There has been outrage among cyclists at the number of cyclist fatalities in 2017 – fifteen according to the Gardaí and sixteen according to others. While the Gardaí may debate whether one was a pedestrian or a cyclist, the facts are that last year 16 cyclists left home never to return alive.
Analysis of cyclist fatalities is usually based on a 12 month period. However, this gives rise to a number of ‘spikes’ because of the relative low level of fatalities. A more useful analysis – one that reduces the effect of spikes and reveals trends more clearly – comes from using a three year average calculated from the year before, the year in question and the year after. Figure 1, which was calculated in January 2017, shows the 1 Year Average and 3 Year Average Cyclist Fatalities for the period 1996 to 2016. The 3 Year Analysis shows that since 2010 there has been an increase in cyclist fatalities with the increase appearing to have eased slightly at the end of 2016. Note that the figure for 2016 was averaged over two years (2015 and 2016) as it was estimated in January 2017.
Figure 1: 1 Year and 3 Year Average Cyclist Fatalities 1996-2016 (Jan 2017)
In December 2017, the figure for 2016 was recalculated to include the 2017 cyclist deaths and an additional year 2017 was included by again averaging the fatalities over the last two years (2016 and 2017).
Table 1: 1 Year and 3 Year Average Cyclist Fatalities 2007 (Dec 2017)
Figure 2 below shows the revised graph which was derived in part from the table above. As stated above, the 3 Year Average for the final entry (2017) was calculated over two years 2016 and 2017.
Figure 2: 1 Year and 3 Year Average Cyclist Fatalities 1996-2017 (Dec 2017)
The real scandal of increasing cyclist deaths is not the spike in the first half of 2017 but the upward annual trend from 7.0 fatalities in 2010 to 12.5 fatalities in 2017 – an increase of more than 78% – which has gone unnoticed by both the government and the RSA. This equates to an annual increase of some 8% each year for 7 straight years.
In 2017 some of the fatalities were recreational cyclists – others were utility cyclists. Some accidents occurred in urban areas while others occurred in rural areas. Many commentators have remarked that there is no pattern to the deaths but this is not the case. Table 2 below lists the 2017 fatalities and the type of road on which the fatal collision occurred.
Table 2: List of Cyclist Fatalities 2017 and Road Type
All the fatal accidents involved at least one other vehicle. Excluding Paul Hannon who was technically a pedestrian as he had dismounted from his bike at the time of the accident, eleven of the remaining 15 cyclists were either on national, regional or city arterial roads. Thus, over 73% of fatalities happened on roads with high levels of traffic and/or high speeds – roads on which segregated cycle facilities would be provided in other countries as a matter of course but not in Ireland.
There are three main areas through which cyclist safety can be improved:
- High quality infrastructure
Infrastructure is the most capital intensive area and can take a significant period of time to show change at a national level. With government expenditure on cycling at €2.5 per head per annum, little high quality infrastructure and with no commitment to radical change, it is apparent that the government is prepared to settle for an “acceptable” level of cyclist deaths. The number of fatalities may spike somewhat from year to year (as in 2017) but with the levels of utility cycling virtually stagnant, the number of fatalities is unlikely to increase significantly enough to force change.
Enforcement of legislation is a matter for the Garda Siochana. The inadequacy of the Gardaí response to drink driving has received a lot of publicity and has still to be satisfactorily resolved. Looking at international practice, the work of the West Midland police and their Close Pass Operation which led to a 20% decrease in the number of cyclist killed and seriously injured has been widely praised by cyclists advocacy groups. It is a good example of police enforcement and should be a model for the Gardaí to follow.
Infrastructure and enforcement are the two most effective areas and the areas on which the Irish government should focus. The third area – promotion (advertising) – is the least effective but involves little funding so, needless to say, it is the area where the Irish government concentrates its efforts. Everyone is aware of road safety and no motorists (or very few) go out with the deliberate intention of killing another road user. However, people are human and make mistakes. To address fatalities, cyclists don’t need empty gestures from the Gardaí/RSA such as Go Slow Days, pledges to go slow or EDWARD (European Day without a Road Fatality). There is approximately one road fatality every second day in Ireland so there is a 50:50 chance of no fatality on 21st September. In 2016, EDWARD coincided with two fatalities in Donegal yet the Gardaí/RSA choose to repeat the exercise in 2017 and disappointingly the Dublin Cycling Campaign actually wanted to be associated with it. What is most depressing is that even in countries with high levels of cycling, it took a large number of dead cyclists – more than 100 of them children in a single year in the 1970s – to motivate Dutch politicians to take the matter seriously. The question is what is the threshold of dead cyclists for Irish politicians to take action? We know that in 2016 two child cyclists were killed including one going to school. This has had no impact on politicians so obviously two is not enough. For those who think that this is unfair on politicians, we are still awaiting a response from the body politic to the news from the EPA that air pollution in Ireland, principally caused by car traffic, causes 1200 premature deaths every year.
 Based on Census results, the level of commuter cycling in 2016 is at the level which previously occurred around the year 2000.
This article was amended to include the death of Pat Beakey whose fatality was omitted in the original. His inclusion increases the rise in fatalities since 2010 from 71% to 78% (ie from 7 to 12.5 instead of to 12).