The risks of cycling.

De risico's van fietsen : feiten, cijfers en vaststellingen.

The cyclist stands in the centre of this report. The Flemish government wishes to increase bicycle use significantly in the following years. The safety of the cyclist is in this matter an important condition. This report deals with three questions concerning the safety of the cyclist: 1) How dangerous is cycling really?, 2) What causes this risk?, 3) What can we do about it? These 3 questions form the base of the 3 parts in this report. The answer on the 2 first questions is primarily sought in the official accident statistics of the NIS. It is noticed that many bicycle accidents aren’t registered. This causes an obvious distortion. The government should take this into account when outlining a policy. For now data that can correct for this problem aren’t accessible in the Flanders region. If accident data are insufficient, the picture is completed with the results from (inter)national studies. The third part is completely based on the results of a review of relevant literature. The first part digs deeper into the safety situation of the Flemish cyclist. Cycling is and remains dangerous. Every year too many cyclists are killed in traffic. However, the picture is more subtle than this. In this report we try to bring out these nuances. We compare traffic safety for the cyclist with the safety of the motorist and the pedestrian. Safety is also more the just the risk one bears in traffic, it includes also the risk somebody is causing. The Flanders region is positioned in relation to the other Belgian regions as well as to other European countries. We can learn from this that not all is bad in Flanders, but that there is some room for a significant improvement. The cyclist is involved in different kinds of accidents. These are studied in a next chapter. By far the most of all registered accidents involving a cyclist involve an other road user too. Several studies indicate however that more than half of all bicycle accidents involve no other road user. These accidents tend to be reported less to the police and therefore are seldom registered. The most frequent other party to crash with cyclists is, as could be expected, the car driver. In serious accidents trucks are also involved to an important extent. In all of these cases it will practically always be the cyclist to suffer the consequences. The second part, which consists of 4 chapters, describes the accident factors. These factors are subdivided according to the Human-Vehicle-Environment system. Since many bicycle accidents involve other road users, the chapters on the Human and Vehicle factors will take into account the characteristics of the other parties involved en not only these of the cyclist and his bicycle. An accident usually occurs as a confluence of events. Several of the factors mentioned in one of the chapters will coincide. For the overview we group the different factors in different chapters according to the part of the Human-Vehicle-Environment system involved. Many human accident factors depend on the age. Maturity (including de skills acquired), attitude, experience and travel and driving behaviour are all influenced by age. Accident patterns will therefore differ (to a more or less important amount) by age. This is true for both cyclists as for other road users. Cyclists and other road users have some characteristics that will affect accident involvement (and the type of accidents in which they get involved). Mutual relationships between cyclist and (mostly) car driver aren’t always as they could be. Some reasons are mentioned. Vehicle related factors relate to the bicycle as to the other vehicles. Bicycle characteristics include especially the small dimensions and the absence of any protection. The risk will further increase when the bicycle has some technical defects (mostly lighting and brakes). The speed developed by cars and trucks poses a real threat to cyclists. The shape of the car (or truck) front induces an other potential hazard. The environment in which the cyclist operates is the last group of key factors regarding accident involvement and injury severity. An issue that deserves special attention is the safety of cyclists on crossroads. Cyclists have relatively more accidents on crossroads than any other road user. The risk increases also with rainy weather and when it is dark, as it happens both periods with decreased visibility. An other influence is found in the presence and nature of bicycle facilities. Most problematic in this matter are the two way cycle paths. The three groups have one thing in common: the visibility of the cyclist. This visibility has different facets. Firstly we have the small dimensions of the cyclist and his bicycle. But also his position on the side of the road makes him disappear from the sight of other road users. This situation can be ameliorated or worsened by the presence of a specific cycle facility. Furthermore the search patterns of other road users are not focussing on cyclists, for these patterns are aiming at those locations from which originates the most danger. And for the time being the cyclist is not one of those threats. It may be clear that measures that augment the observability of cyclists should be prioritised. These and other measures are discussed in the third part of this report. The measures are subdivided in three chapters following the classic approach of the 3 E’s: Education, Engineering and Enforcement. A balanced plan for the improvement of traffic safety for cyclists should consist of a mix of measures that enhance each other. Education should address both cyclists and other road users. An augmentation of mutual understanding and a better insight in each other’s singularities and shortcomings can increase mutual respect and thereby traffic safety. The importance of a safe behaviour by all road users should be stressed to all road users. It should be made clear that unsafety isn’t always the fault of the ‘other’, the own responsibility may be accentuated. Parents need some useful information on the capabilities of young cyclists, of what can and cannot be expected from them. This should help the parents to make their decisions. Sensitization should also always provide information about the right thing to do in the situation at hand. Existing initiatives on bicycle proficiency training (for kids and adults) remain important. Driver training to obtain the driver’s licence could also introduce more attention to the cyclist (as well as to the pedestrian). By ameliorating the search pattern many accidents may be prevented. The most important group within engineering measures is road infrastructure. A variety of guidelines on safe bicycle infrastructure already exists. However, it is important that these guidelines are implemented properly and that not too many concessions are made in favour of a smoother passage of motorised traffic. Further research is needed to refine the choice for an appropriate infrastructure. Beside infrastructural adaptations the cyclist may want to protect himself. In this matter bicycle helmets are subject of fierce discussions. That’s one of the reasons why promotion of cycle helmets isn’t a top priority of the government. Manufacturers and sellers are better placed to promote cycle helmets. Accidents can be prevented by an improved visibility. Promoting retro-reflective clothing as a protective gear may be advantageous. Yet another solution may be found in cars and trucks being redesigned such as to limit injury severity of the cyclist. Renewed crash tests can promote a new design. Promotion of these safe vehicles can stimulate its sales figures. The third and last pillar from the list of measures is enforcement. Enforcement of violations made by bicyclists may prove difficult since cyclists cannot be identified from a distance. Furthermore many cyclists are young children. Alternative forms of enforcement, like preventive bicycle controls may be more appropriate to the cause. On the other hand, if cyclists want to get more respect from motorists, cyclists might need to be more rule obeying. By doing so the predictability towards motorists increases and their annoyance decreases. Even more important is enforcement towards behaviour of motorists that endangers cyclists since this behaviour endangers others while the first mentioned violations cause mainly harm to the cyclists themselves. (Author/publisher)

Media Info

  • Features: References;
  • Pagination: 91 p.

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01495842
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Source Agency: Institute for Road Safety Research, SWOV
  • Report/Paper Numbers: RA-2007-108
  • Files: ITRD, SWOV
  • Created Date: Oct 21 2013 9:18AM