Cyclist deaths at decades-long high with more than 100 fatalities last year

Cyclist deaths at decades-long high with more than 100 fatalities last year
Cyclist in an empty commercial street in Namur. Credit: Bruno Fahy / Belga Photo

Road safety in Belgium has improved in recent years but not for cyclists, with the number of cyclist deaths going up in spite of efforts to make roads safer.

A total of 540 people (all road users and pedestrians) died within 30 days of being involved in a road accident last year. Though this is almost 100 fewer than in 2019 (the last comparable data), the proportion of cyclists that die after a collision exceeded 102 for the first time since 2010, the latest road accident figures published by Statbel, the Belgian statistics office, showed.

"While this can be partly explained by the fact that the overall number of cyclists on Belgian roads has increased in recent years, we believe that the rise in accidents is still proportionally higher," Wendy Schelfaut, spokesperson for Statbel, told The Brussels Times.

The majority of those killed within 30 days were motorists (40% or 216 people), but cyclists now account for one-fifth (19%) of the fatalities. Similar figures were shared by the road safety institute Vias at the end of last year, highlighting a worrying trend among bicyclists. "There have also never been so many bicycle fatalities in the past 10 years," the institute lamented.

Losing sight of zero-death target

Statbel figures showed the vast majority of fatal cases involved cyclists over the age of 50. In 37% of cases the victim was 70 years or older – often riding an electric bicycle.

The number of serious injuries among cyclists has also risen sharply, from 957 to 1,186 in three years.

Belgium's regional governments launched a national plan for road safety which aims to eliminate all traffic-related deaths by 2050, an initiative dubbed "Vision Zero by 2050." Brussels went one step further and vowed to achieve this by 2030.

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While the overall number of deaths is dropping, it is unlikely that the figure will reach zero in almost three decades. Last year, 37,643 road accidents were recorded, resulting in 46,074 victims, of which 3,400 were left seriously injured.

While Statbel stressed that comparisons with 2021 should be nuanced given that the Covid-19 health measures saw a significant reduction in traffic, even compared to 2019 the number of accidents barely dropped.

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