Mythology in the reporting of an injured cyclist

Here’s how to do a bit of reporting which is not just sloppy, but (no doubt unwittingly) contains important prejudices about cycling.

Here we go:


A City worker who helped save the life of a seriously injured cyclist has called on people to sign up for “invaluable” first aid training as the number of similar accidents soars. “

Now, what is this “soaring”?

More than 4,600 people were injured last year — an increase of more than 20 per cent on the year before.”

Firstly, this includes the category known as “Slight Injuries” – which is a highly dubious category to use because of the high rate of non-reporting. Trying to assess a trend (what you need to do if “soaring has – or has not – occurred) involves using the category known as “Serious Injuries”. (Sometimes this “SI” category is called “KSI” to include the 5% or so of Killed and Seriously Injured that result in death before 30 days.)

And has this number “soared” when looked at over a period of years? And looked at in terms of the rise in cycling in London since 2000, has the RATE of Serious Injuries per distance, time or journey travelled “soared”? Actually, it has gone down.


The rate for the job?

Department of Transport figures reveal a huge increase in cycling injuries in London, which has the highest cycling casualty rate in Britain.

Er, no. Looked in terms of a rate which involves exposure (per journey, time travelled or distance covered) the cycling casualty rate has declined significantly since 2000 and is probably the LOWEST cycling casualty rate in Britain. So you have got it the wrong way round.

Is this important? Yes, it is – because this way of thinking is inherently biased against having more people cycling. As far as these characters are concerned, the Netherlands – with a cycling  casualty rate about half as high as the UK, but with far more cycling casualties because they have 15 – 25 times more cycling, has a WORSE casualty “rate” (per head of the population) than the Uk does!



Gemma Tinson had done a St John Ambulance course months before coming to the rescue of the woman who fell off her bike in Richmond Park. ..: “It should be essential for cyclists in London to learn first aid” (my emphasis)

Now, no doubt obtaining First Aid knowledge can be a very socially responsible thing to do. For everybody. But why cyclists? Why not pedestrians (many of us have seen people collapsing in the street and requiring medical help when walking). Or motorists, who are involved in collisions where people get hurt in rather greater numbers than cyclists falling off their bikes, as in the case in this story?

I’m not nit picking here. It just seems that this story is redolent of the “cycling is dangerous” mythology. Remember:

  • Cycling is less dangerous to others than driving is – by a long chalk.
  • Cycling is not inherently hazardous.
  • A lot is needed to be done to reduce danger to cyclists – and other road users – by reducing danger at source, from motor vehicular traffic. But the casualty rate for cyclists in London is low, and has declined. Say so, if it has.

Getting danger reduced for cyclists – and others – should be the objective. This means understanding what is going on and not relying on common mythology.

“The community”

Another bit of mythology

Ashley Sweetland MBE, of the St John Ambulance cycle response unit, said: “We know the London cycling community looks out for each other, which is why we want to equip as many cyclists as possible with the first aid skills to help when the unexpected happens.

What is this “cycling community”? I’m proud to have been a member of cycling clubs and organisations for 35 years. It’s great. But it is largely a sporting or cycle touring community. If we want cycling to be normalised as a form of everyday transport, it will not be a “community” and more than there is a “walking community”.



When I wrote my first response to the Evening Standard piece I didn’t bother to get into the casualty data as I was in a hurry – merely noting that the journalist should have taken the trouble to do so. I have now had a quick look at the most recent data  Casualties in Greater London during 2013 (June 2014), from the TfL web site.

What we see in Table 2 is that for the Pedal cyclists KSI figure (as explained above, KSI is the most reliable for cyclists in London) the  2005 – 2009 average was 420.6 . In 2012 this was a lot higher at  671 , but by last year it had gone down to 489. Now, year-on-year figures don’t tell you much. (Although if you are trying to sensationalise, you could turn the “soaring” into a 27% decline, or “plummeting” from 2012 to 2013.) Comparing last year to the 2005 – 2009 average there has been a 16% increase from 420 to 489 – but then the amount of cycling from the 2005 – 2009 average has probably gone up by a good 16%, if not more.

So that’s, er, a steady or  declining casualty rate. Not “soaring”. Now, the Slight Injuries do show significant increases – but they are notoriously unreliable, and event here  an increase of the order indicated could mean – again – no significant increase in slight injuries per cyclist journey/distance or time travelled from the 2005 – 2009 average until 2013.

For a discussion of how we should try to measure danger, see this post.



1 thought on “Mythology in the reporting of an injured cyclist

  1. Jitensha Oni

    The corollary to your point about first aid is that, given the relative numbers in transit in most parts of London (and the UK) at most times of day, it would make more sense to call for pedestrians and motorists to be trained in first aid to help the injured riders. Or are riders really dalits who have to wait for another to come along to be treated? The “community” quote would seem to suggest so.


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