A virtuous cycle: Safety in numbers for riders

Sep 03, 2008

It seems paradoxical but the more people ride bicycles on our city streets, the less likely they are to be injured in traffic accidents.

International research reveals that as cycling participation increases, a cyclist is far less likely to collide with a motor vehicle or suffer injury and death - and what's true for cyclists is true for pedestrians. And it's not simply because there are fewer cars on the roads, but because motorists seem to change their behaviour and drive more safely when they see more cyclists and pedestrians around.

Studies in many countries have shown consistently that the number of motorists colliding with walkers or cyclists doesn't increase equally with the number of people walking or bicycling. For example, a community that doubles its cycling numbers can expect a one-third drop in the per-cyclist frequency of a crash with a motor vehicle.

"It's a virtuous cycle," says Dr Julie Hatfield, an injury expert from UNSW who address a cycling safety seminar in Sydney, Australia, on September 5. "The likelihood that an individual cyclist will be struck by a motorist falls with increasing rate of bicycling in a community. And the safer cycling is perceived to be, the more people are prepared to cycle."

Experts say the effect is independent of improvements in cycling-friendly laws such as lower speed limits and better infrastructure, such as bike paths. Research has revealed the safety-in-numbers impact for cyclists in Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, 14 European countries and 68 Californian cities.

"It's a positive effect but some people are surprised that injury rates don't go up at the same rate of increases in cycling," says Sydney University's Dr Chris Rissel, co-author of a 2008 research report on cycling.

"It appears that motorists adjust their behaviour in the presence of increasing numbers of people bicycling because they expect or experience more people cycling. Also, rising cycling rates mean motorists are more likely to be cyclists, and therefore be more conscious of, and sympathetic towards, cyclists."

Safety concerns are among the most significant barriers preventing Australians from cycling, including among those who cycle regularly, according to the report, titled Cycling: Getting Australia Moving. Despite this, over 1.68 million adults cycled in 2006, an increase of almost 250,000 since 2001. During this period, Australian capital cities experienced an average 22 percent increase in bicycle journeys to work. The city of Melbourne led with a 42 percent increase, while the city of Sydney lagged the field with a nine percent increase. 2006 figures reveal that 12,132 Sydneysiders cycle to work.

Dr Rissel says transport authorities should highlight the fun, convenience and health and environmental benefits of cycling, rather than what he views as an undue emphasis on danger and safety messages, which can deter cyclists: "We should create a cycling friendly environment and accentuate cycling's positives rather than stress negatives with 'safety campaigns' that focus on cyclists without addressing drivers and road conditions. Reminding people of injury rates and risks, to wear helmets and reflective visible clothes has the unintended effect of reinforcing fears of cycling which discourages people from cycling."

Source: University of New South Wales

Explore further: Only 1 in 7 Japanese scientists are women: study

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Explainer: How do cyclists reach super fast speeds?

Mar 31, 2014

Even though spoked wheels and pneumatic tyres were invented in the 1880s, bicycle design hasn't really changed a great deal in the time since – at least, at face value. However, look closer and around a ...

Smart bike pedals toward accident prevention

Jan 08, 2014

Every day, about two people in the U.S. succumb to fatal cycling accidents while more than 130 suffer harmful injuries. But in an era of increasing concern for the environment, cycling is an important mode ...

Recommended for you

Japan stem cell body splashes cash on luxury furniture

Apr 14, 2014

A publicly-funded research institute in Japan, already embattled after accusing one of its own stem cell scientists of faking data, has spent tens of thousands of dollars on designer Italian furniture, reportedly to use up ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Online reviews: When do negative opinions boost sales?

When purchasing items online, reading customer reviews is a convenient way to get a real-world account of other people's opinions of the product. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, negative review ...

Tech giants look to skies to spread Internet

The shortest path to the Internet for some remote corners of the world may be through the skies. That is the message from US tech giants seeking to spread the online gospel to hard-to-reach regions.

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

(Phys.org) —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Wireless industry makes anti-theft commitment

A trade group for wireless providers said Tuesday that the biggest mobile device manufacturers and carriers will soon put anti-theft tools on the gadgets to try to deter rampant smartphone theft.