The How We Drive blog recently covered a British document about making Britain's roads the safest in the world. At present, as shown in the diagram, Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) has the second safest roads in the world, while the United Kingdom (also including Northern Ireland) has the fourth safest. The number one position is taken by the Netherlands.
There is a very large difference between the Netherlands and the UK in the approach which has been taken to reduce casualties.
Britain has achieved its safety in large part by removing the vulnerable and increasing the safety of crashing motorists. This has happened by several different means. Road designs are such that they discourage cycling, resulting in the UK having amongst the lowest cycling rate in the world. Children are increasingly transported by their parents cars and are comparatively rarely seen on the streets alone. Pedestrians are inconvenienced by waiting for light controlled crossings or take detours behind metal barriers. Many more roads in the UK have physicial barriers along them to prevent cars from crashing, and trees near roads are removed to make crashes safer.
These things have improved overall safety, but at the expense of convenience and safety of pedestrians and cyclists. They have lead to more driving as a result, and an increasingly dangerous situation on Britain's roads for cyclists.
The Dutch approach is very different. The Netherlands has the highest rate of cycling in the world. There are far more vulnerable road users and children in particular have a remarkable degree of freedom to roam. The convenience of cyclists in particular is paramount in design. These things individually could be seen to increase the level of danger to the vulnerable, but despite all of it the roads in the Netherlands are still safer than those in the UK, or indeed anywhere else in the world.
There is a problem here for those who promote cycling in the UK. While Britain's overall safety record is comparable with that of the Netherlands, British cyclists experience about four times the level of danger (it's seventeen times as dangerous to be a cyclist in the US. Reference at the same link). Increasing their numbers will lead to the UK's overall casualty rate worsening. The only way to counter this is to do what the Dutch have done and make the vulnerable less vulnerable. It is possible to do this at the same time as making cyclist's journeys more convenient.
"Safety in numbers" is as much wishful thinking as anything else. Dutch cyclists are safe not merely because they are numerous, but because they have infrastructure which is sympathetic to cycling and makes cycling safe. The same number of cyclists plonked down in, say, London, would not fare so well.
A look at other countries in the chart shows another possible future for Britain. Belgium, Italy, Austria, Denmark, Germany and Sweden all have higher cycling rates than the UK though lower than the Netherlands. They also all have worse overall road casualty figures. You can put this down to having infrastructure which is simply not quite so good as in the Netherlands.
If Britain is to grow its rate of cycling and improve its safety then it needs a radical change to the way that planning is done. Cycling needs to be both attractive and genuinely safe. Reliance on the myth of "safety in numbers" will not make cyclists safe on unsafe roads.
The Dutch give the credit for their extremely good result for road safety to the principles of Sustainable Safety.
Other people have reported the same results.
As for the other countries in the chart, some of you have a long way to go. American roads overall are nearly three times so dangerous as those in the Netherlands, but American cyclists experience 17x as much danger as their Dutch counterparts.