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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Study: More cyclists means safer cyclists

Image of Sunday Streets in San Francisco on August 31, 2008
From Science Daily, 09.07.08:

A Virtuous Cycle: Safety In Numbers For Bicycle Riders
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 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." (Read more.)
Great news from Australia, confirming earlier research by Peter Jacobsen and others, that motorists adjust their driving behavior in the presence of bicyclists. This research will help bolster advocacy arguments for enhanced bicycling facilities and encouragement.

The researchers also suggested policy makers emphasize the positives of bicycling--fun and health--rather than safety concerns: "We should create a cycling friendly environment and accentuate cycling's positives," said Dr. Chris Rissel. "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."

Amen to this. Stop perpetuating the myth of bicycling as a dangerous activity. Leave your helmet at home.

Image: Web capture. Sunday Streets in San Francisco.
Visit: Don't let fear hold you back,
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site


Anonymous said...

Paul: while I see your point about discouraging the perception of cycling as a dangerous activity, I can't agree with the advice to "leave your helmet at home." It makes about as much sense to me as concluding that the (even lower) rate of automobile fatalities means it's time for us all to cut off our seat belts.

It does mean that any policy program designed to draw in more participants should not emphasize helmets, reflective clothing, etc., which I can certainly live with. And it's one more piece of evidence in favor of bike lanes.

David Hembrow said...

Something else that happens is that as cycling becomes safer, and especially as it becomes more subjectively safe, people simply don't feel the need to wear helmets and other protective gear.

We've seen this with foreign visitors to our home in the Netherlands. They arrive with reflective clothing and helmets, but over a few days will realise that it simply feels safe here and they'll start to dress more normally, as the locals do.

The same can be seen in reverse when Dutch cyclists visit hostile environments such as the UK.

We've a blog which covers some aspects of how why the Dutch cycle so much and various photos and videos linked from it.

GhostRider said...

Leave your helmet at home? Paul, that's troubling "advice"...

I don't wear a helmet because I think of cycling as a dangerous activity. I wear it because I value the accumulated memories, pop culture factoids and experiences I've been collecting between my ears since 1969.

Frankly, I'd rather "have it and not need it than need it and not have it", to dust off an old chestnut.

The bottom line is, wear a helmet if it makes you feel better or if you value your memories. It's not a magic bullet that will miraculously save your life in every possible encounter, but it's a small piece of "potential" safety that makes sense to me.

Tom said...

I took a little time at the university library and looked at helment studies. The bottom line is that though imperfect, they do lower the extent of severe head injuries.

bottom line: wearing the syrofoam hat will keep your brain intact in many biking accidents.

Anonymous said...

Unrelated to helmets, but I just wanted to say how much I enjoy bicycling when cars and bikes are working together, rather like we're all participating in a collective ballet. I had just such a commute this morning -- cars yielding to me in places where they should yield, bikes stopping where they should stop, people signaling or waving to each other as they communicated back and forth from behind the handlebars and the steering wheel -- it was all so very satisfying on a lovely Seattle morning. Every so often, the stars line up, everyone is on their best behavior, and it's just an absolute joy to ride in to work!

Unknown said...

I've been a bike commuter for several decades. Ever since I fell, in an accident that didn't involve a car, and suffered a fairly serious concussion, I wear my helmet. I've had, on average, about one serious fall every three years or so (slipping on ice, or wet leaves, or, most recently, stupidly hitting a road turtle at high speed in the wet) and have NEVER suffered any sort of head injury while wearing a helmet.
Advising people not to wear helmets in order to encourage the belief that cycling is safe is like encouraging your kids to ignore crosswalks and walk/don't walk signs to spread the idea that being a pedestrian is safe.
(I'm not Heidi, I'm Heidi's husband)

SingletrackM1nd said...

I'm sorry, but I think the 'researcher's' conclusion about helmets is off. I don't wear a helmet to keep me safe from cars, I wear it in case I dump my bike cornering at 15 mph because of a patch of gravel. Seatbelt use in cars, doesn't deter people from driving because it increases the apparent danger of a car accident. It's just a good idea to wear a seat belt. No less so with a bicycle. My helmet may not do me much good if I get hit by a car, but if I go over the bars, it might keep me out of the ER.

Anonymous said...

I'll add my voice to the litany of people disturbed by the idea of leaving your helmet at home. I'm assuming some of this advice was inspired by the recent Bath University study that suggested that motorists provide more room to people who aren't wearing helmets (link below). Even if that's the case (and I'm a tad skeptical), it's an issue of driver education: anyone giving a helmeted cyclist less room than an unhelmeted one is ignorant of the effects of any car-bike collision. We need more cyclists on the road, and those cyclists need to be wearing protective headgear. The idea of facing Atlanta drivers without a helmet terrifies me.