Cycling Safety

A key element in promoting cycling and making it an attractive alternative to car use is that it should be safe. The National Cycling Forum states that "making the roads safer is a powerful incentive in persuading people to cycle more". People will not choose to cycle unless they see it as safe to do so. Fears of safety can become a major obstacle when promoting and encouraging non-motorised modes of transport. A survey by MORI showed that nearly half of those questionned said they would cycle for short journeys if roads were safer. Often there is little real safety risk, but perceptions of danger may still persist and efforts must me made to ensure such misconceptions are allayed. Even where fear of risk does not deter the cyclist, professionals should seek to minimise it so as to reduce the resulting social and economic costs of death and injury.

Safety and Cycling

There has been a tendency to see the two objectives of promoting cycling and improving road safety as conflicting and mutually incompatible. However, it has been shown that it is possible to both increase cycling and also improve cyclists' safety. In fact, it has been shown that the safety of cyclists improves as the number of cyclists increases. For example, in Copenhagen and Odense, an increase in cycling has been brought about with a corresponding decrease in the number of accidents involving cyclists. This may be attributable to the introduction of specific safety measures but may also be partially explained by the fact that the higher the level of cycling, the more cyclists on the road and the more car drivers become aware of and pay attention to cyclists. The more cyclists there are therefore, the potentially safer the individual cyclist. The scale and scope of safety measures that have been introduced to help non-motorised road-users, varies significantly between countries. Countries which have introduced specific measures for different types and ages of road user have been successful in reducing the relevant death rates.

The European Transport Safety Council identifies 7 key problems for cyclists in the urban traffic system:

  • Vulnerability - Cyclists pose little threat to drivers and hence drivers have less reason to be aware of them. Speed is key in determining severity of outcome. If collision speed exceeds 45km/hour, there is a less than 50 percent chance that the cyclist will survive. Even at low impact speed, cyclists can be badly injured. Helmets offer protection but helmet use varies by age, gender and location. Speed management is therefore crucial in a safe traffic system aiming to provide for vulnerable road users.
  • Flexibility - Motorists can never be sure when or where to expect cyclists - often cyclists disregard road rules to make gains.
  • Instability - Cycle mistakes or failures are dangerous when they occur near other motor traffic/road users.
  • Invisibility - Cyclists are difficult to see and can be hidden, especially at night.
  • Differing abilities - Cyclists of all abilities and experience are present on the roads.
  • Consciousness of effort - Cyclists seek quick, easy, direct routes, so as to minimise effort.
  • Estrangement - Cyclists are often treated as nuisances on the roads, with little regard paid to their status as road users with equal rights.

Cyclist accidents rarely result from one of these problems alone, but typically arise when several of them combine. An understanding of these key problems might help provide a framework on which to base planning for cyclists.

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