Wednesday 25 April 2012

What we've got to learn from the Netherlands

Update: As commenters below have pointed out, the data may not be comparable enough between the two countries to draw such a strong conclusion, for reasons of definitions and possible different rates of under-reporting. See new post on the topic here.

I used data from the Dutch road safety research institute SWOV yesterday to compare cycle fatality rates in the Netherlands with those in Britain, and Mark pointed out on Twitter that SWOV data also breaks down the number of casualties according to whether or not any motor vehicles were involved. This is handy, as it allows us to see whether the low cycle casualty rate in the Netherlands is due to (a) fewer collisions with motor vehicles or (b) fewer casualties from collisions with pedestrians, other bikes or cyclists just crashing into stuff or (c) all of the above.

This table indicates that 64% of serious or fatal cycle casualties in the Netherlands are the result of collisions with motor vehicles*. This compares with 91% in Britain, from this DfT table**.

We saw yesterday that the cycle fatality rate per km is more than twice as high in Britain as in the Netherlands. According to SWOV data the gap is even larger when you include serious injuries: in Britain there are 556 cyclists killed or seriously injured for every billion kilometres cycled, compared to 96 in the Netherlands (in both cases I'm using the most recent year available, 2009 for the Netherlands and 2010 for Britain).

Put these figures together and you get the chart below, which shows that the rate of serious or fatal cycling casualties not involving motor vehicles is actually reasonably similar in the two countries, 35 per billion km in the Netherlands compared to 49 in Britain. But the gap for collisions with motor vehicles is huge: just over 500 British cyclists are killed or seriously injured in collisions with motor vehicles for every billion km cycled, over eight times the rate in the Netherlands.

I think this shows just about as starkly as possible the consequences of two different approaches to cycling: one which expects cyclists to constantly mix with heavy and/or fast-moving traffic, and one which doesn't. In the Netherlands they very carefully and deliberately try to reduce the chances of a serious collision between motor vehicles and cyclists, and you know what, it looks like it works. In Britain we don't try very hard to do that, and we get the results you see above.

* Select 'Bicycle' under 'Mode of transport' and then nest the 'Type of accident (E-code)' variable in the rows. There are a lot of blanks ('Not matched') under 'Type of accident' for fatalities, so I just calculated the percentage based on the non-blank records)

** Scroll over to 'All areas' and tot up the pedal cyclists killed or seriously injured in collisions with other cycles, pedestrians, or in single vehicle, no pedestrian accidents. The remainder are the results of collisions with motor vehicles.


  1. Great post--bookmarked.

    I have one query though: is a NL serious injury the same as a UK serious injury?

    At least comparing fatalities we know we are comparing like with like; save the tiny discrepancy caused by elderly cyclists who happened to be in control of their bicycle when they died from natural causes.

  2. It's hard to say. The Dutch seem to categorise anything which scores 2 or more on the Maximum Abbreviated Injury Scale (an internationally agreed injury classification) as a serious injury. A 1 on the MAIS scale is 'minor' and a 2 is 'moderate', so it's not clear to me whether a 2 would be counted in Britain as a serious or slight injury.

    There may however be an issue of under-reporting of casualties in general, because in both countries hospital admissions are apparently much higher than casualties reported to the police (which is what these statistics are based on). I'll have to look into this issue a bit more ...

  3. I think different attitudes are a factor too. On a business trip to NL I made a complete arse of a mini roundabout on a hired bike cutting up several cars. The cars just stopped and waved me on. In Scotland things would have been very different...drivers are very impatient and pointlessly aggressive.

  4. The conclusion is somewhat far fetched:

    The data just shows that all in all (whatever are the influences are) cycling is safer in the nederlands than in britain.

    The data shows in now way that the reason for safer cycling in nederlands are segregated cycle-ways.

    1. Wobbling anonymous30 April 2012 at 12:30

      You are correct: the data is about KSI's, and it is not about the safety effect of different cycle facilities.

      The skill level on bike handling seems to be the same in both countries based on the non-motor accidents. So unless the Dutch somehow train their cyclists to dodge cars better than in the UK, also the KSI involving motor vehicles should be the same.

      What could be the reason the KSI's not involving motor vehicles is the same, but there is a huge difference on KSI's with motor vehicles?

      Here's some possible answers:

      a) cyclists and motor vehicles are separated etc and whatever the Dutch safety methods are they work?

      b) British drivers are abysmally bad?

      c) Dutch drivers are exceptionally good?

      For b or c to be true, there should be a lot less motor vehicle collisions with other vehicles, bollards, trees etc. Do the statistics show such a difference? I vaguely recall reading that the KSI rate for cars is lower in Britain, not higher?

      Maybe the problem is that

      d) British drivers are otherwise average, but just can't avoid hitting cyclists

      or e) Dutch drivers are otherwise average, but very good at not hitting cyclists.

      I haven't seen any statistics to prove b,c,d or e, but there is a difference in cycle facilities between the countries. So the conclusion is not that far fetched.

    2. Almost all Dutch drivers are also cyclists. And many cyclist are also drivers.
      So they understand each other and know what to expect. There is no "us vs them".

    3. David Hembrow's thoughts.

      Found using:
      dutch drivers site:/

      I hope this helps.

  5. Thanks for the post. However, I support some previous comments and think that risks would be more comparable if we looked a fatalities only.

    The definition of a serious injury varies across countries. See the latest IRTAD report on precisely that question:

  6. Thanks for that link. I'll look at calculating this for fatalities only when I get a chance (hopefully over the weekend).

  7. On comparing serious injuries: as discussed in DfT rrcgb2010-6.pdf, GB "serious" includes all admissions to hospitals, many of whom will have a MAIS score of 1. Table 11 suggests that 28% of hospital-admitted cyclists were MAIS 1, so reducing the GB number by that amount would be appropriate.

  8. Thanks for that snigbo. In case anyone's desperately waiting (I doubt it), I'll have a look at this again when my exams are out of the way (early June).

  9. Other possible confounding factors:

    The DfT count both cycling distances and casualty numbers from roads only. Does the NL also count both distance and casualties on roads only? I guess they also count distances off-road, but I don't know. Nor do I know how much GB cycling is off-road -- I don't think anyone knows.

    I also don't know if either country calls out the police for a greater proportion of accidents.


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