Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Are unlit Oxford cyclists putting themselves at risk?

Oxford has just had a crackdown on unlit cyclists in the name of safety. It's good advice to use lights to maximise your chances of being seen but policy makers thinking unlit cyclists are putting themselves at much greater risk should think again.

The following numbers are the casualties in the years 2005-2012 from the government's STATS19 database.

For each casualty type, the table below shows a count of the number of casualties during daylight, and in darkness.

Car occupant9764561432

The numbers below show for each casualty type, the split of their accidents between light and dark. As a proportion, cyclists are safer than the other travellers in Oxford. Significantly safer than motor vehicle occupants at night. The same effect is seen in Cambridge.

casualty_type% light% dark
Car occupant68.2%31.8%

Why cyclists are proportionately safer at night is a mystery.  Could it be that Oxford cyclists travel less at night compared to other road users?  This doesn't appear to be the case in Cambridge. A theory I have for Cambridge is that unlit cyclist realise their increased vulnerability and move away from roads to cycling on pavements, away from motor vehicles. It's an effect known as risk-compensation, also seen when using safety gear.


  1. Remarkably little research has been done on this. A recent Dutch study said that cyclists are slightly safer when lit, but SWOV said that the research was not conclusive.

  2. I would have to disagree with your theory. I see so many unlit cyclists in the north areas of Cambridge, on both the road and footways. My theory is that the general abdication of policing responsibility for the roads has allowed a free-for-all, with nearly all users completely disregarding the law.

    Unlit cyclists appear to be completely confident in the ability of motorists to notice them by street light alone. Given the driving ability that I see on a daily basis, this is reckless and over optimistic in the extreme!!

    In Cambridge, at night, I consider my 4 reflectors, 1 flashing & 1 steady rear Cateyes, front Smart light & my orange Altura jacket at the minimum to ensure a 'sporting chance' of survival. Even then I get a few near misses, although usually followed by grudging apologies.