Are cyclists a bigger threat to pedestrians than motor vehicles?

February 3, 2009

Photo by gρtwıรtɛd used under license

We routinely hear how dangerous cyclists are to pedestrians. We’re constantly cycling recklessly along pavements, through parks and running red lights. Last week the government published figures showing that as a pedestrian you are 263 times more likely to be killed by a motor vehicle than by a bicycle.

In the last ten years, just over 7,600 pedestrian were killed by motor vehicles while 29 were killed by cyclists. Over the same period, 364,000 pedestrians were injured by motor vehicles, almost 76,000 (or 21%) of them seriously while cyclists injured just over 2,600 with roughly the same proportion (22%) being considered serious.

The big difference of course is that motor vehicles tend to be a little bigger and travelling a little faster than the average cyclist. When you look at the relationship between deaths and serious injuries you see that for every ten serious injures caused by motor vehicles there is one death whereas for every 19 serious injuries caused by cyclists there is one death.

So, unless you’ve still got your training wheels on, get off the pavement, obey the traffic laws and stop giving the public another (wrong) reason to hate us.

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31 Responses to “Are cyclists a bigger threat to pedestrians than motor vehicles?”


  1. [...] close to home for this blog, another WordPress blog! Stats on pedestrian deaths from Jolly Olde. Are cyclists a bigger threat to pedestrians than motor vehicles? Yep, you’re 263 times more likely to die from getting hit by a car than a bicycle. I track the [...]

    • Michael Murphy Says:

      What a stupid statistic .Were the pedestrians hit by cars walking along the pavement .No they were not ,but you can be sure they were when they were hit by a bike

      • Tony Says:

        Perhaps if you knew the facts you would not have made those statements. Of the roughly 600 pedestrians a year killed by motor vehicles about 45 a year (7.5%) are hit and killed on the pavement or verge.

        Of the average 2.2 pedestrians killed a year by bicycles about 0.25 (one every four years – 11.4%) were hit on the pavement or verge.

        So its not a stupid statistic at all and your assertions are wrong.

        Also one difference is that quite a lot of pavements are signed for shared use with cyclists. They are not signed for shared use with motor vehicles.

  2. sexify Says:

    I’m staggered the number of pedestrians killed by cyclists is so high. Almost 3 people every year? I find that difficult to believe.

    I want to hear more about the circumstances. What manner of cyclist? What were pedestrian and cyclist doing at the time of the crash?


  3. [...] Are cyclists a bigger threat to pedestrians than motor vehicles? [...]

  4. Rachel Says:

    I live in San Francisco in a neighborhood with bike lanes. I walk a lot. I have 2 dogs & am frequently walking around with my 2-year-old god daughter.

    Still, I frequently almost get hit by bikes – bikes on sidewalks, bikes in crosswalks, bikes zipping through red, bikes against the walk sign.

    I’m fast, fit & I pay attention. And I follow the traffic laws. I’m medium to tall & I’ve got a kid &/or two dogs increasing my visibility. Yet I get almost hit on a weekly basis. This week twice.

    Frequently cyclists – instead of the universal my bad signal – yell or laugh at me.

    Now switch me out with a little old lady or someone in a wheelchair or a way-pregnant woman or someone on crutches.

    Voila! Cyclist on pedestrian accidents.

    Yes, cyclists can & do injure pedestrians.

  5. richard Says:

    A lifelong friend of mine was killed this past Tuesday in NYC (April 28, 2009) when he was run over by a messenger on a bicycle near his office on 42nd Street and 5th Avenue. He suffered a serious head trauma and despite all efforts passed away yesterday at 49 leaving a wife and 2 children. So YES, many bicyclists especially those flying around trying to make a living can be very dangerous indeed…..so watch out when you are walking.

  6. Tony Says:

    For the person that asked the 3 pedestrians a year on average killed in a collision with a cyclist are on the road. On the pavement its about one every four years. The ratio for injuries is about the same. So it is likely that much of this is hitting pedestrians crossing the road or stepping out into the road without looking. Its definitely not a pavement cyclist problem.

  7. lf Says:

    There’s definitely some hostility developed between runners/walkers, and cyclists in part to do with the laws. Runners on a road without either sidewalk are required in many areas to go against traffic. This presents frequent “oh crap” moments where there is little time to safely avoid a collision without stopping, or significantly slowing. Animosity has risen frim this. And yes a-holes in both groups add other complaints.

  8. joe gius Says:

    as a long time employeeof a large university in west los angeles, i have struggled with the issue of bicycles on sidewalks, being a frequent pedestrian. Recently I have developed a strategy which has helped me cope with bicycles on sidewalks. I call it Defensive Walking. The Buddhist Thich Naht Hahn might call it Mindful Walking, and the military might refer to it as Situational Awareness.

    I think pedestrians must accept that with the advent of the bicycle, not to mention roller bladers, skateboards, motorized and un-motorized scooters, and the segway, that the sidewalk has become a roadway. It is no longer a sidewalk in the old meaning of that word, but a sideway, an extension ofthe street.

    According for my own personal safety I have developed this eight part policy which I call Defensive Walking.

    1. Before entering the sidewalk check for on coming bicycles.
    2. When walking on a wide sidewalk, keep to the right.
    3. Before moving laterally check your six o’clock position.
    4. At the approach of a bicycle get out of the way.
    5. Never go more than five or ten paces without checking your sixo’clock position.
    6. Before entering the intersection of two sidewalks check for on coming bicycles.
    7. Before crossing an intersection check for on coming bicycles both going with the flow of motor vehicles and against the flow.
    8. Before crossing an intersection check for bicycles using the crosswalk.


  9. [...] But let’s also be realistic—motorists are responsible for immensely higher numbers of fatalities in every category. As just one example, according to the British government, pedestrians in the U.K. are 263 times more likely to be killed by a motorist than by a cyclist: [...]

  10. buma Says:

    I googled ‘killed pedestrian’ and the first 101 hits were about cars, drunks, buses, trees and trains killing pedestrians, but no bicyclists. The 102nd hit was about a hit-and-run incident involving a cyclist and a pedestrian.

  11. M. L. Duncan Says:

    Bicycliest riding on the sidewalk could display the same courtesy as is required while riding on the pavement with autos, such as honking when passing pedestrians, riding on the right side of sidewalk instead of the middle of the sidewalk, never going faster than 15-20 miles an hour on the sidewalk, slowing up or walking at bus stops where bus passengers are waiting for buses, always remembering the pedestrian has the right-of-way.

  12. K Elizabeth Says:

    This is frustrating. The reason that I am reading this is because I ride my bike on the sidewalk. I think there is a huge difference between a ‘cyclist’ and somone who rides their bike to get around town. I don’t want to ride in the road. I don’t see the engineering as to how riding a bicycle next to a 10,000 pound vehicle that goes an average of 20 to 30 mph faster than you could possibly be safe. I think it should be a rule that an aggressive cyclist has the option of riding for sport on the road. A leisure bike rider should be able to ride on the sidewalk, yield for pedestrians and obey the rules…It shouldn’t be one or the other. ‘Cyclists’ wouldn’t want to ride on the sidewalk because it would slow them down. I certainly don’t want to be turtling along next to an SUV going 50 mph (on average) in a 40 zone…

    • Paul Says:

      I agree completely. I don’t mind pushing the bike if pedestrian traffic gets heavy, but the average person on a bike (plus the bike) weighs about the same as the average person. Cyclists tend to weigh slightly less than the average pedestrian. Add 6 mph, and the collision usually isn’t significant. I can see very young children, old or infirm people possibly getting killed. I was run over by a cyclist as a child and it didn’t actually hurt at all. How many cyclists are killed by motorists every year? FAR more of them in the road than on the sidewalk. And of 3 pedestrians killed per year by cyclists–sounds like most of them were crossing a road.

      • wilsonks Says:

        K Elizabeth,

        I think this depends greatly on where you live. If you live in a suburban area where there is no urban design or planning for bicycles, it may be acceptable to ride on the sidewalk. However, It is probably not statistically safer, since a lot of cyclist collisions occur when a cyclist rides out into the street (usually crossing from sidewalk to sidewalk like a pedestrian) and a car making a turn doesn’t see the cyclist (who is moving more quickly than a pedestrian) in time to avoid them.

        In a place like NYC, where I live and ride, it is certainly not acceptable, nor is it safe (for anyone) to ride on the sidewalk. Uneducated cyclists here also ride against traffic on the left side of the road, thinking that what they can see can’t hurt them. These are the types of cyclists who die – not the guys in spandex riding out in the middle of a busy street. Those guys actually avoid heart disease and cancer and live LONGER than anyone else.

        Wherever you live, I encourage you to educate yourself about the safest way to ride because it is often a lot more counter intuitive than you might think. Cyclists are actually far less likely to be hit if they ride out in the street and take a full lane to themselves than they are if they ride on the sidewalk! Look it up!

        Cheers,
        K

  13. lclarkberg Says:

    I predict that as it becomes safer for bicyclists to ride in the streets, there will be fewer and fewer bicycle-pedestrian accidents. The way it stands now, many bicyclists are simply afraid to bike in the street. In a couple of cities I’ve seen bike lanes that had no bicyclists on them: the bicyclists were riding on the nearby sidewalk instead! Let’s move the cars to the museum, the bikes and small slow lightweight cars to the streets, and the pedestrians to the sidewalks.

  14. sportmac Says:

    meaningless statistic without knowing what they used.
    263 times? ok, but what are the statistics when using the percentage of cars/bikes out there?
    what did they base this number on?

  15. woodpunk Says:

    I was a cyclist now I’m not. Why? I didn’t want to counted in with those who endanger pedestrians. The statistics are specious. I’ve been run over by people on bikes while walking on the pavement twice. The first time I contacted the Police. They wouldn’t record that the incident had happened because the cyclist had scarpered. The second time I didn’t bother going to the Police. The first time I got off with cuts and bruises. The second time I have three broken ribs and a cracked elbow. The cyclist? She pedelled off without a word, leaving me lying on the pavement. In the weeks since the incident when a bike has come towards me on the pavement I stick out my (uninjured) arm to be sure the cyclist has seen me and to make the point that I havea right to be on the pavement. I can see that some roads are nasty to cycle on but the whinge that a road is too dangerous doesn’t work. If one is on foot where does one go to be free from the danger of a bike collision? Pedestrians have no second choice. Cyclists do (if illegally)they should take more care to look out for those of us on foot.

  16. Trueman Says:

    You can argue the stats till the cows come home – it won’t get you far. I live in Cambridge and my experience of cyclists is extremely negative. The only two places where I can take my children, were they are not under threat of being run down by cyclists on the pavement, are the Botanic Gardens and the swimming pool. Everywhere else they are “fair game”. Cambridge is a cycle friendly city, but at the expense of everyone else, especially the paedestrian who is barged off pavements and footpaths.

  17. Ave Says:

    It is not so much the fatalities that scare me, it is the chance that my meeting with a bicycle will result in some broken bones or teeth, entailing long and painful repairs and revalidation, and a reduction of my quality of life. At 67 I tend to appreciate that item more than when I was young.

    Also, I have a husband with a physical handicap who depends on me. What happens to him when any of you two-wheelers come racing along the sidewalk. Who will take care of him. You, cyclist, certainly won’t – you won’t even take the reponsability for endangering me, for you have probably departed before I can dial our version of 911.

    In my country, the bicycle has just about been sanctified and is held holy awe. While the people who practice the oldest and most natural form of locomotion – walking – are being considered pedestrian.

    I can envisage a time when we will have to wear a frame on our shoulders fitted with rear mirrors, and will not be allowed to change our direction on our own sidewalks.

    Trueman states it very well, we are no longer safe.


  18. Wow! When I first heard about “pedestrian fatalities by bicycle”… I said no way! 2600 injuries in 10 years is serious. 29 deaths is unbelievable…that’s 3 per year. Until I was riding in NYC in 2006 I had never seen a bicycle/pedestrian collision and that’s in 15 years of serious commuter riding in the SF Bay Area. In SF I can imagine it possible but rare. The NYC collision I saw was by a speeding street person biker trying to go through a crosswalk full of people…this NEVER happens in SF. Pedestrians like to step out into Critical Mass and cut through bikes in defiance but the bikes go slow and weave. I myself have had a bike fall and fractured knee that almost ended my bike riding forever so this info really gives me pause. We bicyclers must be more courteous and respectful of pedestrians and I will be so from now on. I do wish though that pedestrians would watch where they going more often and that car-free cities be implemented asap(see http://www.carbusters.org).

  19. Tammy Says:

    Well, today I am home with two enormously swollen knees, unable to move and under a lot of pain killers, because yesterday, a cyclist in London incorporated to an avenue, at full speed, turning her head towards the opposite side (to make sure no vehicles were coming) and never stopped to check if there were people crossing the street ahead. It was fortunate that I did see her or I would probably wouldn´t be writing this today. She stopped, checked I was still conscious, mounted and pedalled off. Believe me, I´m NOT against cyclists. But the problem in London is that most of them just don´t get they have to follow the same transit rules as everyone else! They are always hitting pedestrians, or getting killed themselves because they are often reckless and in such a hurry that they don´t stop at red lights, pedestrian crossings, etc. Really, it has become more of a problem than a solution. Many pedestrians and drivers truly hate them. They need to be regulated!


  20. [...] Percentage of pedestrians seriously injured by motor vehicles in UK: 21 [...]

  21. MIKLÓS Says:

    I have cycled more than 25,000 miles to and from work. My round trip of 22 miles takes me through the heart of Glasgow on some pretty dangerous roads as far as motor traffic is concerned. I have had two near-fatal accidents involving motor vehicles. I have NEVER hit a pedestrian even though I do sometimes use the pavement. I follow a simple rule when on a pavement which means showing pedestrians respect and courtesy and always stopping if I think that I may pose any risk to a pedestrian. When on the pavement a cyclist should not exceed 5mph.

    Cyclists have absolutely no excuse for endangering pedestrians on the pavement. However, if the roads were more cycle-friendly then cyclists would be far less inclined to use the pavement. Cyclists aren’t the enemy – we deserve to be encouraged not demonised but we must have total consideration for those on foot.

    It’s a pity that government doesn’t recognise the potential value of getting more of the population onto bikes and out of cars. Could it be that the revenue from petrol is what really matters to the prime minister and his chancellor – or is that too cynical?

  22. David Says:

    Skeptics would have argued that collisions due to motor vehicles are so high compared to bicycles because there are so much more of them. Are there corresponding numbers showing the population of motor vehicles and bicycles or some other factor so we can compare their ratios?


  23. [...] there aren’t detailed statistics kept on bicycling accidents with pedestrians, it is estimated that fatalities number fewer than 5 pedestrians nationwide each year, possibly as few as 3 (almost [...]


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