Yesterday, the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) and the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment published the latest road traffic fatality figures for the Netherlands. The press release reads as follows.
In 2013, 570 people died in road accidents in the Netherlands. That is 80 fewer than the previous year, a decrease of over 12 percent. The decrease is significantly stronger than the European average of 8 percent. Particularly among motorcyclists, but also among car occupants, cyclists and pedestrians, there were fewer fatalities.
In 2013, 29 motorcyclists were killed in a traffic accident. In 2012 that was 56. This significant decrease occurred especially among 30 to 60-year-old motorcyclists. The number of fatalities for drivers and passengers of private motor vehicles fell by 39 and was 193 in total. Almost half of these deaths were caused by a collision with another motor vehicle.
The number of cyclists killed in traffic has decreased by 8 percent, from 200 in 2012 to 184 in 2013. Especially among children younger than 15 years, the number fell. In 2013, five young cyclists died, a year earlier that was 13. Fatalities among pedestrians fell from 68 to 56.
Such a significant decrease sounds like good news. However, to some that number of 184 cycling deaths may seem like an awful lot for such a small country with just 16.8 million inhabitants. To put it in perspective you have to bear in mind that the Dutch cycle incredibly much and that that distance is also increasing. According to CBS Netherlands, the distance cycled in the years from 2010 to 2012 was 13.7 billion kilometres. This increased to 14.8 billion kilometres in 2012. Which makes the risk of a fatal accident per kilometre cycled very low and also much lower than in most other countries.
The Dutch Fietsersbond (Cyclists’ Union) published the following comments.
The past two years the number of cycling casualties remained constant at 200, that the death toll is now decreasing again is a good development. But for the Cyclists’ Union this is no reason to be really satisfied. The Netherlands has in fact returned to the level of 2009, and every fatal accident causes a great deal of grief. The Cyclists’ Union urges municipalities and the minister to take action together with the Union to improve road safety.
A major concern is the high number of cycling casualties among the elderly. 67% of people who die on the bicycle are older than 60. This is probably partly caused by the fact that older people continue to cycle longer. On balance this is positive for public health, but it also causes problems. However, director Hugo van der Steenhoven of the Cyclists’ Union remains very convinced: “Cycling is still safe and healthy for all ages, but every fatality is one too many. As Cyclists’ Union we cannot and will not accept that so many people are killed while riding their bicycles. We demand an improvement of the situation on the Dutch roads and bike paths in a number of ways, and we have already actively contributed to this for many years.”
Cyclists who die in traffic are usually victims of a collision with a motorized vehicle such as a car, a tractor, a scooter or a bus. In recent years, the Cyclists’ Union took the initiative to equip cars with a so-called “bicycle airbag”. Recently this innovation won an important award in the field of road safety.
Van der Steenhoven thinks there is much more to win with innovations. “You can see that the technology is there to make cars intelligent, so you can control speeds better. That would already make a difference. We are also involved in studies into a better design of bicycle paths, so single-vehicle accidents occur less frequently. These are small steps, but they do help.”
The figures in these publications are only about traffic fatalities. There are reports that the number of cycle injuries is increasing. But that is not what these press releases were about.
Biking Safety Numbers in Chicago
I’ve just read the ATA blog post about Bobby Cann’s death (so maddening). The article opens by stating that “[i]n Chicago there are on average 12 people killed each year while biking.” I have often wondered about the relative safety of biking versus driving in Chicago. Has anyone worked up these numbers? In other words, I am wondering whether it is safer to bike in Chicago or to drive here. This means I am curious about how the estimated number of bikers and biker deaths per year compares to the estimated number of drivers in Chicago and driver deaths per year here. Has anyone done any work on this?
The population of Chicago is around 2.715 million:
- Chicago Population Growth: Census Data Shows Windy City (HuffingtonPost)
- Chicago Population 2013 (World Population Statistics)
Given that the population of the Netherlands is 16.8 million and last year 184 cyclists were killed in traffic, that is roughly 10.95 deaths per million population. Now Chicago had about 12 cyclists killed in traffic for its 2.715 million in population. That equates to about 4.42 deaths per million.
Now here is my question. Given that the Netherlands are far more developed as a cycling culture than ours. Why is their death rate per million so high? Some would try and explain this away by talking about the number of miles traveled. That of course means that there is a prolonged window of vulnerability for their riders. But one would think that the improved efficiency of their bicycle infrastructure would counteract this? But evidently this is not the case.
So is there any real advantage to trying to emulate them if “safety” is our aim? Someone would need to explain why their actual safety numbers are so high before I could understand why the expense of more bicycle infrastructure would be worth the cost.