologists and many more, who are not at the “natural” core of mobility research have a lot to say and should actively contribute to integrated safety strategies.

Apart from this foundational associations and conclusions, I became curious about the situation in the town I live. In a previous blog post internet I’ve already presented some details from an accident database from Salzburg (Austria), which comprises 3,048 geo-located police reports. Here is how the situation actually was in Salzburg during the last decade (data from 2002-2011):

Bicycle accidents in Salzburg (Austria), n = 3,048.

Bicycle accidents in the city of Salzburg (Austria), n = 3,048.

Although this statistical analysis suffers from several limitations (e.g. no statistical population, sample size for subgroups etc.), interesting conclusions can be drawn from this overview.
First, a severe under-reporting becomes obvious: primarily accidents with material damage and/or physical injury are reported. Consequently the injury category “uninjured”, for example, does not contain single bike crashes (SBC).
Second, by far most accidents occur on residential roads where bicycle infrastructure (separated bicycleways or at least on-road bicycle lanes) is widely missing.
Third, fortunately the number of fatal bicycle accidents is comparable low. Hence the sample size is too small to conclude that HGVs are significantly more dangerous than other vehicles. Nevertheless the relative share of large HGVs is around 37%.
Fourth, we must not forget the bicyclist as risk factor. This has nothing to do with victim blaming internet! But the second highest number of accidents where the bicyclist is injured are single bike crashes.

There might be plenty more implications and without any doubt, there is a lot more to do for better, that is – among others – safer, road environments. But analysis such as the one presented by Ceri Woolsgrove are an important starting point for evidence-based decisions and targeted actions.

Any comments, questions, additional insights or specific experiences? I’m looking forward to your feedback!

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