Cycling Risk in Scotland

Cycling in Scotland

According to Transport Scotland’s annual report, Reported Road Casualties Scotland 2016, cyclists rode  an average of 340 million KM per year (see p89) during 2012 to 2016. The average number of fatalities in those years was nine per annum (see p109). I am taking five-year averages because  the small cyclist population of Scotland causes large fluctuations in the annual results. The fatality rate for the Scottish cycling population works out at 26 fatalities per billion KM.

This will mean little to those unfamiliar with the jargon of road safety. To put it more usefully, it is a little higher than the equivalent figure for the whole of Great Britain (22 fatalities per billion KM in 2011/12), which is itself about double the average risk in more cycle-friendly nations.

It should not be thought that cycling in Scotland is inevitably dangerous – this is not the case. The same general rules will apply as elsewhere: risk is low where motor traffic speeds are low. There are many quiet country roads and off-road cycleways to be enjoyed in Scotland. Unfortunately there are also busy trunk roads without separation for cyclists (and such provision as is occasionally provided is generally not fit for purpose, being re-badged footpath). Yet these may be the only routes available, in which case, cyclists are forced to use main roads to make their desired journey. For instance, this is typically the case in the Highlands.

Cycling is less popular in Scotland than in England. As noted on this page, low levels of cycling are associated with higher risks, and vice versa: the “Safety in Numbers” effect. Therefore, the higher average risk of cycling in Scotland is not an argument against encouraging people to cycle. On the contrary, it is a powerful argument to invest in better conditions so that more people are attracted to enjoy safer cycling. The Cycling Action Plan for Scotland (CAPS) aims to do just that, although its goal of 10% of all trips in Scotland by bicycle in 2020 will not even be half achieved. A most pitiful aspect of UK cycling policies has been their consistent failure through lack of genuine official commitment.