How safe is walking and cycling in Europe? (PIN Flash 38)

  • January 30, 2020

The European Union (EU) is facing a multitude of interconnected demographic, public health and environmental challenges: the climate is changing; road deaths are stagnating; urbanisation is increasing, air pollution is worsening, obesity is rising and the population is ageing.

But there is an increasing recognition at local, but also national and EU level, that boosting the levels of active mobility, particularly walking and cycling, can play an important role in overcoming many of these challenges.  Such a policy will also have economic benefits. Based on conservative estimates, even current levels of cycling in the EU produce benefits valued at around 150 billion euros per year.

In contrast, the negative external costs of motorised road transport such as congestion, pollution and climate change are estimated at 800 billion euros per year in a recent study for the European Commission.

This report examines the most recent available data on the current safety levels of cycling and walking across the EU and other countries that provide data to ETSC as part of its Road Safety Performance Index (PIN) programme.

As with reports on other topics, ETSC found a very mixed picture across different countries. On the one hand, the Netherlands and Denmark with a large amount of comparatively safe cycling and walking – and, on the other, Romania and others that have a long way to go.

Unfortunately, the available data do not give the full picture. Underreporting of deaths and injuries is a particular problem for pedestrians and especially cyclists. When a lone cyclist falls off a bike and dies or is seriously injured, the police may not be called, and the death may not show up in the main national road death statistics.

In addition, when a pedestrian falls down and is injured or dies while walking on a footway or carriageway, these injuries or deaths are not currently considered as road casualties.

It is also difficult to get data on the amount of walking and cycling in order to give figures for the numbers of deaths and injuries per km travelled or time spent. It is easy to achieve zero cyclist deaths when no-one feels safe enough to ride a bike.

Despite these limitations, it is possible to see the kinds of policies that are working, and there are examples from national experts throughout the report. As always, the Safe System approach requires a combination of safe infrastructure, safe speeds, safe road users and good quality emergency response.

But incremental changes will not be enough. For a serious shift to walking and cycling, particularly for local journeys in densely populated areas, the very design of urban spaces will need to change. Motorised traffic will need to slow down when it comes into spaces used by vulnerable road users; separated infrastructure and smart intersection design will be essential; school streets without cars may need to become the norm.

In all this, there will be a role for the EU, national and local governments and ETSC presents recommendations for policymakers throughout the report.

Press release

Interactive charts

Download the report Download background tables