Exploring the differences in pedestrian and cyclist fatality rates in Europe and the US

By Patrick Troy / Updated: 26 Oct 2020

Walking and cycling promote physical, social and mental health. They are also socially, economically and environmentally friendly modes of urban transport. Studies have shown that one of the largest hurdles to encourage more walking and cycling is the actual and perceived risk of injury or death.

A recent study has used official national data from 1990-2018 to identify the trends in walking and cycling fatalities per capita and per km in the USA, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark. They found that cyclist fatalities per capita fell by 22% in the USA, which was a much lower decline than in the other countries (which ranged from 55% to 68%). In 2018, pedestrian fatalities per km in the US were 5-10 times higher than in the other countries and cyclist fatalities 4-7 times higher.

They discovered that the gap in fatality rates between the USA and the other countries continued to grow over the time period, but especially between 2010 and 2018. In the USA pedestrian and cyclist fatalities per km actually grew by 17% and 33% respectively in this period, whilst fatality rates either fell or remained stable in the other countries.

Some of the reasons for the better performance of the European countries were:

  • Better walking and cycling infrastructure;
  • Fewer vehicle km travelled;
  • Lower urban speed limits;
  • Better enforcement of laws against speeding, drink driving and hand-held smartphone use while driving; and
  • Smaller and less powerful personal motor vehicles.

Another recent study focused on identifying the rates of walking and cycling in the USA between 2001 and 2017. They found that daily walking rates rose slightly whilst cycling rates remained unchanged. Walking and cycling were highest among households with low car ownership, well-educated persons and residents of high-density neighbourhoods. Over this period, walking and cycling increased amongst 16-44 year-olds but fell amongst 5-15 year-olds. Men were three times more likely to cycle than women but walking rates between them were roughly the same.

Ralph Buehler and John Pucher have announced a ‘Cycling for Sustainable Cities’ book, due to be publish 2 February 2021. They aim to give valuable insights into cycling trends across the world, looking at the preferences of women, children and older adults. They discuss the myriad benefits and analyse cycling innovations in Asia, Latin America, the USA and Europe.

For more in-depth information see the original articles on the following websites:

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Walking and cycling