Who is dying while riding a bike?

Some interesting statistics have just been released by the Dutch statistics bureau – their road deaths for 2012 [Translated here - thanks to Mark Wagenbuur].

I’ve presented here in chart form the age range of those dying while riding a bike in the Netherlands.

Dutch stats

And for comparison, the age range of those dying while riding a bike in Britain (taken from the Times’ compilation of news reports) -

Screen shot 2013-04-24 at 12.42.14The difference is really quite remarkable. Dutch cycling deaths are skewed very heavily to the elderly; 71% of all cycling deaths are over the age of 60, and nearly 25% are over the age of 80. This is quite significant, because these are people who are the people who are more likely to die, either of natural causes while cycling, or as the result of any incident that may occur while cycling. By contrast the ‘death distribution’ in the UK is much more heavily weighted to middle age.

Of course these statistics don’t tell us a great deal in the absence of the relative amount of cycling being carried out by these age groups; but it is telling that just 9% of Dutch cycling deaths are in the age group 15-40, while in Britain 26% of all deaths are in this age group (indeed, the absolute numbers are rather similar, despite the huge difference in the amount of cycling between the two countries).

Part of the explanation must lie in the fact that the elderly cycle far more in the Netherlands than they do in the UK; they will inevitably form a higher proportion of deaths in the Netherlands on this statistical basis alone. But the graphs suggest that death while cycling in the Netherlands is much more attributable to the frailty of the population doing the cycling compared to the UK, where the age distribution of death seems to correspond more closely to the amount of cycling each age group carries out. Food for thought.

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9 Responses to Who is dying while riding a bike?

  1. It would be very interesting to get a full range of figures and weigh the age groups by distance cycled and actual cause of death.

    I suspect that once the “elderly rider, no other vehicle involved, death due to heart attack/stroke/other natural causes” cases are removed then the Dutch absolute total will be reduced by a large chunk, and the UK’s only by a small amount.

    On a related note, this is interesting: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jan/14/mortality-statistics-causes-death-england-wales-2009

    • I suppose the best we have at the moment is this post by Drawing Rings Around the World, which shows the fatality rate, involving and not involving motor vehicles, in both the UK and the Netherlands. But this is for all deaths, not just the elderly. It’s quite interesting that the ‘not involving motor vehicles’ fatality rate is *higher* in the Netherlands than in the UK, which does suggest a frailer cycling population.

    • seniors (NL total in 2011: 2,6 million of 65+) make up for roughly 25% of total bike trips, which equals about 1.2 billion km per year. Like I tweeted, there needs to be causal mode-on-mode data to properly address it and take measures. So far, only Fietsersbond acted a few years ago by offering cycling lessons to seniors, mainly dealing with common obstacles that are easily overlooked.
      In light of that, many in NL thought this demographic’s rate of (non-fatal) falls/incidents had to do with underestimation of e-bike speeds, but recently published research revealed that’s not the case: dominant factor is moment they get on and off the bike. Regarding senior fatalities: research on cycling from a few years ago showed that the (net) health benefits of seniors cycling outweigh risks and risk of fatality by far. If anything, the seniors’ increased health due to cycling participation makes the call for causal data even more valid. Of course specific age-related factors count as well: fragility, far lower response-time, etc. But there are many variables in that as well, for instance difference between 55-65 and 65-75, concerning type of roads traveled, frequency and distance. Data show that a 75 yr old on bike are 12x more likely to die than an 18 yr old, although not all factors mentioned can be contributed to that. Also, women make up the majority in the senior demographic, absolute nrs don’t show that either.

      Anyway, lots to be desired. Fietsersbond sent out a press release today that it was disappointed, expected a further decline in fatalities, not a stagnation in total nrs and a rise in senior fatalities and called for a whole range of measures to be taken.

  2. Christine Jones says:

    It’s really upsetting that here in the UK the majority of the deaths are among people of an age where they will still have children dependent on them. They are people, heathy, hard working, mown over on their way to work. As we all know the hardest thing is to have to bury your own children too.

  3. I had a go at explaining this last year but the UK vs. NL graph that you’ve made is a very good way of presenting the numbers.

    The comparison I made last year was with the game of golf. A surprisingly large number of people die while playing golf but it’s not because the game is inherently dangerous, but because of the demographic who plays the game and how long they spend playing it. The largest increase in cycling in recent years in the Netherlands has been amongst the over 65s. They cycle on average three times as much now as they did in the 1980s and of course this extra exposure of sometimes quite frail people has a cost.

    The increased popularity of electrically assisted bicycles amongst the elderly is also linked to the increased injury rates for this group. Extra speed makes the injuries more severe. As it happens, our local paper dropped through our door a few minutes ago and it included a small piece about special training for elderly people with e-bikes in order to try to reduce this problem.

  4. Michael Boswell says:

    How does the figure compare to deaths in car accidents?

    • Dutch car deaths are included in the stats (the link given at the start of the post). If you want GB figures, I don’t have them to hand, but they’ll be in the Reported Road Casualties data.

  5. Madoqua says:

    I was very interested in this post. I have sometimes wondered if I would get ‘too old’ to ride a bike. I know some mid 70 aged folks who believe they are too old!
    But if the Dutch can still be riding when over the age of 80, it seems I should (theoretically) be able to do this too! I am amazed and impressed at the stats from the Netherlands for this reason.

  6. Thanks for bringing this up. Old people often have osteoporosis or fragile bones. That means that when they fall, they are more seriously injured then young people. By extension I think it’s fair to say that many cycling injuries can be described as osteoporosis injuries. There are treatments for osteoporosis. One of them is to take regular exercise. As ever, cycling is not the problem, it is the solution.

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