The 365 Ways Blog

Michael Norton is author of "365 Ways to Change the World", which provides an issue for each day of the year, interesting facts, inspiring case studies of people doing things to address the issue and ideas for action. Originally published in the UK, versions with local content have been published in Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the USA. To find out more visit our website:

19 May 2008

Commemorating people who have died on the roads

In Great Britain, there were 3,431 on the road in 2002 (the latest available statistics) and 35,976 serious injuries. Of these, 130 cyclists were killed and 2,420 seriously injured.

When people are murdered or when they are killed on the road, often bouquets of flowers are left by well-wishers near where the death took place. Remember the outpouring of flowers for Princess Di placed against the railings of Kensington Palace where she lived. Now a new phenomenon is taking place in response to cyclists being killed on the roads. Old bikes are being left instead of flowers.

These are being called Ghostbikes. They are old junked bikes painted white all over (including the tyres) and affixed to the site where a cyclist has been hit or killed with a message of commemoration. Ghostbikes are intended as a memorial for the fallen, but they also provide a reminder to everyone to share the road.

If you are a car driver, please remember that reckless driving can kill. And cyclists are particularly vulnerable. You would not wish to become a murderer. So drive safely and give cyclists a break. A collision with a bicycle may not always be your fault, but you are not likely to suffer much in the way of injury. There’s a lot you can do to make cycling safer for cyclists – such as drive within the speed limit, don’t accelerate away from traffic lights at maximum throttle, give cyclists a wide berth when overtaking them, always signal when you are turning (and do this well before you reach the turn), and check your mirror before opening the car door.

If you want to commemorate cyclists who have been the victim of a road accident, creating a Ghostbike is easy. Here's how:
1. Gather a team of people around you to do the business.
2. Identify locations where cyclists have been killed. Start a log of the time, place, person and other details.
3. Obtain old bicycles, paint entirely white.
4. Create signs to let people know why the bike is there. Pieces of plywood make good signage and creating a stencil so you can spray on the info is a good way of creating several signs. Work out how you are going to attach the sign to the bike.
5. Find a way of stopping the bikes being removed. Lengths of metal cable with couplers is a fairly affordable way of locking them.
6. Identify the exact bike placement locations. Keep in mind that memorials may not be technically legal. Local authorities may decide to overlook this if their siting does not present a problem, since this kind of enforcement is usually complaint-driven. Try not to block the road or the pavement, and keep in mind where the fire hydrants are located.
7. Erect your bike memorials under the cover of darkness.
8. Take a photo.
9. Create an entry for your Ghostbike on the Ghostbike website.

Are there any other causes of death where you could use a similar approach to creating a memorial?


Road accidents are a major global killer
These statistics are taken from the fact file from the Global Commission on Road Safety which is supported by the FIA Foundation, which itself was established by the governing body for world motor sport to promote road safety worldwide:

• Worldwide, the number of people killed in road traffic crashes each year is estimated to be almost 1.2 million. That’s 3,000 people killed on the world’s roads every day. According to World Health Organisation data, deaths from road traffic injuries account for around 25% of all deaths from injury. Road deaths are expected to rise above 2 million a year by 2020.
• The number of people injured in road traffic accidents is estimated to be as high as 50 million – which is the combined population of five of the world’s large cities.
• It is expected that, if nothing is done, road traffic injuries and deaths will rise by 65% between 2000 and 2020
• Over 50% of deaths are among young adults in the age range of 15-44 years. For men aged 15-44 road traffic injuries rank second (behind HIV/AIDS) as the leading cause of premature death and ill health worldwide. Among both children aged 5-14 years and young people aged 15-29 years, road traffic injuries are the second-leading cause of death worldwide
• More than 80% of those killed in road traffic crashes live in middle and low income countries, where road traffic deaths are predicted to rise (on average) by more than 80% in low and middle income countries by 2020
• The World Bank recently estimated that developing countries lose approximately US$100 billion every year due to road crashes. This is twice the amount of all development aid provided by donors. Africa bears a huge economic burden from road traffic crashes. Despite having very low levels of vehicle use. 10% of global road fatalities occur in Africa and are conservatively estimated to cost the continent approximately US$3.7 billion a year. This cost is expected to increase by 80% over the next seven years Promoting road safety could have a greater impact on international development than giving money.

Global Commission on Road Safety: