The down tube and top tube almost snapped in half. By Jim Whimpey

Making riding a bike safer: what can we do?

Safety, or lack of perceived and actual safety, is one of the main reasons people don’t choose to ride a bicycle. how can we make riding a bicycle safer?

Building better infrastructure, one in which bicycles, cars and pedestrians are completely separated from each other, may be a quick reply, but not a quick solution. Planning, design, development and implementation takes decades and that’s if only if those involved in infrastructure projects are favouring a separation approach. Our car-centric philosophy is only slowly changing; a painstaking process.

Creating a more harmonious culture on the road may be another approach. Changing people’s behaviour on the road – regardless of how they travel – is a terrific idea and one badly needing implementation. In theory, few people disagree with a statement that “we all have to share and care for each other”. But then there is reality. On our daily commute home we’re sorely reminded that it seems everybody elses mission to get home QUICKLY counts more than safety.

Encouraging road-harmony requires advertising and educational campaigns to change actual road behaviour. Reports looking at behaviour changes as a result of Queensland’s passing distance laws suggest the media blitz around the introduction of the new laws had an instantly positive effect on people’s behaviour.

Admittedly, this can be a costly approach, not as pricy as building a more cohesive network, but still worth a couple of millions, no doubt.

While we might be waiting for both advertising and infrastructure a little while longer is there something we can do to increase our own safety (apart from flatly refusing to ride a bicycle)? Without people on bicycles already riding “out there”, proving and promoting that riding a bicycle is a smart transport solution, there’d be little point in tackling any long term solutions.

What we can look at is the most common factors for accidents. Particularly useful is the Monash Alfred Cycle Crash Study (MACCS), completed in July 2012, which collected data from 158 patients who were presenting at two emergency departments in Melbourne.

Reading a comprehensive crash report may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is fascinating, completely worthwhile and I encourage you to give it a go though.

Firstly, there are a few parameters of the study that slightly skew the image: the study surveyed people on bicycles who had been involved in an accident – excluding fatalities. The majority of interviewees were male, between the age of 35 and 54. Almost all possessed a drivers licence. More than half were riding more than 50 kilometres weekly and almost all of the other half were riding even further – more than 100 kilometres per week. If your guess is they were mainly riding road bikes you’d be spot on. And yes, most wore a helmet, also no surprise given Australia’s helmet laws.

In other words, according to this study, if you’re male, middle-aged, riding long distances you’re more likely to have an accident. Well, the majority of people on bicycles tick those boxes, it doesn’t mean young female riders are safe.

Elements of the study that were useful (keeping in mind above bias and the small sample number) are the following: 60% of the accidents occurred as a single road user crash, meaning only the rider was involved. The other 40% of crashes involved moving cars, other bicycles, parked cars and stationary cars (in exactly this hierarchy of occurence).

More specifically, of the 21 cases which involved moving cars the cars had been turning (either parallel left turn, same direction or across an intersection).

Particularly interesting was the fact that more than half of the riders involved in an accident were travelling at or over 20 kilometres an hour. Given that more than half of the accidents only involved the bicycle speed is a crucial factor. People travelling on fast road bikes have little time to respond to obstacles. Unfortunately, being conducted in Melbourne, tram tracks are a big problem.

So, advice to take with you when riding out and about: slow down, pay attention to objects in front of you and watch out for turning cars. On that note, happy pedalling.



  1. Thorsten says:

    Sounds like riding slow is the thing of the future then… at least if you don’t want to visit the emergency department.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *