COMMENT & ANALYSIS: A reader recently asked me about the dreadful number of deaths of people killed when cycling in Ireland this year — as others have asked similar questions in our comments section and on social media, I’m going to publish an edited version of my response to his questions:
I don’t like to talk about people who have lost their life as numbers but, for a greater understanding of road safety, it’s important to look at the trends and know if things are getting better or worse. We should, in any case, be aiming for zero deaths.
How does this year compare with previous years?
There’s no getting away from the fact that, with four people killed on our roads when cycling in March of this year, that it was a high number of deaths in a single month. In 2010 and 2013 only five people died in the full year.
The rate of deaths can fluctuate — you can’t confirm trends until you look at a number of years together and some years are outliers (ie some years have a higher number of deaths, but the years before and after are lower). Some years also have a large number of deaths bunched together (ie in the first quarter of the year or at different times) and then relatively few deaths for most of the rest of the year.
The overall trend since the end of the 1980s is a decline in the death rate of cyclists — some of this includes times when the numbers of people cycling was falling. But the current increase in Dublin City since around 2006 has been mirrored by a low yearly death rate — an average of 1.9 deaths across County Dublin in the last 10 years (2007 to 2016).
There is some basic data here: irishcycle.com/collisions/ and IrishCycle.com is working on collecting more detailed data on collisions and their locations. One thing which seem reasonably clear is that high-speed rural roads are over represented in the statistics in recent years.
What can we do about this to make cycling safe?
Better design (high-quality segregation at high-speeds), and law, education, and enforcement on speed and overtaking.
Do we ever find out how the accidents happened and who is to blame?
Yes, we find out after court cases are reported on in the media. IrishCycle.com is looking at the details of fatal collisions but I’m doing this while overworked, so it will take some time to progress it.
Do cyclists cause accidents?
International studies show cyclists are rarely to blame, for example a UK government study found that risky cycling rarely to blame for bike accidents, study finds (Guardian.co.uk).
I hope publishing this as an article and writing about the deaths as numbers does not offend anybody — writing about cycling deaths is the most depressing on this site as I know every one of them was a person who wanted to just get from a to b or who was out for a leisure cycle. Cycling deaths are thankfully low, but we need to aim for zero.