More Cyclists on the Road Mean Fewer Accidents

by Benjamin Jones on September 13, 2008

Image: yoshimai

It may seem counterintuitive, but according to a recent report more cyclists on the road mean fewer accidents involving cyclists and motor vehicles. I was convinced of this after spending some time living and cycling in Japan, but it’s always nice to have some real research to back up one’s personal hearsay.

This happens because as more cyclists hit the road, drivers are more aware of their presence. Not only are drivers looking out for cyclists, but as interaction between cars and bikes increase, drivers learn how to drive safely and respectfully around cyclists.

According to the University of New South Wales, who did the research:

“It’s a virtuous cycle,” says Dr Julie Hatfield, an injury expert from UNSW who address the seminar 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.”

Also, even more encouragingly, it doesn’t seem that cycling infrastructure is responsible for the change:

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.

So, if you’ve ever thought about getting out on a bicycle, consider this: you will be safest in communities with the most cyclists; your contribution will not only keep a car off the road, but will help make everyone safer.

Happy riding!

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1 name September 14, 2008 at 12:57 am

I go to unsw! the uni sucks!

2 Reiner Sailer September 14, 2008 at 1:45 am

I think, the fear of accidents is only a fine excuse to live the laziness and irresponsibility we are used since we lost our connection to this, we live on. I went the wrong way a long time and learned, that the life i feel, is the mirror of my behavior to our environment. It’s only a question of timing, to do the most ways, we used to take our cars, driving with bicycle, bus or train. I am a handcraftsman, businessman of my own device and the ways, i don’t need cars for carrying material or big tools, i take the bike or public transport. Life feels much better since i do so and its good for my health. We have to recognize, that we are symbionts of a being we already dont understand, but we use it in a way like parasites. I dont understand, why i have to show how stupid i am, to use big cars and other things, to get the acceptation of other stupids.
I putted a note on my motorbike (a Vmax), where i wrote on, that this is my personally symbol, that i was in front in the wrong way. Why should there are people, who are stupider than me? The last 40 years we turned the wheel of life with fullspeed into madnes and now we have to slow down as fast as possible, to repair,what we have done. Technology is advanced enough for this. Only financial interests hold us living the wrong way and i never want to live in the game of mentally handicapped beings, who suggest, that they are humans. Lets work for freedom without killing us and our nature, i know, it works.

3 s.o.g. September 14, 2008 at 1:47 am

I completely fail to understand why people think this is counterintuitive. What could be more intuitive?

4 Jason September 14, 2008 at 3:42 am

Funny how there are no comments here but over 60 on Digg. But as a former long distance cyclist, I completely agree with this as well. Now, if we can only get most cities to put bike racks on their buses and push cycling,…

5 John Q. Public September 14, 2008 at 3:45 am

I will stop hating bikers on the same day that bikers learn to:
1) Stop at stop signs. It is not the equivalent of jaywalking when you do it. You are running a red light. It is dangerous and illegal.
2) Making a hand signal, often the wrong one (arm out, bent straight up at the elbow, is not a catch-all for any turn or lane change), and simultaneously swerving across multiple lanes of 35 mph traffic. Sometimes in heavy rain, and once, towing a tiny baby in a two-wheeled trailer. Nice.
3) Ride within the bike lane. Not directly on the white line. Not two-by-two, chatting, and wobbling towards traffic when you try to look over your shoulder.
4) Do not block the road. Do not block the road by running a red light in a large group. Do not block the road by stopping to check your chain or fix a flat tire two feet into the driving lane. Do not block the road as a protest against perceived anti-byciclism. You aren’t simply wrong, you’re inspiring the next generation of drivers to honk and scowl. There’s a foreign policy lesson in there somewhere.
5) Do not ride within car traffic, ten miles per hour beneath the posted speed limit. When cars drive that slowly, the law requires that they pull to the side to let traffic by. If you can’t keep up with the road you’re on, you shouldn’t be on it. On a 25 mph road, no one is going to wait for you to struggle up to the limit, and they should not be expected to. It is also not reasonable to stay in traffic if the hill you are riding on is all the prevents you from riding at the speed limit. Get out of the way.

Bikers demand that people in cars drive “safely and respectfully” around them, but often operate their vehicles without regard for the law, or courtesy, or even sanity.

Asking bikers to ride single-file in their assigned lane is not unreasonable. Operating a vehicle on public roads can be a pleasure, but it is serious business. It carries both danger and responsibility. Asking drivers to shoulder the entire burden is selfish.

You are not better than people in cars, by virtue of environmentalism and fitness. You are our equals, or will be when you learn to act appropriately.

Until that day, we smoke as we shoot the bird.

6 Chris September 14, 2008 at 7:46 am

I agree with “John Q Public” except in this regard:
“You are not better than people in cars, by virtue of environmentalism and fitness. You are our equals…”

In spirit bicyclists are the equal of car drivers. In practice, you are tiny and fragile and unprotected, and we are 4000lbs of steel.
I’m sure it will be no consolation to your next of kin when they learn that you did in fact have right of way, you just assumed everyone on the road was looking at you.

7 Chris September 14, 2008 at 7:50 am

Sorry, I should clarify: I don’t hate bicyclists. I just wish they would be more realistic. When I occasionally go out on my bike, I am constantly aware that I could be squashed at any minute, and that righteous indignance will not protect me.

8 george September 14, 2008 at 10:14 am

You’ve been deceived by statistical slight-of-hand.

If you are the only bicyclist in your town, if you’re involved in an accident then there’s a 100% probability that YOU are the one involved in it.

If two people are riding around, then you’ve instantly halved the likelyhood of you being involved in a bicycle accident. Are you any safer? NO!

The real statistic to keep track of is number of accidents per hours of bicycle use. In other words, if you use your bicycle X number of hours, then the chances of your being in an accident are Y percent.

Though there is some anecdotal truth to the safety in numbers argument. Think of a car turning across a crowded bicycle lane. Even if the car hits a cyclist, chances are he’s only going to hit one cyclist; the other 10 are going to be fine. In that instance having 10 cyclists in a pack is much safer than 10 cyclists on their own in 10 different locations.

9 Grampa Joe September 15, 2008 at 6:59 am

As a cyclist in a town dominated by cars, I can attest to the fact that drivers pay less attention to us when there are fewer of us on the road.

I’m also disappointed by some of the above comments, specifically the ones that berate cyclists. I follow every traffic law and make sure I’m as far out of the way of traffic as possible without riding on sidewalks, but I’m still constantly in danger of getting run over by inattentive drivers.

In fact, these drivers are usually guilty of the very things John Q Public has accused cyclists of: running stop signs, taking up space reserved for cyclists, and not signaling. I’ve even had police cars do all of those things. What’s worse, this behavior not only puts cyclists in danger, but pedestrians and other drivers as well.

It’s important for both cyclists and drivers alike to obey traffic laws, but being “4000 lbs of steel” makes bad drivers much more dangerous.

10 Killa Milla September 18, 2008 at 8:05 am

Cyclists are well aware of the dangers. Hard not to when a transport truck drives by and the wind current nearly blows you over. To abide by the traffic laws means nothing if a single car driver isn’t observant. All it takes is one time, and the cyclist could be disabled or dead.

Considering laws can’t be enforced all of the time, the only law that really matters on a bicycle is death. Avoid death, and your trip is successful. I believe that because of this, bi-wheelers are much more alert than quad-wheelers. Also, cyclists have fewer distractions and obstructions(no dash, dirty windows, passengers, radio, etc).

When you’re in a car it’s unlikely that you’ll die if you’re in an accident. You’re protected by steel, so the mentality is completely different. You’re going to care more about the rules of the road, and justice, which of course mean nothing to a cyclist faced with death.

So, instead of being jealous of the cyclist that doesn’t have a license plate who runs the red light, just understand that the rules only loosely apply to cyclists.

11 Jane Q. Public September 23, 2008 at 8:11 am

Wow, JohnQP is kind of an ass.

In case you were not aware of the law, cyclists have every right to the road that cars do, other than freeways. They’re even permitted to ride two abreast! Until such laws are passed that I can’t ride in the road, I plan to keep doing so. I’d appreciate if you wouldn’t run me over with your car OR your attitude. Your few seconds “wasted” until you can pass are a gift to slow and meditiate on what’s good about life, not why you are better than everyone else.

You might try cycling sometime. You might be pleasantly surprised how good you feel when you get there, not to mention the gas you didn’t buy and the exhaust you didn’t spew. The world is beautiful when you stop to look at it.

12 Uncle B May 21, 2009 at 10:23 am

Ever since my last stroke I get around on a trike! Great machine, has grocery basket and all! Lots of folks see me wobbling along, wave and smile. Most motorists are sympathetic and give me a wide berth. I do all my shopping, doctors appointments and entertainment calls from my trike now, and have even gone to church on it on a sunny day. I live in a small village, and most folks know each other by first names here. We all need a respite from the advertisement guru’s overheated unregulated vulture capitalist high pressure “American Dream” nonsense – my vehicle doesn’t have 4 doors, rugs, air conditioning, flashing lights, sensors ar gadgets, and I laugh right out loud when I bank a good portion of my pension instead of paying maintenance bills to Mr. Good Wrench every month. P.S. My garden helps feed me and the wife too. Even with my disabilities, cash-wise, I never had it so good, and I worked every day of my life for “The Man” and did not spend it wisely, but was sucked in by the wild-eyed advertising man every damn time!

13 schooly February 18, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Uncle B, I wish you lived in my neighborhood! I’m the only one I ever see on a trike–they don’t even sell recumbent trikes in Sacramento, CA. And imagine the trouble I had getting someone to install airless tires on my ride–fogetaboutit! But like you, I use it to get around, not to hotdog or beat my last best time. I rarely even get out of second gear, but I always get to my destination. I wish more people who owned cycles would get around on them here in my state’s capital, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Keep your fingers crossed for us poor Californians!

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