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Pedestrian risk values
Buses are surprisingly dangerous to pedestrians


Official publication "Road Casualties Great Britain" includes some surprising data in table 26. We've produced the charts below based on the latest data (2003).

The first three charts present the data relating to pedestrian risk. Each bar represents the pedestrian deaths (or injuries in the case of figure 3) for each 100 million vehicle kilometres travelled for a vehicle class.

All roads pedestrian fatality risk

Some amazing surprises here - Light goods vehicles are less dangerous to pedestrians than push bikes! Clearly we'd expect heavy vehicles - lorries and buses - to be more dangerous, but to discover that buses are almost 13 times more dangerous than "white van man" is a huge surprise.

Perhaps even more surprising, is that pedal cycles represent a greater risk to pedestrians than light goods vehicles.

But perhaps the risks in town are different?

Urban pedestrian fatality risk

These figures apply to urban roads only - Buses pose 10.5 times the risk of light vans. 

Urban pedestrian serious injury risk

These figures apply to the risk of serious injury to pedestrians on urban roads.

Let's always remember that the definition of "serious injury" does not relate well to the impression that the term creates. Only half of serious injury cases are hospitalised. The serious injury statistics are also behaving strangely - we regard the series as currently unsuitable for year to year comparisons. See (this page). 

Proportions of different vehicle groups speeding in 30 and 40mph limits

  • We used a specific class of HGV (2 axle) as sample figures to make these two charts (figures 4 and 5).
  • There are no figures for speeding pedal cycles - and no law for that matter - nor are there figures for "all vehicles".

In the most common 30mph zones, light goods vehicles are the most frequent speeders, while buses are the least frequent speeders. Yet buses pose the greatest risk to pedestrians and light goods vehicles pose the smallest risk.

This isn't proof that "speeding" doesn't influence pedestrian fatality risk, but on the other hand it certainly isn't even the slightest evidence that it does. It's just one more small nail in the coffin of modern road safety policy founded on speed and speeding - no matter where we look there's no evidence to support the dogma.


These listed characteristics might be amongst the most important. We've rated each suggestion according to our best guess of likelihood. We don't know the facts - if anyone does, please let us know.

Why do buses have such a high pedestrian risk value?

  • Buses are heavy and hard relatively speaking (likely)
  • Because of the passengers on board, bus drivers might be reluctant to brake hard. (evens)
  • Buses operate in close proximity to pedestrians (likely)
  • Buses and bus lanes run close to pavements (likely)
  • Special risks at bus stops (likely)
  • The composition of the traffic may favour buses in those areas where there are the most pedestrians (likely)
  • We might have suggested that the flat front design of many buses might be a factor - if it were not for the fact that many light goods vehicles have a flat front design too, and that doesn't seem to cause problems. (unlikely)
Why are light vans almost 40% safer than cars?
  • Light goods drivers are more experienced (on average) and do higher annual mileages (likely)
  • Flat front vans better distribute forces on impact (likely)
  • Light good vehicles may be less common in the traffic where there are most pedestrians (unlikely)
  • The higher driving position gives earlier or better vision (likely)
Why are motorbikes (relatively) so dangerous to pedestrians?
  • They filter and pedestrians don't expect them to be passing stationary traffic. (likely)
  • In accidents, projections cause worse injuries. (likely)
  • Motorbikes travel faster (unlikely)
  • Pedestrians fail to observe approaching motorbikes (likely)
Severity ratios

These two charts (figures 6 and 7) are severity ratios calculated from the RAGB table 26 data. 

Figure 6 shows the "fatality / all injuries" ratio affecting pedestrians for various vehicle groups.

Figure 7 shows the "serious injuries / all injuries" ratio affecting pedestrians for the various vehicle groups.

The apparent poor performance of Heavy Goods Vehicles here is very likely to be caused (at least in part) by injuries caused by rear wheels and trailers of long vehicles.

Bus Lanes - discussion

Very soon after initial publication of this page two people wrote to us suggesting that bus lanes make a unique contribution to the poor performance of buses.

A former accident investigator from London said this: 

"I can tell you that in central London the bus was known as the "inner-city serial killer". One of the reasons for the relatively high fatality rate is due, especially in London, to tourists looking the wrong way and emerging into the path of the hapless bus driver.

Buses have restricted vision (driver sits in front of the front wheels and doesn't see the pedestrians step off), restricted mobility (they don't turn that quick) and the driver doesn't like to hit the brakes very quickly (not to mention the rise time of the air brake system). You could also factor in the fact that buses are significantly quieter than cars, vans and lorries 'cause the engine is at the back and quite a few feet away from the blunt end."

Someone else wrote: 

"One very big point you left out of your list of why buses are dangerous to pedestrians is: people simply don't expect to see a bus in a bus lane. Bus lanes spend almost all of their time devoid of any traffic, except for the very occasional bus. This is not just my opinion, but that of many people I've spoken to who have had the experience of almost being hit by a bus. The most dangerous bus lanes are the contra flow ones in a one-way street, where people not only don't expect to see a bus, but they're looking in the wrong direction."
We'll try to find data from 20 years ago to see if the comparative performance of buses was much better in the days before bus lanes became widespread. Watch this space.

Department for Transport Publication, RCGB 2003 Table 26
Department for Transport Publication, VSGB 2003


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Created 16/10/2004. Last update 17/10/2004
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