Stemming the cycling casualty cycle

A cyclist colleague asked CM to look at the stats behind road fatalities of pedal power in Australia. The stats highlight some of the issues.

On the face of it, the authorities would look to the achievements of a reduction in cyclist fatalities and pat each other on the back. 35 cyclist deaths in 2018 is down on the 2013 peak of 50. On balance cyclists are around 2-4% of total road fatalities. Between 2005 and 2009 cyclist fatalities were 2.3% of total and 2010-2014 that rose to 3.2%. In bike friendly ACT, the figures were 2.5% and 7.4% respectively. Total road fatalities fell from 1,600 to around 1,200 over the same period.

A 2015 BITRE report showed that cyclists were 16% of hospitalizations from traffic accidents. The extent of non-fatal crashes is not reported. Note that “fatalities” are only statistically counted when the death occurs inside 30 days. Die in 30 or more days and the stat is not tallied as a road accident.

In 2005/6, 4,370 cyclists were hospitalized nationwide. In 2011 that rose to 5,393 (+23%).

Speed a factor? 45% of crashes according to BITRE happened sub 50km/h. 42% between 50-60 km/h. Of course cyclists aren’t allowed to use dual carriageway which would skew accidents to urban areas.

Cars are responsible for 96% of casualty crashes involving cyclists. 25% of accidents involving a bike and car happen at intersections. No surprises there.

One can get drowned in the analysis but the question is how do we cut the deaths of cyclists if there is a concerted effort to increase their use?

The ‘Australian National Cycling Strategy 2011-2016’ aimed to double cyclist participation. In 2013, another national survey showed cycling numbers drifted down. So if the plan remains to increase usage, it makes sense to allow more shared off-road infrastructure and or dedicated bike lanes.

The question arises on how to tackle the casualty problem. As a motorcyclist it is not hard to be frustrated to see drivers with mobile phone in hand. Cyclists would concur. Whether texting while driving or failing to note a traffic light has changed to green. It is dangerous and frustrating for other road users. Can a social media reply wait 5 minutes? It is often impulsive to pick up the phone and tap away. The punishment for phone use while behind the wheel remains too soft. If drivers don’t focus 100% on conditions then is it any wonder that accidents occur?

ADAS or advanced driver assistance systems (lane guidance, auto braking or wing mirror warning devices) are helping drivers become more alert but at the same time some are becoming too reliant on these devices being failsafe. How often have we seen Tesla drivers crash when the systems don’t work properly? They’re there as a last resort, not a first. Look at the fools who take videos of their Tesla autopilot in action.

It is not to say that cyclists shouldn’t ride with due caution. There are no stats on rogue bikers chopping up cars. We’ve probably encountered an overzealous bike courier who gives the rest a bad reputation. It is fair for drivers to feel frustrated if a cyclist jams himself at speed into a tight gap. Yet it doesn’t justify some drivers whizzing past cyclists in close proximity through pure frustration. Many videos, including those of the late cycling advocate Cameron Frewer, show how selfish some drivers can behave.

Is lowering speed limits the only answer? Perhaps speedo gazers trying to avoid fines create a dangerous loop. Is there an argument to install mobile speed warnings signs that allow drivers to keep eyes glued to the road rather than the speedo needle? At what cost?

Or is it a case or enforcing all vehicles to install drive recorders? In the US more police are wearing body cams to help prove cases against them for excessive force. It wasn’t long ago that dashcam footage helped jail a motorist for 15 years for deliberately ramming a motorcycle. Drive recorders are cheap. Insurance companies would surely approve. Cyclists would do well to wear cameras too.

It ultimately comes down to mutual understanding. While drivers may limit injury through airbags and seatbelts, bikers don’t have that luxury if hit by negligent drivers.

That is not to make cyclists devoid of responsibility but simply having a “Safe System” approach which is a big picture idea of better roads, better conditions and more active/passive safety systems in cars won’t overcome inattentiveness and those keen to check Twitter while moving.

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