In Mayor’s Question Time, May 2012, there was the following exchange:
Andrew Boff (AM) Mr Mayor, could you ensure, along with your commitment to the key principles of the Go Dutch campaign that London cyclists learn to obey the rule of the road as much as they do in Holland?
Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): … …I love cycling; I believe in it. But I do think that it is — look at the statistics before you cackulate in the corner, look at the statistics of the proportion of cycling Killed or Seriously Injured (KSI) who unfortunately had just committed an infraction or were in the processes of committing an infraction at the time they had the accident. It is very, very sad reading.
Andrew Boff (AM): …I do think you are completely right, I think that there is an ecosystem on the streets and everybody understands that people have to obey the law and they have to obey the rules, otherwise they forfeit sympathy and I do think it very important that people should be aware of the high proportion, I have seen a figure I think of 62%, of cycling KSIs that are associated with some infraction by the cyclist themselves of the rules of the road, and that is very sad. Thank you, Mr Mayor.
The clear implication of the exchange is that the majority of cyclists killed or seriously injured (where is not specified, so it’s not entirely clear whether Boff ‘n’ Boris refer to London or the U.K.), were contravening the law (or possibly the Highway Code, as ‘infraction’ does not necessarily mean violating laws), and therefore in some way to blame for their own subsequent injury or death, because they were breaking the rules of the road, which are there to keep everyone safe, as the cliché has it. Andrew Boff specifically mentions red-light jumping (RLJ) immediately before, so I don’t think I’m putting words in his mouth if I say that he is implying that a lot of KSI cyclists were running lights and this was a cause of their collision.
(As an aside, Boris uses the word ‘cackulate’ in the exchange, for which word there is the following definition: cackulating, the process of producing laughable statistics.)
This implication caused wide-spread uproar amongst cycling organisations, not least because no one recognised the number. By no means have I spent my working life looking at KSI stats and reports on the causes of same, but I have seen a few, and all the ones I have seen suggest that the exact opposite is true, that the cyclist, in general, was blameless, and the motorist was at fault, in a majority of collisions between motor vehicle and bicycles.
The London Cycling Campaign published the following: the Mayor’s claim is strongly at odds with previous data, which shows that when adult (aged over 24) cyclists were involved in serious collisions between 2005-07, the motorist was most likely at fault in around two-thirds of cases, in their rebuttal of the statements, which also contains some fairly good sources for the numbers they quote, i.e. the Transport Research Labratory and Transport for London itself. There was also this analysis of available data by Full Fact Check, which concluded that there weren’t the numbers to say either way, but that it looked as though it was the other way round.
At the time, everyone blamed Boris, because Boris has form when it comes to making up road traffic casualty statistics. At the time of the 2008 mayoral election he famously described the bendy buses as ‘cyclist-killing’, and claimed that they were a menace on the roads. The latter claim was disputed, and the former was refuted. I do worry when a senior elected official appears to be making his mind up based on anecdotal evidence, i.e. what he sees and using his ‘common sense’, as opposed to making up his mind after seeing expert analysis of actual evidence.
Eventually Jenny Jones got the following retraction from the Mayor:
Mayoral statement on cycling safety
Question No: 2450 / 2012
It has been several months since you asked Transport for London to ‘look at’ whether there was any evidence for your statement that two thirds of cycling collisions are the result of cyclists not obeying the rules of the road. What is Transport for London’s answer and will you now give a public correction?
Written response from the Mayor
I asked Transport for London to look into a statistic that I was told about during my election campaign. Its own statistics and research suggest this is not the case in London and I am pleased to be able to set the record straight on this.
Boris does seem to have rowed back on this, and given that we’re all still trying to digest the latest weighty bit of policy-making on cycle infrastructure I’ll say no more about Boris, and turn to Andrew Boff.
Andrew Boff is the original source for the 62% figure in the dialogue, not Boris, Boris just agrees with him, as seems clear from the transcript of May 2012 MQT. When the story was bouncing around, I did feel a little sorry for Boris’ press people and others in his office who had to deal with this farrago, because, by rights, it was down to Andrew Boff to sort it out, as far as I could tell.
Today The Times carried an article
about the very same topic, albeit using numbers from Westminster, not the whole of London:
More than two thirds of all crashes between drivers and cyclists in Central London are the fault of the motorist, research indicates. The City of Westminster Council found that drivers were to blame for 68 per cent of collisions between cyclists and motor vehicles in the borough in the past 12 months.
This jogged my memory of the original exchange in MQT, and my feeling that Andrew Boff was really to blame for the row, so I decided to tweet Andrew Boff and see what he had to say:
My personal experience of cycling makes that not an unbelievable figure… it is far from “fault” however.
so where did “62%” come from? Or just a number you pulled out of thin air?
I’ll have to look back on the notes.
Andrew Boff used to be the Mayor’s Ambassador for Championing Cycling in London. I am slightly shocked that he could be careless about such numbers. I get statistics wrong all the time. Lots of people do. But most of us aren’t in receipt of public funds to sift evidence and come to decisions based on that evidence.