Death Rates by Mode of Transport

The office of national statistics produce figures on the fatality rates per billion Km travelled. These are from ONS Social Trends vol 40

Fatality Rates by Mode of Transport

per billion passenger Km.

Motorcycle 88.8
Walking 30.9
Bicycle 24.2
Car 1.9
Van 0.5
Bus or coach 0.1
Rail 0.3
Water 0.9

What does this show?

  • You would have to cycle an average of  41,667,000 Km to be statistically likely to die. You would have to travel 3.33333333 × 109 Km by train (if my maths isn’t wonky)

Changes in Death Rates since 1981

death rates transport

1981 2001 2008
Motorcycle 115.8 112.1 88.8
Walking 76.9 47.5 30.9
Bicycle 56.9 32.6 24.2
Car 6.1 2.8 1.9
Rail 1.0 0.3 0.3
Van 3.7 0.9 0.5
Bus or coach 0.3 0.2 0.1
Rail 1.0 0.3 0.3

There have been big improvements in road safety. Though, this has been greatest in car and van transport. This is probably a reflection in the improved safety features of car design.

Limitations of Fatalities per Km

  • It doesn’t take into account health benefits of different forms of transport. e.g. cycling and walking help prevent certain fatal disease such as Heart disease and strokes. These are much bigger killers than transport accidents.
  • Death rates for cycling is inverse to the numbers cycling. In countries such as US, there is the lowest cycle use, but, the highest rate of death per KM. Netherlands has a higher cycle use, and one of the lowest death rates. See: Death rates per country
  • Within these modes of transport, there can be a big variance depending on how you use the form of transport. For example, fatality rates for cyclists will be higher amongst inexperienced cyclists who cycle at night without lights e.t.c. Car use is much safer for long motorway journeys.

These figures could be interpreted in a variety of ways. For example, I wouldn’t suggest that pedestrians walk around the streets wearing a cycle helmet, (though it might make as much sense as making cycle helmets compulsory.)

It is also a shame, the UK promoted car use at the expense of other forms of transport such as rail use. Rail and bus travel are much safer than driving, but it has been the car that has been promoted above all else.


9 Responses to Death Rates by Mode of Transport

  1. Lewis February 18, 2011 at 7:36 pm #

    I think that humans are lazy by nature. Pair this with the convenience of driving and it’s very difficult to shake people out of their cars and onto other forms of transport.

    Even if cycling boasted a 0% fatality rate, tell most people that if they cycle rather than drive the 4 miles to work they’d be safer, healthier, less likely to die of heart disease, less likely to injure others on the road, saving money on petrol and car maintenance, saving time and money on parking, not getting stuck in traffic, easing congestion, causing less damage to the road and causing less damage to the environment I believe they would still say “So? Driving’s easier.”

    My Mum always worries when I go out on my bike. Despite the fact that cycling is less dangerous than driving.

  2. Peter Wilde February 8, 2011 at 8:38 am #

    I’m going to trade my car for a van. Much safer! I’m still saving for the bus!

  3. Mark Roberts February 7, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    For those who didn’t see it the report on the BBC I mentioned is at There was also a spot on their breakfast program.

  4. Mark Roberts February 7, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    I agree that people are not going to cycle if they don’t perceive it as safe. This is one of the reasons I’m against mandatory helmet laws (and I’m hypothesising Tejvan isn’t thrilled about the idea either). It makes cycling seem more dangerous than it really is. Reports such as the recent one on the BBC re. cyclists using helmet cams, even if well intentioned, also exacerbate the issue.

    On the plus side, the economic downturn in the UK does seem to have encouraged more people to get on their bikes, and hopefully those people will continue to see the bike as a viable (i.e. safe) means of transport if/when the financial situation improves.

    I never really though about myself as a cycling campaigner, just a fat bloke who loves his bike!

  5. pj mcnally February 7, 2011 at 11:02 am #

    All very interesting –

    The CTC and a few others have been trying to convince people to cycle, using statistics, for a long time now.

    It hasn’t worked. People don’t seem to respond too well to a jolly “You’d have to cycle 41 million km to be likely to die by bike!”

    It doesn’t actually matter what the numbers are – if people don’t perceive walking and cycling to be safe, they won’t do it. It’s no good quoting stats at these people, then just telling them to get out and “mix it up with traffic”. Vehicular cycling just about works for us, but it clearly doesn’t get bums on bikes.

    Also – i think the figures per km give a much more useful picture than the figures per hour travelled by each mode. I know cycling campaigners often prefer the latter, as it makes cycling look better – but if we want people to swap the car for the bike, it’ll be over the same journey distances, not journey times.

  6. Mark Roberts February 7, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    Lies, damned lies and statistics :-)

    It seems to me the ONS numbers represent a much inflated assessment of the dangers of cycling. A cyclist takes significantly longer to cover the kilometre than a car or train does.

    It would be interesting to see fatalities expressed as a function of time spent using a given mode of transport.


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