Australian study endorses cycle lanes, but beware pedestrians

New road safety research has confirmed the value of exclusive, regulated cycle lanes to reduce crashes and injuries among cyclists. The study, conducted by The George Institute for Global Health, raises doubt of the safety of cycling on shared paths and pedestrian areas.

Research Fellow Liz de Rome of The George Institute reported, “In Australia, cyclists represent almost 15% of all road casualties. Our study shows that the riding environment plays a major role in cycle safety. There were relatively few crashes in cycle-only lanes compared with traffic-shared paths. The crashes on shared paths are of particular concern as they resulted in more serious injuries and a substantial proportion involved pedestrians (16%) and other cyclists (23%)”.

Researchers set out to identify the factors associated with bicycle crashes in different environments and to investigate the type and severity of injuries associated with the clothing worn. Interviews were conducted with 313 cyclists who presented to hospital with cycling crash injuries. The study was conducted in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), which has the highest cycling participation rate in Australia.

Researchers recommend a review of cycle regulation in shared areas including speed limits for riders, as 40% of cyclists who crashed on shared paths had been travelling at over 20 km/h, including 15% at over 30 km/h.

The study found that over half of all crashes (52%) were single vehicle crashes. In those crashes where another vehicle was involved, they were almost equally motor vehicles (52%) and other bicycles (48%).

Around 60% of cyclists in the study endured minor injuries such as soft tissue damage, but a high proportion suffered from fractures (43%) and almost one in four sustained a head injury. Shoulders and knees were the most injured body parts. Those wearing shorts were three times more likely to be injured compared those with long pants. The average out of pocket cost of a crash to cyclists was found to be $1000.

Cycling is widely promoted as a sustainable, healthy transport alternative with many personal and public health benefits. It has become increasing popular in Australia over the last few years, with participation increasing by up to 40% between 2000-2008; however there has also been a substantial increase (47%) in serious injury numbers.

We believe this study provides strong evidence on ways in which road authorities and cyclists can reduce the number of crashes and the severity of injuries. In particular the role of exclusive bicycle lanes cannot be underestimated when considering cyclist safety. Cycle clothing is additionally important and full body coverage should be promoted as an essential safety precaution”, added de Rome.

Funding support for the ‘PEDAL study’ was provided by the NRMA-ACT Road Safety Trust Fund.

NRMA-ACT Road Safety Trust report on the study is available from the Road Safety Trust website.