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.
One thing is clear the majority of accidents take place at junctions. That could mean Motorists cutting Cyclists off while turning a corner at speed and not looking left to see if a Cyclist was going straight ahead. It is easy to say you should move to the right a metre in order for the Motorist to see you before they turn left. Unfortunately Motorists still try to cut you off, it has happened to me.
The other situation is people trying to race the Lights at Junctions when they are on yellow, sometimes it has already gone red for two seconds and they still insist on Accelerating through them. This happens a lot during rush hour in mornings causing cars crashing into each other and presumably Cyclists also
Another situation is Pinch points where there are Islands on fairly narrow Roads where cars try to rush through the the gap while a Cyclist is trying to pass through. You should try to keep out in order to stop them forcing you aside, although this does not work all the time because a Motorist rushes ahead of you through the Pinch point.
The other spot is on Slip Roads with Motorists cutting Cyclists off also Pedestrians. The main problem is speeding ,if they slowed down they could avoid a lot of accidents. That is why the 30kph Limit is so important in Dublin,it saves lives.
A nice summary of the main forms of dangerous driver behaviour that commuting cyclists (as well as pedestrians and other motorists) have to deal with daily, but which is almost never mentioned in the print or broadcast media. Stand at any major junction and count how many drivers gun their engines in an effort to get through just before or after the light turns red. It seems that in the eyes of many it is far worse for a cyclist to break a red light or have the gall to cycle on the road while a (invariably glass-strewn) cycle lane is available than any of these driver actions that directly lead to the deaths of others.
We need somehow to attempt to steer the narrative to highlight these blatant double-standards in media reporting and commentary relating to cycling away from the focus on a few cyclists being jerks and towards the fact that mothers, fathers, sons and daughters are dying because of inconsiderate and belligerent behaviour by certain drivers.
Cian…..good work here, which needs further exposition. We in Cyclist.ie will be raising the issues with RSA, in particular when one looks at accident details as outlined in Guardian link, but also there is research out there which shows that head injuries in all other modes are higher than in cycling. Check out US article here – http://www.howiechong.com/journal/2014/2/bike-helmets
Thanks Cian and the responders so far for good comments. We have got to get the DoTTAS/Garda/RSA axis to accept that Vision-Zero is quite achievable for cyclists’ KSIs and then develop appropriate policy responses to get to Vision-Zero for cyclists’ fatalities and serious injuries. I don’t think they accept that the majority of impacts with riders occur at junctions and the drivers are mostly responsible.
I have said often that cyclists do not throw themselves at HGVs in order to die!
Why is it easy to approach Vision-Zero?
Quite simply the kinetic energy is a lowly bicycle weighing approx.15 kg and pootling along at 10 km/h does not do much harm to the rider if things go wrong. It is the impacts from 20,000 kg vehicles doing 50 km/h that maim and kill people who cycle.
The focus of enforcement has to be on the misused kinetic energy inherent in mechanically propelled vehicles.
To illustrate the point about Junctions , I think the Junctions of Howth Road ,Malahide Road and Fairview at Marino Mart is terribly dangerous . As witnessed by the Flowers left on the Trees outside Fairview Pk. Someone in cars must have rushed the Lights and crashed while going through the Junctions , Howth Road and Malahide Road and meeting with another Car or Cars either coming from Clontarf or the City. One Car ended up crashing into a Tree outside the Park.
There is more Flowers on the Railings of Tolka Bridge Annesley Bridge road with its Junction with East Wall Road scene of another accident. Then of course there is the Collision of a Car hitting a Cyclist at Marino Mart where a Lunatic zig zagging hit a Cyclist.
John Power, unfortunately the flowers at the Howth Road/Fairview junction are likely for a cyclist, Eugene Maher, who was mown down in a hit-and-run in 2015. This case highlights the lack of importance being attached to death on the roads by the justice system. To be fair, the Gardai got their man, but the courts let us all down. Despite the driver being disqualified (for the fourth time!) and uninsured, witnesses evidence that the car was speeding with a passenger hanging out the window, and the fact they left the scene and abandoned the car, he was only given two and a half years and a 15 year ban, which he will no doubt ignore. Regardless of whether cyclists are involved we, as a society, have to take this more seriously. Use of the word “accident” and “collision” imply a passivity that lets us all off the hook. We need to face up to the fact that the roads are the one place in our lives where we have the ability to kill and be killed. The short sentences and slaps on the wrist given out by the courts on a regular basis reflect an attitude that road crime isn’t really crime and, sure, it could happen to any of us. I’m not necessarily arguing for prison sentences in all cases but there needs to be a commitment to making sure the right message is give in every case. Maybe that might be through some sort of restorative/community response or through effective, enforced lengthy bans, but something needs to change. The system needs to be clear that driving is a privilege, not a right.