MAYOR JOHNSON – Getting the numbers wrong

Boris+Johnson

There has been justified anger at the absurd – and dangerous – claim by Mayor Johnson  that: “I’ve seen a figure, I think, of 62%, which
is the high proportion of cycling KSIs (killed or seriously injured) that are associated with some infraction by the cyclists themselves of the rules of the
road.”
This has been jumped on with a review of the available evidence showing how wrong this statement is by the CTC . The London Cycling Campaign have also demanded to know the
origins of these supposed “statistics” in a splendid corrective . Ths reaction to Mayor Johnson’s gaffe  here is excellent: but there is more to comment on in this case.

Firstly, it is worthwhile repeating just why Johnson’s comments are dangerous.

The LCC’s Ashok Sinha gets  it right here : “Saying the majority of cyclists are responsible for their own injuries, contrary to the evidence, contributes to a culture that excuses motorists who drive badly,  and undermines the strong case for increasing investment in safer cycling infrastructure.”

(An aside: Actually, it could be said that the case for a safer environment for cyclists is NOT undermined by this nonsense . After all, motorists have always had an environment – whether the car or road environment – made to accept their rule and law breaking, so why shouldn’t “law breaking” cyclists?).

But that is getting pedantic. The point is as Sinha makes it: this nonsense lets motorists off the hook without justification, is a casual display of supposed evidence without justification, as well as insensitively victim blaming.

Is it not too extreme to describe it as incendiary? If ordinary motorists are led to believe that cyclists are at fault,  and not themselves, won’t that tend to reduce pressures towards the need for more careful driving in the vicinity of cyclists?

Secondly, let’s take another look at the evidence.

  1. There are NO published data, either nationally or for London, giving the proportion of injured cyclists who were committing crimes at the time. So we can be absolutely
    certain that the Mayor was talking nonsense in claiming to have seen any such data.
  2. As the CTC and LCC refer to above, the evidence from the TRL: report puts the legal responsibility to be much more likely generally on other road users, mainly private motorists, for road crashes cyclists are hurt or killed in.
  3. The Mayor might have been thinking of what police officers describe as “contributory factors” (CFs). There IS data specifically from London which lists CFs.:

As TfL’s “Factsheet: Pedal cyclist collisions and  casualties in Greater London: September 2011” states:” CFs are assigned to the participants of a collision by the                police and can be highly subjective. They reflect the reporting officer’s opinion at the time of reporting and may not be the result of extensive investigation. Up to six factors can be assigned to a single collision; more than one factor may be assigned to the same road user and the user same factor may relate to more than one road user.”

Let’s stay with this Factsheet, which covers the 3,540 recorded cyclist casualties in 2010: casting an eye over the contributory factors (page 22) we see the following:

(clik on image to see in more detail, also go to www.tfl.gov.uk/roadsafety for factsheets and otherv TfL reports)

It is apparent that contributory factors are far more likely to be assigned to “other vehicle”. The only cases where this is not so are in just 4 types of CF, all at the lower end of occurrences. It is true that the frequently quoted case of disobeying an automatic traffic signal (red light jumping) is more likely to be the CF for a cyclist than a motorist in a collision involving a cyclist, by 61 to 36. But that is in just 61 of 3, 540 cases or 1.7% of cases.

Let’s not forget hat these are figures produced in a Factsheet by Transport for London. Mayor Johnson should be aware of it.

4. Still on this Factsheet, we have the “Common Conflicts”. These refer to the types of manoeuvre by participants in a collision prior to the collision, often referred to as “stick diagrams”. These are not specific legal attributions of blame: most of the categories include legal fault which is not attributable.

If we look at Table 12, which summarizes manoeuvres for collisions resulting in Serious Injury to the cyclist ( a more reliable statistic than Slight Injury which has a far higher proportion of
non-reporting), we can look at the categories where legal fault is attributable: If we look at conflict types where the legal fault is implicitly that of the other road user (generally a car driver), we have:

* Other vehicle turns right across path of P/C:  11%

* P/C hits open vehicle door  or swerves to avoid it: 11%

* Other vehicle turns left across the path of P/C 9%

* Other vehicle fails to give way or disobeys junction control and collides with P/C: 6%

* Other vehicle disobeys junction control and turns right into path of P/C: 5%

* Other vehicle runs into rear of P/C: 5%

* Other vehicle disobeys junction control and turns left into path of P/C: 4%

* Other vehicle reverses into P/C: 1%

These types of manoeuvre alone add up to most of the collisions leading to a cyclist Serious Injury. There are categories such as “P/C and other vehicle travelling alongside each other” (11%) where fault cannot be attributable from this evidence, and may also be to some extent the fault of the other road user.

The case of a pedal cyclist failing to give way or disobeying junction control is just 3% of collisions leading to a cyclist SI.

5.  Transport for London have a Cycle Safety Action Plan, often in fact referred to as the Mayor’s Cycle Safety Action Plan 2010 (CSAP) . This shows a similar distribution of data based on casualties for previous years. Mayor Johnson should know what the CSAP contains.

Getting the numbers wrong can mean getting the wrong message across. Let’s hope the Mayor apologises and gives the true picture as soon as possible.