Collision-prevention scheme may save urban cyclists

Nurse working in emergency departments will be familiar with the severe injuries and chaos that result when collisions on the road occur

Nurse working in emergency departments will be familiar with the severe injuries and chaos that result when collisions on the road occur.

In Britain, there have been between 104 and 118 deaths a year since 2008, with 113 occurring last year, according to the Department of Transport’s 2014 Reported Road Casualties for Great Britain document. Meanwhile, pedal cyclist casualties have increased by 31% since 2007, though cycle traffic has also risen by 27% during this period.

Increasing problem

The number of seriously injured pedal cyclists rose by 8.2% (3,401) in 2014. This change is part of a long-term rise, indicating ‘an ever increasing problem with pedal cycling casualties’, the report says.

Sergeant Simon Castle of the Metropolitan Police Roads and Transport Policing Command says that because cycling is increasingly being viewed as a dangerous activity many people are reluctant to cycle.

Transport for London statistics show that, in 2014, 17% of casualties and 21% of serious injuries on London’s roads involved pedal cyclists, even though they represent only 2% of road users.

More people cycling

So far this year, eight cyclists have been killed. Sgt Castle says that the increase can partly be attributed to more people cycling than at any time since records began, but nonetheless the figures are worrying.

There are all sorts of causes for collisions, but the most serious tend to have a common theme

Transport for London figures show that one journey in every 513,000 now ends in death or serious injury. Despite this, London mayor Boris Johnson wants to double the number of cyclists by 2023.


There are all sorts of causes for collisions, but the most serious tend to have a common theme, explains Sgt Castle. ‘In London this year, seven out of eight fatalities have involved heavy goods vehicles (HGVs). These vehicles make up only 4% of London traffic so they are grossly over-represented in the statistics. If we can stop these types of crash, we can make cycling even safer.’

London’s experience is not unique, says Castle. Colleagues in cities across the country, such as Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol and York, report a similar problem.

A study published in 2013 in the Emergency Medicine Journal on major trauma and urban cyclists, found that 73% of the 265 cyclists who required full trauma-team activation at the Royal London Hospital’s major trauma centre between 2004 and 2009 had collided with cars or HGVs. HGVs were associated with severe injuries and death as a result of uncontrollable haemorrhage.

Prevention strategies

‘Rapid haemorrhage control may salvage some, but not all these casualties,’ the paper notes. ‘The need for continued collision prevention strategies and long-term outcome data collection in trauma patients is highlighted.’

Preventing collisions is a core part of work undertaken by Sgt Castle and his team, including the scheme Exchanging Places, in which officers invite cyclists to sit in an HGV cab so they can see a driver’s blind spots. Officers highlight that crashes tend to happen at junctions. Modern lorries are fitted with six mirrors and it could take a driver up to 4.8 seconds to check them all, says Sgt Castle.

Danger area

‘The problem is that it takes us a second on a bike to cycle into the area that the driver now thinks is clear. He may also have checked his four cameras, which is something that many trucks have installed now. But they’re also expected to look at another camera outside, for example, on a lamppost, but it’s just not realistic.’

Sgt Castle adds that the exercise undertaken as part of Exchanging Places is not intended to put people off cycling, however. He says: ‘There is a scary moment or two where a person taking part in the scheme thinks: “Oh no, where has the person gone?” But we talk about how to get past these things. People say: “Never get on the inside of a truck”, but this is unrealistic in London’s rush hour. There are ways of doing it safely and there are times when you should never do it, but we talk about how to work out whether it is one of those times or not.’

Exchanging Places began in 2007 and the number of events is increasing year on year, with 150 already held this year. Some events draw in cyclists by offering free security bike markings. At other times, cyclists caught breaking road laws during rush hour are invited to take part in Exchanging Places as an alternative to a fine.

Feedback from 16,000 participants suggest the programme is having an effect, with 97% saying that they would change how they ride as a result.

More information

Exchanging Places scheme






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